Yankee For Life – Bobby Murcer
Posted by athomeatfenway on January 4, 2009
YANKEE FOR LIFE. My 40 year journey in pinstripes. By Bobby Murcer with Glen Waggoner. Harper, 2008. 304 pages.
One begins this book knowing that Murcer passed away, but full of hope that his story will be a treasure box of 60’s and 70’s baseball and a testament to human character.
Within an hour, the reader’s heart breaks. It becomes clear that Murcer was a terrific guy. He loved Baseball, rocking chairs, his kids, and Kay, his wife of 41 years. His death at age 62 is a tragedy.
Opening Day, April 2, 2007
“…I knew I couldn’t handle any on-field introduction; I’d have broken down for sure…After I’d done my inning, the scoreboard in right-center flashed out the news that Bobby Murcer was in the house, and I received the loudest, most thrilling ovation I have ever heard from 55,031 Yankee fans in attendance. The giant scoreboard video screen flashed an image of me waving from the booth, and they cheered even louder. I waved again, and they cheered even more. Then Joe Torre and all the guys came out of the dugout, and all the guys in the bullpen came onto the outfield grass, and they all waved and clapped and took off their caps.
That’s when I cried.”
Born a Boomer Sooner. Heavily recruited by 8 Universities for Football, Murcer signed with Tom Greenwade, the scout who signed Mantle.
Murcer signed for $10,000 with the Yankees, turning away $20,000 from the Dodgers —because he was a Yankee fan.
On beginning in the minors in Johnson City, Tenn: “Rookie ball back then was a lot like it is in (the movie) Bull Durham — only without Susan Sarandon.”
Bobby spent two years in the minors proving that he had the tools and the makeup to be a pro.
Murcer alludes to a succinct formula for major league success.
TOOLS + MAKEUP = Success
In 17 MLB seasons, Murcer had only 1 DL stint (1965).
His first MLB hit was a game winning 2-run HR on 9-14-65.
He spent two years in the military after two in the minors, was nipped by Lou Pinella for A.L. Rookie of the Year in 1969, was an All Star every year from 1971 to 1975, and garnered MVP votes every year from 1971 to 1974.
His playing career included a cup of joe with Mickey and Whitey during his MLB debut in 1965 and the arrival of Don Mattingly in 1983.
The Yankees declined, rose, and declined again over Murcer’s career.
Murcer’s description of the Yankees Great Depression of the 60’s and 70’s is cold and honest. It is a set of phenomena that aptly tells how Baseball changed by leaps and bounds.
The Yankee Depression 1965 – 1975
Murcer’s contributing factors to what Red Sox fans may call a glorious Yankee drought:
*Charley Finley buys A’s (1960) & soon stops supplying talent to Yankees
*Mickey, Whitey & mates are injured and grow old
*Talent dries up in the Yankee minor league system
*CBS buys Yankees (late 1964)
*The First Year Player Draft debuts in 1965
Has anyone ever written a more concise summary of what killed the Yankees ?
The Yankee teams of 1969-75 were populated by weak hitters. They never finished first. But for Murcer, those years that included a Gold Glove, 5 All Star Games and joining Mantle & DiMaggio as the only Yanks to earn $100,000.
These years were also marked by the only sale of an MLB team in which the seller, CBS, received less (by 20%) than the amount they originally paid for the team.
It was 1973.
In 1974, Bobby was still the biggest Yankee star. Tight with his mates, especially Munson and Pinella, Murcer was ripped away, betrayed by George and Gabe Paul. They traded him for Bobby Bonds, condemning him to the chilly winds of Candlestick. Once there, he immediately & quietly begged Horace Stoneham to trade him. He spent three years in Yankee exile, one in San Fran, two in Cub land.
While his Bronx cronies were reaching three World Series from 1976 through 1978, Murcer’s teams never won more than they lost.
1976 – San Francisco finished 74-88 and in 4th place
1977 – The Cubs finished 81-81 and in 4th place
1978 – The Cubs finished 79-83 and in 3rd place
Meanwhile, Gabe, George and the boys collected rings for 1 AL Pennant and two World Championships.
