One way of looking at Bobby Murcer's career is to
say that it was plagued by bad luck. Murcer, who passed away Saturday at age 62
from brain cancer, was the last Yankee prospect to be cursed with the title of
"The Next Mickey Mantle." Born, like Mantle, in Oklahoma and also signed by legendary scout
Tom Greenwade, Bobby Ray, as his friends called him, made it to the major
leagues in 1965, the year the Yankee dynasty collapsed. A shortstop when he
signed his pro contract, as Mickey had been, Murcer was converted, also like
Mantle, to the outfield and learned to play alongside his idol. But he spent two
years in the Army and by the time he returned to the Yankees as a regular in
1969, Mickey had retired.
"That was my first regret," he told me in a 1986
interview (for the Village Voice). I always thought, 'Dang, why couldn't I have
gone into the Army a couple of years earlier so I could have spent some time
playing with Mickey?'"
Instead of heralding a new Yankee dynasty, Murcer
became the only star in an era of Yankee decline. "He was just about all we had
during the dark years," says Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay, "from 1970 through
1974, he was the only player Yankee fans went to see." A four-time All-Star
(1971-74), he endured a second stroke of bad luck in 1974 when the Yankees moved
to Shea Stadium while their ballpark was renovated. "I had averaged about 25-26
home runs a season for about five years," he recalled, "most of them in Yankee
Stadium. I really felt 1974 was going to be my breakout year, but that first
week in Shea I hit two balls that would have been ten rows deep in the Bronx but
wound up dying at the warning track in Shea. It was the worst hitters' park I'd
ever seen; the ball just didn't carry. I knew then that 1974 wasn't going to be
Murcer was heartbroken when the Yankees traded him
at the end of the 1974 season to the San Francisco Giants for another Bobby also
born in 1946, Bobby Bonds, the man who, ironically, had been cursed with the
label "The Next Willie Mays" when he broke into the Big Leagues. The trade
became a source of humor for both of them; when they'd bump into each other over
the years, Murcer would ask with a laugh, "How's the new Willie?" and Bonds
would reply, "Just great, how's the new Mick?"
More bad timing: In 1979 the Yankees traded to get
him back, just in time for him to miss the world championship seasons of 1977
and '78. "That hurt, and it still hurts to have missed those teams," he told me.
"I'm not going to lie to you." He expressed it even more strongly in his
recently published memoir, "Yankee for Life": "It just ripped my heart out not
to have been a part of that." When he finally made it to the World Series in
1981, it was as a substitute, and the Yankees lost to the Dodgers in six games.
Though he never made it as the next Mickey Mantle,
Bobby Murcer was quite happy to have been the first Bobby Murcer. Mantle was
always irritated when he heard people talk about how great he could have been,
and Murcer once confessed to me during an interview in the Yankee Stadium press
box that he understood how Mickey felt. He had, after all, been voted to four
All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove (in 1972), placed in the top 10 in the MVP
voting from 1971-1973, and played in a World Series. In 1970, in a double header
against the Cleveland Indians, he hit four consecutive home runs, a feat
unmatched by Mickey Mantle or even Babe Ruth. And in the end, he accomplished
what he had set out to do: play centerfield in Yankee Stadium. He failed to
mention that he was the third centerfielder -- in fact, just the third player in
all of Yankee history after Joe DiMaggio and Mantle -- to earn a salary over
"I don't consider myself unlucky. There are a few
things I would have liked to have been different, but with apologies to Lou
Gehrig, I think I am the luckiest guy around," he said. One of the luckiest
turns of Murcer's career came in 1983 when the Yankees coaxed him into
retirement to make room on the roster for an up-and-coming young slugger named
Don Mattingly. "I wasn't old," he said, "just 37, and my first reaction was 'Why
should I pack it all in now?' But they offered me a position in the broadcasting
booth, and that proved to be just about the best job I ever had. I enjoyed
watching and talking about baseball as much as I did playing it."
At times, perhaps a tad too much, said his
critics. For several years he shared a mike with another favorite,
former-Yankee-turned-broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, and some thought the folksy
banter between the two of them came on a little too thick -- "Grits-Parmesan,"
as they were dubbed by one columnist. Nonetheless, as an announcer Murcer
achieved even greater popularity than he had enjoyed as a player. Some people
made fun of his southwestern twang, but as he once observed, "I spent almost
four decades perfecting that accent, and I sure wasn't going to change now."
"Of all the guys who ever broadcast Yankee games,"
says author and Yankees historian Marty Appel, "Bobby was the guy you felt most
at home with. You'd listen to him doing the game, and you felt you were sitting
right there with him. He didn't sound like a graduate of a broadcasting school;
he just sounded like a friend of yours who happened to know a little more about
baseball than you did."
writes about sports for the Journal.
