A left-handed hitter, Murcer had a career .277 batting average, finishing with 252 home runs and 1,043 RBIs. He hit .301 with runners on third base. He was only the third New York Yankee (after Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle) to earn $100,000 per season, and at 26 years of age was the youngest American League player to earn a six-figure salary. Murcer made the All-Star teams from 1971 through 1974 in the American League, and in 1975 in the National League. He also won a Gold Glove in 1972.
He was noted for excelling at the delayed steal in which, as the catcher catches the ball or is about to throw the ball back to the pitcher, the runner on first base breaks for second base. The thought is that the second baseman and shortstop will be back on their heels and slow to cover the bag. After working with Mickey Mantle, he was also known as an excellent drag bunter.
At his retirement, Murcer's 252 career home runs were tied for 72nd place on the all-time home run list, and his 175 home runs as a Yankee put him 11th on the club's career list. At his death, Murcer was tied for 183rd on the all-time list.
Against Hall of Fame pitchers, Murcer hit .291 with 17 homers and 65 RBIs in 447 at bats. If Tommy John and Bert Blyleven (both possible Hall of Famers) are inducted, Murcer's numbers total 553 at bats with 20 home runs, 76 RBIs and a .297 average, seemingly stellar numbers versus an elite group of pitchers.
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), Reggie Smith (86), Jose Cardenal (85), Del Unser (82), and Reggie Jackson (81). His 198 homers tied for 17th in the major leagues for the 1970s, and his .282 batting average was 20th among all players who had 5,000 or more plate appearances. During the 1970s, he led his club in home runs six times (1970, 71, 72, 73, 76, 77).
In MLB history only 24 players hit above .275 while also hitting 250 or more home runs, driving in more than 1,000 runs, and stealing more than 125 bases and totaling 45 or more triples. Among that elite group only Murcer, George Brett, and Rogers Hornsby struck out fewer than 1,000 times.
The following season, 1965, he was the Carolina League MVP with the Greensboro (N.C.) Yankees. Murcer hit .322, homered 16 times, drove in 90 runs and stole 18 bases, playing in his league's All-Star game that season. In 1966, he began the season with the Yankees, but was sent down to Toledo of the International League. There he was in the All-Star game once again. He hit .266 with 15 home runs and had 63 RBIs to go along with 16 steals. He was the MVP for Greensboro (the Yankee's Single-A affiliate).
While on leave from the United States Army in 1968, Murcer played seven games in the Fall Instructional League. After his discharge, he played third base for Caguas in the Puerto Rico League, where he drove in 18 runs in 22 games.
One scout still thinks the Yankees hid Murcer and fellow Yankee, Jerry Kenney, off Yankee rosters so they would be, in effect, unavailable for the 1968 expansion draft. The scout, not seeing the names on a major league of Triple AAA roster found them, with no help from the Yankees, at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, where Murcer was playing on the base team. The scout "raised a little heck" and the rule was changed at the last minute, allowing players in the military to be protected giving the Yankees 17 protected players, not 15.
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". He began the 1966 season with the major league club but was sent down to AAA. Murcer then spent the 1967–68 in the United States Army.
After returning from the military, Murcer began the 1969 season hitting .321 with 11 homers and a league-leading 43 runs- batted-in when he jammed his heel in Kansas City. Murcer recalled, "I laid out seven days, and I lost my groove and my momentum". He ended the season batting .259 with 26 homers and playing center field, his third defensive position, after beginning the season at third base and then switching to right field. On August 10, 1969, he was part of a feat that was perhaps the highlight of the 1969 season for Yankees' fans. Murcer, Thurman Munson, and Gene Michael hit consecutive home runs in the sixth inning against Oakland. Murcer led off the Yankees' sixth with a shot into the right field bleachers. Thurman Munson, playing in only his second major league game, hit a pitch into the left field seats, bringing up Michael, who hit a ball into the right field seats. This was the third time Yankees hit three successive home runs. Bobby Richardson, Mickey Mantle, and Joe Pepitone did it in 1966. In 1947 Charlie Keller, Joe DiMaggio, and Johnny Lindell accomplished the feat.
