Murcer’s greatest stat was his undeniable faith
His legend, however, grows — and rightly so. The kid from Oklahoma who followed Mickey Mantle to the Yankees was always a fan favorite. Baseball buffs loved his play, but most of the world loved his warm manner: unassuming demeanor, devotion to his wife and children and dedication to the team. Bobby was genuine.
As Michael Kay, play-by-play announcer for the Yankees, put it, “As good a ballplayer as he was, he’s twice as good a person.”
But Bobby was more than a good ballplayer, broadcaster and a good person. He was a dedicated Christian who sought God’s will for his life and made time for worship, prayer and study wherever the game took him.
After graduating from Southeast High School in Oklahoma City, Bobby married his high school sweetheart, Kay Rhodes, in 1966. The two met through Kay’s brother Dwaine when the then-9-year-old boys began playing ball. As a teen, Bobby came around more to see Kay than play ball, Dwaine remembers.
He became a Christian while serving two years in the Army at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., fulfilling his military obligations despite being drafted by the Yankees.
He talked of driving his expectant wife to church in those years, only to let her attend by herself. Adrian Hon, the local minister, called him out once, saying, “You have a wife now and soon a child; you need to think about becoming a Christian.” And he did. He was baptized in 1968. He also developed a great respect for Hon and spoke highly of the man who hit him right between the eyes, so to speak.
“Once Bobby became a Christian, he never looked back,” said Dwaine, thrilled to become a brother to Bobby in every sense of the word. “If he couldn’t attend church he’d have his own service in the hotel or locker room.”
Yet Bobby and Kay made it a point to worship regularly and involve themselves in ministry with several congregations — the Manhattan church in New York; the Palm Desert, Calif., church; the First Colony church in Sugar Land, Texas; and their home congregation of Memorial Road in Oklahoma City, where Dwaine and his wife Phyllis attend, as well as Kay and Dwaine’s parents, Lloyd and Sara Rhodes, and Kay’s sister, Cindy Worth.
Once in a church lobby, someone overheard Bobby and others talking about playing ball. When the person asked Bobby if he played for the church softball team, he simply said, “No, I play for another team.” It was that humble and unassuming manner that endeared him to all.
“He was simply a person who was upbeat and focused on others,” said Tom Robinson, minister of the Manhattan congregation. Bobby never turned down an opportunity to sign a photo or encourage others who were sick. It was his ministry.
When Bobby became the patient that outreach didn’t slow or stop — it expanded and thrived. During his treatment, he often created opportunities to share his faith with those also fighting disease, as well as medical staff. As Dwaine put it, “All of us have a circle of friends, and so did Bobby. He took every opportunity to share his love for Jesus Christ in friendship circles that often included the famous and influential.”
Yet he wore the robes of celebrity ever so graciously. Fame and attention seemed not to change his character, only provide a larger venue for him to share Jesus. Yet he was equally at home with his Brother’s Keeper group at Memorial Road, participating in small prayer sessions.
“I want to do whatever I can to help other people with their faith,” Bobby told me more than once, explaining his motivation for reaching out to others. “God has been good to me, and I want to help others if I can, tell me anything I can do to help others.” Perhaps this is it Bobby, sharing your life and your faith with others to encourage them.
By his own admission, Bobby’s faith deepened after his diagnosis and during the next 19 months of surgeries, recoveries and protocols. He and Kay and other family members prayed and read Scripture together daily. The couple wrote psalms together, inspired to do so by Bobby’s reliance on Psalm 91, as well as Romans 8.
An excerpt from their “psalm of faith” includes this phrase: “In times of joy, in times of sorrow, When in doubt about tomorrow, GOD IS HERE.”
His favorite passage, however, was Deuteronomy 31:6. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Kay told me that “when Bobby received the diagnosis, it was as if he had been handed a brass ring of opportunity from God to share his faith. He took hold of it and made every effort to tell people about Jesus.” One example was “the noon he prayed with a business associate who later said she had never in her life had anyone ask to pray with her, and it meant so much.”
His remarkable career and achievements on the field and in the broadcast booth are well documented, yet somehow understated, as well.
He played 17 seasons, from 1965-1983, mostly with the Yankees but also with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs. Bobby started as a shortstop and moved to the outfield, recording a lifetime batting average of .277 with 1,043 runs batted in and 252 home runs. He was a Gold Glove winner, a five-time All Star and played in the 1981 World Series. He hit four home runs in consecutive at bats in a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians in 1970. In his 23 years as a Yankees broadcaster, he won three Emmys for sports coverage.
On a much deeper level, Bobby’s unmoving faith puts the crowning mark on his lifetime stats. In a life characterized by amazing achievements, Bobby’s commitment to God remains the pinnacle.
A CELEBRATION OF MURCER’S LIFE begins at 11 a.m. Aug. 6 at the Memorial Road church in Oklahoma City. For more information, call (405) 478-0166.