Where were you five years ago today?
I was up in Boston, visiting a friend and as we were walking into town to get some dinner, my cellphone rang. It was my mom. She wanted to know how everything was going and was checking to see if I got up there in one piece. I obviously did. After a few minutes of chit chat, she revealed another reason for her phone call. She had called to tell me that Bobby Murcer passed away. As soon as the words passed through her lips and into the receiver of my pink Motorola Razr, I gasped, said, “No!” then covered my mouth and tried not to cry.
My memories of Bobby Murcer the player are hazy at best. I vaguely recall the Thurman Munson game – the game after Munson’s funeral when Murcer was responsible for every run and the Yankees won on a walk-off by Murcer on national television against the Baltimore Orioles. I have been reacquainted with it in recent years, thanks to it being shown on the YES Network.
Murcer played from 1965-1983. He played for the Yankees at the beginning and end of his career with stints in San Francisco and Chicago from 1975-1979. In 1979, he was traded back to the Yankees and he played his last major league game on June 11, 1983.
His best season was in 1971 when he batted .331/.427/.543/.969 and finished seventh in the M.V.P. vote. Though, he had an equaly impressive 1972 season in which he batted .292/.361/.537/.898 with 33 home runs and 96 RBI. He finished fifth in the M.V.P. vote that year. Murcer finished his career with batting line of .277/.357/.445/.802 with 252 home runs and 1043 RBI.
He made the All-Star team five times – from 1971 -1975.
The big blow for Murcer came in October 1974 when he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Barry Bonds. This came just a few short days after George Steinbrenner promised Murcer that he would remain a Yankee for the rest of his career.
After stints with the Giants and with the Chicago Cubs, Murcer once again became a Yankee after a trade on June 26, 1979.
Toward the end of his career, Murcer was mainly used as a pinch hitter off the bench.
After Don Mattingly was recalled from AAA Columbus, Murcer’s career ended on June 20, 1983 when he was released by the Yankees. George Steinbrenner offered him a broadcasting job, Murcer accepted and he started in the WPIX booth that same night.
Murcer, along with broadcaster Frank Messer, called the infamous “pine tar” game against the Kansas City Royals on July 24, 1983.
Later on that season, in August 1983, the Yankees held “Bobby Murcer Night” to honor the man who grew up wanting to be a Yankee and who was lucky enough to do it.
He lasted on WPIX through the 1984 season. Then, after he was let go from that job, he was hired by the Yankees to be an assistant vice president. His first order of duty was to supervise Rickey Henderson‘s injury rehab down in Fort Lauderdale while the club returned to New York to start the 1985 season. Murcer got the itch to play again by watching Henderson take swings in the cage. And he actually played four games for the Single A Fort Lauderdale ballclub but a shoulder injury ended that dream for Murcer.
It turned out that working in the front office didn’t suit Murcer and Steinbrenner hired him to be a broadcaster, once again, this time on the radio and on TV for the 1986 season.
When 1987 rolled around, Murcer actually was hired to be a hitting coach with the Yankees but in a weird twist, wasn’t allowed to be in uniform during the games or even in the dugout. He’d have to watch games in street clothes from the press box. Not only that, Murcer solely coached the left-handed batters while full-time hitting coach Jay Ward worked with the right-handers.
Murcer returned to broadcasting the next year and did that every year, save for 1990, for the rest of his life.
In 2006, Murcer, after suffering from headaches and lack of energy, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent surgery on December 28, 2006 and on January 10, 2007 it was announced that the tumor was malignant.
Murcer valiantly fought his cancer and on Opening Day 2007, he returned to the broadcast booth at Yankee Stadium to a rousing ovation from the crowd and the Yankee players even came out of the dugout to applaud him. I was there that day and it was pretty amazing. Murcer returned to work full-time on May 1, 2007.
Murcer, who was a regular participant in Old Timers’ Day festivities, appeared in his last game in 2007. In previous years, he had current Yankee players act as his hitting coach for the game. One year, he had Jason Giambi as his coach and even put a fake barbed wire tattoo on his biceps as a tribute to Giambi.
In 2008, Murcer planned on working in the broadcast booth but became too sick to do it. He made his last public appearance on May 27 when he was promoting his autobiography, Yankee for Life, in New York.
Two week before he passed away, his family issued a statement saying that Murcer had a relapse and that the treatments of the previous 18 months had taken a toll on his immune system. In that same statement, it was said that Murcer had still planned to return to the booth in 2008.
Sadly, that was not meant to be.
On July 12, 2008, Bobby Ray Murcer, succumbed to brain cancer at the age of 62. He passed away surrounded by his family and back in New York, his Yankee family mourned the boy from Oklahoma whose lifelong dream was to be a New York Yankee.
Fate works in crazy ways sometimes.
My more vivid memories of Murcer were of his days as a broadcaster but I have a feeling that if I were alive during his heyday with the Yankees, he would have been a favorite player of mine.