Monday, July 14, 2008

Bobby Murcer Was a Mensch

Bobby Murcer, Yankee broadcaster, former Yankee Center Fielder, philanthropist, author, and one of the best human beings you'll ever have the good fortunate to know of, passed away earlier this week, on July 12th, after a year-and-a-half battle with brain cancer.

Bobby wore many hats in his life, but one word sums it all up. He was a Mensch -- a truly good person. One of the finest gentlemen ever, Bobby carried himself with class, but what really made him special was that he was approachable -- warm, gentle, self-effacing, and FUNNY! Bobby Murcer could make anybody smile, or at the very least, during Yankee games, he would never grate on you if you happened to be in a foul humor.

On Saturday, as my mom and I talked about Tony Snow's death, I mentioned Bobby Murcer and his amazing fight with brain cancer -- how it had aged him 20 years in the space of a year. I had no idea that Bobby was dying at that very moment. I had wondered why we hadn't seen him calling any more games since May, and I hoped he was okay and would be coming back soon. I had no clue that our Bobby was in big trouble. It's so goddamned sad. Bobby had so much more left to give. I wasn't close to being finished with him. No one was.

When I got the news a few hours later that Bobby had died, I cried out in shock. I really thought he was getting better. I remember my game-watching buddy, Phil, mentioning that he was worried about Bobby earlier in the 2006 season. Bobby was forgetting things, losing some his clarity during games. I remember a few younger fans on our baseball site making fun of Bobby when he said something absent-minded during a game. The older game-watchers shut the youngsters down with a little history lesson on Bobby's importance and why he was a HUGE figure with the Yankees...the link to Mantle, Mattingly, Munson and more. It is really scary and sad to think that once again, Phil had called it when he detected that something was slightly off in Bobby --something we all made little of at the time.

I remember the Old Timer's Day when Bobby picked Alex Rodriguez as his batting coach. Alex explained to Bobby that he had prepared a special bat just for Bobby by scratching on the sweet spot the words, "Hit it here."

Bobby was a better player than his career stats reveal, as about one-fifth of his at-bats in Pinstripes took place at Shea Stadium, during the renovations at Yankee Stadium. Interestingly, his BA and OBP were about the same (.299/.365 at Shea; .293, .369 at Yankee Stadium), but his slugging percentage at Yankee Stadium (.521) was more than 25% greater than his slugging at Shea (.407). Bobby's power hitting suffered greatly, due to the Lefty-hostile dimensions at Shea.

Bobby's leadership at the time of Thurman Munson's tragic death may be his most memorable contribution to the Yankees. We all mourned along with Bobby and felt his tremendous heart in his eulogy of Munson, his incredible performance in the Farewell to the Captain game, and his superhuman endurance in getting through everything in the immediate aftermath of the death of his best friend.

Bobby played that night's game without having slept for 48 hours and single-handedly beat Baltimore by putting up 5 RBI, the only runs scored by the Yankees in that game, with a clutch 3-run homer in the 7th inning and a walk-off single liner up the left field line that brought in the game-winning 2 runs. I get choked up remembering that Bobby gave his bat from that game to Diane Munson. You know how much it meant to him to come through for his friend and his friend's family. Just tremendous heart and soul.

I was at the Stadium, for the season opener in 2007. My seats are very close to the YES booth, so when they flashed Bobby's name on the scoreboard after playing the "Forever Young" montage on the Jumbotron, I called out, "Bobby's HERE?" I turned and saw Bobby standing there, in the YES booth, and waved at him directly. You just couldn't believe all the love, adoration and respect that was flowing to Bobby in that moment. Imagine having that -- all of Yankee Stadium filled to the rafters with people cheering for you out of sheer love and wishes for your well being. Overjoyed simply by your presence. What kind of a person do you have to be to get that?

That was Bobby Murcer. So easy to love. A pleasure to listen to during games, with his soothing baritone voice, lilting Oklahoma accent, his understanding of baseball from having lived it, and his gentle, good-humored delivery. I always loved how, on those many occasions, when Michael Kay would say something that betrayed extremely low baseball IQ, Bobby would kindly but firmly set the record straight, without attitude or shaming.

Bobby was just such a fine person, a lovely man, a gentleman.

Godspeed, Bobby. We all love you so!