It was a lucky number

In the spring of 1975, I was signed up to play baseball for the first time.  I found out, as I had never really thought about it before, that being left-handed narrowed down my choices for baseball gloves considerably. In fact, there was exactly one glove for left-handers in the entire store: a black glove with Bobby Murcer’s name in the pocket. Running all over town looking for a baseball glove was not an option, and so Bobby Murcer it was.

The other, right-handed kids on my team all had tan gloves and, I suspect, bigger names inside, like Brooks Robinson or Reggie Jackson or Rod Carew. And the name inside your glove gave you a chance, however indirectly, to align yourself with that player. Even if Reggie Jackson did lead the American League in errors five different times in his career, having a glove with his name in it made you somebody.

So I played with that black glove, since I couldn’t very easily get another one and I needed to have one in order to play baseball. And then one day, I learned that Bobby Murcer was coming to Chicago to play for the Cubs. Wow! I stood a little bit taller, it seemed, knowing that my glove held the name of Bobby Murcer, outfielder for the Chicago Cubs. I had already read a book about him, and now he was playing for my favorite team. You can’t really ask for too much more than that.

When Bobby Murcer came to play for the Cubs, he wore number 7 as a tribute to his baseball idol, Mickey Mantle. He played 17 years in the majors, spread over three different decades, and the two years he played in Chicago were the only time he was able to do that. I’m sure that meant something to him. 

Bobby Murcer played well for two full seasons with the Cubs, and was traded back to the Yankees in the middle of the 1979 season. Although he had signed with Chicago for six years, and only played two and a half of them for the Cubs, my guess is that he jumped at the chance to return to New York and finish his career in the Yankees’ pinstripes. He had to give up wearing number 7, since the Yankees had retired it already, but playing in the Bronx was probably the real draw for him.

Six weeks after the trade was completed, Murcer’s teammate and reigning AL MVP Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash. Murcer eulogized his teammate, and then single-handedly led his team back to win a televised Monday night game against the Orioles. It was a shocking turn of events, and became known as the “Murcer Game.” This video sums it up much better than I ever could.

I can still remember watching that game, and with the benefit of hindsight it was amazing that it turned out the way it did. Had the Cubs not traded Murcer away when they did, then the catharsis that Murcer delivered–first at Munson’s funeral and again on the baseball field–would not have occurred. And I was prouder than ever to have Bobby Murcer’s name inside my glove.

NOTE: This piece sat in my Drafts folder for a long time, and was dusted off and published in the wake of Henry Aaron’s death on January 22, 2021. RIP to him and to Bobby Murcer, who died in 2008. The photo above was taken at a Cubs game several years later, and I am fully aware that it could not be the actual Bobby Murcer. It sure is a sweet jersey, though. 

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