Bob Murphy, a Mets legend, passes on

He was the unmistakable sound of New York baseball in the summertime, our trusted companion through the ups and downs of every pitch of the Mets' season. <P> You may never have met Bob Murphy, but you felt as though you <I>knew</I> him. Wherever you went, you brought Murph with you: lounging in the sand at Jones Beach, walking through Central Park or stuck in the most head-pounding gridlock the New Jersey Turnpike can offer. <B>(Premium Content)</B>

It didn't matter: Murphy's caramel voice had the ability to transport you to a sunny day at Shea Stadium, with rays of sunshine beaming down upon your face while looking skyward at all of those puffy cumulous clouds.

To Mets fans everywhere, Bob Murphy was more than a broadcaster. He was a friend.

Murphy, the Hall of Fame voice of the Mets, passed away from complications of lung cancer on August 3, leaving fans and colleagues to mourn the passing of a legend. He was 79.

"The sad thing about this," longtime partner Gary Cohen said on the radio, "is that Murph had so little time after retirement to smell the roses and enjoy life after baseball.

"But he was so inexorably tied to baseball and to the Mets – it was such an enormous part of his life – that you'd have to say that this was a life extremely well led. He brought such joy to so many people's lives just by their presence among the sound of his voice."

Arguably no one had seen more of the Mets than Murphy, who formed the club's original broadcast team with Ralph Kiner and the late Lindsey Nelson.

Kiner, who still serves as an occasional analyst on the Mets' television broadcasts, took news of Murphy's passing especially hard.

"It's like losing a brother," said Kiner. "We worked together for 40-plus years. We did everything together; we went to movies, ate together and traveled together. It's so hard to fathom he's gone."

Murphy's arrival with the Mets followed a route-going start in baseball that took him from the Muskogee Reds of the Western Association to the Tulsa Oilers of the Texas League, to eight season in the majors with the Boston Red Sox (1954-59) and the Baltimore Orioles (1960-61).

After winning over Mets owner Joan Payson with the tape of his call of Roger Maris' record-tying 60th home run in 1961, Murphy found himself on board for all 40 of the original Mets' "Happy Recaps." (After all, not even a 120-loss season could get Murphy down.)

He would fasten his seat belt and remain along for the ride as New York fell in love with the Amazin's, then watched in awe as Tom Seaver and company rescued the club from their cellar-dwelling doldrums to catapult the team to the top of the baseball world in 1969.

He was witness to the pennant run of 1973, to the down years of the late '70s, to the dominance of the 1986 club, back to the cellar with 'The Worst Team Money Could Buy' and then up again with Bobby Valentine's winners in 1999 and 2000.

He saw Al Jackson ("the diminutive lefthander from Alvin, Texas"), Mettle the Mule, David Arthur Kingman, Howard Johnson ("trying to sneak a fastball past HoJo is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster"), Butch Huskey ("the big bat from Lawton, Oklahoma") and Al Leiter ("the Mets' tall, good-looking lefthander").

Even as the world changed around him, Murphy's happy-go-lucky style never did. He clearly loved what he did, and baseball was always "wonderful" or "marvelous" with Murph painting the word picture.

Even a three-hour rain delay on a muggy, miserable day at Shea couldn't cloud Murphy's skies. "The rain has washed the air," Murphy would say.

"He always had nice things to say," said Brooklyn native John Franco. "I've been a major leaguer for over 20 years and I've never met a nicer person than Bob Murphy. Growing up in New York as a Mets fan, I took Bob with me on my radio to grammar school, high school and then to St. John's. It's not going to be the same without him."

"For me, Bob Murphy and the Mets were one," added Leiter, who grew up as a Mets fan in Toms River, New Jersey.

Mike Piazza, who grew up in Pennsylvania just outside of the Mets' radio reach, shared similar sentiments and memories of Murphy.

