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Card Corner--Steady Eddie
2008-02-01 06:36
by Bruce Markusen
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.
 

From time to time throughout the year, I’ll be spotlighting cards that were issued as part of Topps’ colorful 1978 set. Featuring a nice mix of profiles and action shots, the set remains one of my favorites. It also helps that the 1978 season worked out pretty well for the Yankees, too.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2003, Eddie Murray burst onto the baseball card scene some 30 years ago, when his rookie card came out as part of Topps’ 1978 set (No. 36). While there’s nothing grossly unusual about this card, it features a few subtleties. There’s one of my old favorites, the classic Topps trophy cup, which is represented through a logo placed on one of the card’s corners, honoring each player who earned selection to Topps’ all-rookie team. By the way, I’ve always wondered, is that cup really yellow?

Murray’s primary position on the card is listed as DH, while his secondary position on the card is first base. And that’s no mistake, since Murray actually served as the Orioles’ designated hitter 111 times in 1977, while surprisingly playing only 42 games at first base. (Quick now, who was the Orioles’ regular first baseman in 1977? Boog Powell? Terry Crowley? Or perhaps Sabermetric whipping boy Tony Muser, the failed manager? No, it was actually slugging Lee May, who hit 27 home runs that season. May wasn’t a favorite of Sabermetric types for his playing, largely because of his inability to draw walks, but he had legitimate power and was a much better player than either Crowley or Muser.) Murray even appeared three times in the outfield his rookie season, though that position isn’t mentioned on the front of the card. In retrospect, this positional breakdown seems rather strange, since Murray ended up becoming a very competent first baseman, to the point that he won three straight Gold Gloves from 1982 to 1984.

The Topps card, while picturing a young Murray finishing a left-handed practice swing, also shows him wearing a cap underneath his helmet, a Murray trademark. Is it just me, or does no one in baseball do this anymore? It seems like more players used to wear both a cap and a helmet in the seventies and eighties—former Yankees Dion James and Bobby Murcer come to mind, along with 1970s icons Willie Davis, Al Oliver, and Willie Stargell—but the trend has become lost, perhaps because of the mandate that players use the ear-flapped helmet. Or maybe it’s because major league rules no longer allow players to run the bases wearing only a soft cap. Or perhaps it’s just not fashionable anymore.

In regards to Murray the player, few hitters were as consistent as the Orioles’ first baseman was from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. From 1978 to 1993, Murray emerged as a lock to hit at least 20 home runs, draw 70-plus walks, and collect 90 RBIs each season. The nickname "Steady Eddie" didn’t just occur because of his first name and the convenient rhyming pattern; it fit his even-handed level of production to perfection.

Some critics of Murray have knocked him for never achieving a level of superstardom; he never put together the kind of monster season that we have become accustomed to seeing from power-hitting Hall of Fame types. Murray never hit more than 33 home runs in a season, never drove in more than 124 runs, never slugged higher than .549. The criticism is legitimate to an extent, but it doesn’t do enough to detract from his year-to-year excellence and his inspiring career totals: 504 home runs, 3255 hits, and 1,333 walks. Those, dear friends, are Hall of Fame numbers.

While few would debate Murray’s Hall of Fame worthiness, many would argue about Steady Eddie’s character. For years, baseball writers have lobbed insulting words at Murray, who refused to talk the media for most of his career. They’ve called him surly, uncooperative, and downright callous. Others have gone so far as to call him a clubhouse cancer, citing his negative effect on the New York Mets’ clubhouse in the early 1990s.

So it was with considerable trepidation that I prepared for an interview with Murray in 2003. As part of my duties at the Hall of Fame, I used to conduct an in-depth videotaped interview with each newly elected member of Cooperstown. Expecting the worst, I began to talk to Murray. Within a few seconds, Murray shunted aside all of my fears. He was thoughtful, polite, and to the best of my knowledge, sincere. Rather than answer each question with some cliché of immediacy, Murray took a few moments to ponder my words before providing a reflective, meditative answer. Though not particularly smooth in his delivery, Murray did his best to give me some insight as to his patterns of thought, his philosophies on baseball and life. I learned about he had overcome a childhood of poverty, as one of 12 brothers and sisters living in the ghetto. (One of his sisters had died only a week before the interview, yet Murray retained his composure throughout our talk.) After about 20 minutes of discussion, I concluded the interview, not only glad to have been spared Murray’s supposed surliness but wholly impressed with the newest Hall of Famer.

Prior to our sit-down, I had never been a particular fan of Murray. In short, I believed the writers, without stopping to assess why Murray had chosen not to talk to them. (The running feud stemmed from a 1979 article, in which sportswriter Dick Young discussed members of Murray’s family. Murray considered the article intrusive and unfair. ) I believed the stories that claimed Murray led the league in laziness, selfishness, and lack of hustle. Plus, he had made the mistake of never playing for my team, the Yankees.

