On, August 1, 1979 – the day before Thurman Munson’s fatal plane crash – the Yankees traded Mickey Rivers to the Texas Rangers. When the deal was finalized, it went down like this: The Rangers received Mickey Rivers, Bob Polinsky, Neal Mersch and Mark Softy – and the Yankees received Amos Lewis, Oscar Gamble, Ray Fontenot and Gene Nelson. (I say “when the deal was finalized” because there was a waivers issue when the trade first went down and Bowie Kuhn got involved to make sure that whatever transpired between the two clubs was kosher.)
So, on November 1, 1979 – thirty years before the Yankees would trade for Curtis Granderson – New York swung a trade with the Seattle Mariners: Rick Anderson, Jim Beattie, Juan Beniquez and Jerry Narron would go to the M’s, and, in exchange, the Yanks would get Jim Lewis and Ruppert Jones.
Now, at the time, three of the players who the Yankees gave up were legit prospects. Rick Anderson was the 5th overall pick of the 1972 January (Secondary) draft and was just 25-years old. Jim Beattie was a 6′ 6″ righty out of Dartmouth College – drafted by the Yankees in the 4th round of the 1975 amateur draft. And, Jerry Narron was a 23-year old left-handed batting catcher with some pop. (Juan Beniquez was not a prospect at the time – but was a serviceable big league outfielder.)
For the Yankees, the deal was all about getting Ruppert Jones to play center field for them (in 1980). He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 3rd round of the 1973 amateur draft and went to the Mariners as the 1st pick in the 1976 expansion draft. At the time of the trade with New York, he was just 24-years old. A left-handed batter – who was thought to be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium, like Granderson today – Ruppert Jones was the rare package of youth, speed, and extra base power.
And, what happened in Yankeeland in 1980? Well, the good news is that the team did great – going 103-59 and finishing first in A.L. East. But, Ruppert Jones was a bust for New York that season – missing 38 games between May and July and another 38 games between August and September. In the games that he did play, Jones posted a BA/OBA/SLG line of .223/.299/.357 in 373 PA.
You know…Howard Cosell had a radio show back in 1980 on WABC-77 in NYC. And, I remember one time he went ripping on Ruppert Jones. To this day, I remember Cosell closing his piece with “I’m sorry Ruppert. But, I tell it like it is…”
Related to all this, before the 1981 season, the Yankees traded Jones to the San Diego Padres – with Joe Lefebvre, Tim Lollar and Chris Welsh – in exchange for Jerry Mumphrey and John Pacella. (Mumphrey would become the Yankees center fielder until the end of the 1983 season – when he was then traded for Omar Moreno, who then took over in center for the Yanks until Rickey Henderson came along in 1985.)
I thought about Ruppert Jones when the Yankees recently acquired Curtis Granderson.
Thirty years ago, the Yankees had a center fielder who was a post-season hero – Mickey Rivers – who they felt was getting old. (And, they were correct.) Many feel this way about Johnny Damon today – that he was a World Series hero for the Yankees in 2009 – but, he’s starting to get old.
The Yankees, back in the day, replaced Rivers with Ruppert Jones – with the latter coming in a trade for prospects. At the time, it was an exciting deal for New York because of what Jones had done in the past. Today, it appears that the Yankees are replacing Damon with Curtis Granderson (in their line-up, but not in the field, for next year) – with the latter coming in a trade for prospects. And, many in Yankeeland are excited over the deal for Granderson because of what he’s done in the past.
Will Curtis Granderson work out as “well” as Ruppert Jones did for the Yankees thirty years ago? Time will tell, I suppose.