Friday, May 20, 2011

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Bobby Murcer | Baseball Digest

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Bobby Murcer | Baseball Digest

Bobby Ray Murcer was born in Oklahoma City, OK on this date, May 20, in 1946. He was a high school standout in baseball and football (All-State in both), and played basketball as well. During his senior year, he signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Oklahoma, but instead was signed by New York Yankees’ scout Tom Greenwade, the same scout that signed fellow Oklahoma-born star and Yankee, Mickey Mantle.

Like Mantle, Murcer played shortstop poorly and was quickly moved to centerfield. He hit .365 in a 32 game stint in rookie ball in 1964 and followed with another .300 season and 16 home runs the following year at Greensboro of the Carolina League. He had cups of coffee in the Majors in both 1965 and 1966, but missed the next two seasons for military service.

When Murcer returned in 1969, his hero Mantle had retired and the 23-yr old was dubbed “the next Mantle”. It was an unfair expectation to put on any young player, but especially one who played the same position for the winning-est franchise in all of baseball. Murcer hit 26 home runs and drove in 82 runs in his first full season in the Bronx. Two years later he made his first All-Star team when he led the league with a .969 OPS, hit .331 to finish second in the batting race, and placed in the top 10 in the AL MVP voting.

Murcer began a streak of five straight AL-All Star Game appearances, won a Gold Glove, and smacked a career-high 33 home runs, but the Yankees continued to watch other teams win the AL East. In a doubleheader on June, 1970, he tied a Major League record by hitting four straight home runs in a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians. Murcer, Thurman Munson, and Mel Stottelmyre were among the few stars that Yankees fans had to root for in the early 1970′s. Things changed later in the decade, but Murcer wouldn’t be a part of it. Yankee Stadium was remodeled in 1974 and 1975, so the Yankees were forced to play their home games at Shea Stadium. Murcer’s swing, customized for Yankee Stadium’s “short porch” in right field (294 ft.) was no match for the larger dimensions of the New York Mets’ home ball park.

Famed baseball writer Maury Allen, then of the New York Post, profiled Bobby Murcer, the Yankees Quiet Hero in a 1971 edition of Baseball Digest. Click here to read this classic article.

Murcer hit just 11 home runs in 1974 and saw his average drop 30 points from the year before. That winter, owner George Steinbrenner decided it was time to shake things up and dealt Murcer to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Bonds in a swap of stars. Murcer only knew Yankeedom and was heartbroken. He would also be miserable in cold, windy Candlestick Park for the next three seasons. Murcer had a pair of 20+ home run seasons in 1976 and 1977 and watched as the Yankees reached the World Series for the first time since the mid-1960′s.

Prior to the start of spring training in 1977, Murcer was shipped to the Chicago Cubs as part of a swap for then-two time batting champion Bill Madlock. Murcer liked day baseball and the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. He hit 27 home runs in 1977, the most he had hit in five years, but slumped mightily the following season. In 1979 he got his wish though, a return to the Bronx on June 26 in a deal for a Yankees minor leaguer. Murcer’s old number 1 was now worn by manager Billy Martin, so Murcer suited up with number 27 (he quickly switched to number 2) as he stepped in against the Blue Jays in Toronto on the same day he was dealt. Happy to be back, Murcer went 2-4 with a run scored. But his happiness wouldn’t last long.

A little over a month later, one of his best friends, Thurman Munson, was killed in a plane crash while practicing take offs and landings at Akron-Canton airport. The two-time defending World Champion’s season perished right then and there with their captain and heart and soul of the team. Murcer delivered an eloquent eulogy at Munson’s funeral on August 6 in Canton, OH and the team returned that night to play the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. In front of a national television audience, Murcer paid tribute to his fallen friend with his bat. Trailing 4-0, Murcer hit a 3-run home run off of Dennis Martinez and then delivered a game winning 2-run single off of Tippy Martinez in the bottom of the 9th for an emotional 5-4 Yankees victory.

Murcer finally reached the playoffs with the Yankees in 1980 and his first World Series in 1981, though New York lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. In June, 1983, Murcer decided to retire from baseball and moved upstairs to the broadcast booth where he worked on and off for the next two decades, winning a trio of Emmy Awards. He also was part owner of the Triple-A Oklahoma City 89ers, became an anti-tobacco activist, headed the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.), wrote his autobiography (Yankee for Life: My 40-Year Journey in Pinstripes) and was generally liked and beloved by everyone he came in contact with.

In Decemeber, 2006, Murcer was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and underwent surgery. He would battle the disease for nearly two years before succumbing on July 12, 2008. He was survived by his wife and high school sweetheart Kay, and his children Tori and Todd.

Also Born On This Day:

Jayson Werth (Springfield, IL 1979): The outfielder was born into a family of college stars in track, football, and soccer. His uncle, Dick Schofield, and his grandfather, Ducky Schofield, were Major League Baseball players and his step-father, Dennis Werth, also played in the Majors. Werth was selected by the Baltimore Orioles as the 22nd overall pick in the 1997 draft, but was later dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays. After spending time in the Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations, Werth became a star as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Werth averaged 29 home runs and 84 RBI from 2008-2010 before he left for a seven year, $126MM free agent contract with the Washington Nationals.

David Wells (Torrance, CA 1963): “Boomer” was a standout at Point Loma High School in San Diego before being chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays with the second pick of the second round (30th overall) in the 1982 amateur draft. After scuffling as a starter in the minor leagues, the Blue Jays moved to the bullpen. The move paid off for both the organization and Wells, who became a fixture in the Blue Jays bullpen after he made his Major League debut in 1987. He was used as a spot starter by the Jays from 1990-1992 before he left the organization as a free agent to become a full-time starter for the Detroit Tigers. He went on to win 239 games for seven teams in his Major League career, World Series rings with the Blue Jays (1992) and Yankees (1998), and on May 17, 1998 tossed a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins. It was the first perfect game by a Yankee since his fellow Point Loma alum Don Larsen completed the feat in the 1956 World Series. Wells wrote a controversial autobiography, “Perfect I’m Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball” in 2003, and was always outspoken and loved the night lifeduring his career. He retired after the 2007 season, and can now be heard on TBS baseball broadcasts.

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