I never met Bobby Murcer, so I can't reminisce about private moments we've shared. When he was in his prime as a player, I was busy teething and puking up my Gerber's; my memories of him in uniform are as a beloved icon-slash-platoon player and pinch hitter.
But when you listen to a guy announce baseball games for 25 years, an attachment forms -- a strong one, even if it's one-sided and non-reciprocal. Murcer may not have known me, but I felt like I knew him better than I know most of my family.
That's why generations of Yankees fans were grief-stricken when we heard the news of his death last weekend. For a lot of us, he's been a regular part of our lives, at least our April-to-October lives, for over 40 years.
Sometimes I think I'm a Yankees fan even more than a baseball fan. I just can't bring myself to care passionately about any other team, aside from whoever's playing the Red Sox, of course. But it matters less to me every year whether the Bombers win. I've come to love the continuity -- the fact that, come springtime, they're going to be around for 162 games. Every Opening Day is a triumph over the dreariness of another winter. (It's also the signal to my wife that she can go out without me and not have me complain too much.)
And come October, whether the Yanks have won the World Series or, heaven forbid, missed the playoffs, I'm sad. For the next five months, I won't get to watch Derek Jeter slap an opposite-field single or Mariano Rivera induce a broken-bat groundout or listen to the play-by-play team describe, analyze and digest it all.
Not every announcer inspires affection the way Bobby Murcer did. I respect the baseball savvy of blowhard Tim McCarver, but I tolerate his broadcasts rather than looking forward to them. I actively dread listening to Jon Miller and Joe Morgan on ESPN. And if there's a worse announcing team than John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, who do the Yankees' games on radio, I haven't heard it.
Murcer was different. He had a wry, self-deprecating wit, vast baseball expertise and friendly-but-professional style, all wrapped up in an Oklahoma twang. He was always a pleasure to spend a few hours with on a steamy Sunday afternoon when it was too hot to go outside, or a lazy weeknight when ordering in Chinese and sitting in front of the tube seemed preferable to anything else going on around town.
He worked with a whole lot of broadcasting partners during his quarter century in the booth, from Phil Rizzuto (whose immortal phrase "Murcer, you huckleberry!" is forever tattooed on my brain) to Tom Seaver to Michael Kay to Paul O'Neill -- wildly different styles and personalities. Few announcers could have blended with, and complemented, all of them the way Murcer did.
My favorite Murcer moment dates from around 2000, when he was calling a game with Tim McCarver. Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez was on the mound for the Yankees, and McCarver excitedly proclaimed that his salary in New York was 27,000 times what he'd been making in Cuba before he defected. After a long pause, Murcer said, "You did the math, huh?"
He will be missed.