Bobby Murcer: Yankee for life, forever a survivorYankees legend, YES analyst, shares inspirational story in his new book
Bobby Murcer was diagnosed with a brain tumor. There was no choice but to deal with it, but Bobby and Kay decided there was a way out. A way out of the horror of being confronted with your potential mortality. A way to jumpstart the healing process from a sucker punch.
They ordered that greasy meal from Sonic. Brain tumor be damned, the Murcers were hungry and some little sucker would neither temper their cravings, nor their enjoyment of everyday life. At the time, neither knew it was malignant, the worse kind. Kay figured the doctors would do the biopsy, take it out and everything would be fine.
Four days later, Bobby underwent his surgery at the University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, one of the top cancer treatment facilities in the United States. On January 10, 2007, it was announced that the tumor was malignant, terminal. That's when the world would start learning about the Murcers' inner strength. Kay's mentality never wavered. They'd deal with it. And Bobby was going to zero in on a breaking pitch delivered by God and crush it into oblivion.
This was going to be fixed, Bobby wrote in his new book, "Yankee for Life: My 40-Year Journey in Pinstripes." When reminded of their Sonic lunch, Kay giggled and Bobby laughed out loud. It made sense. The Murcers were moving forward, because they were chosen for a higher purpose than winning baseball games.
|I want to be like Bobby Murcer, whose attitude in the face of a much more difficult illness than I have had to deal with puts my own sullenness to shame. I spoke to him once about illnesses, his and mine, and he spoke of God. My system of beliefs and his are not the same, but he said it with such evident simplicity that it was nonetheless greatly moving, like receiving a blessing from a holy man. I'll take that any day I can get it, and if anyone else needs it, I'll be glad to pass it on.
Bobby is going to be signing books over at Bookends in Ridgewood, N.J., on Monday, June 2, at 6 p.m. I know that when I've written about my cancer here that the many good wishes I received from you via e-mail did so much to buck me up and make me feel like I had (invoking Lou Gehrig) so much to live for. If you get a chance, go do the same for Bobby.
Steven Goldman, Pinstriped Bible author and cancer patient
"That was the way I felt, to tell you the truth," said Bobby, recalling the Sonic special. He just finished a New York City book signing at midtown's Barnes & Noble. It was the end of a long afternoon, he was in need of rest and here he was sharing more details about the fight of his life, simply because his words have had a colossal impact on others who share his plight.
"We had plenty of support, great doctors and we had a plan. When you have a plan like that the best doctors in the world to treat cancer and we had God on our side and he'd give us strength and whatever happens, happens we felt good in that sense.
"Things were starting to click for us."
Murcer played 17 seasons in the Major Leagues, two stints with the Yankees serving as bookends to his career. He hit a home run in his first at-bat Sept. 14, 1966 and batted .277 with 252 homers and 1,043 RBIs, none more emotionally charged than the five he drove in on Aug. 6, 1979, hours after burying his captain and best friend, Thurman Munson. Following his playing days, Murcer captured several Emmy Awards for his work as a broadcaster.
And now, in the battle against glioblastoma, everything is coming together for Bobby Murcer. His courage and faith makes you think of Lou Gehrig and wonder how on the name of heaven he could stand, dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, before 50,000-plus people and tell them he's a lucky man. Murcer's defiance is such that, after learning he had a brain tumor, he was hungry for a friggin' Sonic burger.
Unbelievable. Powerful. Inspirational.
"I want people to know that even though you've been diagnosed with terminal cancer, something devastating like that, life is not over," Bobby says of his book, co-authored by Glen Waggoner, published by HarperCollins and on sale at all bookstores. There have been times when fatigue has invaded his body, but never his spirit. Bobby's latest MRI taken last week came back clear. He's off chemotherapy and will return to Houston for another vaccine shot next month.
"I have good days and bad days," Bobby said. "To tell you the truth, I think I'm doing pretty good. In fact, I know I'm doing pretty good."
Joined at the hip is Bobby's friend and soul mate for 51 years and counting, Diana Kay Rhodes Murcer, who has been to every MRI, every round of chemo, and every monthly visit to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. When Bobby learned he'd be a patient, Kay explains, it was a moment not of panic, but of peace. This was to be the Murcers' future and it was time to create a new legacy.
"He was sort of a multi-manager of his whole life," Kay said. "Cancer taught him a real good lesson about how to relinquish being so in control.
"There are a lot of faith-based messages in [the book]. Cancer should not have to end your life. You have choices to curl up in a ball or you can say, 'Gosh, I have this little wake-up call and I'll live the best way I can live with it.'"
The journey has introduced Bobby and Kay to brain tumor patients young and old that have enriched their lives. Those who have traded e-mails and phone calls with the couple have appeared at recent promotional book signings. Last Friday in Oklahoma City, Bobby and Kay's hometown, was a complete sellout. Five minutes before Murcer was to greet his supporters his friends all 500 available copies were off the shelves.
"Anything he does here in Oklahoma is a big success," said Nancy Thomason, founder and president of the Oklahoma Brain Tumor Foundation (OKBTF). "Oklahomans love Bobby Murcer."
