One of my childhood heroes was a baseball player out of Oklahoma City who had both the fortune and misfortune to follow in the footsteps of Mickey Mantle. Like Mantle, Bobby Murcer was not only from the same state, but he started in centerfield for the New York Yankees where Mantle roamed so long and so well, before his body breakdown sent him to play first base. I rooted for Murcer as I did for Mantle. I wanted for him to succeed like his predecessor both individually and as a teammate. Yet, I continued to root for him throughout his career that led him away from the Yankees and then back again.
You see Bobby Murcer was not the star everyone had hoped him to be. There are few Mickey Mantles and when we witness them we should greatly appreciate them. Murcer was a simply a very good ballplayer and teammate regardless of where he played. At 5’11” and 160 lbs., he was not a physically imposing person. Yet, he was an All Star for five years and won a Gold Glove for excellent fielding in one year. He also drove home over 1,000 runs with his hits and scored just underneath a 1,000 runs with his feet. And, along the way, he hit over 250 home runs. For the non-baseball fans, I don’t want to make this about statistics, though.
You see, in spite of not being a star or idol, Bobby Murcer was one of my heroes. He died in 2008 at the age of 62, so he is not around to read this. However, I believe there are many like me who just rooted for this guy because of who he was not and who he was. There are very few true stars in life. Most of the successful people are very good at what they do and work hard at. Murcer exemplified this. Yet, he was more than that. He was a good teammate and friend. This came to bear on one of the worst days and greatest nights in Yankee history and it had nothing to do with winning one of their many World Series championships.
It was the day another Yankee was buried after a plan crash that killed him – Thurman Munson. Like Murcer, Munson came up with the Yankees at the same time. Munson had greater success than Murcer on the field, but was very similar in that both were of the same ilk – hard-working good ball players. And, both were heroes for the same reason. On August 6, 1979, Munson was buried in front of his teammates in Canton, OH. Murcer gave a eulogy having just rejoined the Yankees a few months before. That says a lot about their friendship. Murcer quoted Angelo Patri about Munson:
“The life of a soul on earth lasts longer than his departure. He lives in your life and the life of others who knew him.”
The same could be said about Murcer upon his passing. I could end the story there, but the magic of the evening must also be told. The Yankees flew from Canton to New York to play a game on national TV that night against the Baltimore Orioles. Note, this was before the plethora of games on TV, so it was a grander event which included Howard Cosell as one of the announcers who always played a big crowd and event. Billy Martin, the manager was not going to play Murcer, but the latter insisted. Down 4 to 0 late in the game, Murcer played like there was an angel sitting on his shoulder. He first hit a three run homer to close the gap. And, if that were not magical enough, he ended the game with a two run single to win it for the Yankees and Munson’s memory. I am tingling as a type this as it was truly something to behold.
Bobby Murcer was not likely a hero to many, but on that night he was a hero to all who watched. And, he is my hero forever. A toast to all who are good at what they do and work hard to be the very best at it. Thanks for letting me share this. Happy Thanksgiving all.