A lot of people hate the New York Yankees and that’s fine.They’re arguably the greatest franchise in sports, which lends itself to millions of baseball fans either loving the team, or hating them. That’s sports. And that’s the way it should be.
But if there’s one guy Yankee-haters could never complain about, it was Bobby Murcer.
The former shortstop-turned outfielder-turned Yankee broadcaster passed away on Saturday. He was 62.
Murcer was the lone link between Yankee legend, Don Mattingly, and the iconic Mickey Mantle.
By now, you may know Murcer came through the Yankees’ system just like the Mick–a shortstop from Oklahoma who would eventually make his way to centerfield.
What you may not know is how great a person he was.
NY Post columnist Joel Sherman wrote a blog on the Post’s website about how Murcer–the idol of Yankee fans who suffered through some lean years–was everything a fan would want his favorite player to be upon meeting his idol as opposed to his heroes: Pete Rose and Joe Morgan. Both disappointed him with their arrogance after meeting them.
After eulogizing his friend and teammate Thurman Munson after the catcher’s tragic plane crash in August of 1979, the Yankees were slated to play the eventual American League champions, the Baltimore Orioles.
Murcer, now placed in left field, was responsible for all five Yankee runs, including a 3-run bomb that catapulted the Bombers to victory that night. Murcer gave the bat he used to his fallen teammate's widow, Diane. The game is still remembered as one of the greatest in Yankee history.
The first Major League Baseball game this writer ever watched came on April 5, 1988. My father told me the Yankees would be playing on SportsChannel NY, channel 32 on Adelphia cable. The Yanks beat the defending World Champion Minnesota Twins and the eventual AL Cy Young winner, Frank Viola, 8-0 at Yankee Stadium. The first Yankee I met that day watching the game wasn’t Don Mattingly, Rickey Henderson, Willie Randolph or Rick Rhoden.
It was a guy in a suit-and-tie holding a microphone, who made a name for himself long before this new convert was born, let alone pick-up the Pinstriped Bible.
It was Bobby Murcer.
Murcer wore number 1 after Billy Martin did, and number 2 long before Derek Jeter became the greatest in the lineage of Yankee shortstops that included that smiling Sooner. Murcer was unfairly asked to be Mantle after Mantle. As the lone bright spot of some bad Yankee teams, knew what it was like to be Don Mattlingly before Mattingly. And as NY Daily News scribe Mike Lupica pointed-out on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters, he was a far better player than his numbers indicated.
In an era where it seems there are fewer and fewer class acts, Murcer, just like his early years with the Yankees, was one of few bright spots in professional sports. Nowaday, broadcasters have egos just as large as the players whom they lambaste with the same proverbial brush. Murcer was both a player and broadcaster and, by today’s “standards”, acted like neither.
Last year, when Murcer’s old broadcast partner and fellow Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto died, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner wrote that “heaven must have needed a shortstop.” Heaven must've also needed someone to keep Scooter in line. As Rizzuto's wingman, Murcer perfectly complemented his mentor's shtick, pairing themselves as one of baseball's most entertaining booths, especially during some tough Yankee years.
Heaven is a better place today. It has another shortstop, and one of baseball’s most lovable broadcast teams are reunited. And for another year, the Yankees have each been handed another black armband in honor of a departed Yankee hero.
Meanwhile, heaven has just handed out another halo.