Murcer tied for the American League lead in outfield assists in 1970 with 15, while committing only 3 errors in center field. In June 1970, Murcer hit four home runs in consecutive at bats in a double header against the Cleveland Indians, tying an American League record and joining Lou Gehrig, Johnny Blanchard, and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankees to hit home runs in four consecutive at bats.
He had a career-high .331 batting average (2nd in the AL) in 1971. He led the American League in on-base percentage (.427) and times on base (266), and came in 2nd in slugging percentage (.543) and runs (94), 4th in RBIs (94) and walks (91), 5th in intentional walks (13), and 10th in home runs (25). Murcer was 7th in MVP voting and was voted to the prestigious Sporting News All-Star team. On June 2, 1971, Murcer hit two home runs and "made a spectacular shoestring catch off Rico Petrocelli in the first inning to rob the Red Sox of a run" in a Yankee win over their perennial rival Boston. On Sunday, July 25, 1971, Murcer hit a pinch-hit grand slam in a win against the Milwaukee Brewers—the first of his seven career grand slams.
In 1972 he hit a career-high 30 doubles (3rd in the AL), 7 triples (4th), 33 home runs (2nd), and 96 RBIs (3rd). He also led the AL in runs scored (102), extra base hits (70), and total bases (314), was 3rd in slugging percentage (.537) and hits (171), and 10th in batting (.292). He came in 5th in the AL MVP voting and was a Gold Glove for his fielding. On August 29, 1972, Murcer hit for the cycle by hitting a single, a double, a triple and a home run in one game. On June 3, 1972, Murcer's five runs scored in a game marked the 11th time it had been done in Yankee history. He was named to the Sporting News All-Star team again and Murcer's 33 home runs were the most by a Yankee centerfielder since Mickey Mantle hit 35 in 1964. No Yankee center fielder has topped it since, the closest being Bernie Williams' 30 home runs in 2000.
In 1973 he was 3rd in the league in hits (187), 4th in batting (.301), and 7th in RBIs (95). He was 9th in the MVP voting. He also led the American League in assists once again, with 14. He made the Sporting News All-Star team for the third time in his career. On July 13, 1973, Murcer hit three home runs (for the second time in his career) and drove in five runs in a 5–0 win over the Kansas City Royals. He narrowly missed his second Gold Glove, finishing 4th in the voting among American League outfielders. He finished with 17 game-winning hits, second to AL MVP Reggie Jackson's 18.
In early 1974, along with Mickey Mantle, Murcer flew to Washington D.C. to visit with Senator Edward Kennedy's (D-MA) son, Teddy, who recently had a right leg amputated due to cancer. Murcer and Mantle traveled at Senator Kennedy's request and George Steinbrenner's expense.
The Gaylord Perry "Feud"
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 7–2 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."
For his career, Murcer hit Perry at a .232 clip with 2 home runs in 69 at bats. However, much of that low batting average was due to the 2 for 20 performance in the 1972 season, which caused Murcer's ire in the first place. Aside from the abysmal 1972 summer he had against Perry, who won the A.L. Cy Young Award that year, Murcer hit .286 against him.
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."
In 1974 Murcer led all major league outfielders in assists by throwing out 21 baserunners. He was 2nd in the A.L. in sacrifice flies (12), 7th in RBIs (88), and 9th in intentional walks (10), and was the highest-paid player in Yankee history, earning $120,000.
The Murcer for Bonds swap
Murcer was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Bonds in 1975 in baseball's first-ever even swap of $100,000 superstar players. In October the Yankees were looking for a quality starter and a righthanded power man. On the 22nd, in the early hours of the morning, Bobby Murcer was awakened in his Oklahoma home by the ring of his telephone. It was Gabe Paul. Murcer had been traded straight up to San Francisco for Bobby Bonds. "The trade came," he remembered sourly, "just after I had told Gabe I could finally accept right field if I knew I would be a Yankee the rest of my career, He said there was no way the Yankees could trade me. Three days later, I was gone."
