Former Yankees outfielder and broadcaster Bobby Murcer lost his gallant battle with brain cancer yesterday and passed away at the age of 62.
When he first arrived with the Yankees in 1965, Murcer was billed as the next Mickey Mantle. And although he never achieved that lofty status, Bobby Murcer along with Thurman Munson was the heart of the Yankees in the late 60s and early 70s.
Murcer was a solid, dependable ballplayer, a five-time All-Star, and later a Yankee broadcaster who brought his knowledge of the game and sense of humor — spiced with a distinct Oklahoma twang — to millions of Yankee fans.
I never did get to meet Bobby in person, but I’ve written about him several times in my SportsLifer blog recently. Perhaps most poignant and fitting today is the reflective piece I wrote about Murcer’s eulogy at Munson’s funeral in 1979, where he used the words of my great uncle, Angelo Patri.
Uncle Angelo’s words seem so appropriate for Bobby Murcer’s own passing. Below is an except from that March 8 blog, A Tale of Munson, Murcer, and Uncle Angelo.
I think I can speak for all Yankee fans today. You were a good man Bobby Murcer. We will miss you and we’ll never forget you.
A Tale of Munson, Murcer and Uncle Angelo
Published March 8, 2008
When Yankee captain Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash in 1979, the entire Yankee team flew to Canton, Ohio, for the funeral on August 6. Two of Munson’s teammates delivered eulogies at the funeral, Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer.
During his eulogy, Murcer quoted my great uncle, Angelo Patri, the famed progressive educator, writer and philosopher.
Murcer sobbed as he read: “The life of a soul on earth lasts longer than his departure. He lives on in your life and the life of all others who knew him.”
The words are from Uncle Angelo’s syndicated column, Our Children, and were written in 1928.
“In one sense there is no death,
The life of the soul on earth lasts beyond his departure.
You will always feel that life touching yours
That voice speaking to you — that spirit looking out of other eyes,
talking to you in the familiar things he touched…
Worked with…loved as familiar friends.
He lives on in your life
And in the lives of all others that knew him.”
Following Munson’s funeral, the Yankees returned to Bronx, where Uncle Angelo had become the first Italian-born American to become a school principal in 1907. That night the Yankees faced the Baltimore Orioles in a nationally televised game. Yankee manager Billy Martin wanted to give the emotionally drained Murcer the night off, but Bobby insisted on playing. Murcer single-handedly brought the Yankees back from a 4-0 deficit with a three-run homer in the seventh and a two-run single to win the game, 5-4, in the bottom of the ninth.
Murcer never used the bat from the game again and gave it to Munson’s widow, Diana.
Some of the old timers out there might remember when Mel Stottlemyre hit an inside-the-park grand slam against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
The date was July 20, 1965, and I recall listening to the call on the radio on the beach in Spring Lake, New Jersey. The grand slam, which came in the fifth inning, helped the Yankees to a 6-3 win over Boston that day as Stottlemyre recovered from his race around the bases to hurl a complete game.
“I remember a lot about it,” Stottlemyre said. “It was in the [Yankee] stadium, the ball was hit to left-center field, against Boston, a real hot day in July. The pitcher was Bill Monbouquette. Those things you don’t forget.”
What I did not realize until recently was exactly how rare an inside-the-park grand slam really is. For instance, Stottlemyre become the first pitcher to hit an inside-the-park grand slam since Deacon Phillippe did it for the Pirates in 1910. No pitcher has done it since.
Inside-the-park home runs were much more common in the first half of the century, when ballparks were bigger and there was less emphasis on hitting the ball over the fence. There have been 40 inside-the-park grand slams since 1950, eight since 1990, and none since October 3, 1999 when Randy Winn of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays hit one.
Some other interesting factoids:
- Roberto Clemente, one of the greatest outfielders in Baseball history, is also the only player in baseball history to have hit a walk-off inside-the-park grand slam
- Jimmy Sheckard completed a phenomenal feat in 1901, hitting inside-the-park grand slams in consecutive games on consecutive days with the Brooklyn Superbas (later the Brooklyn Dodgers).Sheckard is the only person in baseball history to accomplish that feat.
- Sheckhard’s teammate, Joe Kelly, also hit one in the first game of Sheckhard’s tandem.
- Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner had five inside-the-park grand slams in his storied career, the most in baseball history.
- Tony Gwynn, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson are also on the list. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. are not.
FACT: No major league pitcher at least 100 games over .500 in his career has ever failed to make the Hall of Fame.
All 18 eligible starters who fit this profile are in — including six who pitched the majority of their careers in the 19th Century. There are a dozen 300-game winners on the list.
The 100 Plus Club list is dotted with the usual suspects — Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Pete Alexander, Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer and Bob Feller, just to name a few. Young is the only pitcher close to 200 plus in the won-loss category: he finished his career with a record 511 wins and 316 losses.
Whitey Ford has the best overall winning percentage amongst members of the elite club — 236-106 for .690. Lefty Grove is right behind at .680 (300-141), followed by 19th Century hurler John Clarkson at .649 (327-177).
No Koufax, Ryan, Gibson
Then there are those who didn’t make it, immortals like Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean, Carl Hubbell and Rube Waddell.
The 100 Plus Club is due to get some company soon. Recently retired enigma Roger Clemens has a 354-184 record, a .658 winning percentage. He also has a steroid-tarnished resume which may or may not hinder his Hall of Fame chances. Then again, his seven Cy Youngs can only help his cause.
