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Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #104, Omar Moreno (Article 21)



Most people remember Omar Moreno as a key member of the 1979 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates who played for the Yankees, briefly, in the mid 1980’s.

Most people remember incorrectly.

Omar Moreno came to the Yankees in August 1983, played for them for the entirety of the 1984 season, and then lasted with them all the way to August 1985 when he was released. That wasn’t just a brief moment, it was the equivalent of two full seasons.

Moreno was a Yankee for a while. A good while – especially in those days when players came and went very quickly.

The Yankees acquired Omar Moreno from the Houston Astros in a poorly advised trade for Jerry Mumphrey. (We will discuss Mumphrey’s Yankees career in a future article in this series, but he was a .300 hitter in his only two full seasons as a Yankee – 1981 and 1982.)

If there was a knock on Mumphrey, it was that he wasn’t the greatest defensive center fielder. Maybe the sense was that Omar Moreno, who could run like the wind, would improve the Yankees in that area. Maybe.

Omar Moreno could field well. He could fly. But, he didn’t hit all that much, and he never walked. (We’ll get to that in a moment.)

In 1977, Omar Moreno’s dWAR was 1.5. In 1980, it was 1.3. In 1983, at least while playing for Houston, it was 1.3 again. He WAS a plus defender. It must be noted, also, in those days, that dWAR wasn’t invented yet. A player’s defensive skills rested as much on reputation as skill and performance. Omar Moreno was considered an excellent defensive center fielder. That made him an excellent center fielder.

(Jerry Mumphrey had a -0.6 dWAR in 1982 which confirms, at least tangentially, that he wasn’t the defensive outfielder that Omar Moreno was. Again, Mumphrey wasn’t considered a good fielder, so that made him an inferior fielder.)

Oh, and Omar Moreno could fly.

Omar Moreno led the National League in stolen bases in 1978 (71), 1979 (77), and in 1980, he stole 96 bases (good enough for second behind Ron LeFlore- who had 97). Like playing defense, it you were a great base stealer, you kept that title forever. Never mind that Moreno led the league in times caught stealing in 1980, 1981, and 1982. Facts like that mattered little. He led the league in steals twice. That made him a great base stealer.

The fact was, though, that he wasn’t a great base stealer by the time he came to the Yankees.

1983 was a long drive away from Omar Moreno’s glory years.

In 1983, Moreno stole 7 bases in 10 tries for the Yankees.

In 1984, he stole 20 bases in 31 tries – not bad, but 20 stolen bases in a full season, even if he wasn’t playing as regularly as before, is a far cry from 77 stolen bases.

In 1985, Omar Moreno stole exactly one base in two tries for the Yankees.

I’ll share that I always liked Omar Moreno as a player. I rooted for those 1979 Pirates. I loved that team. I was a Dave Parker guy. I loved the “Cobra.” And who wouldn’t respect and look up to Willie Stargell? Plus, the hats they wore… with the gold stars. That was a fun team. And Omar Moreno was their catalyst.

Even I, in those days before advanced stats, as much as I wanted Omar Moreno to succeed didn’t understand why the Yankees traded away Jerry Mumphrey (a .300 hitter)to acquire him. (Remember, in those days, great hitters hit .300 and that’s what Mumphrey had done for the Yankees – even if he wasn’t hitting .300 (.262) at the time of the trade.)

Omar Moreno didn’t not hit for the Yankees in 1983. He batted .250. And while on-base percentage wasn’t looked at closely, it felt like it was a weak .250. For a guy who the Yankees needed to be on base (in order for him to steal bases), it seemed like he was never on base. The reason for this was because he hardly ever walked. Moreno’s OBP that year for the Yankees was .288.

In 1984, Omar batted .259, again, not bad. But his OBP was only .294. Moreno’s on-base percentage was lower than .the 300 that Jerry Mumphrey batted.

Then, in 1985, it all fell apart. In 1985, Omar Moreno batted .197 for the Yankees. In 34 games, he walked just once. His OBP was just .209.

When people think of Omar Moreno as a Yankee, I think they remember the 1985 iteration of Omar Moreno – the guy who never hit, never walked, and stole but one base. As a Yankee, overall, he was better than that, but he was never the player the Yankees probably thought they were getting.

The Yankees thought they were getting the 1977-80 Omar Moreno.

They didn’t realize that 1983 was a long drive away from those years and that each year he got further away from the player he had been.

After playing for the Royals (the remainder of 1985) and the Braves (in 1986), Omar Moreno’s career came to a close.

***

Postscript – (I just had to find this out.) Omar Moreno’s one walk as a Yankee came on May 15 in a game at Yankee Stadium against the Texas Rangers. Greg Harris walked him. Then, Omar Moreno was quickly caught stealing.


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