Dinner and drinks with BobbyWhy one night with a Yankee legend will live forever
That night we arrived at the establishment where Kenny, Bobby and friends were waiting. We sat at a round table and shared pints of lite beer, but that wasn't all. This was the first time Bobby met my father, who is as enthusiastic a Yankee fan you'd ever meet. Right away, Dad asked Bobby about his friendship and experiences playing with the Mick. It was the beginning of a conversation that lasted at least 40 minutes.
Whether you knew Bobby Murcer for life or for two minutes, he became a friend. It could have been pleasure, like it was that night in Tampa. With me, it was usually business. I worked for YES as a freelance statistician, keeping score of the game from the booth and passing along any relevant information to the announcers and the production truck. Once YES hired me full-time to write articles and edit its Web site, I ghost wrote frequent columns to document Murcer's thoughts on the Yankees and talk a little history too. One of my favorite moments was at one of the annual Thurman Munson Award dinners. Bobby had talked about Thurman often since the Captain's tragic death in 1979, but he never tired of the subject. He loved playing with Thurman and loved him as a person. And any publicity he provided meant more attention to the AHRC New York City Foundation, which helps serve children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Simply put, Bobby cared about other people and always shared a smile. There was not one negative bone in his body and that positive energy would eventually guide him through the ultimate challenge.
On Christmas Eve 2006, as everyone knows, Bobby Murcer was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Well before his book hit bookstores, he defiantly stood tall and said he was going to knock this thing out of the park. That was a point in time when the general public, those who never met Bobby Murcer, learned he was more than a great Yankee and a great ballplayer. He was a courageous human being who gave others in his position hope.
"I'm in hospitals and visit these people, and everybody asks about Bobby Murcer," Yankees senior advisor Ray Negron told me. "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."
The first time I saw Bobby since he was diagnosed was Opening Day 2007 at Yankee Stadium. The heck with cancer was Bobby's message. He was determined to attend another Yankees opener, and he did ... and he was nice enough to provide YESNetwork.com an exclusive column about his progress. That was the day he told me, "The hard part is already gone."
"God sent me an angel to marry about 40 years ago, my wife Kay," Murcer continued. "She has just been the best teammate I've ever had. I love her and she's been very supportive of me. In fact, my whole family has been very supportive of me. That's a big process in getting well, and a big process in recovering is how much support you get from your own family."
The last time I saw Bobby was late May at a book signing in New York City. I was introduced to Kay, about as wonderful and strong person you'd ever meet, while Bobby sat for hours meeting fans from New York and elsewhere who waited on line to meet him. If it were up to him, he would have mingled all day, but his energy level wouldn't have it. He took a break of at least an hour and cut the session short before returning to his hotel for more rest and a dinner date.
A publicist for HarperCollins, which published "Yankee for Life: My 40-Year Journey in Pinstripes," informed me that Bobby may not be up for an arranged interview to review the book. As we made our way to the back of the store, Bobby turned and faced me. "Oh, I know him," he said. A person who for 17 months had forged bonds with countless people either fighting cancer or involved with a cancer patient remembered another face in the crowd, and fondly recalled the night he shared drinks and stories with my father.
"God continues to keep me around," Bobby told me that afternoon. "I think he has something for me to do."
You did great, Bobby. You never ever accepted defeat. That tough mindedness of yours makes you a winner. Take care, old colleague. Leave a few passes at the gate.