Saturday, July 12, 2008

Farewell to a Boyhood Hero

I was saddened last night to learn that baseball player Bobby Murcer died. Everyone remembers him as a Yankee, but I remember him as a Cub.

My first sports memories are from the late 1970s. Baseball was my favorite, and in my family there was -- and is -- only one team that matters. Murcer played for the Cubs for only two and a half seasons, 1977-1979, but those were critical years for me, a brief time when athletes were heroes (I think I started to become cynical around fifth grade). I remember Murcer as the Cubs' leading home run hitter in 1977. In fact, his 27 homers were more than twice as many as anyone else on the team hit.

Then the Cubs got Dave Kingman. I think I liked him better than Murcer mostly because we shared a name, the sort of thing that matters to an eight-year-old. Kingman had a great year in 1979, leading the National League in home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, and slugging percentage. Now I know everybody hates Kingman, but I was too young to understand it then.

In mid-1979, Murcer was traded back to the Yankees, where he finished a solid career. Since that was long before inter-league play*, he disappeared from my world except on Topps baseball cards (this columnist's Murcer memories began when mine ended). I didn't even know he became a broadcaster until I read his obituary. By all accounts, he was a great guy, a Yankee legend, and he will be missed.

* Except for the World Series, of course, but that's unknown territory to a Cubs fan.

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