Bobby Callison and Johnny Murcer

April 18, 2013

                So who was a better ballplayer:  Bobby Murcer, or Johnny Callison?

                Bobby Murcer and Johnny Callison were both small men by the standards of power hitters.  Murcer is listed in modern sources at 5-11 but 160 pounds, which seems awfully small, and I suspect that is about what he weighed when he signed his first professional contract as an 18-year-old.    Callison is listed at 5-10, 175, and his size was an issue.   I remember Gene Mauch, who made Callison a regular, saying about him, "Yeah, but he’s a 200-pounder from here to here," touching his elbow and his fingertips.

                Both Murcer and Callison were born in Oklahoma.  Both men were right fielders, and both were in the majors when they were 19 years old.   Both played very well in brief trials as a teenager, raising expectations for them quite high, and each player then went into a three-year period of struggles and unimpressive play.   Both re-emerged as good major league players at age 23, and both were very, very good players from ages 23 to 27. 

                Both went into mid-career funks after that, and both had relatively disappointing second halves to their careers.     Both men had posted all of their career highs, of any significance, by age 27—not only their career highs, but their second-best and third-best numbers, for the most part.

                They were teammates for a couple of years in the early 1970s, and they both played right field for the Cubs in their early thirties, and they both were traded from the Cubs to the Yankees (in Murcer’s case, back to the Yankees.)     Both finished their careers with the Yankees.   Their good seasons look enough alike that you can’t really tell which is which unless you know.    This is a little data from their nine best seasons—five years of Murcer, four of Callison:

MurCal1

                These are consecutive seasons—ages 23-27 for Murcer, ages 23-26 for Callison.  Two gold stars for you if you know which season was by which player.    Callison in 1963, aged 24, hit 26 homers with 78 RBI and a strikeout/walk ratio of 111-50; Murcer at age 23 hit 26 homers, drove in 82 with a strikeout/walk ratio of 103-50.    Both players rarely grounded into double plays.  In the chart above, the most double plays grounded into by either player (in one of those seasons) was 11.

                Callison and Murcer entered baseball before there was an amateur draft.   Callison signed with the White Sox; Murcer, with the Yankees.     As an 18-year-old Callison hit .340 in the California League (1957), .340 with power (17 homers in 86 games.)     Murcer played in the Appalachian League at age 18 (1964) and hit only 2 homers in 32 games, but he hit .365.

                Callison moved up to the International League in 1958 and continued to dominate, hitting .283 with 29 homers, 93 RBI. . .damned impressive numbers for a 19-year-old at the highest level of minor league ball.    Murcer moved only up to the Carolina League (1966), but he played equally well, hitting .322 with 30 doubles and 16 homers.    Both made their major league debuts late in the season, Callison playing for the first time on September 9, 1958, and Murcer on September 8, 1965.  

                Both players had impressive cups of coffee.   Callison played 18 games for the 1958 White Sox, hitting .297 with 4 doubles, 2 triples and a homer.   Murcer played 11 games for the 1965 Yankees, hitting .243 with a triple and a homer.   Callison hit his first major league homer on September 14, 1958; Murcer, on September 14, 1965.    For each player it was his only homer of the season.    In terms of Win Shares and Loss Shares, I credit Murcer with a won-lost record at age 19 of 2-0; Callison, of 3-1.  

                Both men married their high school sweethearts while still in their teens.  Each player made a good enough impression that he opened the next season on the major league roster, at the age of 20.  (Murcer, actually, was still 19; he would turn 20 in May.)   Both players would struggle, however, and both would be sent to the minors early in the season, then recalled late in the season.   Murcer hit .174 in the majors at the age of 20; Callison hit .173.

MurCal2

                Murcer, then, had a major league won-lost contribution, through age 20, of 2-4; Callison, of 5-6.  

                Both players had been the victims of some unfortunate hype after the 19-year-old successes.   There was some sort of movie or promotional trailer made in the winter of 1958 that featured Callison as a coming superstar.   I’ve never actually seen the movie and don’t know what it was called, but I remember reading about it at the time.   Callison could run, he could throw, he could hit, he could hit for power. . .he had "superstar" written all over him.     Apparently quite a few people saw this movie, whatever it was, because we would read references to it for several years. 

