07/13/08 1:41 AM EST
Former Yanks great Murcer dies at 62
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Murcer fought his condition valiantly for 19 months, including an emotional return to the broadcast booth at Yankee Stadium, a building and environment he loved dearly. He spent his final days in his hometown in Oklahoma City surrounded by family, the Yankees said.
Yankees chairman George M. Steinbrenner issued the following statement upon learning of Murcer's death:
"Bobby Murcer was a born Yankee, a great guy, very well-liked and a true friend of mine. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife Kay, their children and grandchildren. I will really miss the guy."
After experiencing a general lack of energy, Murcer was diagnosed with a tumor on Christmas Eve 2006, undergoing surgery at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Pathology reports later revealed the tumor to be malignant.
Following his diagnosis, Murcer commented in an upbeat spirit, thanking fans for their prayers and warm wishes -- many of which were delivered in the form of letters and e-mails directly to his hospital bed.
Murcer not only returned to the booth last season, but on May 2, he had broadcast his first game of the campaign and was greeted by a loud and heartfelt standing ovation when the video screen in right-center field displayed his image and a montage of his playing highlights.
"I wish I had a word to describe it, to tell you the truth," Murcer said then. "I really wish I had a way to describe it. It's been absolutely wonderful, all the support that's been afforded me and the prayers. God has just blessed me, what can I say?"
Born on May 20, 1946, in Oklahoma City, Murcer played in the Major Leagues for 17 seasons, including making four All-Star appearances with the Yankees.
A lifetime .277 batter, Murcer hit 252 home runs and drove in 1,043 runs in 1,908 Major League games with the Yankees, San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs.
Baseball Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig issued the following statement:
"All of Major League Baseball is saddened today by the passing of Bobby Murcer, particularly on the eve of this historic All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, a place he called home for so many years. Bobby was a gentleman, a great ambassador for baseball, and a true leader both on and off the field. He was a man of great heart and compassion and made many wonderful contributions to the Baseball Assistance Team and to the game. All of us in baseball will miss him. We pass on our sympathies and condolences to his family and to his many friends."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who played with Murcer with the Yankees for six seasons and remained friends, was informed of the news after his team's game on Saturday.
"It's a sad day," Piniella said. "Just a wonderful person, a great teammate and a heck of a baseball player. [Wife] Kay and Bobby were good friends. I was informed about this about five minutes ago, and I knew that he was struggling. But, boy, you just don't think these sort of things happen, but they do. They happen frequently."
Murcer was the only Yankee to play with both Mickey Mantle and Don Mattingly, and was arguably the franchise's most popular player of the era immediately following Mantle's retirement after the 1968 season.
Murcer was hailed as another Mantle when he emerged from the Yankees' system in the mid-1960s. Both players were signed out of Oklahoma as shortstops by the same scout, Tom Greenwade, prompting comparisons.
As history shows, Murcer could not match the Hall of Famer's lofty credentials, but he assembled an admirable Major League career.
One of his best seasons came in 1971, when Murcer led the American League with a .427 on-base percentage and ranked second in the circuit with a career-high .331 batting average.
After struggling with adjustments to Shea Stadium, where the Yankees played in 1974 and '75 while Yankee Stadium was being renovated, Murcer was traded to the Giants in October 1974 for outfielder Bobby Bonds.
He would be dealt to the Cubs in February 1977, only to return and finish his career with the Yankees from '79-83. Perhaps Murcer's most memorable moment came on Aug. 6, 1979, in the wake of Yankees captain Thurman Munson's untimely death in a plane crash.
Munson and Murcer had been close friends. As the Yankees returned to New York from Munson's funeral service in Ohio, manager Billy Martin suggested that Murcer -- who had delivered a moving eulogy for the catcher -- sit out that evening's game against the Baltimore Orioles.
Murcer disagreed, telling Martin that something was telling him to play and that he did not feel tired. Dedicating his performance to Munson, Murcer drove in all of New York's runs in a 5-4 victory, slugging a three-run homer and a game-winning two-run single.
"I remember when we went to Thurman's funeral, and that night Bobby hit that home run into the upper deck to win a baseball game," Piniella said. "I was so happy. A lot of good memories, a lot of good memories. You hate to see this happen to good people. ... I thought he was getting better, and I know the past week or 10 days, he's been struggling. It's a shame, what can I say. We're thinking about him."
Murcer was also just the fourth Yankee to hit home runs in four consecutive at-bats, joining Lou Gehrig, Johnny Blanchard and Mantle. Former Yankees pitcher David Cone, a colleague of Murcer's at the YES Network, recalled how Murcer was always one of the most popular figures at Old-Timers Days in New York.
"He was so great in the clubhouse, just a pleasure to have in the clubhouse," Cone said. "The players really loved having him around. Old-Timers Day was always a special day for Bobby. When the Yankees would come to Kansas City when I was growing up there, he was always one of the guys I was trying to get an autograph from. He was a really good player, a really solid left-handed hitter."
For most of the paast 24 years, Murcer had worked as a Yankees broadcaster, winning three Emmy awards for live sports coverage. Murcer worked as a radio color analyst from 1983-85 before moving to television as a commentator in '87, and also served as the Yankees' assistant general manager in '86.
"Bobby was one of the finest human beings I've ever met," said Michael Kay, a colleague with the YES Network. "He handled his battle with a grace and class that was hard to fathom. For me personally, it's an incredible loss. He was my idol growing up. I was lucky to work with him as a broadcaster, and it showed me that I had great taste as a kid.
"He was everything that you'd want in someone that you once looked up to. He lived up to every ideal that a little boy set for him. I'm going to miss him a lot. I miss him a lot already."
Murcer helped the baseball family immensely through his efforts as chairman of the Baseball Assistance Team, which raises funds for former players who have fallen on hard times. Murcer was also the president of the Oklahoma City 89ers Minor League baseball club in the mid-1980s, yet it was being at Yankee Stadium that he said he loved most of all.
"Any time I walk through these halls and be in this place here, talking about baseball, man, that's right up my alley," Murcer said in May.
A family service will be held in the next several days in Oklahoma City, the Yankees said, and an additional celebration of his life will be held at a date to be determined. Murcer is survived by his wife, Kay, his children, Tori and Todd, and his grandchidren.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.