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Murcer is 'A Yankee for Life'

Murcer is 'A Yankee for Life'

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LITTLE FALLS, N.J. -- A woman leaned over the table where Bobby Murcer was signing copies of his new book and three shiny objects hanging from a chain around her neck caught the still well-trained eye of the former Yankees star.

"What's that?" Murcer asked the woman, pausing for a moment from his signing chores for a moment from signing "Yankee for Life: My 40-year Journey in Pinstripes", in order to engage an obviously adoring fan.

"Stanley Cups from the Devils," said the woman, a New Jersey Devils fan as well as a Yankees fan.

"I thought they were beer bottles," Murcer said with a smile as the woman and those around her in line laughed.

Murcer, who is battling cancer, seemed to be having a good time as he signed his new book for two hours on Thursday night at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University. The former outfielder and longtime broadcaster, who still does Yankees television broadcasts when he's feeling up to the task physically, looked fit in a pale light green sweater and gray slacks.

Murcer took time to chat for a few seconds with each of the adoring fans who had endured a long wait to get into the tiny theater where Murcer was holding court. He posed for pictures, cracked a joke or two and every 25 minutes or so took a short break to sip cold water and rest.

Murcer's wife Kay stopped by once to rub her tiring husband's back. She, too, engaged in a pleasant manner with the fans.

By the time the event, proceeds from which went to benefit the museum's educational programs, ended, nearly 500 books had been sold at $24.95 a copy. And many more fans passed through the line that snaked around the ground floor and out the door on a warm evening in Northern New Jersey.

At the Yogi Berra Stadium next door, the independent Northern League New Jersey Jackals were playing their first home game of this season.

It was a good night to play ball, talk ball and reminisce.

Margaret Marra, a Yankees fan for 45 years, was wearing a dark blue "Bobby Murcer" T-shirt and showed the athlete a photo of himself that the Yankees had sent her son in the 1970s.

"Yours is in good shape," Murcer said, admiring the shirt. "My Bobby Murcer shirts have all been chewed up by moths."

Ms. Marra said she thinks she got the shirt in the early 1970s.

"I wear it to every Yankees game, I really do," Marra said of her cotton treasure. Marra, of Secaucus, N.J., told the story of the photo she showed that piqued Murcer's interest. She had gone to a Yankees game on May 20, 1973, and there was an announcement that it was Murcer's birthday.

"My son went home, wrote out a birthday card and mailed it to him," Marra said. "A couple of weeks later, on June 14, he got this picture in the mail. I'm not sure if he signed it or someone else did, but my son [Christopher] kept it in this envelope all these years."

Christopher Marra, his mother said, was crushed when the Yankees traded his hero to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Bonds in February 1974. Not as crushed as Murcer, who detested the time he spent in San Francisco.

A young man approached the table and pulled a quarter out of his pocket. It was brand new and had Murcer's home state of Oklahoma on it. The man had seen the "Oklahoma" quarter for the first time on Thursday afternoon. He wanted Murcer to have it.

"You keep it," Murcer said with a smile as he rolled the coin back to its owner. "I've got a lot of them."

Another man used his cell phone, which hissed a bit as the photo was snapped.

"Sounds like a catfish," Murcer said, drawing a laugh.

One fan pulled a 45 record out of his copy of Murcer's book. Ed Smith of Cedar Grove, N.J., said Murcer told him he wasn't too proud of the recording he made in 1983. One side was "Skoal Dippin' Man" and the other side was "Bad Whiskey." "He said looking back he wished he hadn't done those songs," Smith said.

Christine Cartwright said she'd been a Murcer fan since she was a kid and admitted his looks were the first thing that attracted him to her.

"I still have my original Bobby Murcer bat, from when Bat Day was Bat Day, hanging in my garage," Cartwright said. "They wouldn't let me bring it."

Nick Casale and his daughter Denise, both New Jersey residents, were first in line to get their books signed. They'd been there since 3 p.m. for the event that began at 7 o'clock.

"He's my idol, him and Mickey Mantle," Casale said. "Bobby brings back a lot of memories. He's such a sweet guy. He's loved by everyone. My whole family loves him."

Nancy Smalling and her husband Paul McKeefry were in line. Nancy held a 1972 copy of Sports Illustrated that had Sparky Lyle on the cover and a full page picture of Murcer next to the first page of an article on the Yankees. She also carried a 1971 Yankees Yearbook that had Murcer's picture on the cover and cost $1.

"Bob Costas said it's nice to find a guy who's your hero who is a nice guy and I think Yankee fans relate to that in Murcer," McKeefry said.

"As an announcer you got to know him," said Smalling, "Before that, you thought you knew him, but as an announcer, you really got to know him."

"Just that Oklahoma charm."

Murcer was using that charm on Thursday. It took some doing at times, but it was always there.

Kit Stier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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