                Murcer, on the other hand, became the next Mickey Mantle, one of a long series.    I think Tom Tresh was the first "next Mickey Mantle", the first one I remember anyway, and then Roy White.   I even remember Roger Repoz being compared to Mickey Mantle, although we might joke about it now.   Murcer was the best new Mickey Mantle yet.   He was from Oklahoma, as Mickey was, and he even looked a little like Mickey, in the face; he had more of Mickey’s grin than any other player the Yankees have ever had, those same dimples in his cheeks.    Mickey had come up as a shortstop (as had Tresh), and, although Murcer struggled at short in 1966, the Yankees didn’t want to give up on it too quickly.   Still playing shortstop, Murcer hit .266 in the International League in 1966, 15 homers and a .750 OPS—certainly not a bad season.    Callison was a little better, hitting .299 with an .858 OPS, same league seven years earlier.   (Callison also had been frequently compared to Mickey Mantle—a fact specifically noted in his SABR biography.)

                After the age 20 season (1959/1966) both Murcer and Callison had major career turns.    Callison was traded to the Phillies, as a part of a historic series of dumb trades by the White Sox.    The White Sox in the space of weeks traded away Callison, Johnny Romano, Earl Battey and Norm Cash, not to mention Bubba Phillips and Don Mincher.    Romano would play in 4 All-Star games for the Indians.    Battey would play in 5 All-Star games, Norm Cash in 5, and Callison in 4.    Don Mincher hit 200 homers and played in two All-Star games as well.   Bubba Phillips, although he wasn’t really a young player and didn’t make the All-Star team, played well enough in 1961 to finish 17th in the MVP voting.   No team has ever had a worse winter than the White Sox in 1959-1960.

                Callison, anyway, went to the Phillies for Gene Freese, while Murcer went into the United States Army.   The Yankees’ shortstop, Tony Kubek, retired that winter because of injuries.   On the day that Murcer reported to the spring training in 1967, hoping and expecting to be Yankees’ shortstop, his wife called him to tell him he had been drafted.    He spent the 1967 and 1968 seasons at Ft. Huachuca in Arizona.    

                Callison spent those two years, ages 21 and 22, playing for the Philles.   The Phillies were the down-and-out team of that era.   The Phillies were 58-94 in 1960, and 47-107 in 1961, finishing last both years.   In 1961 the team lost 23 consecutive games, at that time the longest losing streak in the majors since 1900.    Callison didn’t help much.   He hit .260 in 1960, .266 in 1961, with 9 homers each season.   Callison actually wasn’t bad; his won-lost records (win shares and loss shares) for those two seasons are 9-7 and 13-12, in part because Callison walked a lot, for a young player, and had on base percentages of .360 and .363.

MurCal3

                Callison, then, was ahead of Murcer through age 22, Callison at 27-25 (27 Win Shares), while Murcer was stuck at 2-4.  The real problem was that Callison was one of the best players on that team.   The Yankees were kind of lost in the desert at that time, too, finishing 9th in the American League in 1967 (72-90).    In 1968 the Yankees were playing Bobby Cox at third base and Bill Robinson in right field.  Both players would later be good, Robinson as a hitter and Cox as a manager, but in 1968 they were both terrible.   When Murcer got out of the Army in time for the 1969 season, then, the field was wide open for him.  

                At age 23, both players had their first good major league seasons, both hitting 20-plus homers and driving in 80-plus runs for the first time.   Murcer opened the season trying to play third base.    He lasted at third base until May 12, fielding a handsome .877, and then went to right field.   Late in the season he would move to center, and he would play center field for the Yankees for several years, but that is getting ahead of ourselves; in 1969 Murcer, like Callison, was basically a right fielder:

MurCal4

In both cases it was an expansion season. . .the National League expanded to ten teams in 1962, and the American League expanded to twelve teams in 1969, so both players had their breakthrough seasons in an expansion year.    Both players continued to play very well at the age of 24, each player driving in 78 runs:

MurCal5

                Through age 24, then, Callison and Murcer were on a similar track and had been on a similar track all of their lives, but Callison was clearly ahead.    Callison was mentioned in the MVP voting both years, finishing 18th and 15th in the voting; Murcer was not mentioned either time.   Through the age of 24, Callison’s major league won-lost contribution was 76-42, a .645 winning percentage; Murcer was 45 and 28, a .613 percentage.   

