Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Remembering Bobby Murcer

A special piece for Baseball Digest

Remembering Bobby Murcer on his Birthday

Today would have been Bobby Ray Murcer’s 63rd birthday. It’s hard to see that in writing… in the past tense. Bobby was taken way too early from us last year due to cancer. I miss his Oklahoma twang and his good-natured needling with his fellow Yankees broadcasters.

If you were a kid in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s and were a Yankees fan, there’s a good chance that Bobby Murcer was your guy. Those Yankees teams ranged from mediocre to just plain bad, but Bobby was a constant. An All-Star caliber player, Bobby had unfairly inherited the center field birthright that had belonged to DiMaggio and then Mantle. It was ridiculous to think that anyone could have matched those players’ star power let alone their statistics. Especially since Bobby wasn’t surrounded with anywhere near the talent that his predecessors were.

But he played hard, day in and day out, and created excitement with his home runs to the short porch in the old Yankee Stadium, his hustle, and his defense. Bobby put together a great career in New York. Then the Yankees decided to refurbish Yankee Stadium and temporarily shared Shea Stadium with the Mets. Bobby’s offensive game was never quite the same.

To make matters worse, on October 22, 1974, the Yankees shipped Bobby to the left coast for San Francisco Giants outfielder Bobby Bonds. I was devastated, as were all Bobby Murcer fans. And, as he would later tell it, so was Bobby.

Bobby spent two seasons by the Bay before he was shipped to the Chicago Cubs for Bill Madlock. It was kind of cool seeing Bobby in Wrigley as well as sporting the number 7 on his back. But it was not the same. Then came June 26, 1979, and Bobby was back in a Yankees uniform, acquired in a deal for minor leaguer Paul Semall.

Bobby raced to Toronto and was inserted in the Yankees lineup the very night of the trade. I was still in a daze from hearing the Yankees had reacquired him and suddenly there he was, wearing #2 (manager Billy Martin now wore #1) and batting third. He had two hits and two walks and the Yankees crushed the Blue Jays 11-2. Happy days were here again. Much of those good feelings went away a little more than a month later, however, when our beloved Captain, and Bobby’s good friend, Thurman Munson perished in a plane crash.

Bobby’s eulogy and his subsequent one-man Orioles wrecking crew on the playing field the night of Thurman’s funeral will always be remembered. Bobby was a little older the second time around with the Yankees, so that led to being platooned, and eventually to retirement in the middle of the 1983 season. But in between, he finally got to the World Series with the Yankees in 1981. Post-retirement meant a job in the Yankees broadcast booth and one season as the Yankees assistant GM.

Bobby carved out a nice little niche for himself working alongside the likes of Phil Rizzuto, Bill White, Jim Palmer, Tim McCarver, Michael Kay, Ken Singleton, and many, many more colleagues at YES, WPIX, Fox, and WWOR. Bobby’s broadcast career also enabled his fans to stay connected to him. Though he didn’t win any World Series rings, isn’t a Hall of Fame member, and spent a good number of years away from where he belonged, the Yankees fans always gave Bobby a nice ovation in both his career and post-career days.

Looking up to Bobby as a kid was made even more special when I learned what a genuinely great person he was off the field. It was a lot of fun recounting his career and life in his book, “Yankee For Life: My 40-year Journey in Pinstripes“. I also had the opportunity to meet Bobby as part of a sponsor’s night at the Stadium. I even came away with an autographed baseball card. Bobby was also a tireless worker for the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.), helping out those baseball alumni who had fallen on hard times. He raised more than a $1 million dollars for the American Cancer Society with an annual golf tournament, and helped raise money and awareness for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombings.

Bobby's son Todd, wife Kay, and daughter Tori

Bobby's son Todd, wife Kay, and daughter Tori

The day Bobby was traded to San Francisco in 1974 couldn’t compare to the day I learned Bobby had cancer or the July day last year when I found he had succumbed to the disease. It not only hit home because of what Bobby meant to me as a kid and as an adult, but brain cancer also took my Mom at just 71 years of age in 2001. I know what Bobby’s family went through and is going through.

If you or someone you know has been affected by a brain tumor, you can learn more at the National Brain Tumor Foundation website.

Here are some of my favorite Bobby memories that I was fortunate enough to witness in person:

I can’t remember too many specifics from the pre-1975 games, but it seemed like Bobby homered every time we went to a game.

Bat Day, 1971 - My wishes are fulfilled. I get a Bobby Murcer bat!

Opening Day, 1981 - Bobby hits a pinch-hit grand slam, just out of the reach of Texas Rangers‘ outfielder John Grubb. The Yankees roll 10-3.

September 26, 1981 - Bobby hits a pinch-hit, walk off 3-run home run to beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-4.

October 21, 1981 - Bobby is in the World Series at last. Game 2, he lays down a perfect sacrifice bunt in his lone plate appearance of the night. The Yankees win 3-0 over the LA Dodgers.

August 7, 1983 - Bobby Murcer Day at the Stadium. The Detroit Tigers crushed the Yankees, but the game was secondary.

Great times I only saw on TV or heard on the radio:

June 24, 1970 - Bobby hits 4 consecutive home runs in a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians.

August 29, 1972 - Bobby hits for the cycle. Only one other Yankee, Tony Fernandez in 1995, has achieved the feat since.


  1. The Cubs should be competitive enough to keep pace with the others teams. I really like the Cubs . They’ve always been one of my favourite MLB teams to watch. I pass most time watching and looking for their news and videos. Last time I saw some hot videos of them here:
    http://www.cubszone.comThey really deserve our love so we must not stop supporting them .Go Go Cubs

  2. i lived in upstate ny, massena, and when cable came about we finally got the yankees. murcer was my favorite...i even learned to hit left handed in his sort of slouched stance. i remember the year he battled dick allen for the mvp...i couldn't stand elliott maddox because he took over in cf making murcer play rf. and i hated that the year they went to shea, bobby couldn't buy a homerun. when he and bonds were traded, that was the first trade among 2 100,000.00 a year players...which was the height of the payroll back then....never liked bonds after that either, and was sour to the yankees for many

  3. Still have my Murcer Cards. He was my guy. Yankees had him Stottlemyre, Roy White, and Munson. They Stank. He was my quiet hero. And yes I still hate Johnny Bench as my winner picking friends love to rub it in that the Yankees stank.

  4. Being a Giants fan, I was elated at the aquisition of my favorite non-Giants player! I had always followed Bobby and went to see him when the Yanks played in Oakland but now he was a Giant. I didn't understand at the time what it meant to him but the press soon made his unhappiness well known. Soon, I just wanted him to be happy. When he was shipped to Chicago, I know it was a good fit for him and ultimately, when he returned to the Yankees, I was very happy! I remember the headline in the S.F. Chronicle..."Yanks get Murcer...whither Reggie"... Of course, Reggie was a fixture, but what a thought!

    My favorite memory on Bobby was a cold night at the "Stick" on July 15, 1976... Giants vs. Phillies in a meaningless game (as most were then) Jim Kaat vs. Ed Halicki and both pitchers took a shutout into the ninth. Bobby had not had much career success against Kaat (he claimed to be 0-60 in the post game interview). He was the first to bat in the bottom of the ninth. as Kaat went into his wind up, Bobby stepped out. The next pitch he dorve over the right field fence for his 11th homer of the season!

    I read the book, and I know there are many Yankee fans who hold him dear, but he was my favorite player and Giant for 2 years. In life, he was a giant among men, a solid performer on the field and off, a great husband, father, fan and of course a Yankee!

  5. That doubleheader on June 24 was my first time at Yankee Stadium. I was 15 years old.