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"In the offseason of 1975, Murcer was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Bonds in baseball's first-ever even swap of $100,000 superstar players"
I remember I was in my Mom's apartment when I heard. At first it was just total disbelief. The Yankees trading Bobby? Impossible. It would be like the Yankees trading Derek Jeter, but really worse as "He was just about the only star worth watching in his first tour of duty with the downtrodden Yankees from 1965 through 1974,'' sportswriter Maury Allen said in his 2004 book, "Yankees: Where Have You Gone?''.
I mean in those days, Bobby WAS the Yankees.
I called by best bud and fellow Yankee lover, Phil, who was all but in tears. We couldn't believe it. This was such a betrayal. How could the Yankees trade Bobby Murcer? For me, fury finally turned to tears, and I wondered if I could ever follow this team again. But I guess, like it or not, one always follows the laundry.
Years later, in an act of redemption, on June 26, 1979, Murcer returned to the Yankees in a trade for Paul Semall and cash. Bobby was 33 and beginning his decline phase, but it mattered naught. Bobby was back in NY in Pinstripes. After 4 1/2 years with SF and the Cubs, Bobby again joined his best friend, and current Yankee icon, Thurman Munson, back on the green grass of Yankee stadium. Sanity was finally returned to the universe, and all was right again.
And then a day in Yankee infamy..... just 5 weeks after Bobby was united with the Yankees, on Aug. 2, Thurman Munson, the Yankee Captain and Bobby's best friend, was killed in a tragic plane crash. Again.... disbelief... fury.... and tears.
"I still had my home in Chicago," Murcer said. "And when we played that three-game series, Thurman and Lou [Piniella] stayed with me. [On] Saturday night, I know I went to bed very late, [and] he and Lou were still downstairs arguing about how to hit. And then we played that Sunday game and my wife and I and my children took Thurman to the airport. I never will forget that Sunday evening. It was dark, and we went down to the end of the runway, and he took off in this plane. I could not believe how powerful the plane was, and Thurman all by himself up there controlling this powerful jet."
The Yankees flew together to Munson's funeral in Canton the morning of August 6. People from throughout baseball, including Torre, attended as well. Murcer and Piniella delivered eulogies. Among the people interviewed here, memories of that day remain a blur.
"There was too much emotion," Dent said. "You know, sometimes you're there, but you're not there? I don't remember what all they said."
It's funny how certain events trigger deep, past memories. I felt and could say that night of August 6th was a 'must win' game, but that just isn't a strong enough statement. While I had already followed thousands of Yankee games, this game had a feeling that was impossible to express in words. It was nuts, but somehow a loss would seem like shoveling dirt on Thurman's grave; a win, some sort of validation, a kind of closure for a grieving Yankee family.
We talk about 'Big' Yankee games. We have Bantered often that 'This' is a big game. I had already witnessed the Bucky Dent game, and many crucial games in the Yankees last 2 post seasons. We Banterers have been through the Dynasty years full of 'Big' games, whether if was the Jeter flip or the Boone Bomb. But this game was way beyond that. This 'win' had far deeper ramifications then winning. And the idea of a loss here, just seemed unbearable.
There is a post season every year. A World Series every year. Great wins. Horrific losses. This is baseball. But this game transcended that. This game, on August 6, 1979, had emotional ramifications way beyond any game in my lifetime. In a way that is hard to express, this game was THE 'must win' game of all games.
My bud Phil and I often watched games together. We had been at the Stadium for the Cleveland doubleheader when Bobby hit his 4 in a row. But when we spoke that afternoon, we mutually decided we would not watch this one together. I think we were too scared. I know I was. It was too much. Expectations were way too strong. I didn't even want to watch the game. But, I had to.
Baltimore had been our nemesis for over a decade. They had broken our hearts far too many times. In 1970, after 5 years of brutal baseball, the Yankees won an amazing 93 games. Baltimore won 108. In 1974, Baltimore was having an 'off year', and we flirted with 1st place much of the year. With 8 games left of the season, we were tied, each with 83 wins, 71 loses. I knew we needed to win 6 of 8 to at least tie. And miraculously, we won 6 of 8, but Baltimore won all 8, finishing 2 games ahead of us.
This 1979 Baltimore team was another great team that went on to win 102 games, fueled by a young Ken Singleton who hit 35 HRs and finished 2nd in the MVP that year.
It's funny how certain events trigger deep, past memories. I remember the announcers talking about the tragedy of the last few days. Of that days team flight to Ohio, Of Bobby, Kay and Diane Munson crying in each others arms. Of how emotionally spent Bobby was. Of how the Yankees were going to cancel the game, but Diane insisted they play... Thurman would have wanted them to play.
So we played. A washed out Yankee team against the Yankee killing Baltimore Orioles. The 'must win' game of all must win games. And I didn't want to watch.