                At age 25, both men were very serious MVP candidates:

MurCal6

                Had the Phillies not collapsed in the last two weeks of the 1964 season, I am virtually certain that Johnny Callison would have been the National League MVP in 1964.   I was an obsessive consumer of baseball news at that time, and that was what all the talk was; Callison was the MVP.   Even with the Phillies collapse, Callison finished second in the MVP voting.    Callison’s 104 RBI in 1964 was the most runs that either player would ever drive in.

                But having said that, Bobby Murcer had a much better season at age 25 than did Callison.  The problem with Callison’s season—a problem to which the press at that time was entirely blind—was that he had lost the strike zone.   As a very young player Callison had had excellent walk ratios, drawing 69 walks in 1961 (aged 22) with just 455 at bats.    At that time he was mostly leading off and hitting second.    Moving into the middle of the order by 1964, Callison saw it as being his job to drive in runs, which was the way that people thought at that time, but his strikeout-walk ratio had degenerated remarkably, to 95-36.   Perhaps a small part of that can be attributed to the redefinition of the strike zone in 1963, but Callison’s walk rate and on base percentage had gone down sharply relative to the league.

                Murcer, on the other hand—finishing 7th in the MVP vote in the American League—had a .427 on base percentage.    Murcer’s .331 batting average that season was the highest average that either player would ever have, by more than twenty points, and Murcer also drew 91 walks, fourth in the league.    With his power and playing center field, Murcer almost certainly was the best position player in the American League in 1971, although the pitcher (Vida Blue) may have deserved his MVP Award.    Murcer was second in the league in batting, second in slugging (by three points), and led the league in on base percentage.    He led the league in OPS by 55 points in a pitcher’s park (Park Run Index:  94).

                The Yankees, however, were still struggling; they were under .500 almost all year, although a closing surge lifted them to a final record of 82-80.   Murcer’s outstanding season gathered relatively little respect.    The Yankee were down, and the American League was down; there really was not a legitimate superstar in the American League at that time.   

                At age 26, both players would hit their career highs in home runs—33 for Murcer, 32 for Callison:

MurCal7

                1972 was Dick Allen’s year in the American League.   Allen, traded to the White Sox the previous winter, made a run at the Triple Crown, which he lost by a few points in batting average, and, as we all know, if you come close to winning the Triple Crown, you have to be the MVP.  But if Bobby was not the best position player in the American League in 1972, he was the second-best.     With the Yankees still treading water, he finished fifth in the MVP voting.

                At that time, through age 26, both Murcer and Callison would have to be regarded not merely as strong Hall of Fame candidates, but actually as likely Hall of Famers.   Callison, who blasted 16 triples in 1965 among his other credentials, was coming off of four straight solid All-Star seasons, with won-lost equivalents of 24-8, 26-8, 24-12 and 24-10.   He had very nearly won an MVP Award with the weakest of the four seasons.   

                Murcer, for his part, was the heir to one of baseball’s most golden positions:  Center Field, Yankees.    Earle Combs (1924-1935), Joe DiMaggio (1936-1951) and Mickey Mantle (1951-1968) were all Hall of Famers, and Murcer, even though the press had not really taken full notice of it, was playing at a Hall of Fame level.   By the end of their age 26 seasons, Callison’s won-lost equivalent was 124-64, a .662 percentage, while Murcer was at 104-31, or .771.    The Hall of Fame was waiting for both of them.  

                But rather than benefitting from the legacy of DiMaggio and Mantle, Murcer seemed to be in the shadow of it.  What one read about Murcer in those days mostly was that he was no Mickey Mantle, and he was no Joe DiMaggio.    This is true enough.   Edd Rousch was no Joe DiMaggio, either, nor was Heinie Manush.    Max Carey was no Joe DiMaggio, and Earl Averill was no DiMaggio, and Lloyd Waner was no DiMaggio, and Larry Doby was no Mickey Mantle—but they are in the Hall of Fame.   Murcer was playing at the level of those other guys.  