However, despite a fine offensive season, he hit only 11 home runs, eliciting this quote from Murcer, "Patty Hearst could be hiding in Candlestick's upper deck and nobody would ever find her", referring to how tough it was to hit long balls at the park where the Giants played their home games. Author Zander Hollander noted that season that "only Murcer's dwindling power keeps him from superstar status" since other than the lack of home runs Murcer had a fine year in his first season as a Giant, although one of Murcer's homers was a bottom of the ninth solo shot in a 1–0 win against Phillies left-handed pitcher Jim Kaat.
On April 6, 1976, the Associated Press reported that Murcer signed for a reported $175,000, making him the highest paid player in Giants history. That season Murcer regained his power swing and was 6th in the NL with 23 home runs, and 7th in RBIs (90). He walked 84 times which was sixth in the NL. He was also voted the Giants MVP in 1976. Led the Giants in home runs and tied for the team lead in steals with 12. He was second on the club with 10 game-winning RBI. His two consecutive seasons with 90 or more RBIs was not duplicated by a San Francisco Giant until Will Clark did it in 1987–88.
On May 26, 1976, Murcer hit a grand slam against the Astros and on September 22, 1976, he stole home in a 3–1 victory against the rival Dodgers and a week later, on September 29, 1976, he gloved the final out in John Montefusco's no-hitter.
That year he led the league with 10 sacrifice flies, and was 8th in intentional walks (13) while hitting 27 home runs and driving in 89 runs which led the team. Murcer also tied for the team lead (with Bill Buckner) in game-winning hits with nine. His 16 steals were second on the club and he drew 80 bases on balls, good for 9th in the NL. On June 29, 1977, in his return to Candlestick Park, Murcer drove in 6 runs (matching his career high) in a 10–9 win over the Giants. On September 26, 1977, Murcer hit the 200th home run of his career, off future broadcast partner Jim Kaat.
The Scott Crull game
On August 8, 1977, Murcer promised to try and hit a home run and a double for terminally ill fan Scott Crull who he had spoken to by phone. That night, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Murcer hit two home runs. Broadcasting the game nationally on ABC, Keith Jackson told the country how Murcer had fulfilled the dying boy's last wish. However, no one had told the young man he was dying. Murcer, however, denied he made an outright promise to Crull, as ABC had reported during the game.
Scott's mother told the AP, "It's wonderful that he got to talk to one of the players, and by Murcer hitting the home runs...he was thrilled." The AP later reported comments from Kenneth Crull, the young boy's uncle said "Bobby Murcer did a wonderful thing for Scotty . . . it was the highlight of his whole life." Linda Crull, the boy's aunt added, "What Bobby Murcer did was great. But what happened afterward we'd just as soon forget about." ABC's Jackson had relayed the story that had been told to him by a Chicago Cub official Buck Peden and alerted the boy to his own medical condition. Three weeks later, On August 22, Crull died. Ten hours later the Cubs beat the Giants 3–2 at Wrigley Field and Murcer hit his 24th home run. At that point the Cubs' record was 70–53, and they were 7–1/2 games out, in 2nd place. The Cubs slumped and finished at .500 with and 81–81 record. The homer in the August 22, 1977, "Scott Crull" game was one of 5 game-winning home runs Murcer had in 1977.
