When Bobby Murcer Was Our Favorite Yankee

Bobby Murcer

Photo: Jim Accordino / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

For many New York Yankee fans in the year 2020 who are in their mid to late fifties or early sixties, their earliest memories of being a Yankees fan were probably based on rooting for the great Bobby Murcer. During a time period in the early 1970s when the playoffs were just a dream for those losing Yankee teams, Bobby Murcer was the light that shined the most bright. Anyone in that aforementioned age bracket who were young Yankee fans stood on the edge of their seats every time Bobby Murcer came up to bat, or made a spectacular play in centerfield. Of course everyone always had their own favorites, but the odds that Bobby Murcer was you favorite player during those days as opposed to any other Yankee were pretty high.

At the start of his New York Yankees career, Bobby Murcer was hailed as the next Mickey Mantle. Yankees fans and writers have always laid claim to certain players as the next Mantle or Ruth or DiMaggio and now Jeter. If your a young rookie, the last thing you would probably need is a tagline reading the next DiMaggio or Ford. Nonetheless, Murcer was indeed labeled as the next Mantle for multiple reasons. The first being the position; centerfield. Although that was not Murcer’s original position. Interestingly, the same New York Yankee scout who signed Mickey Mantle named Tom Greenwade also signed Bobby Murcer. Bobby Murcer put his signature on the dotted line in the spring of 1964.

Like many legendary professional athletes, Bobby Murcer was an all star athlete in high school in multiple sports including football and basketball besides just baseball. He was all county, all state, all everything. Bobby Murcer’s first year in the New York Yankees organization was spent in the Appalachian League. While playing on the Johnston City team, Murcer’s season was cut short early due to a knee injury. In 1965, the Yankees assigned him to the Greensboro team in the Carolina League where he dominated the league with a 365 batting average. Bobby Murcer was brought up to the big leagues that season for eleven games. He played in the fall of 1966 for the New York Yankees and even celebrated a game winning home run in one of those eleven games.

Bobby Murcer enjoyed a good spring training with the New York Yankees in 1966. With the retirement of Tony Kubek at shortstop, Bobby Murcer had a chance of making the team as a starter. However, Bobby Murcer only played twenty one games for the New York Yankees that season and was optioned to Toledo to continue his development. As the Vietnam War raged on, Bobby Murcer’s future New York Yankee stardom was put on hold for another two years as he had received his draft notice. Bobby Murcer spent the years 1967 and 1968 in the U.S. Army where he did not play much baseball.

After his two year stint in the Army was over, Bobby Murcer competed for a starting job with the New York Yankees in the spring of 1969. At the time, the New York Yankees were being managed by Ralph Houk. Bobby Murcer started the 1969 season as the New York Yankees third basemen after he beat out Bobby Cox. On opening day in 1969, Bobby Murcer ran out to third base wearing the number 1 on his back. The legend of Bobby Murcer had officially begun. And on another interesting note, the New York Yankees locker assigned to Murcer in the clubhouse had belonged to Mickey Mantle who retired the previous season. Bobby Murcer was only twenty two years old when he won the starting third base job for the New York Yankees. He also started the season batting third. Holy Cow! as one of our father’s favorite Yankees would say.

Bobby Murcer had a bit of a rough start in his first official complete season with the New York Yankees. Ralph Houk switched Bobby Murcer to right field after Bobby Murcer had a brawl in the infield with Ray Oyler of the Seattle Pilots. Remember them? Murcer initially struggled defensively. Nonetheless, he improved dramatically enough to be switched to centerfield by the end of the season. It would be the position he would play for most of his career.

Bobby Murcer had a strong season in 1970 although he was not as dominant as he would soon become the following year. At the end of the 1970 season he had an amazing game in which he hit four straight consecutive home runs against Cleveland in a double-header with the first being in the ninth inning of the first game and then his next three at-bats in the second game. Bobby Murcer finished the season with a 251 batting average and hitting 23 home runs.

In 1971, Bobby Murcer would become the big star the New York Yankees had been hoping for. For myself and all my friends living in the Bronx playing stickball in the streets as 10 year olds and 11 year olds, Bobby Murcer became our hero. There was nobody more exciting to watch than Bobby Murcer during those days. Everyone wanted Bobby Murcer baseball cards. Everyone wanted to be Bobby Murcer. That’s what it’s like when you’re a young kid worshiping baseball. If you’re living in the Bronx and you are a Yankee fan and its 1971, Bobby Murcer was the man. Of course, there were some Mets fans in the neighborhood. After all they had just won a World Series. But this was the Bronx, not Queens, and there was no comparison between going to a game at Shea Stadium when compared to going to a Yankee game in the Bronx in the 1970s, no comparison, NONE!

I lived on Rochambeau Avenue and 206th street. We were the last stop on the D Train. All we had to do was hop on that D train and after a few stops we were at Yankee Stadium. City kids went everywhere as 10 and 11 years old. It was a different world. Yankees games were cheap. You could sit in the bleachers for about 75 cents. We went to a lot of games because back then they did not televise all the games. Most of the Yankees televised games were on the weekend.