                In 1966 Johnny Callison’s power suddenly vanished.   This is not absolutely true; Callison did hit 40 doubles in 1966, and his won-lost contribution was still pretty good, 20-14.    He scored 93 runs in 1966, the same as he had in 1965, but after driving in 100+ for two seasons, his RBI dropped to 55.    It’s an interesting offense, the 1966 Phillies.    Their leadoff man, Cookie Rojas, had a .310 on base percentage and couldn’t run.    Their number two hitter, Dick Groat, had a .311 on base percentage and was notoriously slow.    Everybody else in their regular lineup had an on base percentage of at least .335—everybody except the 1 and 2 hitters, although, in Gene Mauch’s defense, he did drop Groat to the bottom of the order in mid-season.   

                Callison, anyway, was hitting cleanup behind two of the worst top-of-the-order guys you can imagine, Rojas and Groat, and a #3 hitter having an MVP type season and driving in a ton of runs (Dick Allen).    Callison hit .218 with runners in scoring position, and hit 9 of his 11 homers with the bases empty.    Just in case you were wondering how a cleanup hitter with 612 at bats can wind up the season with 55 RBI; that’s how it happened.

                Murcer, on the other hand, had another very fine season, hitting .304 with 22 homers, 95 RBI:

MurCal8

                The Yankees were still going nowhere (80-82), and Murcer dropped almost out of the MVP voting, although he was still one of the best players in the American League.    And then, in 1974, the same thing happened to Murcer that had happened to Callison one year earlier.  His power suddenly disappeared:

MurCal9

                Murcer, batting third for the Yankees, continued to drive in runs; 88 RBI is a really good total for a guy hitting 10 homers.      His clutch numbers were pretty good, whereas Callison’s, for the second straight season, were absolutely terrible; he hit .212 with runners in scoring position, and homered only four times with men on base.    In a period of two seasons, hitting cleanup for a team that hoped to win the National League, Callison had hit only six home runs with men base, whereas he had hit 18 homers with men on base in 1964.   

                One of the criticisms of Murcer was that he was not a great defensive center fielder, a criticism that was valid.  He was not a great center fielder.   In late 1974 the Yankees moved Elliott Maddox into center field, and shifted Murcer to right.    He would play more games in his career in right field than at any other position.    In our head-to-head comparison, Murcer has now outplayed Callison for four consecutive seasons, ages 25 through 28, so Murcer now has a career won-lost contribution of 150-55 (.729), whereas Callison is at 162-93 (.636).

                In the winter of 1974-1975, just after the World Series ended, Bobby Murcer was traded to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Bobby Bonds.    It was a monster trade at the time, a huge news event, more because of Bonds than because of Murcer.     Bonds, who had hit 39 homers and stolen 43 bases in 1973, had the reputation of a superstar.

                As Bobby Murcer had proven to the best of the "next Mickey Mantle" candidates, Bobby Bonds had proven to be the best of the "next Willie Mays" candidates.  In a very real sense, it was like trading Mantle for Mays, only one generation later, and with the stars watered down just a little bit.   I remember Billy Martin, then managing Texas, saying this about the trade:   The National League does a better job of building up their star players than we do.   When he was playing in the National League, I thought Bobby Bonds could walk on water.   You know what?   Bobby Murcer is a better player than Bobby Bonds.

