Bobby Murcer, a personable, popular five-time All-Star who went on to a successful broadcasting career with the New York Yankees, died Saturday after a battle with brain cancer. He was 62.
After experiencing a general lack of energy, Murcer was diagnosed with a tumor on Christmas Eve 2006, undergoing surgery at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Pathology reports later revealed the tumor to be malignant.
Yankees chairman George M. Steinbrenner issued the following statement upon learning of Murcer's 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."
After being diagnosed, Murcer commented in an upbeat spirit, thanking fans for their prayers and warm wishes -- many of which were delivered in the form of letters and e-mails directly to his hospital bed.
"My heart remains true to Yankees fans," Murcer said on Jan. 24. "I've always believed you're the very best in baseball. It's your steadfast spirit that keeps me feeling so optimistic."
Born May 20, 1946, in Oklahoma City, Okla., Murcer played in the Major Leagues for 17 seasons, including making four All-Star appearances with the Yankees.
A lifetime .277 batter, Murcer hit 252 home runs and drove in 1,043 runs in 1,908 Major League games with the Yankees, San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs.
Baseball Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig issued the following statement:
"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 and made many wonderful contributions to the Baseball Assistance Team and to the game. All of us in baseball will miss him. We pass on our sympathies and condolences to his family and to his many friends."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who played with Murcer with the Yankees for six seasons and remained friends, was informed of the news after his team's game on Saturday.
"It's a sad day," Piniella said. "Just a wonderful person, a great teammate and a heck of a baseball player. [Wife] Kay and Bobby were good friends. I was informed about this about five minutes ago, and I knew that he was struggling. But, boy, you just don't think these sort of things happen, but they do. They happen frequently."
Murcer was the only Yankee to play with both Mickey Mantle and Don Mattingly, and was arguably the franchise's most popular player of the era immediately following Mantle's retirement after the 1968 season.
Murcer was hailed as another Mantle when he emerged from the Yankees' system in the mid-1960s. Both players were signed out of Oklahoma as shortstops by the same scout, Tom Greenwade, prompting comparisons.
As history shows, Murcer could not match comparisons to the Hall of Famer's lofty credentials, but he assembled an admirable Major League career.
One of his best seasons came in 1971, when Murcer led the American League with a .427 on-base percentage and ranked second in the circuit with a career-high .331 batting average.
After struggling with adjustments to Shea Stadium, where the Yankees played in 1974 and 1975 while Yankee Stadium was being renovated, Murcer was traded to the Giants in 1975 for outfielder Bobby Bonds.
He would be dealt to the Cubs in 1977, only to return and finish his career with the Yankees from 1979 through 1983.
Perhaps Murcer's most memorable moment came on Aug. 6, 1979, in the wake of Yankees captain Thurman Munson's untimely death in a plane crash.
Munson and Murcer had been close friends. As the Yankees returned to New York from Munson's funeral service in Ohio, manager Billy Martin suggested that Murcer -- who had delivered a moving eulogy for the catcher -- sit out that evening's game against the Baltimore Orioles.
Murcer disagreed, telling Martin that something was telling him to play, and that he did not feel tired. Dedicating his performance to Munson, Murcer drove in all of New York's runs in a 5-4 victory, slugging a three-run homer and a game-winning two-run single.
"I remember when we went to Thurman's funeral, and that night Bobby hit that home run into the upper deck to win a baseball game," Piniella said. "I was so happy. A lot of good memories, a lot of good memories. You hate to see this happen to good people. ... I thought he was getting better, and I know the past week or 10 days, he's been struggling. It's a shame, what can I say. We're thinking about him."
Murcer was also just the fourth Yankee to hit home runs in four consecutive at-bats, joining Lou Gehrig, Johnny Blanchard and Mantle.
For most of the last 24 years, Murcer had worked as a Yankees broadcaster, winning three Emmy awards for live sports coverage.
Murcer worked as a radio color analyst from 1983-85 before moving to television as a commentator in 1987, and also served as the Yankees' assistant general manager in 1986.
He helped the baseball family immensely through his efforts as chairman of the Baseball Assistance Team, which raises funds for former players who have fallen on hard times. Murcer was also the president of the Oklahoma City 89ers Minor League baseball club in the mid-1980s.
Murcer is survived by his wife, Kay, and two children, Tori and Todd.