BOBBY MURCER DIES
By GEORGE A. KING III
I have been a Bobby Murcer fan since I was old enough to go to games
with my dad. I am 44 now and am heart broken. For years as a child I
dressed as him for many halloweens and for a few years when you
could go meet the players at the stadium...
posted by robin gould
Last updated: 8:44 pm
July 12, 2008
Posted: 5:18 pm
July 12, 2008
He never filled Mickey Mantle's shoes and wasn't one of baseball's
superstars, but in the hearts of
and their fans Bobby Murcer was a Hall of Fame person who happened to be a
"This is extremely difficult because we loved him so much," a sobbing Joe
Girardi said shortly after hearing the news that Murcer, 62, had passed away in
Oklahoma City today after battling brain cancer.
As the sad news drifted through a clubhouse that showed no signs of a
much-needed 9-4 win - something Murcer would have cherished - over the Blue Jays
at Rogers Centre, voices were barely heard as people recalled a Yankees icon who
was supposed to be the next Mantle but instead turned into a good player and a
person that treated everybody with a big hello and an ocean of respect.
"Bobby Murcer was a born Yankee, a great guy, very well-liked and a true
friend of mine," George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "I extend my deepest
sympathies to his wife Kay, their children and grandchildren. I will really miss
Murcer, who hit .277 in his career with 252 home runs and 1,043 RBIs in 17
seasons, started and ended his career with the Yankees, with stops with the
and Cubs in between. But it was as a Yankee in the dismal years of the late
1960s and early 1970s that he made his name as the face of the team.
"Bobby never had a negative thought in his mind," Mariano RiveraMariano
recalled. "That's what I will always remember. The last time I saw him was at
the Stadium I gave him a big hug. It was nice to see him, he was a great, great
Long-time trainer Gene Monahan still marvels how Murcer was able to deliver
the eulogy at Thurman Munson's 1979 funeral and then hit a game-winning homer
against the Orioles later that night at Yankee Stadium.
"We went to Canton and all the things that we do, that was the hardest,"
Monahan said. "I don't know how he got through what he did, putting that eulogy
together in a day and a half and winning that ballgame for us."
Derek Jeter recalled Murcer's big smile and how he was always available for
words of encouragement.
"I knew he wasn't doing well but I didn't know it was at this point," Jeter
said. "Bobby always went out of his way to be positive. He was one of those guys
you looked at and how he handled everything with class. You never hear anyone
say anything bad about him. He was a good person, that's the bottom line.
"He treated people with respect. He would go out of his way to tell you were
doing a good job. Even when you were struggling he would tell you he was looking
forward to you coming out of it."
Alex Rodriguez, who passed Mantle on the all-time home run list by hitting
his 537th homer for 13th place today, knew about Murcer before meeting him from
his days playing in Seattle for Lou Piniella, Murcer's very close friend.
"I heard a lot of Bobby Murcer stories," Rodriguez said. "And then when he
would come around with that Oklahoma accent and he would talk hitting. He was
one of the greatest Yankees of all time and one of the greatest human beings I
have ever met. The Yankees were his life. He is the symbol of what the Yankees
stand for and he is a real champion."
BOBBY WAS PINSTRIPED ICON, THEN & NOW
Posted: 3:43 am
July 13, 2008
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - This is one way to understand what the
mean to the people, and to the sport, by coming to the Hall of Fame, by walking
its corridors, by absorbing its displays and reading the plaques and shopping in
the neighboring stores, where every other item is decorated by pinstripes and
For the last four decades, this was another way you could do that: You could
spend a couple of minutes in the company of Bobby Murcer as he walked among the
fans at Yankee Stadium, as he drank in every second of his time there, as he
tried to prove, with every step he took, just how many people a single life can
That life came to a quiet end yesterday, Bobby Murcer passing at age 62,
ending a dignified battle that began when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor
two winters ago.
Murcer will never earn a plaque here, and none of the Yankees teams he played
on from 1966-74 or from 1979-82 will ever be celebrated with a display here. If
Don Mattingly is the Yankee for whom most of the fans' empathy is reserved, then
Murcer is a close second, since he did get a peek at the 1981 Series, even if he
was far closer to the end of his career by then than the beginning.
But Murcer was every bit the Yankee that any of the Yankees crystallized in
Cooperstown were. Because Murcer was forced to do what no other Yankee had ever
been forced to do: He was the singular reason why a lot of Yankees fans bothered
to come to The Bronx in the dark, desultory days of the last 1960s and early
1970s. Before him, Yankees had always danced on stardust. He was forced to
trudge through the ashes of a fallen dynasty.
When the Yankees' kingdom collapsed, there was Murcer, and there was little
else. There was Murcer, who'd come out of Oklahoma just like Mickey Mantle,
who'd come up as a shortstop just like The Mick, then shifted to center field.
He wore uniform No. 1, and he was the No. 1 attraction for some awful Yankees
teams, playing a terrific center field, conforming his stroke to the Stadium's
A little piece of Murcer's soul was stolen forever when Gabe Paul shipped him
west in exchange for Bobby Bonds. A few spring trainings ago, when Barry Bonds
was doing something or other to aggravate or agitate, Murcer smiled and said: "I
may be the only guy in the country who has a bigger problem with the father than
the son. He's the guy who helped send me into exile."