                I don’t know that he was better—Bobby Bonds was pretty good, too—but Murcer had less obvious flaws than Bonds.   It strikes me, in retrospect, that both teams were in some sense trashing their history by making what is otherwise a pointless trade.   The Yankees and Giants, once fierce rivals for the heart of New York City, were in a similar place in the mid-1970s, both organizations lingering in the doldrums.   They made the trade to make news, to re-invigorate their dead clubhouses and yawning fan bases.   In retrospect, it was bad judgment on both of their parts.  In any case, Murcer moved to San Francisco at age 29, and—like Johnny Callison—continued to search for his missing power stroke:

MurCal10

                Murcer, however, continued to drive in runs; in fact, since 1950 there are only three major league players who have had two consecutive seasons with 11 or fewer homers, but 88 or more RBI:  Enos Slaughter (1952-1953), Paul Molitor (1996-1997), and Bobby Murcer (1974-1975).    With a .396 on base percentage and 91 RBI, Bobby Murcer was still a very, very good player—and Callison, too, although his numbers look bad, was still a contributing member of society.    Callison had a .734 OPS in 1968, but the league OPS was .641.     Unfortunately,  Callison for the third straight year failed to hit in the clutch, hitting just .198 with runners in scoring position, and hitting 9 of his 14 taters with the bases empty.    He hit .203 in the late innings of close games, and .095 with two out and runners in scoring position.

                You can believe in clutch hitting; you can reject it, up to you.   Callison, it seems pretty clear, had developed a crisis of self-confidence, which may have been manifesting itself in anxiety in RBI situations.   I don’t believe in clutch hitting, very much, but I do believe in exceptions to the rule.   In 1964 Callison had hit .341 with runners in scoring position.   Once he expanded his strike zone to drive in runs, though, he became a vulnerable hitter in those situations.   His star was fading.   In 1965 he had been compared to Roberto Clemente.   By 1968 that was no longer reasonable.   He had a minor uptick in 1969, but, in truth, the improvement in his stats in 1969 resulted mostly from actions taken by the baseball community to increase run scoring:

MurCal11

                Murcer hit 23 homers in 1976, so some of his power did come back to him, and Callison’s slugging percentage was 7 points higher than Murcer’s, so I suppose that if we say that about Bobby, we should say the same about Johnny.     We have now had six straight seasons in which Murcer has outplayed Callison.   Murcer now is 190-77 (.711) in his career; Callison is 191-114 (.627). 

                That winter, both players were traded to the Cubs.     It’s not the same winter, of course; it’s a parallel winter.    The Cubs for many years were a dumping ground for players in whom other teams were disappointed.   Their right fielder between Callison and Murcer was Jose Cardenal, another of the "next Willie Mayses" who had been discarded by the Giants; Jose Cardenal is to Bobby Bonds as Tom Tresh is to Bobby Murcer.    The Cubs’ roster in 1977, Murcer’s first season there, included Bill Buckner, who had been beaten out of the first base job in Los Angeles by Steve Garvey, and Gene Clines, who had disappointed Pittsburgh after hitting .334 for them in 1972, and Greg Gross, who had disappointed Houston after hitting .314 as a rookie in 1974, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting.    The Cubs in the 1970s were baseball’s pawn shop.   

                Both players, in any case, had pretty decent seasons in their first years with the Cubbies, and both players moved past the 200-Win Shares level:

MurCal12

                Murcer’s 27 home runs were the most he had hit since he was 26 years old, when he had hit a career-high 33; Callison’s 19 home runs were the most that he had hit since he was 26 years old, when he had hit a career-high 32.   Their batting averages, on base percentages and slugging percentages were about the same.   At age 32—as many players do—both had very disappointing seasons:

MurCal13

                For both players it was their weakest season since they had broken through at age 23.    Callison was a below-average player for the first time in 12 years.    Murcer, with his .376 on base percentage, was still above average, but clearly fading.    For both players, their playing time was slipping.  

                That winter Callison was traded to the New York Yankees for a player to be named later.    In New York in 1972-1973, Callison was a teammate of the younger Murcer, Murcer playing center field while Callison was an irregular in right.     Murcer played 58 games for the Cubs in 1979, and then he, too, was traded back to the Yankees:

MurCal14

                The first line there is Murcer’s performance with the Cubs; the second line, his performance with the Yankees.    Callison played OK for the Yankees in 1972, but was released by them in August, 1973.     Murcer was a good bench player for the Yankees in 1980-1981, and then limped along into 1983:

MurCal15

                In the end, Murcer was clearly a better player than Callison—similar, comparable at all stages of his career, but Murcer clearly had more good seasons.     I credit Murcer with a career won-lost contribution of 253-131 (.658), which is in the range that I consider Hall of Fame eligible, although I couldn’t personally advocate for his selection.   Murcer was a better player than at least 20 to 30 players who are in the Hall of Fame, probably more than that, I don’t know.    

