BY JOHN ROHDE
(The Oklahoman – July 13, 2008)
Bobby Murcer was supposed to be the next Mickey Mantle.
Now Murcer is seated next to him.
Sadly for us, Murcer’s courageous battle against cancer is one he could not win. So was his impossible quest to make people forget that Mantle once played center field in Yankee Stadium.
Murcer was not the next Mantle. There still hasn’t been a next Mantle.
Murcer was saddled with a task no mortal could ever achieve. Comparisons between Mantle and Murcer encompassed everything from whence they came, to where they played, to how they spoke. The more they had in common, the heavier Murcer’s burden.
Both hailed from Oklahoma.
Both started out as shortstops.
Both moved to center field because they were error-prone.
Both were signed by legendary scout Tom Greenwade.
Born in Spavinaw and raised in Commerce, Mantle arrived with the Yankees in 1951 at age 19.
Born and raised in Oklahoma City, Murcer arrived with the Yankees in 1965 at age 19.
Numerous times, Murcer said he never tried to be the next Mantle, because he knew he never could.
Murcer spoke of how he and Mantle often laughed at the comparisons.
“I didn’t know what they were trying to do at the time, I was naïve,” Murcer said. “We laughed about it. I never worried about what people thought of the comparison. I only worried what he thought about the comparison. I never had any regrets because I never took it to heart. I never thought it was real. People thought it was a burden or hindrance. It never was because I never gave it a second thought.”
Murcer met Mantle in the spring of 1964.
“If you were his friend, you were his friend for life,” Murcer once said. “Back in those days, they used to give rookies a hard time. When Mickey offered his acceptance to me – and I don’t know why, I think maybe it was because Mickey was the last 19-year-old to make the Yankees – it caused everyone to lay off me.”
Mantle died from liver cancer on Aug. 13, 1995.
Just four months earlier, after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, Mantle had joined forces with Murcer to help raise funds for the victims.
When Mantle died, Murcer said it was “like losing a brother.”
Murcer called Mantle “the most honest man I ever knew.”
In 1996, at the first Old-Timers Day without Mantle, Murcer remembered a legend who had become a friend.
“There was always a certain electricity when Mickey walked into the building,” Murcer said that day. “It didn’t matter what he did. He just was electric. And it’s not the same way today. He’s really missed. When I came up to the Yankees, Mickey took me under his wing. I guess because we were both from Oklahoma and he remembered how he felt when he first came here as a teenager. But we became good friends. I still can’t believe he’s not here.”
Now they’re together again, not one behind the other, but side-by-side.
The longer Murcer’s fight against cancer continued, the more people proclaimed him the most courageous New York Yankee since Lou Gehrig.
It’s been nearly 13 years since Mantle died and 40 years since his last season in baseball, and people still haven’t forgotten him.
Now it’s time for no one to ever forget Bobby Murcer.