It was an exile that ended on June 26, 1979, when the Cubs sent him back to
The Bronx, and because baseball is a cruel game, that meant he missed out on a
pair of Yankees championships. But it did allow him to spend a few more weeks
around his closest baseball friend, Thurman Munson, a gift that became painfully
poignant when Munson died in a plane crash in August.
It allowed Murcer his grandest moment as a Yankee, a bittersweet
juxtaposition for which he will forever be remembered. The Monday following the
accident he delivered a eulogy for his friend in Canton, Ohio, in the morning,
and that night, after convincing Billy Martin (who, by then, had reclaimed No.
1, forcing Murcer to wear 2) to play him, he hit a home run and then drilled the
game-winning RBI in the ninth inning to beat the first-place Orioles.
It was easy to forget that Murcer did have a fine career as a Yankee,
highlighted by a 1971 season in which he hit .331 with 25 homers and 94 RBIs and
an otherworldly on-base percentage of .427. He was a five-time All-Star. And he
did get those innings in the 1981 Series.
He was admired for that. He became beloved later on, as an announcer, as an
ambassador, as a humble messenger of all that's supposed to be right about
baseball, and about human beings. We lose a terrific Yankee. But more important,
we lose a tremendous person.
Emotional final tribute for Bobby Murcer
BY MARK FEINSAND
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Thursday, August 7th 2008, 12:07 AM
Bobby Murcer was one of the most beloved figures in
Yankees history. Wednesday, his friends, family and former teammates
gathered to celebrate his life.
A memorial service was held in
Oklahoma City for Murcer, who died on July 12 after a long battle with brain
cancer. The Yankees were well-represented, as
Girardi and others hopped on a 35-minute charter flight from
Arlington, while a group of front-office members flew in from New York.
"You want to pay your respects and we hadn't had a chance to do that,"
Pettitte said. "The Yankees gave us a chance to go there and come right back,
which was nice. I think his family appreciated it."
A large group from the
YES Network also attended the service, including Murcer's former broadcast
Michael Kay, who spoke during the service.
"The Yankees were not very good when I fell in love with the game," Kay said.
"But as a kid growing up in the
there was just something about Bobby, and I was not alone. There are people my
age that all looked at Bobby Ray Murcer. . . . In the years of bad baseball, we
had Bobby Murcer."
Doug Wheelock, a space shuttle astronaut, recalled that as a child he
snuggled under his sheets in bed with a transistor radio and a flashlight to
catch broadcasts of Yankees games and take down Murcer's stats.
"Actually, my knees were shaking that day," Wheelock said of his first
meeting with Murcer. "I can strap myself to a rocket but . . ."
Girardi called the day "awesome, but hard," saying a lot of tears were shed
while remembering his friend and former YES broadcast partner.
"To listen to the tributes from all the people, it was really inspiring,"
Girardi said. "It was sad because we miss Bobby, but it was a great event."
Others to speak at the service included a 13-year-old cancer survivor whom
Murcer befriended while in the hospital, as well as Murcer's son, Todd.
"They did a real nice job," Jeter said of the service. "A lot of things stood
out; to hear people talk about their relationship with Bobby, any time you get
to hear people's stories, it always adds a personal touch to it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Yankees Remember the Life of Murcer, With a Nod to Munson
John Clanton/The Oklahoman, via Associated Press
Andy Pettitte, left, and Derek Jeter represented the
Yankees’ players Wednesday at the memorial service for Bobby Murcer.
ARLINGTON, Tex. — There was a reason the family of Bobby Murcer chose
Wednesday to have his memorial service in Oklahoma City. Thurman Munson was
buried on that date 29 years earlier, and Kay Murcer, Bobby’s widow, wanted
Munson to be part of it.
Munson’s wife, Diana, was one of hundreds of friends and family members
who filled Memorial Road Church of Christ to honor the life of Murcer, who
died of brain cancer on July 12.
Derek Jeter and
Andy Pettitte represented the
Yankees’ players, and a large group of club executives, including Hal
Steinbrenner and his sister Jennifer Swindal, flew in for the ceremony.
“Awesome, but hard,” Manager
Joe Girardi said. “A lot of tears. But to listen to the tributes from
all the people was inspiring. It was sad because you miss Bobby so much, but
it was a great event.”
Girardi presented Kay Murcer with the No. 1 jersey the Yankees hung in
the dugout in his honor on Old-Timers’ Day. Col. Douglas H. Wheelock, an
astronaut who took a Murcer jersey into space last year, gave a stirring
“It was incredible,” Pettitte said. “It was a wonderful ceremony for him.
I’m glad I went. I just felt like I needed to go, you know?”
People from all phases of Murcer’s life were there, including his former
Reggie Jackson and Gene Michael, and representatives of the YES Network,
including Michael Kay, who was a speakers. The Oklahoma football coach,
Bob Stoops, was there, as was one of Stoops’s predecessors,
Yogi Berra and his wife, Carmen, gave a written tribute in the program
for the ceremony: “We loved you in pinstripes, we loved you in the booth,
we’ll love you forever, and that is the truth.”