                Callison, I credit with a final won-lost contribution of 222-154 (.591), which is below the standard of a Hall of Fame player, although there are still some Hall of Famers who are below that.   The essential difference between them is that Callison lost the strike zone.   If he had continued to force the pitchers to throw him strikes, he would have had as good a career as Murcer, or a little better.

Johnny Callison died on October 12, 2006, at the age of 67.   Bobby Murcer died on July 12, 2008, at the age of 62.

 
 

COMMENTS (22 Comments, most recent shown first)

trn6229
Thanks, Bill for the article. As a 50 year old baseball fan, I remember both of them well. Bobby Murcer was an excellent player in his early years with the Yankees. He was expected to replace Mickey Mantle and no one can do that. The Phillies were terrible in the early 1960's then Gene Mauch was hired as manager and Johnny Callison became the established right fielder and he became a fine player. The Phillies were a winning team from 1962 to 1967 then went downhill fast in 1968, Mauch left and the Phillies were big losers in 1969 through around 1972. It must be hard for a player to be on a winning team and then be on a losing team. It is not fun to lose all the time.

Murcer was a better player, but Callison was also outstanding. In the 2005 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, Calllison has 10.1 batter-fielder career wins and Murcer has 8.8 BFW. For some reason, Murcer is rated poorly for his defense. I remember him as a good outfielder. Callison gets plus points for his defense, which I think is accurate.

Take Care,
Tom Nahigian
10:35 PM May 22nd
 
italyprof
This is a brilliant article and analysis, a real gem.

I do think Shea had a great deal to do with the initial power decline for Murcer. And not only for him: if you look at a team that I loved, the 1974 Yankees, it is immediately apparent that a number of players, including Munson, Nettles etc. had weak seasons that year. Since they missed winning the division by 2 games, having a shot at tying for it on the last game of the season, you think, wow, if so and so had only had a normal season we would have won it.

But I suspect Shea plays a big role. Elliott Maddox seemed to fit right in at Shea and was the team star that season and Lou Piniella had a good season playing regularly. The rest seem to have flattened out stats.

Thanks to those who recall Murcer as a broadcaster - joking and being the straight man for years for the Scooter, Phil Rizzuto, then as someone pointed out patiently working out a good rapport with Tim McCarver, who is a good announcer, a good person and was a fine player, but as far as I could tell never liked the Yankees and was not comfortable broadcasting for them. His smile when they lost the Series in 2001 was very telling.

Murcer is missed. I was just to young to remember Callison. He was one of those players, like Tom Matchick, and Tom Tresh that by the time I was beginning to follow baseball you hardly saw play anymore but whose baseball cards I seemed to always get when I bought bubble gum.
10:46 AM Apr 29th
 
KaiserD2
In re Bill's comment on draft boards:

Yes, draft boards were run by counties. But if one joined a reserve unit--as I did--one was immediately deferred. To join a reserve or national guard unit, you could simply get on the waiting list, as I did, or take advantage of a connection, like Dan Quayle or George W. Bush. It was very clear in that era, as I said, that nearly every professional sports team also had close relations with certain guard or reserve units and had no trouble getting their players into them. That's why there were so few MLB players from the Vietnam era whose career was interrupted by the draft. Murcer was a top Yankee prospect, but for some reason, he didn't take the Guard/Reserve route. That is what I found puzzling.
8:52 PM Apr 24th
 
rgregory1956
Happy anniversary, Bill. On this date (April 22nd) 1959, the White Sox routed your Athletics 20-6.....when they scored 11 runs in the 7th inning.....with the aid of only one hit.....a single.....10 walks (5 with the bases loaded), 3 errors and 1 hit batsman. Why am I bringing this up here? It was Callison who got that one single.
1:59 PM Apr 22nd
 
cderosa
I appreciate reading this closer look at Murcer and Callison. The line about the Yankees and Giants trashing their history with the Murcer-Bonds trade has some force with me. Bobby Murcer was my first "favorite player" as a little boy--I was just old enough to like the idea of baseball without really knowing anything about it. When my dad told me they'd traded Murcer, he had to explain to me the entire concept that players got traded. He tried to interest me in Bonds, but I was outraged by the whole thing.

