Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #136, Jerry Mumphrey (Article 25)
The first great Yankees centerfielder I rooted for as a kid was Mickey Rivers. Mick “the Quick” was great. He hit .326 in 1977. He helped lead the Yankees to World Series championships in 1977 and 1978, but then, in that starnge 1979 season – a season that saw Yankees fighting with each other (Cliff Johnson and Rich Gossage) and the Yankees Captain Thurman Munson dies in a plane crash, also saw the Yankees trade Rivers to the Texas Rangers.
For an eleven year old kid, 1979 was a tough season to understand…
But then 1980 came, and with it Ruppert Jones arrived as the Yankees new centerfielder. I was now 12 and playing the same position on my Little League team. I was a big Ruppert Jones fan. I wanted him to be great. Since we played the same position, my friends started calling me “Ruppert” or “Rupe.”
But I didn’t really pan out as a centerfielder…
And neither did ol’ Ruppert with the Yankees. He batted just .223 in 83 games, hitting but nine homers, and was shipped off in late March 1981 to the San Diego Padres for Jerry Mumphrey.
At the time, Mumphrey had been a big leaguer for good since 1976 and was a lifetime .282 hitter, but he did it with little to no power (12 lifetime homers). Still following a .295 season in 1979 and a .298 season in 1980, he seemed to be a player whose stock was rising.
Initially, I didn’t want to root for Mumphrey, he was, after all, replacing the guy I rooted for (and earned a nickname after), but it didn’t take long to see that the Yankees had made a good deal.
In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Jerry Mumphrey led the team in batting average at .307.
In 1982, he hit .300 again.
He also showed some (not much, but some) power. He basted 6 homers in 1981 and 12 in 1982.
The Yankees had found their centerfielder!
Or so it seemed…
As I shared in a previous installment in this series, in 1983, the Yankees traded Jerry Mumphrey to the Astros for Omar Moreno. The trade made little sense at the time. Omar Moreno never starred as a Yankee.
Jerry Mumphrey, though, continued to hit and hit and hit.
To close out the 1983 season for Houston, Mumphrey hit .336.
In 1984, he hit .290.
In 1985, he batted a less-solid, but respectable .277. The Astros then traded Jerry Mumphrey to thh Chicago Cubs for Billy Hatcher.
What did Mumphrey do for the Cubs? He just hit .300 again and again:
1986 – .304
1987 – .333
After that 1987 season, Jerry Mumphrey had a lifetime .291 batting average. He was, by then, averaging 8 homers a year for his career, which wasn’t great, but was better than when he started and displayed no power.
And then, inexplicably, it all ended. Abruptly. As a 35-year-old in 1988, Jerry Mumphrey just stopped hitting. He batted only .136 in 63 games for the Cubs. He was released after the season.
And that was that.
I have opined in this series of articles that the Yankees just might have been more successful if they had just been a little smarter with just one or two of the trades they made. Trading Jerry Mumphrey for Omar Moreno was one of the trades that helped the Yankees be less competitive at that time. Had Mumphrey remained a Yankee in the years 1983-1987, he just might have been a piece that helped put them over the top.