Thomason is no stranger to tragedy. She lost her son, Cade, to a brain stem PNET tumor on February 17, 2000. (According to OKBTF, roughly 800 people in Oklahoma are diagnosed every year with a brain tumor and there are 3,000 living with a benign or malignant brain tumor.) When she learned about Murcer's high-profile case, Thomason contacted him about getting involved in the foundation's efforts. Bobby agreed, bought her lunch and openly shared his battle.
"He wanted to talk more about me and what I had been through as a mother whose child died from brain cancer than he was interested in talking about himself," Thomason said in an e-mail. "I have found this to be a defining characteristic of Mr. Murcer. He is more interested in helping others than focusing on himself. I think the biggest impact he has had is to be an inspiration to many who are experiencing the same battles."
Ray Negron, another Murcer friend and a Yankees bat boy during the latter's playing days, visits children almost daily suffering from cancer. His first book, "The Boy of Steel," is a tribute to all children who have lost their battles, and to those who have lived through and conquered.
"So many people are suffering from cancer," said Negron, now a senior advisor to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. "I'm in hospitals and visit these people, and everybody asks about Bobby Murcer. And when they hear Bobby Murcer is doing well, it makes him automatically want to be well. That's a heavy load, but that's what he means to people."
"That's been the hard part," Kay said, "when Bobby would meet the kids that have it. We've come to know several young brain tumor kids that have been diagnosed at early ages. That's really tough ..."
Suddenly, Kay's voice trailed and her attention was diverted to the front of a line that snaked around Barnes & Nobles' second floor shelves, the escalators, downstairs and outside to 46th street and the entire length between Fifth and Madison.
"Oh my goodness ... do you know who this is?" It was the wife of a man who taught Bobby Murcer, a fierce competitor who played through the Yankees' lean years and the Munson's death, a few tricks about competition in the game of life. "Rhona Hassenbusch! Surprise! I can't believe she flew in from Houston!"
When it comes to Bobby & Kay, higher powers are their partners. The family of Dr. Samuel Hassenbusch made an unexpected trip to New York, just to say hello.
Dr. Hassenbusch was a Houston neurosurgeon who developed glioblastoma, the same deadly brain cancer he treated. Nearly three years after he was diagnosed and nine months after cancerous cells recurred, Dr. Hassenbusch lost his battle in January at the age of 54. The Murcers learned of his plight during a televised interview with Katie Couric last March and arranged a meeting before receiving treatment at Anderson.
Dr. Hassenbusch's message was, "Life doesn't have to end just because you have cancer," recalls Kay. Seeing how he coped with glioblastoma was a beacon of hope.
"That was like, 'Oh my gosh!' That's when Bobby decided, 'I want to be the same guy for somebody else,'" Kay said. "Sam was very much instrumental, and told Bobby about setting goals and what to do in their very first meeting. He was extremely important to us."
|"[Bobby] was sort of a multi-manager of his whole life. Cancer taught him a real good lesson about how to relinquish being so in control. There are a lot of faith-based messages in [the book]. Cancer should not have to end your life. You have choices to curl up in a ball or you can say, 'Gosh, I have this little wake-up call and I'll live the best way I can live with it.'"|
| Kay Murcer|
There was Rhonda, Dr. Hassenbusch's wife of 35 years, with her three children at the front of the line. Dr. and Mrs. Hassenbusch took 33 business trips in 33 months, which included a speaking engagement from the Capital. Sam loved baseball, and loved Bobby more. Their common thread is defying the odds. Sam was given 12 months to live, he survived 33. Another person close to Brain Tumor Foundation of New York executive director Zeesy Schnur was given mere months. He lived a full and quality life for six more years.
"Every new patient is a new hope and longer time," Rhonda Hassenbusch said. "My husband wanted to get out there that you set your goals, you keep going and don't let them give you a death sentence. You use the cards you're dealt and move with them."
And so Bobby's battle is ongoing. In their roles as NYC Brain Tumor Foundation spokespersons, Bobby and Kay created public service announcements about early detection set to launch this summer, which encourage people to see their doctors, get screened and ask the right questions. On November 19, Bobby will be honored at The Brain Tumor Foundation Dinner The Journey Begins at the Pierre hotel in New York City.
"I told our president," said Schnur, present for Wednesday's book signing, "I wish you had seen this. There was such a love and warmth for Bobby. It was palpable."
It's fitting that Bobby is playing a different type of hero. When he debuted with the Yankees in 1965, he was hailed as the next Mickey Mantle at a time when the franchise's latest dynasty had ended and the team fell to sixth-place finish at 77-85.
"The Yankees were anxious for a hero and Murcer fit the bill perfectly," Negron said. "When you look at pictures of him in a Yankee uniform in those days, nobody ever looked better in a Yankee uniform. Bobby Murcer was cool. He was the next Mickey Mantle, and in class dignity and pride, he was every bit of that times 10."
Bobby's aura hasn't faded with time. Rather, he and Kay are guiding lights. One fan approached Kay and asked her to sign his book. Kay obliged and added the universal symbol for hugs and kisses (xo). "My little thing," she said. Bobby's little thing has been standing up to an insidious disease like the schoolyard bully with bark but no bite. The bell curve for Bobby's form of glioblastoma is 14 months. He's been working and living with it for 17 and counting, because Bobby Murcer has never and will never accept defeat.
More to the point, there is a lot more work to be done.
"God continues to keep me around," Bobby said. "I think he has something for me to do."