There is still a part of me that thinks the Yankees' retiring #1 for Billy Martin was a phony whitewash of the fact that #1 belonged to Bobby Murcer.
9:07 AM Apr 20th
 
ventboys
I thought the best thing in the article was calling the Cubs of the 1970s baseball's pawn shop.
4:10 PM Apr 19th
 
jimgus
This is "more of the same" but, thanks, Bill for this excellent article. You know, the whole world regards you as some sort of statistics geek (incorrectly, of course - you're a truth-seeker:-) but only we true believers know how much "life" you can bring to a simple narrative about players (or teams or stadiums or leagues or whatever) with statistics included to illuminate the facts.

For what it's worth, I grew up in the Bay Area and CLEARLY remember the Bobby-for-Bobby trade. it was a blockbuster, the kind that triggers articles about the best and worst trades ever in Baseball Digest. I think I learned about Colavito-for-Kuehn in an article shortly after this trade. And, I thought Murcer was better than Bonds, too (no prophet without honor except in his hometown, eh?).\
Cordially,
Jimgus
10:45 AM Apr 19th
 
CWright
I agree that despite the many similarities that Murcer ended up clearly the better player of the two. I was prepared to disagree with you based on how the article read for most of the way, but you eventually get to the same conculsion.

I had to chuckle at your continued antipathy to Dick Allen in suggesting that possibly Murcer might have been the best position player in 1972 and Dick was the MVP just because he came close to the Triple Crown. Sure, Murcer was at least the second best position player in the AL that year, but it seems clear to me that the certainty with which one could say that Murcer's performance was ahead of Carlton Fisk's and Carlos May's is LESS than the certainty that Allen's performance was more valuable than Murcer's.
9:59 AM Apr 19th
 
bjames
Draft boards were run by counties. The wishes of the New York Yankees didn't necessarily cut any rope with an Oklahoma draft board. There WERE ways to dodge the draft, but many of us considered it.. .well, less than honorable.. .to evade the draft in sneaky ways. I had friends who went to Canada, which, of course, was entirely honorable, because that was paying the price for what believed was right. But I would bet that Murcer thought that it was his responsibility to serve--just as I did.
12:19 AM Apr 19th
 
wovenstrap
Billy Martin's comment is also telling -- I don't think you'd hear anyone say anything like that today, the two leagues are all just MLB now, pretty much.
8:00 PM Apr 18th
 
wovenstrap
Yankees fan here.... Not mentioned in this article (why would it be?) is that Bobby Murcer had a long second career as a TV announcer for the Yankees. Murcer was an excellent announcer, conveying a feeling of authentic modesty and good humor.... Sometime in the 1990s Tim McCarver, after years of distinguished service with the Mets, worked for the Yankees for a while. Murcer and McCarver shared the booth a lot during this time, and the first few months were really rocky, they had no chemistry at all. McCarver was a little full of himself entering the job, and what happened was that Murcer effectively "tamed" him over many long months.... by the end they had decent chemistry, and it felt like it was McCarver who had bent to Murcer, rather than the other way around. The point is that his virtues as an announcer were subtle, but real. Murcer seemed like about the nicest guy you could imagine, without losing anything in intelligence, and I was genuinely affected when he passed away a few years ago.
7:55 PM Apr 18th
 
smitty99
As a Phillies fan growing up in the 60s and 70s, I remember Callison really well. Didn't he have vision problems that might also have caused some of the strike zone deterioration? I remember him sporting glasses one year and that was supposed to "fix" him.

If I remember correctly, he ended up having a lot of health and money problems after he retired. I think he tended bar in Philly at some point. I think he was pretty high strung and that also led to some of his on and off field problems.

He was a big hero for us kids in the 60/ though. He had a fabulous arm and we thought he was the best right fielder ever. Clemente was good but not as good as our Johnny.



