Saturday, July 12, 2008

My Murcer Memory

Murcer was a fan favorite, former All-Star and announcer

By John Valenti
New York Newsday
July 12, 2008

Bobby Murcer #1 of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York circa 1969-1974. (Louis Requena, MLB Photos via Getty Images / July 12, 2008)

I never collected autographs. Baseball cards, yes. But not autographs.

Don't get me wrong. I loved sports. I even grew up to spend almost 20 years as a sportswriter. But I was never star-struck like that, enough to seek out the autograph of a star.

Except for once.

That player was Bobby Murcer.

This was back in the 1970s. At Shea Stadium. Murcer was with the Chicago Cubs then, playing a game against the Mets. I was a teenager. I saw him down on the third-base lining, fans gathered around. I took a piece of paper. And a pen. And graciously, as he was with everything he did, Bobby Murcer signed his name.

Mickey Mantle (right) with Bobby Murcer in 1973. (TSN Archives, ZUMA Press / July 12, 2008)

I asked because Bobby Murcer was one of the heroes of my youth, flawed as he might have been -- never becoming the next Mickey Mantle, as everyone had said he would. I liked him because of how he played the game of baseball. Because of how much he cared. Because, often, he seemed to be the one bright shining light on a team that had become one saddest in sports.

A dynasty once, suddenly a dismal failure -- doomed to the second-tier of the American League as if there had never been a dynasty at all. These were the Yankees of my youth. Jake Gibbs. Horace Clarke. Bobby Murcer.

His presence, somehow, made the rest of it all palatable. Even the losing. Because of how he carried himself.

Of course, as fans we all have perceptions of how athletes perform in the real world. We equate their success on the field with their success as people. As human beings. As I would later find out in adulthood, the two are often mutually exclusive.

Bobby Murcer smiles and shakes hands with Yankee pitcher Ron Guidry as it is announced that he is being given the cowboy hat, guitar and a horse. (Photo by Karen Wiles, Newsday / July 12, 2008)

With Bobby Murcer, it wasn't. What you saw was what you got -- something most Yankees fans were later fortunate to learn when Murcer retired and became a Yankees announcer. Something, I was fortunate enough to find out first hand.

I was a 20-something-year-old kid, sent to Yankee Stadium for the first time ever on an assignment to cover the Yankees. This was in the 80s. I had no idea where I was going: From the press gate to the press room to the locker room to the press box. I found myself running for an elevator -- one with a door I could hear closing fast.

I was still 15 or 20 feet away, when suddenly a hand reached out -- and stopped the door. I continued to run. And in a few moments I found myself turning into the elevator, almost out of breath. I looked up to find one other person in the elevator. I was shocked to see it was Bobby Murcer. I thanked him profusely. He said your welcome -- and gave me that infamous Bobby Murcer smile. The rest of the ride was quiet.

But since that day I have often thought of how Bobby Murcer could have simply let the elevator door close -- and gone on his way. No one would have ever known any different.

Former New York Yankee Bobby Murcer, center, who announced his retirement from baseball has a laugh with fellow Yankees broadcast member Phil Rizuto as they prepare for the pre-game show. (AP Laserphoto, Associated Press / July 12, 2008)

I never told Bobby Murcer about the autograph, though I would always see him around the Yankees media dining room or press box during the times I was assigned to cover the team in the years to come. I guess I felt he might think it was stupid. Or dumb.

I thought about that autograph -- and the elevator story -- Saturday afternoon, hearing that Bobby Murcer had died. And somehow, amid the tears, all I could think of was how I wished I had told him. Told him that the moment when he held that elevator door made me realize that some folks are just the genuine article. Are just good people.

No matter how much is lauded on them. No matter if someone is watching them. Or they aren't.

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