The Munson game
Murcer gave one of the eulogies at catcher Thurman Munson's funeral on August 6, 1979, in Canton, Ohio in which he quoted the poet and philosopher Angelo Patri: "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." Afterward, the team flew home to play the first-place Baltimore Orioles in a game which was broadcast nationally on ABC-TV. Yankee manager Billy Martin wanted to give Murcer the day off, but Murcer insisted on playing—and play he did. Murcer practically won the game single-handedly, bringing the Yankees back from a 4–0 deficit with a 3-run homer in the 7th, then hitting a walk-off 2-run single down the left-field line in the bottom of the 9th, causing Howard Cosell to exclaim what a heroic performance Murcer had put on for the deceased Yankee captain Munson, who had died in a plane crash 4 days earlier. Murcer never used the bat from the game again and gave it to Munson's widow, Diana.
On July 2, 2004, the Seattle Times reported that Diana Munson put the bat, along with other items of Munson's, up for auction. Mrs. Munson said she wants to use the proceeds to open trust funds for her grandchildren. "You reach an age when you think about the future," she said.
In August 2007, the YES Network replayed the game for a new generation of Yankee fans due to a switch of the copyright of the game from ABC to Major League Baseball. About the game, Murcer says that he was playing on "shock adrenaline" and that the game has become "part of my legacy".
After the murder of NFL player Sean Taylor, the Washington Post asked Murcer about how an organization deals with such a tragedy, "You can't forget the moment, because it's so emotional," said Bobby Murcer, "It's a very moving experience ... that next game, we got to remember him as an individual and as a team. But it's not only us that's hurting. It's the fans. It's as much for them as it is for you as an individual. It reminds you that the fans who follow the team, it's as big a part of their lives as it is for you.
In the winter of between the 1980 and 1981 season Murcer traveled to Japan with an American League "All-Star" team to play a series of exhibition games against a National League team to reportedly promote American baseball.
On opening day in 1981 vs Texas, Murcer hit a pinch-hit grand slam at Yankee Stadium. Alfonso Soriano and Russ Derry are the only other two Yankees to achieve that feat. On September 26, 1981, he hit a three-run pinch-hit homer in the 9th inning in a 6–4 Yankee win over Baltimore. In 1981, he led the pinch hitters of the American League with three home runs and 12 RBIs. He also led the club in slugging percentage (.470). He finished the season by batting as designated hitter in the 1981 World Series.
On June 1, 1983, Murcer hit his 100th career home run at Yankee Stadium, which was the 252nd and final home run of his career. His retirement on June 20, 1983, was hastened by the Yankees wanting to bring up rookie first baseman/outfielder Don Mattingly. Murcer, fittingly, was the last active player to have been a playing teammate of Mickey Mantle. His final game on June 11, 1983, occurred 19 days after Bill Robinson's final game on May 23, 1983 (for Phillies). On August 7, 1983, the Yankees honored his years in pinstripes with "Bobby Murcer Day". Since baseball's contracts are guaranteed Murcer collected the remainder of his contract (estimated at $360,000 a year) through 1984. A 1985 comeback attempt ended after four minor league games where Murcer went 1 for 12 before suffering a shoulder injury.
During his second tenure with the Yankees, he also served as the team's player union representative.
Murcer continued to call games on WPIX until 1998, when the station lost the rights to broadcast the Yankees (they would pick up the broadcast rights to the Mets instead). He then moved to WNYW, where he and Tim McCarver shared play-by-play roles. He would remain there until 2001 (calling, among other games, David Cone's 1999 perfect game), when he moved to the YES Network to call the games there and on its broadcast partners (originally WCBS, now WWOR), with a reduced workload. Murcer won three Emmy Awards for live sports coverage as the voice of the Yankees.
In November 2007, Murcer was nominated for the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually to a broadcaster for "major contributions to baseball" by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York during the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
He recorded two country songs, "Skoal Dippin' Man" and "Bad Whiskey" in 1982, both released by Columbia Records, and appeared in two films as himself, including The Scout. He also was part of a four-player biography in 1973, "At Bat!: Aaron-Murcer-Bench-Jackson", by Bill Gutman, published by Tempo Books.