5:11 PM Apr 18th
 
DanaKing
Thanks, Bill. This is the kind o thing that keeps me re-reading the Historical Abstracts. I seem to have remembered Callison fairly accurately--considering I didn't really start to pay attention to baseball outside of Pittsburgh until he'd started to slip--but I had no idea Bobby Murcer had been such a good player.
3:40 PM Apr 18th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Was Mantle a great defensive center filder, or simply the best one the Yankees had at the time? If they had Curt Flood or Bill Virdon in the early 1960s would Mantle still have played center? I have no memory of him playing a spectacular CF. Fast as hell, yeah, but I don't remember any particular glove gems.
2:17 PM Apr 18th
 
bjames
1) Forgot to mention specifically that Callison and Murcer were both left-handed hitters.

2) Responding to chuck. .. the offensive/defensive breakdown should have been included in the article; my bad. I have Callison as the better defensive player. Callison 172-113 on offense (.604), 50-41 (.552) in the field, Murcer 205-82 on offense (.713), 48-49 (.495) in the field.

3) Roy White and Bobby Murcer are EXTREMELY comparable in terms of career won-lost contribution. They're almost the same.
12:57 PM Apr 18th
 
tigerlily
Thanks Bill. Very nice article. Regarding Murcer's power drought, I followed the Giants religiously at the time, and I have never seen any player with more foul ball homers (always pulled down the RF line) than Murcer in '75 & '76.
11:48 AM Apr 18th
 
KaiserD2
Ah, yes, I remember it well.

Two comments:

1. There must be a story about how Murcer could have been drafted at that point. Yes, it was the Vietnam era, but every major professional sports team seemed to have very good working relationships with local units of the Army Reserve and National Guard, and I would have thought the Yankees could have worked that out for Murcer, who would have then missed only a part of a season at most doing his 4-6 months training. (And you didn't have to be a major leaguer to do this; I met a minor leaguer in my reserve unit in 1970.) Although Vietnam was a much longer and bigger war than Korea, Korea took a lot more important players away from baseball (e.g. Willie Mays and Don Newcombe and Ted Williams) than Vietnam ever did. The only reservist I can remember being activated was Darold Knowles. By the way, I don't remember anyone referring to Roy White as the new Mickey Mantle, perhaps because the old one was still playing when he came on the scene. But yes, in the summer of 1969 I was living in New York and there was a lot of talk about Murcer in that role. However, by late in that season, he was being booed for NOT being Mickey Mantle.

2. The Yankees had quite a remarkable season in 1970, finishing second to the Orioles with a 93-69 record. Checking, I find that was 4-5 games above their pythagorean projection, but it seemed as if they might be going somewhere then. That was also Munson's rookie year.
11:39 AM Apr 18th
 
Magpie
When Murcer's HR power suddenly disappeared in 1974, I remember it being widely attributed at the time to the Yankees move to Shea Stadium. Murcer di hit just 2 HRs at Shea in 1974, 8 HRs in his road game. In 1973, still at Yankee Stadium, he'd hit 19 HRs at home and just 3 on the road. Through 1972, the splits weren't nearly as dramatic - he'd hit 59 HRs at the Stadium, 49 on the road. One suspects that he'd just perfected a Yankee Stadium swing, and then they went and closed the park on him.
11:12 AM Apr 18th
 
studes
Thanks, Robinsong. The table is fixed.
10:49 AM Apr 18th
 
Robinsong
Loved the article, but you are missing the '79-'72 table (78-71 shows up twice). I was in New York in the Murcer years and agree that Murcer - like Roy White - was tremendously undervalued, because of the focus on BA and HR. How would Murcer and White compare?
10:27 AM Apr 18th
 
chuck
That's a great talent you have, Bill, to see things that other people do not.
Could you show an offensive-defensive breakdown of their win-loss shares, too?
Thanks for a great morning read.​
10:15 AM Apr 18th
 
GOODFRIEND
Bill, This is interesting stuff. What motivated you to think and write about these two?
9:41 AM Apr 18th
 
 
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