by Paul Semendinger
Our perceptions are often shaped by our experiences. Bobby Murcer was a great Yankee, but I never got to see that Bobby Murcer.
I didn’t get to see Bobby Murcer play in his prime. By the time I was a Yankees fan, or a fan of baseball (is there a difference?) Bobby was playing for the Giants and the Cubs.
I have only come to appreciate Bobby Murcer, the great player, in retrospect.
Of course I remember that Murcer returned home to the Yankees in 1979 and had what might have been his greatest day when he payed tribute to Thurman Munson by almost single-handedly defeating the Orioles on the day he said goodbye to his friend. But, I was eleven at the time. The overall significance of Murcer's great day was, to a large extent, lost on me. In fact, to be honest, my family was on vacation that day. I’m sure I didn’t see that game on TV when it happened. Today I love that story. When I was a kid, it didn’t register as much.
In a way it isn't fair to the excellent career he had, but I mostly remember Bobby Murcer being an older guy on the team – a pinch-hitter and occasional outfielder. In the years I cared about baseball, Bobby Murcer was no longer a great. (In a way, I remember Bobby Murcer in the same way I remember Ed Kranepool and Rusty Staub of the Mets… former greats, old pinch-hitters, looking for that one last great moment. It seemed like there was a time when every team had an old former star on the bench as a pinch-hitter. I think they also all batted left-handed. John Milner, Richie Hebner, and Terry Crowley also come quickly to mind.)
I remember Murcer pinch-hitting for Tommy John in the early innings of a 1981 World Series game… I remember that didn’t work out so well.
Here are Murcer’s stats over the years that I paid attention:
1980: 100 games played .269/13/57
1981: 50 games played .265/6/24
1982: 65 games played .227/7/30
1983: 9 games played .182/1/1
Bobby Murcer hit his last home run on June 1, 1983. It gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning in a game they’d win 3-0 over the California Angels. Oscar Gamble also homered in that same inning. (The pitcher who gave up both blasts was Dave Goltz.) Ron Guidry went the distance for the Yankees that day pitching a shutout and winning his 7th game of the year.
The Bobby Murcer I knew was not the BOBBY MURCER older Yankees fans knew. I wish I had seen that Bobby Murcer.
My dad and I did go to Bobby Murcer Day at Yankee Stadium in 1983. I still have the Yankees Magazine and scorecard from the game. (The Yankees lost that game 8-5 to the Tigers.) I remember the Yankees playing Bobby Murcer’s new song, Skoal Dippin Man on the scoreboard. (The song was about chewing tobacco. It’s very dated now. Bobby Murcer never did become a singing star.)
Of course a whole generation of fans came to love Bobby Murcer as an announcer which is where he went after his playing days. Murcer later publicly battled cancer with dignity and class.
I just wish I had seen the great Bobby Murcer… Timing is everything.