Craig McMurtry – 1989 Topps

October 6, 2010

He’s Still Around?

In baseball, three seasons ago can be an eternity. So when I first got this card back in the day (before I stopped collecting for a second time, maybe a third, who can remember) I didn’t realize he was still pitching.

I was in NL territory – he was a reliever pitching for Texas. What I do remember him was as a Braves pitcher. He had one excellent season – a ROY and Cy Young candidate after going 15-9 with a 3.08 ERA in 1983. That Braves staff was pretty decent – and many of the key members (McMurtry, Pascual Perez, Ken Dayley, Steve Bedrosian) were young. Pete Falcone had a nice year at age 29. Only Gene Garber was a weak link.

While the staff improved in 1984, the Braves started to slide, and McMurtry slid the most. He was 9-17 with a 4.32 ERA and more walks than strikeouts. The offense was to blame for how ugly his record was, sure, but he didn’t help matters much, as he pitched barely above replacement level.

1985 came and the former Cy Young vote getter went Cy Yuck on the Braves. Well, the Braves went totally yuck. 3/5 of the potential starting rotation (Perez, Len Barker and McMurtry) imploded, and Bedrosian was an unlucky 9-17. The team was Dale Murphy, Rick Mahler, Bob Horner and…um….Rick Camp? Claudell Washington? (Bruce Sutter had a 4.48 ERA, so saves or not, he wasn’t that good.)

McMurtry went 0-3 with a 6.60 ERA, and he scrambled to get his 6.60 ERA down. On May 20, 1985, the Braves lost 14-0 to the Cards. Craig did his part, giving up five hits, three walks, and six runs in 1 1/3 innings. He didn’t pitch another big league game until August.

In 1986, it was another lost year for the Braves and McMurtry. Chuck Tanner’s eternal optimism couldn’t hide the fact that Omar Moreno, Raffy Ramirez and Andres Thomas were heinous offensive players. And while the pitching was better than 1985 McMurtry really wasn’t. He spent August in the minors, but was around the other five months but got into just 37 games and was 1-6 with a 4.74 as a mop-up man. He made five starts and went 0-3 with an ERA over 5 in those.

That was it for McMurtry. He was dealt to Toronto for Luis Leal and Damaso Garcia in a classic dead weight for dead weight trade. McMurtry pitched in the minors in 1987. I forgot about him, except to remember him on occasion the way I remember other mediocre Braves pitchers, with a chuckle.

Then I got this card. His June call-up by Texas escaped me, and I was a hardcore Rotiss leaguer. He worked 60 innings and compiled a 2.25 ERA. The rest of the Rangers bullpen (Mitch Williams, Jose Cecena, Dale Mohorcic and Ed Vande Berg) were arsonists, so McMurtry was the one positive reliever that Bobby Valentine could point to at the end of the year. Best of all, he wore his stirrups in a cool way.

His successes in 1983 were way out of my mind. I remember he got worse in 1984 and blew up in 1985, but he was out of sight / mind after that (no one watched the Braves on TBS in 1986, unless you were in the Brad Komminsk fan club!). So this card was a revelation that one can come back, under the radar, and surprise people.

I would love to say it lasted for Craig, but it didn’t. He had arm problems in 1989 and was ineffective in 1990. He then became the king of the six-year minor league free agents, bouncing to the Giants, Pirates and Astros organizations. In 1995 he was 6-1 with a 1.29 ERA for Tuscon, when the Astros called him up. He last pitched in the majors on Sept. 29, 1990, but there he was on August 15, 1995, pitching two innings for the Astros. He didn’t pitch much, or well for Houston, and that was it. But he had yet another comeback to the bigs, the second one after people wrote him off.

The last game he pitched was on September 28, 1995. After the September callups he was little used, but Terry Collins called on him during a wild game in Chicago. How wild?

Donne Wall was knocked out by the Cubs early in the game. Collins went to Darryl Kile and Pedro (“The Other One”) Martinez to calm things down, and the Astros chipped away at Jim Bullinger. They tied the game at 5 in the fifth and got a run off of Mike Perez in the 6th.

Up one, Jim Dougherty came in for the Astros. He gave up two hits and got two outs, but was pulled for Dean Hartgraves when a lefty came to the plate. Brian McRae singled, and that was the first blown save of the game.

The Astros took the lead again the 7th off of Turk Wendell, and Collins put in Jeff “Wacka” Tabaka. A single, an out and a walk, and Collins called on McMurtry. It had been over 20 days since Craig pitched in anger.

Wild pitch, then a walk and a sacrifice fly that tied the score. Craig struck out Jose Hernandez, but he had a blown save to his credit, the second of the game for Houston.

Craig could have gotten the win, though. James Mouton cracked a two run home run off of Randy Myers, and the Astros surged ahead 9-7. In comes Greg Swindell. Certainly he could put out the fire.

Um, no. Double by Mark Parent, deep fly by McRae, single by HoJo and a double by Mark Grace. Blown save #3 for the Astros. Swindell out and Dave Veres in. The game was tied at 9.

Mouton hit a sacrifice fly in the 10th to put the Astros ahead, but Veres gave it back in the bottom of the 10th on a sac fly by Sammy Sosa. Not an official blown save, but close enough. 10-10 after 10.

Mike Brumley, of all people, cracks a home run in the 11th to put the Astros up again. Todd Jones comes in to try to close it out, yet again, for Houston.

Shawon Dunston singles, a passed ball and then Scott Bullitt singles, scoring Dunston. Blown save #4 (and really #5 if you count Veres giving the lead away). The Cubs finally end the game when Parent singles home Bullitt.

That was the last game McMurtry pitched, but at least it was memorable.

 

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