Glancing Back, and Remembering Bobby Murcer
Throughout his Yankee career (which encompassed 13 of his 17 big league seasons), Bobby Murcer’s real competition was not major league pitching as much as the expectations that greeted his arrival in New York. He started his Yankee tenure as “the next Mickey Mantle,” an expectation that he could not fully live up to (who could?). Despite his years as a solid performer (and five-time All-Star), he’s remembered more in some circles for what he was not rather than what he was … and what he was was pretty darn good.
Murcer was signed by the Yankees in 1964 and batted .365 and .322 in his first 2 minor league seasons, respectively. The comparison with Mantle, then in the waning years of his Hall of Fame career, was natural. Murcer was an Oklahoma native who excelled as a hitter, fielder and base runner. And with the Yankees in decline following five consecutive American League pennants, the Yankee faithful were hungry for a multi-threat savior who could carry the team back to glory.
After short stints with the Yankees in 1965 and 1966, Murcer spent 1967-1968 fulfilling a military obligation. His first full season was 1969, New York’s first season without Mantle. Murcer opened the season at third base and then moved to right field. More comfortable in the outfield, he performed well, batting .259 with 24 doubles, 26 home runs and 82 runs batted in.
Over the next three seasons, he hit .290 and averaged 27 home runs and 89 RBIs. In 1972 he led the American League in runs (102) and total bases (314). That same season he hit 33 home runs and drove in 96 runs, both career highs. He also won a Gold Glove.
These were solid, productive years, but none of “Mantle” proportions. And there were no pennants in New York during this period.
In 1974, his hitting numbers “slipped” to a .274 batting average with 10 home runs and 88 RBIs. After that season, the Yankees dealt Murcer to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Bobby Bonds. In his two seasons with the Giants, Murcer batted .279 and averaged 17 home runs and 90 RBIs per season. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs prior to the 1977 season, when he hit 27 home runs with 89 RBIs. His power numbers would decline steadily from this point on. He drove in 64 runs for the Cubs in 1978, and the next year was dealt back to the Yankees. He played in New York for five more seasons, mostly in a part-time role, batting .262 and averaging 10 home runs and 42 RBIs over that period. He retired nine games into the 1983 season.
For his career, Murcer batted .277 with 1,862 hits and 252 home runs.