Thursday, February 3, 2011

#90 - Bobby Murcer

Here is an action shot of Bobby Murcer at Yankee Stadium. It appears that Bobby just swung and missed which has been the theme with a couple of these shots. Still it is an action shot, so why complain. Speaking of complaining, a highlight/lowlight of Bobby's '73 season occurred when he got in dutch with baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn: he called the latter gutless for not doing anything to prevent Gaylord Perry from throwing a greaseball. Away from that he had another All-Star season as the best - read: only - NY power guy on a team that stayed in contention for a division title until its late summer big fade. While Bobby wouldn't be able to match his late '72 homer surge, he still put up a decent amount and got the runs in at his normal clip. Just not on this swing.

Bobby Murcer was signed in '64 by the same Yankee scout that signed Mickey Mantle. This was fitting since they were all from Oklahoma and Murcer idolized Mantle. A big three sports star in high school, at that level he was a pitcher and shortstop and he kicked off his pro career in the latter role, just like Mickey. He started off great in Rookie ball, putting up a .365 average that summer before a knee injury killed his season. Then in '65 in A ball he put up a .322/16/90 line before getting his first look in NY that went pretty well. In '66, with the retirement of Tony Kubek, the plan was to have Bobby and Ruben Amaro swap starts at short, but when Amaro got hurt and Bobby didn't hit well, that plan was scrapped. Murcer instead moved to Triple A and while it was his first pro year at sub-.300 he did put up nice power numbers. He returned to NY at the end of the season, raised his average a bit, and looked set to take over the shortstop role full-time. But then the army called and Bobby lost the next two full seasons to the military. Once that commitment was done it was finally time to play in NY.

By the time Murcer got back with the Yankees for the '69 season, a couple changes had occurred on the left side of the infield. Gene Michael had taken over the shortstop gig and the transition at third base from Clete Boyer to Bobby Cox turned out to be a one-year thing. So Bobby was given the starting third baseman job coming out of spring training. But while his offense was pretty exceptional - a .313/9/32 line in 128 at bats - his hot corner defense 14 errors in 31 games - left a lot to be desired. So Bobby was moved to right field and by the end of the season had moved over to center and while his offense subsided a bit he still put up numbers not generally seen in Yankee land since the M&M boys were hot. After putting up similar numbers in '70 he then took off in '71. He led the league that year in OBA at .427, cut his strikeouts nearly in half, and boosted his average 80 points to nab his first All-Star selection. In '72 Bobby had a rough start to the season and at the end of May was kicking around at the Mendoza levels on offense. But from then on a stat line of .316/30/88 got his the AL lead in runs scored, another All-Star nod, and a Gold Glove. He was the only significant offensive threat on a team that almost won the division. In '73 he was again the offensive leader on a pretty good team that faded down the stretch.  In '74 the Yanks moved to Shea while Yankee Stadium was being renovated and Murcer's home run numbers took another hit. He moved to right field to allow Elliott Maddox to play center. He also went down the last week of the season to an injury sustained breaking up the Sudakis/Dempsey fight. That was too bad because when Bobby got injured, the Yankees were only a game out of first.

After the '74 season Murcer went to the Giants for Bobby Bonds in an even-up trade for All-Star outfielders. The Yanks were looking for more pop at the top of the order and the Giants wanted to keep the power but with a more agreeable attitude. The trade happened almost immediately after NY owner George Steinbrenner told Bobby he'd be a Yankee for life - shades of things to come for Big George. Murcer maintained his All-Star status in year one as his average returned to the .300 level and the rest of his stats were a slight premium to his ones in '74. In '76 more homers came but the average dipped to .259. Bobby was never terribly happy in San Fran and following the season he was traded for another unhappy camper, Bill Madlock, and went to the Cubs. In '77 the Cubbies were rejuvenated by a big division push the first two-thirds of the season and Murcer was a big reason, with his 21 homers and 77 RBI's through early August. But they folded down the stretch and Bobby's numbers declined with them. A decent '78 followed and then a slow start in '79. That June he returned to the Yankees first as a backup to and then a replacement for Mickey Rivers. He was around long enough to spend a month with his friend Thurman Munson. When the Yankees held their first game following Munson's death, Murcer gave a nice eulogy and then went out and got five RBIs to win the game. In both '80 and '81 he did a nice job as part of a revolving outfield group, hitting .267 with 19 homers and 81 RBI's in just over 400 at bats those two seasons; he also finally saw his only playoff action those years..He then played out the rest of his career in NY, mostly as a reserve and DH, retiring in '83.  He finished a .277 hitter with 252 homers and 1,043 RBIs. He played in five All-Star games and in the post-season hit .091 with a couple walks in his eight games.

Murcer almost immediately went into broadcasting after his playing career. He was behind the mike before '83 ended and remained in broadcasting the rest of his life. In 2006 he was found to have a brain tumor and although it was aggressively treated he passed away from it in 2008. He was 62.

The stats show the three best years of Murcer's career. I guess he was a righty golfer.

I will utilize an earlier-mentioned player for the exercise:

1. Murcer and Elliott Maddox '74 Yankees;
2. Maddox and Jackie Brown '71 and '73 Rangers.

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