There are five active pitchers with 100 plus stat lines. Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux are 300-game winners, and Randy Johnson is just 11 wins away, at 289. Pedro Martinez is 212-95, a point ahead of Ford’s .690 all-time winning percentage.
All four are pretty much considered to be Hall of Fame locks, with 14 Cy Young awards amongst them (Johnson 5, Maddux 4, Martinez 3 and Glavine 2).
And then there’s Mike Mussina, shown above, a man whose career has been full of almosts and near-misses. Mussina has never won a Cy Young award. He has never won 20 games in a single season, never won an ERA or strikeout title, never won a World Series.
Mussina came to the Yankees the year after they won four World Series in five years. He came within one strike of pitching a perfect game against the Red Sox in Fenway Park in 2001. He’s always left at the altar.
The Moose has won 19 games twice and 18 twice. He’s had 17 straight years of 10 or more wins, an American League record. He’s had only two losing seasons in 18 years.
Overall Mussina is 261-150, a .639 winning percentage. But is that good enough?
Hall of Fame candidates are typically voted in for reaching certain milestones, like 300 wins, 3,000 hits, or 500 home runs. Perhaps consistency should count for something as well.
Only time will tell.
The SportsLifer countdown of momentous events attended continues this week with the fourth installment, numbers 11-20. Baseball dominates the top 50 more than any other sport, and this segment includes record-setting moments by Barry Bonds, Jim Hickman, Roger Clemens and Eric Young.
We’ll conclude next week with the SportsLifer Top Ten. Don’t miss it.
And readers, it would be great to hear your own lists.
20. Yankees hit 8 home runs to equal team record for one game, beat White Sox 16-3, Yankee Stadium, 2007
19. Yankees and Tigers play to 3-3, 19-inning tie, second game of twi-night doubleheader, 1968
18. Rockies outscore Dodgers 16-15, 10 home runs, Eric Young steals 6 bases, Coors Field, 1996
17. Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk brawl at home plate, Red Sox edge Yankees 3-2, Fenway Park, 1973
16. El Duque Hernandez tames Padres 9-3, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada homer, game 2, 1998 World Series
15. Roger Clemens beats Cardinals 5-2 for 300th win, also gets 4,000th career strikeout, 2003
14. Follow Tiger Woods, others, at first round of U.S. Open Golf tournament, Winged Foot, 2006
13. Dolphins defeat Patriots 16-13 in overtime at Miami’s Orange Bowl on night John Lennon is shot, 1980
12. Outfielder Jim Hickman hits for natural cycle for Mets who defeat Cardinals 7-3 at Polo Grounds, 1963
11. Giants’ Barry Bonds hits home run #756, breaks Hank Aaron’s record, San Francisco, 2007
Ran a press conference on IBM scouting technology called “Advance Scout” at NBA All-Star game in Oakland, 2000
First installment: 41-50. includes the St. Louis Hawks, Holy Cross, and a Ranger rout.
Second installment: 31-40. stars Lew Alcindor, The Mick, and the Boston Marathon.
Third installment: (21-30), recalls the play of Willie Mays, Joe Namath and Lawrence Taylor and others.
Pitchers used to finish what they started.
In 1904, Jack Chesbro started 55 games for the New York Highlanders. He finished 48 of them, winning 41 games. All are major league records.
Last year, Arizona’s Brandon Webb led the National League with 4 complete games; Roy Hallady of the Blue Jays had 7.
Cy Young threw 749 complete games in his career; the current major league career leaders are Greg Maddux with 109 and Randy Johnson with 99.
In 1968, the so-called “Year of the Pitcher,” Juan Marichal of the Giants led the majors with 30 complete games. The Tigers’ Denny McLain became the last 30-game winner, and had 28 complete games.
“Nobody trusted anybody in the bullpen,” said McLain, who wound up 31-6. “Three or four of my losses were 2-1 and 1-0.”
In 1975, Catfish Hunter started 39 games for the Yankees and finished 30 of them, the last pitcher to reach that mark in complete games.
The last hurler to record 20 complete games was the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela, in 1986. Randy Johnson was the last to have double figures in 10 CGs, 12 in 1999.
Complete games have become baseball’s lost art.
Been offline for a few days. Connectivity issues.
There’s a baseball team with issues here in New York — the Yankees. Hitting in the clutch issues. Pitching issues. Fielding issues. Winning issues.
Start with the captain, Derek Jeter, having the worst year of his career. The young hitters, Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano, aren’t showing signs of improvement.
Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy have been disasters so far this season. Since Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera came up, name me one guy beside Chien-Ming Wang who’s risen through the Yankee farm system to become a decent major league pitcher. (Joba Chamberlain shows promise, but it’s early).
There are too many veterans on this team who have never won, in New York or anywhere else. Mike Mussina. Jason Giambi. Bobby Abreu, Kyle Farnsworth. And the true Lord of the Ringless, Alex Rodriguez.
Hey Alex, how about spending less time hitting on Madonna and more time hitting under pressure?
George Steinbrenner turned 78 on the Fourth of July, and must be wondering about this $200 million plus payroll. Heads must roll.
I’ve got a solution for George and his son Hank. Take me out to the ballgame. Since last July 31, I’ve been to four Yankee games, and they’ve won them all. 16-3 against the White Sox, tying the team record with eight home runs in a single game. 12-0 over the Orioles in September. 13-2 against the Mariners this past May. And 18-7 over the Rangers earlier this week. That’s 59 runs in the last four games, do the math.
If you’re reading this, George or Hank, gimme some tickets. Nothing else seems to be working.