Bobby returned to the Yankees in 1979 and spent much of his last 5 seasons as a part time outfielder and platoon D.H. He finished with a .277 B.A., 252 HR’s, 285 doubles, 1,862 hits in just 6,730 for his career.
A phone call from Steinbrenner in 1983 brought the end of Murcer’s playing career. It also started a 25 year broadcasting career.
The obsessive, controlling owner gave Murcer 30 minutes to agree to leave the active roster to make room for rookie Don Mattingly and accept a job as a Yankee TV broadcaster, effective with that night’s broadcast.
He took it. He was too experienced to not accept the Will of George. He joined Scooter, White and Messer that night.
17 years as a player. 25 as a broadcaster. 42 years at the top level of Baseball.
Murcer covers many topics aside from his playing days and cancer battle, including:
A compelling Munson tribute
The Bobby Murcer Professional Baseball School
The 1981 Strike Season
12 pages of Scooter stories
8 pages of Mantle reflections
His all time Yankee All Star team
personal recommendations for NYC tourists
the Peterson Kekich swap
the exact places that Gaylord hid dabs of K-Y Jelly on his uniform and cap
The consequences of tobacco use and his personal guilt about promoting Skoal
He also helps us understand the battle that took his life. Bobby explains that the worst kind of brain tumor is Glioblastoma Multiforme 4. It’s a death sentence with a 14-month window. This memoir lets us understand how Bobby, wife Kay, kids Tori, Todd and family, battled against it. They found hope. They clung to hope.
An emotional return to Yankee Stadium
Murcer felt a special loyalty to The Yankees and closeness with Yankee fans.
4 months after his diagnosis and surgery to remove the malignant tumor, he returned to Yankee Stadium for a brief stint in the booth.
Here is how he describes it:
Opening Day, April 2, 2007…I knew I couldn’t handle any on-field introduction; I’d have broken down for sure. So I came in under the radar, went up to the booth, and worked the third inning with my YES Network colleagues (Michael Kay, Ken Singleton, Joe Girardi.).
After I’d done my inning, the scoreboard in right-center flashed out the news that Bobby Murcer was in the house, and I received the loudest, most thrilling ovation I have ever heard from 55,031 Yankee fans in attendance. The giant scoreboard video screen flashed an image of me waving from the booth, and they cheered even louder. I waved again, and they cheered even more. Then Joe Torre and all the guys came out of the dugout, and all the guys in the bullpen came onto the outfield grass, and they all waved and clapped and took off their caps.
That’s when I cried.
It was a great game. We fell behind 5-3 after five, but came back to win 9-5. A-Rod and Jorge hit homers, Derek drove in two runs, and Mariano – of course – pitched a scoreless ninth.
Exactly the way you want to begin a new season.
MORE MURCER MEMORIES
Ralph Houk’s boat is named, “Thanks Yanks”.
Gene Michael uses special lingo:
“Remember the time that M & M & M went B to B to B ?
“You know, the time Murcer and Munson and Michael went back-to-back-to-back ?”
Michael hit 15 career dingers in 10 seasons and remembers every one of them with perfect recall.
Sometimes the trades you don’t make… Toronto agreed to send veteran starter Bill Singer to the Yankees for a little used lefty reliever in the Spring of 1977. The deal was done until the Blue Jays realized they had already put Singer on the cover of their 1977 Media Guide. They nixed the deal. Thus, Ron Guidry, little used lefty reliever, stayed with the Yankees and fulfilled a spectacular destiny.
THAT’S A RING TAILED TOOTER OF A WRIGLEY GAME. Never heard that one. Put it in your esoteric baseball lexicon, file under “The charming Mid-West”.
On Roger Clemens’ steroid denials and Andy Pettitte’s incrimination of The Rocket, Bobby Murcer wrote, “If I believe Andy, and I do, then I cannot also believe Roger.”
How to describe Bobby Murcer after reading his book ? Perhaps 3 words.
That happens to be how Murcer describes Phil Rizzuto in Yankee For Life, but in fact, Murcer could have been holding up a mirror.
Pick it up, if you can. A great and fast read. Beneficial for all fans, even Red Sox Nationals like me.