Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bobby Ray Murcer: 1946-2008

MAY 20, 1946 - JULY 12, 2008

OUTFIELDER 1965 - 1983
BROADCASTER 1983 - 2007

AUGUST 2, 2008

Or so his Monument Park Plaque might read, if the right thing had been done. Of course, if the right thing had been done, he would have received it while he was still alive.

This year's Yankee Old-Timers' Day is scheduled for August 2, the anniversary of the death of Thurman Munson in 1979. We all know that, 4 days later, Munson was laid to rest in his hometown of Canton, Ohio, and 2 Yankees spoke at the funeral: Bobby Murcer and Lou Piniella, the 2 then-current Yankees who had known him the longest.

That night, against the Baltimore Orioles, Bobby drove in all the Yankee runs with a 3-run homer in the 7th and a 2-run single in the 9th, to win 5-4.

 sad and yet glorious day, and it goes down as the day we remember Bobby the player by.

He had only 1 chance to play in a World Series, in 1981, but he got to broadcast for 6 Pennant winners and 4 World Champions. I hope George Steinbrenner got him at least 1 World Series ring.

Steinbrenner should have given Bobby his Monument Park Plaque ages ago. After all, of all the players who were already retired when the YES Network began broadcasting in March 2002, the only ones who have gotten a Yankeeography but not a Plaque are Murcer, Piniella and Willie Randolph. And of those, Bobby was with the Yankees by far the longest.

It's getting to be a common sight, as more years than not, a Yankee star dies, and the black armbands go on the left sleeves. It might be especially weird for Derek Jeter, if the decision is made to make it a black Number 2, which Jeter now wears. I wonder if there will, one day, be a dual retirement ceremony, as there was for Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra. Or if they'll go with the first number Bobby wore, Number 1, which is already retired for Billy Martin (who wasn't willing to give it up in his second managerial stint, hence Bobby took 2 when he returned; he wore 20 with the Giants, and Mickey Mantle's 7 with the Cubs).
First Phil Rizzuto, now Bobby Murcer. I'm beginning to wonder if the real cause of death might not be a broken heart, from knowing that Yankee Stadium is being torn down.

I don't know how long it takes to make those Plaques, but it is past time. Bobby deserved it well before he got sick, and he deserves it now. I said as much in this blog in March, not yet knowing that his condition had taken a turn for the worse.

But it didn't happen. And there wasn't time. I don't have all the details yet, but either the cancer returned, or all the treatment compromised his health so that something else took his life.

(UPDATE: As it turned out, it was both: He developed shingles, which compromised his immune system, and allowed the cancer to come back aggressively.)

On May 16, I was in a Borders store and saw his autobiography, which he titled Yankee For Life: My 40-Year Journey in Pinstripes. It was supposed to be released on May 20, his 62nd birthday -- and, as we now know, his last.

I didn't even think about it: I pulled it off the shelf and walked to the checkout line. He's been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember.

The kid from the south side of Oklahoma City is no longer a part of life on Earth, but he'll always be a part of the lives he touched, as a player, as a broadcaster, as an advocate for his home State (in times like tornado strikes and the federal building bombing in 1995), as a spokesman for health issues (deeply regretting his past as a "smokeless tobacco" endorser, helping Mantle raise money for organ donation, his final battle), and as the kind of person who, when he spoke about his faith and the eternal life he's a part of now, never sounded like the kind of man who would hit you over the head with his Bible if you didn't contribute cash to his church. His faith was in his heart, not in his bank account.

There was nothing phony about Bobby Murcer: He could have made grass grow where there was only Astroturf.

Bobby Ray Murcer -- his real name, not "Robert Raymond" -- was an All-Star as a baseball player. As a human being, he was a Hall-of-Famer.

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