Swapping Stories: The Calvin Murray Pickup of 2002

April 22, 2002: Texas acquires outfielder Calvin Murray from San Francisco for cash considerations.

By time the Texas Rangers traded for Calvin Murray early in the 2002 season, the great promise that the outfielder had offered as an amateur had dissipated to the point that the return for the two-time first-round pick was not a big league arm or a pair of near-ready prospects, but instead $75,000 in cash, which in Major League Baseball is almost considered token consideration.

Not many players in the last generation have been first-round picks out of both high school and college. The most prominent are probably Charles Johnson, Jeremy Sowers, and John Mayberry Jr. But none of them were taken in the first half of the first round twice like Murray, who was the 11th pick in 1989 by Cleveland (out of W.T. White High School in Dallas) and the seventh pick in 1992 by San Francisco (out of the University of Texas).

When Murray arrived in high school, he first drew attention because he was the younger brother of Kevin Murray, who had gained national repute as the quarterback of a strong Texas A&M program. Soon, though, the younger Murray made a name for himself as an elite prospect on the baseball diamond.

Rangers Senior Advisor John Hart was in his first draft room in 1989, when he was a special assignment scout for the Indians, being groomed as General Manager Hank Peters’s eventual replacement. Hart recalls that the room was split as to what Cleveland should do with its first pick.

“Calvin had superior tools but a questionable bat,” said Hart. “There were some who had reservations about the projection in his bat, but he was a such a fantastic high school athlete that we took him.”

Despite strong indications that Murray was intent on honoring a letter of intent to play for the University of Texas, and even though Cleveland had no second-round pick by virtue of the signing of lefthander Jesse Orosco, the club used the 11th pick in that 1989 draft on the fleet outfielder. The Indians had a terrific draft class that summer, landing Jim Thome in the 13th round and Brian Giles in the 17th round, plus future big leaguers Alan Embree, Curtis Leskanic, Jerry DiPoto, Kelly Stinnett, Jesse Levis, Billy Brewer, and Andy Sheets. But they couldn’t get Murray signed.

In three years at UT, Murray set a school record with 139 stolen bases and was a First-Team All-American (and Team USA participant) in 1992, when San Francisco used the seventh pick in the first round on the Longhorn junior, immediately after the Yankees took a high school shortstop named Derek Jeter. Represented by Scott Boras, Murray dragged negotiations out long enough that he wouldn’t debut as a pro until 1993. The $825,000 he signed for in November 1992 was the second-highest bonus paid in that draft.

The speed on the basepaths and in the outfield that had convinced Cleveland and then San Francisco to spend first-round picks on Murray translated well to the pro game, but the questions about his bat were validated as well. Through three minor league seasons Murray had hit just .240. It wouldn’t be until 1999, Murray’s seventh season, that he reached the big leagues, getting just 19 at-bats that year.

Murray would spend the entire 2000 season and most of 2001 with the Giants, serving primarily as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement. He broke camp with San Francisco again in 2002, appearing in 11 of the club’s first 17 games but going hitless in 12 at-bats.

On April 16, 2002, Rangers outfielder Gabe Kapler strained a rib cage muscle badly enough that he would be sidelined for a week. Carl Everett, who had started in center field on the days Kapler didn’t, was hitting an anemic .146/.208/.333. Hart, in his first season as Rangers general manager, had a low-cost alternative in mind to roam center for Texas, whose record was 3-11 when Kapler got hurt. He called the Giants to see if Murray was available.

“We had no doubts about Calvin’s makeup and his defensive ability. He was a good fit for us at that time. And there was the hope that [hitting coach] Rudy [Jaramillo] could get him to hit.”

Texas agreed to send the Giants $75,000 for Murray (plus another $25,000 if he lasted 90 days with the club), and for a month and a half he played most days, primarily as a starter at first but then settling into a late-inning role. He chased balls down like few Rangers center fielders had before, but in keeping with his history he didn’t hit much.

After a bunt single on May 14, Murray would go hitless in his next 22 at-bats, and on June 10, sporting a batting line of .169/.238/.260, he was designated for assignment. No team claimed the 30-year-old off waivers, and he was outrighted to Oklahoma, where his AAA season would last less than six weeks. On July 24, playing right field, he collided with RedHawks center fielder Jason Romano and fractured his right kneecap.

Murray spent 2003 in AAA with the Dodgers. He spent the 2004 and 2005 seasons in AAA with the Cubs, getting an 11-game stint with Chicago in 2004. Retiring from the game in 2006, Murray hooked on with Boras once again, only this time not as a client, but as a lieutenant.

Not all trades make big headlines, and not all trades have a significant impact. For what it’s worth, the Rangers, who lost 90 games in 2002, went 28-20 in the games in which Murray appeared. But his stint in Texas was just another in a line of opportunities he had to convert his potential into results on the big league level, and it never fully came together for the toolsy outfielder.

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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