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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Loss of an Idol

We all remember specific moments which serve as a lifetime of memories that form the connections to our favorite sports and the teams we love. The first time you saw how green the grass was at Fill in the Blank Stadium. The first time you heard the crack of the bat which wasn't broadcast enhanced by some engineer in the sound truck. Even though the moments happen time and time again afterwards, the memories are just one. You've probably seen the green grass or heard the crack of the bat thousands of time since, you'll never forget the first time.

R.I.P Bobby
What connects us, for life, to our favorite sport or team is our favorite player. And for most of us, that player isn't a superstar, heck, he may not even been all that good. But for some reason, we identified and connected to him for a long forgotten reason. He became such a part of us, we almost became him. Copied his batting stance. Bounced the ball lefthanded three times before shooting a righthanded free throw. Wore the same uniform number. After he was long retired, and after we had long grown up, you might see him around, maybe he's the team broadcaster, or you drive 40 miles to see him at an autograph show. When watching on TV, you don't see him as someone approaching Social Security age, you see the same young face he had as a player, no way can we accept him growing old.

Then one day, you hear on the radio, or read on Armchair, that this player has passed away. And you feel like a part of you just did too. You unashamedly shed more than a few tears, as if you had lost a close relative or friend. And your lifetime connection to the sport or team you grew up loving, because of him, has been forever broken.

That moment happened for me today. Bobby Murcer was, and always will be, my all-time favorite Yankee. I wore #1 on my junior high school team because that was Murcer's number. In high school, #1 was taken by an upper classman, so I wore #11. A natural righthander, I taught myself to hit lefthanded because Bobby Murcer swung from the south side. I played third base and centerfield because Bobby Murcer did. I refused to watch or listen to Yankee games for awhile because they traded Bobby Murcer. I think deep down one of the reasons I bought the MLB TV package is because I could listen to Murcer broadcast on the YES network, even knowing I'd have to listen to John Sterling's voice, too.

At some point in the next few days, I'll go into my memorabilia box and fish out my 1967 Yankees yearbook. For the past 42 years, every time I pick that book up, it takes me back to being ten years old, back to seeing Yankee Stadium for the first time, of seeing Mickey Mantle whack one off the right field wall, and of a twenty-one year old expected to become the next Mickey. I'll see the sections on Mel Stottlemyre and Bobby Cox, then turn on SportsCenter knowing I might catch a glimpse of one of them, still in uniform and contributing to our greatest game. Towards the end of the book, when I come to Murcer's page, I fear those feelings and memories I've experienced every time I've seen it won't be the same, and I'm scared. Scared baseball won't have the same meaning anymore. Scared the memories will start to fade away now that the connection which held them all together has broken.

I was fortunate enough to have met Bobby Murcer a handful of times during my time working with the Yankees, in 1979. He had just returned from his exile to the National League and was excited beyond words to be back "home". I told him my little story, the same one I've shared with you, he seemed genuinely interested, which I appreciated. He was a real nice guy, more importantly, he was my first idol. To me, he always will be the ultimate Yankee.
On October 22, 1974, Bobby Murcer was sent to the Giants, I shed a couple tears, but I recovered. On July 12, 2008, Bobby Murcer was sent to eternal life, I've shed more than a few tears, and I'm not sure if I will recover. My lifeline to baseball is gone.

God Bless, Bobby, I'll miss you.

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