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  • Paul Semendinger

Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #570, Bobby Bonds (Article 112)

by Paul Semendinger

(Continuing a series…)

***

I wasn't a baseball fan in 1974. I didn't know much about the game. I was just six years old...


But I like to imagine what I would have thought about the Yankees trading for Bobby Bonds in October 1974. Bobby Bonds wasn't just a great player, he was a superstar. Bobby Bonds was one of the biggest stars in the game.


They talk, a lot, about certain players being the next Willie Mays. Bobby Bonds was a guy who it seemed just might be the next Willie Mays. Bonds could do everything. He hit for power (he averaged 30 homers a year from 1969 through 1974. He could run (he averaged 41 stolen bases a year in that span). He had a great arm, he was a terrific fielder, and he also hit for a solid enough average (.275). He was great. And he was still in his 20's.


Oh how much fun we would have had debating that trade... The Yankees going out and getting Bobby Bonds. HOLY COW!


People forget this, or they remember this all incorrectly, but Bobby Bonds was the first huge superstar that the Yankees brought in during the Steinbrenner era. It was Bonds first... Catfish Hunter came a bit later. The Yankees traded for Bobby Bonds on October 22, 1974. Catfish signed as a free agent on December 31, 1974. It wasn't Catfish Hunter who started it all, it was Bobby Bonds.


When the Yankees acquired Bonds, they were getting the player in the National League who was billed as the next Willie Mays. He wasn't Willie Mays, of course, but he was a reasonable facsimile if one hoped and wished and wondered. Mays, of course, was also a San Francisco Giant, as was Bonds. The Mays torch was passed to Bonds so much so that Mays was the godfather to Bobby Bonds' son Barry.


What fascinates me so much about that trade was that, in order to get the next would-be Willie Mays, the Yankees traded their own facsimile version of the next Mickey Mantle - Bobby Murcer. Bobby Murcer was the Yankees' superstar and in some ways he might have been even more highly regarded than Bonds.


I was too young to follow this, but I just sometimes wonder, in awe, about that trade. It wasn't quite Mantle for Mays. It wasn't exactly Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams. But on a lesser scale, and in that era, Bobby Murcer for Bobby Bonds was a gigantic trade. It was huge. We don't remember Bonds today as the player he was in 1974 and we also don't remember Murcer that way either, neither ultimately fulfilled their promise, but at the time this was a trade of epic proportions.


Today, if anything, we remember Bobby Bonds as being the better player, but at the time, Bobby Murcer might have been even more highly regarded than Bonds. If we continue to look at that 1969-1974 period, we can see that Murcer was a four-time All-Star. Bonds was an All-Star two times. (Of course when there are players like Mays and Hank Aron and Roberto Clemente around, it is touch to crack that all-star lineup.) Bobby Murcer received MVP votes in four different season, Bobby Bonds three times (though Bonds has a third and a fourth place finish and Murcer's highest was fifth place).


In those days, the big three stats ruled the day for hitters: Batting Average, Home Runs, and Runs Batted in. Here's a comparison over that period:


Bonds: .275/177/517

Murcer: .285/139/533


Those are two similar ballplayers.


If we look to more recent stats, the comparisons are:


OBP/SLG/OPS

Bonds: .357/.484/.841

Murcer: .357/.464/.821


OPS+

Bonds: 132

Murcer: 136


bWAR:

Bonds: 35.3

Murcer: 27.4


BUT... let's run that WAR stat just through 1973...

Bonds: 31.0

Murcer: 26.4


In 1974, the Yankees played in Shea Stadium and it was a disaster for Murcer. He accumulated just 1 WAR in 1974. (They didn't know thar statistic back then, but everyone knew Murcer struggled at Shea all year.) Absenting 1974 and Bonds' and Murcer's career stats look even closer.


To boot, Murcer's best year (1972 - 8.2 WAR) bested Bonds' best (1973 - 7.8 WAR). But they were both top players.


These were two very similar players. VERY SIMILAR. It was a trade of epic proportions. And they were both about to enter their age-29 seasons.


And I wonder, if I had been a fan back then, how I would have felt about it all. On one hand, I would have been thrilled that Bonds was coming to the Yankees, but I would have been completely shocked that our hero, the great Bobby Murcer, was traded for him.


A few days ago on this site, we discussed a similar scenario from today... who would a team rather have to start, Aaron Judge or Mookie Betts. This was basically that deal in real life. Could you imagine if Aaron Judge was traded for Mookie Betts what the reaction would be. My, oh my!


In fact, I can't think of a superstar for superstar trade involving the Yankees that was of this magnitude since that time.

***

There is so much to unpack here, but here's something...


From 1969-74, Bobby Bonds averaged 5.88 WAR per season. He never had a WAR that high again.


From 1969-73, Bobby Murcer averaged 5.28 WAR per season. He also never had a WAR that high again.


Murcer and Bonds were traded at their peaks, or, at least close to them, but they were never that great again. Bonds was traded again and again, but he was the better player. From 1975 through 1979, he averaged .268/27/86. Murcer went from San Francisco to the Cubs, and then back to the Yankees. As a big time player, though, he was done. He averaged .273/17/80 through 1979.


There's a lot of talk now about how the Yankees have to sign Aaron Judge because he's great. And he is. Most people can't envision a scenario where Judge never is as great again. I also want the Yankees to bring Judge back, but I can also see how Judge could lose it quickly, because it's happened before... plenty of times. It happened with Bobby Bonds and it happened with Bobby Murcer. They were traded for each other at just about the heights of their powers and they were never the same players again...


***

Bobby Bonds spent one season as a Yankee. In 1975, he played in 145 games and batted .270/32/85. He was then traded to the California Angels for Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa. That was also an amazing trade. I can imagine my reaction if I were paying attention back then. They traded Bobby Bonds for who?


Of course, Rivers and Figueroa became two very important pieces of the 1976-78 World Series teams.


After playing for the Angels, Bobby Bonds went on to play for Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, and the Chicago Cubs.


Bobby Bonds was released by the Cubs after the 1981 season. On May 18, 1982, he signed with the New York Yankees. Most people also don't remember that. The Yankees released Bonds on June 21 of that year after he batted .179 in 28 games for the Columbus Clippers of the International League.


***

Bobby Murcer returned to the Yankees in June 1979. His dear friend, Thurman Munson perished in a plane crash on August 2 of that year. A few days later, Murcer delivered the eulogy at Munson's funeral and then had what was probably his greatest game when he drove in all five runs including the walk-off hit in an emotional 5-4 Yankees victory over the Baltimore Orioles.





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