Murcer made his first post-operative appearance on fellow Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay's radio show on WEPN on January 23, 2007. He was interviewed by Kay and took phone calls from listeners. Murcer concluded the interview by saying, "I want to thank you very much for giving me the forum to do this because I wanted you to know that even though this looks bad, I'm doing great. I really am. I'm in a great place. God has given me peace and the overwhelming love has been insurmountable for me to even deal with. I can feel the fans. I can feel their thoughts and their prayers and I wanted to tell them how much I love them."
Murcer returned to Yankee Stadium for Opening Day of the 2007 season. He called an inning with the YES Network crew, and once his presence was pointed out on the video scoreboard, he received a standing ovation from the crowd, with the Yankees coming out of the dugout to applaud him. He returned to work as an announcer in the booth on May 1, 2007.
The Tug McGraw Foundation, which supports research to improve quality of life for brain tumor patients and their families, honored Murcer as their "Good Guy of 2007". The award was given at the "Denim & Diamonds: An Evening with Tim McGraw and Friends" on November 2, 2007, St. Louis.
In January 2008, he was honored by the New York Chapter of the BBWA as the winner of the "You Gotta Have Heart" award for his battle against cancer.
In late February 2008, an MRI scan led Murcer's doctors to perform a biopsy, and, optimistically, the biopsy revealed scar tissue, rather than a recurrence of brain cancer. Murcer stated he planned to rest until spring training where he planned to call Yankee games and work in the YES Network studio. He released his autobiography Yankee For Life, co-authored with Glen Waggoner, on May 20; he appeared in the broadcast booth for the last time two weeks earlier to promote it. The book dealt with his forty years in Major League Baseball and his battle with brain cancer. His last public appearance was May 27, in New York while promoting his book, signing autographs for 2,000 fans despite being frail and physically weak. In addition, he had planned to work 60 Yankee home games for the 2008 season.
On June 30, Murcer's family released a statement that he had suffered a relapse:
''Bobby Murcer continues to recover from the effects of cancer and shingles, which caused him to cut short his broadcasting work and his book tour earlier this month. He has been under medical care in Oklahoma City.
The cancer treatment over the last 18 months has been intensive and has, as a side effect, somewhat compromised his immune system and made the fight all the more challenging. While he has shown some measured improvement in recent days, this is clearly a major battle, as all who have been through it understand.
Bobby remains hopeful that he will be able to resume his broadcasting work down the road, but for now, is appreciative of the thoughts and prayers of his fans, and wants them to know that he is aware that he is in their hearts, as they are in his.
Two weeks later, on July 12, Nancy Newman of the Yankees' YES Network reported that Murcer had died due to complications related to brain cancer. He was reportedly surrounded by family in his deathbed in his home in Oklahoma City. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner issued a statement following his death: "Bobby Murcer was a born Yankee, a great guy, very well-liked and a true friend of mine. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife Kay, their children and grandchildren. I will really miss the guy." Baseball commissioner Bud Selig eulogized, "All of Major League Baseball is saddened today by the passing of Bobby Murcer, particularly on the eve of this historic All-Star game at Yankee Stadium, a place he called home for so many years. Bobby was a gentleman, a great ambassador for baseball, and a true leader both on and off the field. He was a man of great heart and compassion."
The memorial service for Bobby was held in Edmond, OK on August 6, at the Memorial Road Church of Christ. Among the some 2,000 attending the memorial were Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Joe Girardi. Also in attendance Diana Munson, widow of Yankee captain Thurman Munson. The August 6 date was 29 years, to the day, since Murcer gave a eulogy at Thurman Munson's funeral and is also the 25th anniversary of Bobby Murcer Day at Yankee Stadium. The uniform worn by Murcer at his final Yankee Stadium Old Timer's Day appearance in 2007 was presented to his spouse Kay. His tomb can be located in Rose Hill Mausoleum, in the left side of the building.
Trying to hit Phil Niekro is like trying to eat a Jell-O with chopsticks.(Murcer hit only .208 with no home runs in 48 career at bats versus the knuckleballer Niekro.)