In 1971, Bobby Murcer hit 25 home runs and led the team in batting with a 331 average. Roy White was the team’s next best hitter standing right next to Bobby Murcer in the outfield. Many Yankee fans often refer to those days as the Horace Clarke days. Horace Clarke played second base for the New York Yankees during that time period. Standing next to Horace at shortstop was Gene Michael who would eventfully manage the Yankees for the 81 and 82 seasons. However, Michael’s legacy with the New York Yankees will always be viewed as the General Manager of the New York Yankees who helped put together the dynasty of the 1990’s New York Yankees Championship teams.

While Bobby Murcer had a great season in 1971, the New York Yankees still finished fourth in the American League. Bobby Murcer had another great year in 1972. He led the team in batting average with a 292 batting percentage. However, his year was highlighted with hitting 33 home runs. Thurman Munson who also was one of the most loved New York Yankees of all time came close to Bobby Murcer’s batting average with a batting average of 280. Many of us old-time Yankee fans remember 1972 as being a year when one of the all time forgotten New York Yankees named Celerino Sanchez played third base for a little less than half the season. Celerino Sanchez was quickly forgotten when the Yankees signed Greg Nettles to play third base for the 1973 season. Celerino Sanchez was a bit of a heavy player that sort of became a cult favorite among Yankee fans that season.

In 1973, Bobby Murcer continued to be the star of the New York Yankees although Thurman Munson was a close second. Murcer finished the season with a batting average of 304 with 22 homers while Thurman Munson finished with a batting average of 301 and 20 homers. Once again, the New York Yankees did not make the playoffs finishing fourth in the American League East. Perhaps the most heartbreaking experience of the 1973 season at Yankee Stadium would be the fact that it would be the last season played in the stadium before it was closed for a two year renovation. For us kids who went to that stadium often, there would be no more poles standing in front of us, no more obstructed views of overhangs blocking our view of a home run. No it would be all gone. The magic of walking out into those stands in the Bronx in the early 1970s was being ripped apart to build a modern ballpark. It’s sad they did that. Can you imagine if they kept it the way it was. That would have been wonderful, but you know the rest….

The 1974 and 1975 seasons were played at Shea Stadium home of the New York Mets. Even the New York Giants played one season at Shea (and one at the Yale Bowl) sharing it with the New York Jets before they would have their own new stadium built in the swamps of Jersey in East Rutherford.

The move to Shea Stadium proved to not work out as well for Bobby Murcer. While he still had a great season, he struggled with hitting home runs at Shea. He no longer led the team in batting average. Murcer finished fourth behind Ron Bloomberg, Lou Pinella and Elliott Maddox, The team itself was changing. The New York Yankees had a new manager named Bill Virdon. During the 74 season Bill Verdon moved Bobby Murcer to right field to make way for new Yankee Elliott Maddox to play centerfield. The Yankees had a good season but still missed making the playoffs finishing two games behind Baltimore in the East to finish the season. Nonetheless, one could feel that the team was on the upswing with the Horace Clarke era behind them and a lineup that now included key players such as Chris Chambliss at first base, Sandy Alomar at second, Jim Mason at short and of course Lou Pinella, Maddox, Nettles and Munson.

With a team that seemed destined to return to the playoffs for the first time in years, Bobby Murcer must have been excited for the possibility to finally make the playoffs with the New York Yankees the following season. As Yankees fans we had even more fever for the next season to begin as soon as the 1974 season ended, And then it happened! Just a few weeks after the New York Yankees 1974 season had ended, I saw a newspaper headline at the Candy store on my way to school that almost made me drop dead right there on the corner of 206th street and Bainbridge Avenue.

On Wednesday morning October 23rd 1974, the New York Daily News Sports Headline read that Bobby Murcer had been traded to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Bonds. For young New York Yankee fans who had grown up in our prepubescent years with Bobby Murcer as our hero, it was devastating news. How could the Yankees trade away our favorite player?  Bobby Murcer helped us fall in love with the New York Yankees and the sport of baseball. Bobby Murcer was the New York Yankees, and now he was gone. It was tough, real tough.

The following season in 1975 sans Bobby Murcer, the New York Yankees once again failed to make the playoffs. Although Bobby Bonds did hit 32 home runs for the Yankees that year. However Bobby Bonds wound up only playing one season for the New York Yankees as he was traded after the season to the Angles in return for Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa

Bobby Murcer had a few good seasons with the San Francisco Giants. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1977. In 1979, Bobby Murcer returned to the New York Yankees in a trade for a minor league pitcher. Bobby Murcer would play for the New York Yankees once again from 1979 to 1983. Sadly, Bobby Murcer never won a World Series with the New York Yankees. He would later become a much loved New York Yankees broadcaster. Sadly, we lost Bobby Murcer to cancer in 2008 at the age of 62. The same age that many of us who grew up watching Bobby Murcer are now turning.

This article is dedicated to all those young Yankee fans like myself and all my Bronx friends from the neighborhood who came of age during the early 1970s when Bobby Murcer was the New York Yankees star, Bobby Murcer will forever remain….. our favorite New York Yankee of all time.

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