Thankfully, our opinions of others can change. Now I look at that rookie card of Eddie Murray a little bit differently.

 

Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com.

Comments
2008-02-01 07:37:18
1.   Alex Belth
Bruce,
Thanks for the special highlighting of the 78 cards, which are my favorites. Part of it is because I was 7, an impressionable age, for sure. Emotionally, I think those cards have the biggest resonnance for me. Beyond that, however, they are just aesthetically pleasing. Thanks again.
2008-02-01 08:11:08
2.   williamnyy23
Ah...what was so great about Murray? All he did was produce over a very long career. It's not like he was ever the "most feared", or managers considered walking him with the bases loaded even though hey never actually did it!
2008-02-01 09:27:51
3.   OldYanksFan
People here MAY not know, but Johan Santana was (potentially) traded to the Mets. They are haggling over the contract. Santana wants 7/$170 (including 2008) and the Mets are shooting for around 6/$145.

I wonder who will win that battle.

Man, I am glad Cashman stood his ground. I want no part of those numbers (without even talking about the loss of some quality kids).

We drop $270m on ARod, $52m on Po, $45m on Mo, $16m on Andy, and yet fans think the Yanks can invest $150+m on a pitcher without even thinking about it.

Have we gotten to take George's money for granted, or what!

2008-02-01 09:29:58
4.   berkowit28
"The Topps card, while picturing a young Murray finishing a left-handed practice swing, also shows him wearing a cap underneath his helmet, a Murray trademark. Is it just me, or does no one in baseball do this anymore?"

By "Is it just me?" are you letting us know that you, too, wear a cap under your helmet? No, just a silly locution? OK.

To the chagrin of Dodger fans, Juan Pierre does it to this day. It just makes him look more hapless. There's probably room for a second cap under there, too.

2008-02-01 09:32:05
5.   Raf
I tried wearing a cap under a batting helmet, but it felt uncomfortable, so I stopped.
2008-02-01 09:32:11
6.   standuptriple
3 Johan will, because he has all the leverage and can walk away. The Mets can't without taking a huge PR hit (which would be hard to spin positive). I'm loving the drama, especially because the Yanks aren't involved (for once).
2008-02-01 10:00:42
7.   Raf
6 If the deal falls apart, it can be spun as "Santana was being 'greedy.'"

It can go either way, for sure. Santana could be given back to the Twins, or the deal could be re-worked.

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a deal that fell apart because a player couldn't come to terms with their new team on a contract.

2008-02-01 10:04:17
8.   standuptriple
7 They can play the greedy card all they want, but everbody knew he was going to ask for a record-setting deal (and if you ask me he deserves one). The one year under control means nothing unless you went in with that as your objective, meaning the package would be completeely different.
2008-02-01 10:29:26
9.   Bob B
3 Goerge seems to be taking my money for granted.............my increase was one of those 66% variety and I still don't know where my seats will be in the new stadium(though I'm supposedly paying 2009 prices).
2008-02-01 10:46:28
10.   The Mick 536
Who were the other two players to have 500 homers and 3,000 hits?

And don't forget his memorable times with the Mets.

2008-02-01 11:05:37
11.   williamnyy23
9 I hear you...my season plan went up 50% thanks to my section being promoted from Tier Reserve to Tier Reserve MVP. No one is putting a gun to my head though, and I guarantee that if I give my tickets up, someone will be in line to pick them up. Sadly, I am crossing my fingers that I'll be given the honor to pay even more next season in the new stadium.
2008-02-01 12:32:49
12.   Chyll Will
8 I'm willing to bet that neither one of them comes out smelling like roses if this doesn't work out. The Mets will definitely take the brunt of it for not making any type of deal happen between them, but I can't blame any team for not wanting to pay that much for one pitcher, even if it's Santana coming off a second half with questions. You're either gambling on a fluke or buying into 1-2 seasons of top pitching and 4-5 of steady decline.

On the flip side, Santana can stew in Minnie for another season or get traded mid-season to a contender and get what he's asking for or more, depending on how close those races are. But man, to have to hear it from the home and away crowds for that long, who'll likely assume that it's all about money and will naturally hang the greedy tag on him... A-Rod will be a funny story compared to that. Would anyone accuse the Yanks of being miserly if they said no to Santana's asking price right now? $170 mil probably means a lot more to the Mets than it does the Yanks, but that's still a lot of money; especially as OYF pointed out 3 , you've put out a lot of dough that most teams would never have or willingly put out already.

