The great David Wright power outage of aught-nine has a precedent in New York baseball history. From 1969 to 1973, Bobby Murcer hit 26, 23, 25, 33 and 22 home runs. The next season, the Yankees temporarily moved to Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was being renovated, and the 28-year-old sunk to 10 homers. In the four seasons before 2009, Wright blasted 27, 26, 30 and 33 long balls. In ’09, the Mets moved into shiny new Citi Field, and the 26-year-old could also only muster 10 dingers for the season. Both players were in their prime. Neither were/are considered home run bashers in the true sense of the word, with both being more all-around hitters who also happen to hit for power. But both players saw their home run totals drop dramatically after moving into a new stadium.
Murcer tailored his swing to old original Yankee Stadium and that inviting short right-field porch, and was one of the best outfielders in the American League in the first half of the ’70s. But as soon as he stepped into Shea, he was spooked by the faraway right-field wall, and suffered through a powerless year (though he did make the All-Star team in ’74 much like Wright did last year). In fact, he only managed to hit two homers at Shea all year long, and they came on consecutive days in September (Wright hit five at home and five on the road). He never got a chance to figure out his new home and redeem himself, though, as he was traded to the Giants after one season in Queens for Bobby Bonds (who, himself, was shipped off to the Angels – for Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa – after playing only one season for the Yanks). Murcer went from bad to worse – going from Shea to cold, windy, empty Candlestick Park, and only hit 11 homers for the 1975 season. He did recover to hit 23 in ’76, and after being traded to the Cubs, he belted 27 home runs in ’77. He then started his gradual, natural decline as he went through his thirties (oh, those innocent pre-steroid days of yore).
Was Murcer the only Yankee to suffer a home run drop after moving to Shea? It looks like the answer is yes. The only real home run hitter on the team in those days was Graig Nettles. He hit 22 in ’73 and then totaled the exact same amount in ’74. Lou Piniella hit nine dingers both years. Ron Blomberg hit 12 in ’73 and then 10 in ’74. Thurman Munson did go from 20 to 13, but 20 was a career high for him in the first place and 13 was more in line with his normal power numbers. Roy White saw his long ball numbers drop from 18 to seven, but he also had 136 fewer at bats than the previous season in his first year at Shea.
Of course, Wright went from a pitcher’s park at Shea to another pitcher’s park in Citi Field. But the high left- and center-field walls and the spacious right-center area, where he hits many of his home runs, in Citi may have gotten into his head (though if he kept his oversized helmet on at all times, he could prevent all bad thoughts from seeping into his brain). Other forces may have had an effect on his power also, though – he had no protection in the lineup with all the injuries the Mets had last year, which resulted in a lack of good pitches to hit, and by his own admission his mechanics were out of whack (he’s been working with Howard Johnson this offseason to correct the flaws in his swing). Citi’s reputation as a park where home run hitters go to die may be a bit overblown, as the Mets hit more homers at home than they did on the road last season, and the team just didn’t have any home run hitters in their lineup, so we don’t really know if any other players would have been affected by the move into the new stadium.
It’s hard to imagine that Wright will only hit 10 homers a year from here on out. It was most likely just a flukey season all around, and Wright will make the necessary adjustments and get used to his new surroundings. The Murcer/Wright comparison was something that jumped out at me, but there are enough differences that it’s highly likely Wright will rebound from his quirky season. But the similarities made it seem like déjà vu all over again. We’ll never know if Murcer could have bounced back in his second year at Shea, but there is one thing we do know: Wright won’t be traded to San Francisco for a member of the Bonds family any time soon and he’ll get many more cracks at solving Citi Field.