'Somber and weary, the Yankees made it back to New York in time for that evening's game against Baltimore. Guidry took the mound only hours after Munson's funeral. "Billy came to me and he said, 'I'm not going to play you tonight, you're just too tired.'" And I told Billy, "I just don't feel like I should take the night off. I feel like I should be playing."
The game was on ABC's "Monday Night Baseball." Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell and Don Drysdale were in the booth.
Dennis Martinez and Ron Guidry were the starters. Guidry would eventually go the whole way, in a game that was played in 2:26.
In the top of the 2nd, Lee may hit a HR to give the Birds a 1-0 lead.
In the top of the 5th, Lee May lead off with a double and eventually scored on a sac fly. Birds up 2-0.
In the top of the 6th, MVP candidate Ken Singleton hit a 2 run blast to put the Birds up, 4-0.
And I remember thinking "game over". No redemption. There is no God. And I was literally sick to my stomach. I waned to turn off the game and cry for Thurman, and Bobby and the Yankees. But I couldn't.
The Yankees had the heart of the order coming up next. After Bobby and Chambliss made out, Reggie walked and Nettles singled. Up came Jim Spencer in a crucial spot, only to strike out. After 6, the Yankees were down 4-0. The Yanks had only 5 hits and Bobby was 0 for 3. But what could one expect? I could barely watch the game but these guys had to play it.
In the bottom of the 7th, we put up 2 quick outs. Then Dent walked and Willie doubled him to third. And up came a weary Bobby Murcer. A single would put us back in the game. A lousy single. Was this too much to ask of Murcer? As it turns out, it was too little, as Bobby parked one deep into RF to cut the lead to 4-3. And 36,000 fans at the stadium went crazy.
Guidrey was revitalized and blew through the 8th and 9th with relative ease. In the bottom of the 9th, we had 9-1-2 coming up, with Chambliss and Reggie to follow. We have all been there. There is 'hope', but you are afraid to hope. Coming this close felt like a setup. To lose now would be beyond devastation. I was freaking out. I wanted to call my bud Phil, but I was afraid.
Up came Bucky Dent. He of a .240 BA and .592 OPS. But Bucky stepped up and drew a walk, bringing up Willie Randolph. Down by one and at home, everyone was looking for a sac bunt. Willie put down a decent bunt fielded by the pitcher, and FINALLY, in an act that must have been Devine, Tippy Martinez threw wild to 1B, allowing Dent to go to 3rd, with Willie ending up on 2nd.
I have to guess that Bobby hitting a HR in the 7th wasn't enough. Whether this was to be a tragedy or a tale for the ages, the script now seemed to be written by Devine hand, for in this 'must win' or all must wins games, up to the plate strolled our old Yankee hero, an emotionally and physically exhausted Bobby Murcer.
"I ended up with I think 5 RBI that night, a home run and a double, and drove in all five runs for the Yankees. I never did use that bat again. I gave it to Diane," Murcer recounted.
In the 1970s, Murcer drove in 840 runs, the 9th most in the major leagues during that span. Murcer's 119 outfield assists LED all major league outfielders for that decade, ahead of Bobby Bonds (106), Rusty Staub (97), Amos Otis (93) and Reggie Smith (86),
His first hit in the major leagues, in 1965, was a home run that won the game for the Yankees. He also played on "Mickey Mantle Day" on September 18 of that year. Murcer said playing alongside Mantle in that game was the "greatest thrill of his career".
Murcer was fined $250 on June 30, 1973, by baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn for saying Kuhn didn't have the "guts" to stop Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry from throwing the spitball. That night he hit a two-run homer off Perry that put the Yankees ahead in a 72 victory over the Cleveland Indians. Murcer made his original comment about Kuhn after Perry beat New York the previous week, which ended the Yanks' eight-game winning streak. Kuhn said Murcer apologized in their meeting but Murcer refused to tell newsmen that he did and he "didn't sound too contrite".
Murcer, who flung his right hand into the air when he rounded first after hitting the 'homer, said to reporters "I hit a hanging spitter."
Murcer had some fun with Gaylord; he once caught a fly for the last out of an inning and spit on the ball before tossing it to Perry. Another time he sent Perry a gallon of lard. Perry retaliated by having a mutual acquaintance cover his hand with grease before shaking hands with Murcer and saying "Gaylord says hello."2
In 1972, Murcer finished 5th in the AL MVP voting, won by Dick Allen. Bobby had an OPS+ of 169 that year, with33 HRs.
I admired his broadcasting career as well. He was not a good broadcaster when he started; his folksiness lapsed into just plain inarticulate. ("I wisht I'da switched-hit.") But he worked hard at it, and became a smooth, fluent, informative broadcaster - without ever losing the folksiness. He also had a sly, self-deprecating sense of humor that never seemed forced.
He was a part of my life for some 40 years. I'm going to miss the guy.
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