2008-02-01 14:01:18
13.   JL25and3
10 Mays and Aaron, of course. Bonds will join them if he finds a place to play next year.

12 If you're not going to pony up the money, then why make the trade in the first place? What the hell did they think was going to happen?

Sure, there are reasons to be reluctant about committing all that money. But now that they've made the splash - and Mets fans are drooling - they take a huge, huge hit if they don't sign Johan. They really have no choice, and Santana knows it.

2008-02-01 14:10:38
14.   Saburo
How much is that Eddie Murray Topps card worth now? It might be the most valuable one I own...
2008-02-01 14:34:19
15.   Chyll Will
13 Well hey, you're right. It's not to say they won't pony up, but I understand their reluctance even at this point. The last I heard yesterday, Santana was asking $150mil/6yrs. $170 mil is a big difference. They both know the Mets are getting a bargain on the trade side of it. There's no certainty to what the Mets will get out of it in four or five years, but they are almost certain, provided he's healthy, to be the Beast of the East. My point is, neither one comes out looking all that good if the deal doesn't happen. Is it the Mets being cheap or Santana overplaying his hand if they don't agree at $170mil? The way the economics are now, I honestly can't tell...
2008-02-01 14:58:10
16.   OldYanksFan
I believe the Mets have offered 7/$152, but Santana said no. The 7/$170, IMHO, is a negotiating price. I think $155-$160 gets it done.

Frankly, I don't see Santana getting a penny more even if he was a FA. The Mets are gonna tale a beating on this. If ANYTHING happens to Santana, it will set the Mets back years!

2008-02-01 15:11:40
17.   joejoejoe
Per Paul Lukas (in '03) the only player to still wear his cap under his helmet is Juan Pierre.

"Photographic evidence does seem to confirm that the rise of helmet earflaps—which were introduced in 1964, became increasingly popular in the 1970s, and were made mandatory for new players in 1983—roughly corresponds with the decline of the cap/helmet combo.

In any case, the last big-name player to wear his cap beneath his helmet was Eddie Murray (also one of the last non-earflap hitters, thereby reinforcing that hypothesis). After he retired in 1997, the next and seemingly final custodian of the stacked style was journeyman infielder Kurt Abbott, who last played in 2001. Fortunately, that's when Pierre became an everyday player."

http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0343,lukas,48049,3.html

2008-02-01 15:38:09
18.   Chyll Will
16 ESPN SportsCenter reports the deal is complete, pending a physical. Numbers to follow...
2008-02-01 15:51:51
19.   OldYanksFan
NY Times:
The extension alone — an average of $22 million over six years — would make Santana the highest-paid pitcher in baseball, but the Mets are prepared to add a $7 million signing bonus on top of the $13.25 million that Santana is already owed for 2008, potentially bringing the total package to more than $152 million. Santana would be locked up through 2014, when he turns 35.
2008-02-01 16:03:49
20.   Eirias
The Sox picked up Sean Casey for cheap. Thoughts and comparisons to Ensberg?
2008-02-01 16:07:17
21.   markp
Murray and Singleton were two of my favorite opponents (Jim Palmer probably being #1.)
They got on base, hit for average and power, and never did anything (that I saw) that was selfish or mean. It's funny how guys like Murray are routinely castigated by the press, but jerks with big mouths are praised.

He's one of the rare players who got better every year for a lot of years in a row.

2008-02-01 16:28:52
22.   OldYanksFan
Sean Casey
Lefty
No power
1st base only

Ensberg
Righty with a .830 OPS against Lefties
Has some pop
3rd and 1st base (althought no experience At 1B)

2008-02-01 17:10:58
23.   Eirias
22 So... Casey all the way?
2008-02-01 17:23:23
24.   williamnyy23
23 Joking?

Casey is a decent addition for the Red Sox, but the Yankees don't need a lefty bat with no power. As a right who hits well against lefties, Ensberg fits the Yankeees need. It's not really who is better, but what each team's need was.

2008-02-01 17:25:07
25.   Chyll Will
23 If your Steve Phillips, I don't see how you don't love that deal...

E@#$ reports Santana signing for 7 years with overall value of contract at $150.75 mil.

http://tinyurl.com/yvyw46

I suppose they were able to lower the average yearly salary in exchange for the extra year. That's more than Zambrano, but still far less than what he was asking for; still he's got the extra year to play with. Can we let the Earth spin now?

