by Lincoln Mitchell
March 26, 2023
Part III-The Next Mickey Mantle for the Next Willie Mays
On Opening Day, the first batter Yankees starter Gerrit Cole will face may well be, depending on how Giants manager Gabe Kapler crafts his lineup, Thairo Estrada. Estrada is a former Yankees prospect who established himself as a solid second baseman who can hit a little bit and play more or less wherever he is needed. The best player on the Yankees will be Aaron Judge, who for a brief moment this off-season was believed, at least in San Francisco, to be heading to the Giants. The Yankees starter for the second game of the season was supposed to be Carlos Rodon, but he is injured. Rodon spent last season being one of the best pitchers in the National League while toiling for the Giants.
Over the years, there have been many players who played for both the Giants and the Yankees, but relatively few trades between the two teams. Most of those were minor: an aging Mike McCormick to the Yankees for John Cumberland in 1970; the Giants getting a pretty decent outfielder in Terry Whitfield for Marty Perez in 1977; the Yankees sending Jay Witasick to the Giants for John Vander Wal in 2001; or back in 1939, in what was probably the first trade between the two teams, the Giants getting Mickey Witek in exchange for Alex Kampouris and Tom Padden.
In the long history of these two franchises, there has only been one trade where players going from the Yankees to the Giants and from the Giants to the Yankees would have been known by casual baseball fans. That trade occurred on October 22, 1974 when the Giants sent Bobby Bonds to the Yankees in exchange for Bobby Murcer. This Bobby swapping was enormous news at the time. Both Bonds and Murcer were big stars. The 28 year old Bonds had already accumulated 38.1 WAR with the Giants, been selected to two All Star teams, won one gold glove and had two 30-30 seasons. Murcer, also 28 years old, was a four time All-Star with three top ten MVP finishes and 27.4 WAR through 1974.
This was a true challenge trade. There were no other players involved and in those pre-free agency days, there were no contract considerations. Murcer had begun his career in centerfield, but moved over to right in 1974. He was a highly touted prospect who hailed from Oklahoma and began as a shortstop before being moved to the outfield. The comparisons to Mickey Mantle were unavoidable, and ultimately unhelpful. Comparing any young player to Mickey Mantle is not fair and puts enormous pressure on that player. The only thing worse for a young player would be being compared to Willie Mays-and that is exactly what happened to Bonds. Bonds never played centerfield because Mays was still there when Bonds established himself with the Giants in 1968, but Bonds, like Mays had both power and speed and was an excellent and graceful defender in the outfield.
The next Mickey Mantle was traded for the next Willie Mays. It is hard to say who got the better of the deal because neither player stayed with their new team for long. Bonds had a very good year for the Yankees in 1975, making the All-Star team, having another 30-30 season and getting on base at a .375 clip. Murcer had two solid seasons with the Giants, with OPS+ of above 120 both years, but he never really adapted to playing in Candlestick Park-the freezing and windswept ballpark the Giants called home back then. The truth is Murcer hated playing there. Mike Murphy, the Giants clubhouse man who finally retired this off-season after being with the team since they moved to California told me that Murcer once asked if they could blow the ballpark up. Based on Murphy’s tone, it seemed Murcer was only half-joking.
The truth is both players had their best years with their original team. Bonds remained in the big leagues through the 1981 season, but based on WAR, his five best seasons were with the Giants before the trade. Bonds had a solid career with a total of 57.8 WAR and received as much as 10.6% of the Hall of Fame votes one year, but he was never quite the next Willie Mays. Today, he is best known as the father of Barry Bonds.
Murcer returned to the Yankees in 1979 and was a valuable left-handed hitter for the team through the 1983 season. However, according to WAR, his five best seasons were with the Yankees before the trade. The symmetry between the careers of these two very good players, is striking, but there is one more curious similarity.
Although neither Bonds nor Murcer remained with their new team very long, they were both parts of trade trees that were very impactful. Following the 1975 season, the Yankees sent Bonds to the Angels for Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa. Rivers was a fine centerfielder and leadoff hitter on the Yankees teams that won three consecutive pennants and two World Series from 1976-1978. Figueroa, who is not well remembered today was an excellent pitcher during his time with the Yankees, winning 55 game between 1976 and 1978. Midway through the 1979 season the Yankees sent Rivers to Texas in a multi-player deal that brought back a package that include Oscar Gamble. Gamble was an outstanding player on the Yankees through 1984. His power and patience based game was under appreciated at the time but his 140 OPS+ during his second stint in pinstripes speaks for itself.
Murcer lasted two seasons in San Francisco before the Giants sent him to Chicago for Bill Madlock. This was a great trade for the Giants. Madlock had already won two batting titles and continued to hit for the Giants-and even moved to second base from his natural position at third so the Giants could get Darrell Evans in the lineup. Then, foolishly, the Giants traded Madlock to the Pirates early in the 1979 season. All Madlock did for the Pirates that year was hit .328 and help them win the World Series. In exchange for Madlock, the Giants for three pitchers including Al Holland, an excellent left-handed reliever for a few years, and Ed Whitson, yes that Ed Whitson.
And this is where the trade tree gets weird. Holland, who ended his career with the Yankees in 1986 and 1987, gave the Giants four good years, but was then sent to Philadelphia along with Joe Morgan in a multi-player trade that brought back, among others, Mike Krukow. Krukow was a good pitcher for the Giants, even winning 20 games in 1986. Meanwhile, Ed Whitson made it through 1981 in San Francisco before being sent to Cleveland for second baseman Duane Kuiper. Kuiper was fine fielder and decent contact hitter who hit a grand total of one home run in 3,754 career plate appearances. Both Krukow and Kuiper finished their playing days with San Francisco.
Krukow and Kuiper were good but not widely remembered players. However, today Kruk and Kuip, as they are known, are the core broadcasting team for the Giants and among the very best in the game. So, on Opening Day, Giants fans will be listening to two guys call the game whose path to the Giants began almost half a century ago when the next Willie Mays was traded for the next Mickey Mantle.
For more of Lincoln’s writing, check out his Substack: Kibitzing with Lincoln.