Bobby Murcer died today after a long battle with cancer. It's incredibly sad, and the Yankees family has truly lost one of its best.
Pretty much everyone with knowledge of the Yankees knows how beloved Murcer has been the past few years, but the funny thing is, it wasn't always that way. When he came up with the team in the mid-60s, he was seen as the next Mantle. Like Mantle, he came through the minors as an infielder (a shortstop). Like Mantle, he was moved to the outfield when it became apparent that his fielding wouldn't work in the infield.
That's where the comparisons ended, though. Murcer was no Mantle, and for a long time, it seemed Yankees fans held this against him. He never won a World Series with the team, and he never put up Mantle-type numbers. He was probably most well-known as a player for delivering the eulogy at Thurman Munson's funeral, then hitting a three-run home run that same night at Yankee Stadium, when the entire team flew back to play the game.
That's only part of the story though. While he wasn't a Hall of Famer, Murcer was a very good player, the type of guy who deserved more credit than he received. He had a handful of excellent seasons in the 1970s (including back-to-back seasons in 72 and 73 where his OBP was above .980), and ended with very solid career numbers.
No, Murcer attained his popularity as an announcer with the Yankees throughout the 80s and 90s, into the 21st century, and it was in this capacity that I got to know of him. I started following the team in the mid-80s, and I remember my dad talking about following Murcer through the lean years of the late 60s and early 70s. His voice on Yankees telecasts became as well-known as that of Phil Rizzuto, Tom Seaver, or, later Ken Singleton and Jim Kaat. He always gave well-reasoned analysis, and didn't depend on being the loudest guy in the room. He seemed to be a voice of reason over guys like Al Trautwig and Michael Kay. From all accounts, he was as good a person as he was a baseball player and announcer.
When Murcer was diagnosed with brain cancer, there was an outpouring of support. He had finally gained that appreciation that was so lacking during his career.
So it is that today, we mourn the death of a Yankee. My thoughts go out to his friends and family.