When the future star was growing up, Piazza and his family would drive to Wildwood, New Jersey, where Piazza would anxiously sit through Saturday morning cartoons to finally get to the long-awaited 1 p.m. Mets broadcast on Channel 9.

"I distinctly remember Murph opening the show before the game," Piazza told reporters. "His voice is synonymous with baseball games and with the Mets.

"You could strike out three times but Murph would say, 'He's had some really good cuts.' He kept things upbeat and didn't have an ounce of negative energy about him. He respected how difficult this game is."

It may have been hard for some to understand how a voice with an Oklahoma twang could become a beloved soundtrack in a city like New York, but in his 42 years of service to the Mets organization, Murphy simply won over his audiences with his kind spirit and gentle approach to the game.

He also had passion for the Mets, a more recognizable mascot than even the goofy, big-headed Mr. Met. Kiner loved to tell the story of the time when a bleary-eyed Murphy logged into a hotel after a lengthy road trip, scribbling his name into the ledger as "Robert E. Mets."

But make no mistake; while Murphy clearly loved his job – he used to say he was the luckiest man in the world to go to the ballpark every day – he worked hard at it.

In an era where announcers jockey to be the loudest and hone their catch-phrases, Murphy was a throwback to the pre-television generation, where telling the story was the most important part of the job.

He always felt uncomfortable when the subject of the broadcast would invariably focus on him – one of Cohen's favorite memories was when Murphy brought up his schoolboy days, when he revealed that he rode a blind mule to class ("He knew the way," Murphy noted) – and would quickly shift the listeners' attention back to the field.

"He made it sound so easy, but we all know how hard he worked at it," Cohen said. "I've never met anybody with a greater work ethic, from the day that he started to the last day before he retired. He never mailed it in. He worked hard at his craft every day, and I think we're all the better for that."

With his health declining – years of cigarette smoking had taken their toll on the golden lungs of the Mets' voice, forcing him to pause frequently during broadcasts to cough or clear his throat – Murphy stepped down from the Shea Stadium radio booth named in his honor last Sept. 25, accepting the warm thanks and gratitude of an enthusiastic crowd and organization.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared the date 'Bob Murphy Day' in the city of New York, and as part of the team's sendoff package for retirement, the club outfitted Murphy's Florida home with a satellite dish and a state-of-the-art entertainment center so that he could continue to watch the Mets long into his retirement.

True to form, Murphy didn't miss a Mets game this season until he was hospitalized a few days before his passing.

"In some ways, I suppose it's fitting that Bob didn't have a particularly long retirement," Mets broadcaster Howie Rose said on the radio. "His life was about broadcasting, baseball and specifically for the last 42 years, the New York Mets.

"He was not a guy who was going to putter around the house or go out to the golf course or do what some people like to do when they retire at age 65. He worked almost until he was 80 years old and just about every bit of his adult life was centered around baseball, broadcasting and the New York Mets."

Making his farewell speech to the crowd last September, Murphy's eyes glistened as he looked up into the rafters at Shea Stadium, his voice taking Mets fans down the winding road of team history once more -- just like a grandfather telling the kids how it used to be.

"[The Mets] have provided me with a way of life that I have enjoyed so much," Murphy said. "You just can't possibly believe how much I love it."

Recalling the memory of the Mets' first manager, Casey Stengel, Murphy paused and noted, "He meant so much to baseball in the city of New York. He was marvelous to be with, and we just loved him."

To Mets fans, Murphy will forever remain beloved with exactly the same sentiments. Murphy is survived by his wife, Joye; daughters Kevin Murphy, Kasey Murphy, Kelly Morris, Penny Haft and Patricia Haft; and son Brian Murphy.

Why the "Happy Recap"?: "I don't remember how that came about or when I first used it. But a couple of guys in the locker room told me it was real corny, so I stopped using it. And boy, did the mail start pouring in, asking me, 'Where's my Happy Recap?' So I put it back in." – Bob Murphy


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