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Setting The Record Straight – There Is No Blame For the Yankees Trading Fred McGriff

by Paul Semendinger

January 6, 2021

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The other day in the comments, readers were discussing the fact that the Yankees traded away Fred McGriff. This is a common discussion point. “Steinbrenner was so bad that he traded away Fred McGriff…”

The Yankees made their fair share of bad trades in the 1980s, but including Fred McGriff in that is somewhat revisionist.

I wrote the following a few months ago which was published in the 1977 Topps Feature Article on pitcher Dale Murray. Because Dale Murray is not a household name, this essay might have been missed by many.

It is time to set the record straight on the Yankees trading away Fred McGriff.

***

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 (Of course) 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 who 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 noticing that he was once, years and years before, a low-level Yankees minor leaguer and then 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 lowest levels of the minors. That Kinston team was so far from the Major Leagues 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. Does anyone criticize the Yankees for giving up on a Super Bowl winning quarterback. (No one even remembers that.)

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.

***

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, in 1981, Fred McGriff was picked in the 9th round of the Amateur Draft. He was the 233rd player chosen in the draft. Every single team in the MLB passed on drafting Fred McGriff numerous times before the Yankees took him.

Yeah, Fred McGriff had “Superstar” written all over him in 1982.

It’s time we set the record straight.

There is no blame on the Yankees for trading a low-level minor leaguer who had not done very much and who wasn’t even highly regarded in the draft the year before. That the Blue Jays acquired such a great player was more a matter of luck, good fortune, and happenstance than the Yankees willingly trading away a future would-be Hall-of-Famer.

#FredMcGriff

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