Hundreds remember Bobby Murcer

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">Bobby Murcer of the New York Yankees. Undated photo. &#40;AP Photo&#41;</span></div>
August 6, 2008 4:47:36 PM PDT
His rocking chair sat empty and motionless with his old New York Yankees jersey draped over it, but the spirit of beloved broadcaster Bobby Murcer lived on Wednesday with his family, friends and colleagues. Hundreds filled an Oklahoma City-area church for a stirring and often humorous tribute to Murcer, a five-time All-Star outfielder who died from brain cancer on July 12.

He was remembered in words by his son, an astronaut and a 13-year-old cancer survivor, and in video messages from Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Rich "Goose" Gossage and comedians Billy Crystal and Ray Romano.

Current Yankees Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte made the 225-mile trip from Arlington, Texas, where they were scheduled to play the Rangers later Wednesday.

Jeter called him "the perfect Yankee."

"The way he treated people. That's the biggest thing about Bobby, especially if you're a young player coming up in New York. He had always the most positive things to say, whether you were good or bad. He always went out of his way to speak with you."

Murcer's broadcast partner, Michael Kay, said Murcer was an idol to him and countless others of his generation.

"The Yankees were not very good when I fell in love with the game," Kay said. "But as a kid growing up in the Bronx, there was just something about Bobby, and I was not alone. There are people my age that all looked at Bobby Ray Murcer. ... In the years of bad baseball, we had Bobby Murcer."

Col. Doug Wheelock, a space shuttle Astronaut, recalled that as a child he snuggled under his sheets in bed with a transistor radio and a flashlight to catch broadcasts of Yankees games and take down Murcer's stats.

"I didn't meet Bobby until about a year ago, but I felt like I knew the man," Wheelock said.

When he heard that Murcer and his wife, Kay, would be in Houston for treatment at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, he arranged to meet his hero.

"Actually, my knees were shaking that day," he said as the audience laughed. "I can strap myself to a rocket but ... "

Murcer gave Wheelock a baseball jersey that the astronaut took with him on a trip aboard Discovery to the International Space Station, and on an expedition to Mount Everest.

"It was just the way he lived his life and he let us watch," Wheelock said.

Murcer spent most of his 17-year career with his beloved Yankees, starting in 1965 at the age of 19. He was touted by many in New York as the next Mickey Mantle - another Oklahoma baseball great - and played shortstop.

Murcer moved from shortstop to third base, but ended up in center field, Mantle's old spot. After the 1974 season he was traded to San Francisco and was with the Chicago Cubs when the Yankees won the World Series in 1977 and 1978.

He came back to the Yankees during the 1979 season, but retired four years later and moved into the broadcast booth, where he won three Emmys.

The only person to play with Mantle and Don Mattingly, Murcer hit .277 with 252 home runs and 1,043 RBIs in his career. He made the All-Star team in both leagues and won a Gold Glove.

Murcer never cut his ties with the Yankees and served as a bridge between the storied team's legends like Mantle to the players of today, like Jeter and Pettitte.

"I just can't say enough," Pettitte said. "I mean he was just a great man, just a great person to be around. He lived a wonderful life."

"You know he knew his days were probably numbered and he showed the strength and courage and it's almost like he showed you how a man's supposed to die also."