Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #252, Dale Murray (Article 48)
Updated: Dec 3, 2022
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
This is a difficult essay for me to write. I never wanted Dale Murray on the Yankees. I knew he’d be terrible. I didn’t understand the move at the time. I still don’t.
This is nothing personal against Dale Murray. I don’t know the guy. He might be the nicest man in the world.
He wasn’t a great Yankee though.
And I knew it at the time.
I knew more than the Yankees did, except I was just 14-years-old.
The Yankees acquired Dale Murray from the Blue Jays (along with Tom Dodd) in exchange for Dave Collins (who was, himself, a disaster on the Yankees), Mike Morgan (who I actually had high hopes for), cash, and a minor league first baseman named Fred McGriff.
The Yankees and the Blue Jays made that trade on December 9, 1982.
It turned out to be an early Christmas present for the Blue Jays.
The trade, ever since, has been remembered as the one where the Yankees traded Fred McGriff for Dale Murray – and that is what happened, but that’s not what the trade was.
Today, the trade is told in the manner of, “The Yankees traded FRED MCGRIFF to the Blue Jays for Dale Murray.”
But that’s not true. Not like that.
On December 9, 1982, when he was traded, Fred McGriff had just completed his second season in ROOKIE BALL.
Let’s go over that again.
I love the Yankees, but I am honestly critical of them. I tell it as it is. When the Yankees make bad moves, I call them out. Time and again. But in this instance, we have to give the Yankees some benefit of the doubt. When they traded Fred McGriff, he was just a kid. He was a kid with promise, yes, but he was in the lowest levels of the minor leagues.
Ever since that trade, writers have mocked the Yankees for trading FRED MCGRIFF for Dale Murray. But the Yankees didn’t trade the FRED MCGRIFF everyone knows now. They traded Fred McGriff, an 18-year-old kid, who had just played his second season of Rookie Ball for the Gulf Coast League Yankees.
Fred McGriff was an 18-year-old kid with a lifetime batting average of .238 in two seasons of Rookie League ball. That’s why the Yankees traded.
Every writer who criticizes that part of the trade is writing revisionist history. Show me the articles written in 1981 or 1982 that says that Fred McGriff was going to be a star.
He had played 91 games and hit just nine homers.
In Rookie Ball.
Do you know when Fred McGriff finally reached the Major Leagues for good? 1987. That was five years after the trade.
It was probably in 1988, when he hit 34 home runs, that writers started saying, “The Blue Jays got this guy for Dale Murray.”
No one criticized the Yankees for getting rid of Fred McGriff in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, or 1986. They probably didn’t even notice in 1987.
All the writers who say, “I knew that McGriff was going to be great” is telling a tall tale. They didn’t know it then. They didn’t know that Fred McGriff was going to be great in 1982. What if the Yankees had traded Dan Cox in that trade? Dan Cox batted .347 for the 1982 Gulf Coast League Yankees. He looked just as much a future star, if not more so, than Fred McGriff.
If the Yankees threw Dan Cox in that trade, no one would remember it. In a way, Fred McGriff’s eventual greatness makes everyone remember Dale Murray.
After the trade, Fred McGriff played most of his 1983 season a Single-A Kinston. He blasted 21 homers. Things were looking good for him – in the low levels of the minors. That Kinston team was so far from the Majors that they had another player on that team who people thought might have a good future in sports – a catcher/third baseman who hit but .206 in his last year of professional baseball. A few years later that player, Jay Schroeder, led his team, The Washington Redskins, to a 42-10 thrashing of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XX!!. All of that to say that the low minors are a long way from the Major Leagues.
Sure, Fred McGriff had promise and protentional, but he was a long way away, in minor league levels and in years, from the Major Leagues.
Quick Quiz – Who is Anthony Garcia?
I didn’t like the fact that the Yankees traded for Dale Murray at the time because… and this sounds unkind… I didn’t think he was very good.
I can’t say it was because I was upset that the Yankees traded Fred McGriff. I don’t think most people back then paid much attention to the low levels of the minor leagues.
In the 1982 Yankees Yearbook, there is no mention of Fred McGriff as a future star. None. Zero. Zip. He was getting no attention.
As a kid, I wasn’t excited about this trade because I just didn’t think Dale Murray was that good.
Quick Quiz Answer – Anthony Garcia led the 2018 Gulf Coast Yankees in home runs with 10.
If the Yankees traded him for a middle innings relief pitcher, how many writers and fans would be outraged?
(The next answer – the writers and fans would only be outraged if Garcia hits 30+ homers for many seasons in a row beginning in 2025, or so.)
Second Quick Quiz – Name the players the Yankees drafted in the 1981 draft before they picked Fred McGriff.
Second Quick Quiz Answer – John Elway, Scott Bradley, Phil Lombardi, Eric Plunk, Dennis Lubert, Mike Pagliarulo, Andy Swope, and John Fishel.
The year before he was traded, 1981, Fred McGriff was picked in the 9th round of the Amateur Draft. He was the 233rd player chosen in the draft.
Yeah, Fred McGriff had “Superstar” written all over him in 1982.
That cold December in 1982, when the Yankees acquired Dale Murray, I wasn’t enthused.
His career to that point looked like this:
9 Major League Seasons
5 Major League Clubs (Expos, Reds. Mets, Expos, Blue Jays)
I probably went to my 1982 Topps baseball cards to find Dale Murray to check his stats and saw that they didn’t even make a card for him.
If I went to the 1981 set, I would have seen that he also didn’t have a card that year.
And, no, Donruss and Fleer didn’t picture him either – in either year.
Who was this guy?
Whoever he was, I just didn’t think he would be good.
And he wasn’t.
The only thing I really recall about Dale Murray’s Yankees career was that he didn’t do well. I remember, at one point, he made the decision to stop pitching out of the wind-up. He thought that might help.
Even as a kid I thought, “A big league pitcher who can’t pitch out of a wind-up?”
Dale Murray pitched for the Yankees from 1983 to 1985. (He was long gone before Fred McGriff reached the Major Leagues.)
In his Yankees career, Dale Murray pitched 120 innings over 62 games. He went 3-6, 4.73. He was the ultimate middle-innings guy.
He have up 147 hits in those 120 innings. Yikes.
He was released by the Yankees in April 1985, was picked up by the Texas Rangers, pitched once for them (giving up two runs in one inning), and that was the end of his career.
I always felt bad for Dale Murray, in the way only a kid can. I didn’t really want him on my team, and then he was bad when he was there making nobody else want him. I felt guilty for seemingly knowing this before he came to New York. I felt like somehow I was responsible.
Even today I’d give my right arm to have had Dale Murray’s career. (Well, that wouldn’t really work, but the point is there. Dale Murray was big leaguer.
Last Quick Quiz – Dale Murray was once in a trade for a future Hall-of-Fame first baseman not named Fred McGriff. Who was it?
Answer – Tony Perez
Let’s end with some positive notes –
Dale Murray did win three games as a Yankee.
May 31, 1983 vs California
July 17, 1983 vs Texas
April 8, 1984 at Texas
He saved on game as a Yankee – on May 1, 1983 at Texas.
(If the Yankees had only let Murray pitch against the Rangers!
In 1976, long before he became a Yankee, Dale Murray led the National League in games pitched with 81 for the Montreal Expos. Imagine that, he pitched in 81 games in one season… that’s every other day. He went 4-9, 3.26 with 13 saves that year. No other pitcher on the Expos pitched in even 40 games. Amazing!