2008-02-01 17:29:30
26.   Chyll Will
24 Curious, he spells Youkilis in late innings or what? With Lowell at third and a lefty power bat at DH who also "plays" first, do they actually need Casey?
2008-02-01 17:32:04
27.   williamnyy23
When you factor in the luxury tax, there really was no way the Yankees (or Red Sox) could afford that price tag IN ADDITION to surrendering prospects.
2008-02-01 17:34:38
28.   williamnyy23
26 The Red Sox lineup skews right handed, so adding a lefty bat with a good .OBP makes sense. Casey basically takes Hinke spot and should be more effective in the role. Also, if Ortiz gets injured or needs rest (an increasingly likely possibility), he'd be a capable short-term replacement. Finally, Casey is supposed to be a great clubhouse guy, so that's kind of an added bonus.
2008-02-01 18:11:26
29.   Chyll Will
Oh, >;)
2008-02-01 19:45:02
30.   OldYanksFan
Hey... is anyone interested in a LH SP? He's old, creaky and cranky, but he could be had VERY cheap and he might fit in with our team:

Rumors of David Wells' demise may be premature. Wells' agent, Gregg Clifton, has been telling teams Wells wants to play one more year and doesn't care what time zone or zip code he plays in. Some window-shopping so far, but no aggressive bidders.

2008-02-01 21:25:55
31.   Chyll Will
30 cricket, cricket...
2008-02-01 21:26:19
32.   Eric Stephen
I have this card at my desk at work. Eddie Murray became my favorite player shortly after he became a Dodger in 1989.

Bruce, thanks for this piece.

2008-02-02 03:01:51
33.   Yu-Hsing Chen
plus Sean Casey has a GOLD goatee, which makes him an instant true Red Sox! ;)

Thank god the Johan Circus is over.

2008-02-02 04:52:30
34.   OldYanksFan
Hey, look... I was 99% joking and 50% serious. Wells threw 160 IPs last year. a 5.5 ERA in the NL is pretty nasty, but in the Throwing-Shit-Against-the-Wall-to-See-What-Sticks dept, is he worth a MiLB contract, with heavy incentives?

He has 239 Wins.
I'm sure he'ld love to be on the Yanks with Andy and the kids, Yankee Stadium's last year, yada, yada. He's a LH with a rubber arm. Spot starts? Long relief? Mop Up?

He's basically free. Is there any value here?

2008-02-02 05:00:08
35.   OldYanksFan
Quick question: Is Cashman staying pat with our SP, or will he pick up a veteran innings eater for insurance?

I figure, in terms of regular season IPs, IPK is good for 170, Phil 130+ and Joba 120+.
That's basically 2 full starters.

I don't mind merry-go-round with the farm for the BP, but we have to plan on some injury for our SR. Phil, Joba and IPK are already up. We have Iggy. Is there anyone else on the farm that could give us 6-7 decent starts?

2008-02-02 06:04:57
36.   horace-clarke-era
About time OYF and I, as designated Ancient Mariners (Saml Coleridge, Mgr) agreed. I think a flexible veteran arm to spot start, deal with injuries, and allow the kids the innings-nursing they need makes some sense. I sadly suspect Boomer Wells is done like a dinner, but if he's willing to go options-laden the downside's small.

Best I read the Santana deal, the 7 million is shifted forward, NOT an added sum so total stays same. No idea why this is surprising anyone ... all the scuttlebutt was 20-23 million and swinging one year either way from 5-6. I AM a bit intrigued to read that the union was pushing his agent (!) to get the final number to 150 million for the next batch of free agent top starting pitchers (CC). That sounds pushy. If owners had leaned on Metskis to keep it down, is that collusion?

2008-02-02 07:29:19
37.   OldYanksFan
36 Oh... err... I change my opinion! :-)
2008-02-02 07:47:03
38.   OldYanksFan
I'd like to see a listing of:
Cost(dollars) per WinShare.
My guess is ARod, Jetes, Mo and Po will all be in the top levels. The bad signings like Zito et al, will be even closer to the top. I believe Santana will be near the very top.

When a player helps assure(?) a PS spot for a team (like ARod and Santana), their value goes up to that team... but there is a limit.

I believe ARod has averaged 150% WinShares compared to Santana, but only gets paid 130% as much as Santana. This means based on Wins, Santana is significantly more expensive then ARod (on an AAV basis). Add to that the odds of a pitcher getting injured compared to ARod and WOW!!! You got one expensive, risky deal.

I say like ARod's initial $25m/AAV contract, this will be the most expensive pitcher's contract (in AAV terms) for almost a decade.

One year of Santana represents more then the TOTAL amount spent on draft picks for the LAST FOUR YEARS. In those 4 years, how many MLB players will we produce? Phil, Joba, IPK and how many more? And that's ONE years of Santana. His 2nd years pays the salary of every successful draft pick for what... 6 years?

Getting Santana was a VERY VERY tempting deal. But is this really the best way to spend money?

2008-02-03 07:53:09
39.   Raf
I suspect in Wells' case the Yanks could get that kind of production in-house?

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