Bobby Murcer was born to be a Yankee great. The Oklahoman was signed by legendary Yankee scout Tom Greenwade, the same scout who signed his idol Mickey Mantle. He cruised through the Yankee farm system, and at age 19 was competing for the starting shortstop job. Military service delayed his ascent to the next great Yankee superstar, but like his idol was switched from the infield to center field, taking over the starting job for good in 1970 after playing most of 1969 as the right fielder. He was named to the AL All-Star team the next four years, garnering MVP votes each season and a Gold Glove in 1972 as well. In 1973 he signed a contract for $100,000, making him just the third Yankee to make six figures. You may have heard of the first two – Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.
Murcer struggled a bit in 1974, the first of two seasons the Yankees played in Shea Stadium during the Yankee Stadium renovation. Shea’s right field was nowhere as enticing as the Stadium’s, and Murcer’s stats showed it, hitting only 10 home runs. He had also been switched to right field by manager Bill Virdon upon the emergence of Elliot Maddox in center field.
Meanwhile, on the other coast, Bobby Bonds was starring for the San Francisco Giants. The right fielder was a two-time NL All Star and three-time Gold Glove winner. He finished third in National League MVP voting in 1973, fourth in 1971. He had a power/speed set of skills rarely seen in the history of the game, averaging 27 home runs and 38 stolen bases from 1968-1974. The only flaw to his game was his tendency to strike out, averaging about 150 times a season at a time in which high strikeout numbers weren’t routine like they are today. Nonetheless, like Murcer he was paid well for the time, $100,000 in 1974. Like Murcer, he would be turning 29 in 1975 and appeared to be at the height of his skills.
On October 22, 1974, in the first ever trade of $100,000 players, Murcer was dealt for Bonds. In his words, he was “stunned”. Being a Yankee was all he ever wanted and knew. He had been assured by owner George Steinbrenner that he would be a Yankee as long as he owned the team. Adding insult to injury was that when he went to San Francisco he would also be bumped to right field for another Maddox, in this case the slick fielding Garry.
The deal stunned the baseball world as well. The Sporting News called it “one of the biggest one-for-one deals in baseball history”. It was certainly the biggest since April 1960, when the 1959 AL home run leader Rocky Colavito was dealt to Detroit for 1959 batting title winner Harvey Kuenn just before the season.
While desiring to stay in San Francisco, Bonds acknowledged that he was expecting a trade. – “So, I’m kinda delighted” that he ended up with the Yanks. He had a solid 1975 season, batting .270 with 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases while making the AL All-Star squad. Bonds didn’t exactly help the Yankees’ team fortunes though, as they lost ground in the AL East race, going 83-77 and finishing in third place.
Alas, that was the only season in New York for Bonds, as he was traded to California for outfielder Mickey Rivers and starting pitcher Ed Figueroa, both of whom contributed significantly to three pennant winners (1976-78) and two World Series championships (1977-78). Despite Bonds’ immense talent he was traded four more times in the next four years.
Murcer moved onto San Francisco, a team that finished well below .500 in 1974, and to ballpark that he stated was the “worst place I’ve ever seen”. He toiled for the mediocre Giants for two years, attained an All-Star game selection in 1975, then was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Bill Madlock. After two and a half years in Chicago, he returned to New York in a trade for a minor league pitcher in June 1979, spending the last three plus years in pinstripes as a useful part-time outfielder and designated hitter.
By this time Bonds’ skills had declined rapidly, as he batted .203 for Cleveland in 1980, and .215 in 1981 for the Cubs. He was released at the end of the season, and found opportunity in 1982 with…the Yankees. Unfortunately he struggled mightily with the AAA Columbus Clippers, batting .179 in 28 games before he was released, his career over.
Had he been promoted to New York, one of Bonds’ teammates would have been Bobby Murcer.