My favorite statistic - and a baseball icon
A rerun from Bob's retirement last year
It's interesting to think about what makes up your baseball experience, the things that really touch you and make you enjoy the game. First and foremost, it's got to be playing the game, not on any particular level, but just playing the game. Like having a catch with your Dad or with a bunch of friends. What happens to a bunch of strangers in a stadium is fun but really pretty secondary to playing ball yourself.
But when you're not playing you might as well be watching, and who you watch and listen to makes a big difference. Growing up in NJ in the 60's, most of the NY games were on free broadcast TV, and there were plenty of great voices on the air. One of the best was Phil Rizutto, the Yankee shortstop who put a lot of time in the broadcast booth. He could never get away with it today, but his announcements of First Communions or Bar Mitzvahs, critiques of the cannoli he had last night, what a creep Eddie Stanky was, trivial arguments with Bill White (you huckleberry!) all enriched the ballgame beyond the play by play.
The Mets also had a great trio: Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner, and Bob Murphy. Put together in the early 60's, they were the only Mets announcers for what seemed forever. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever, and time breaks up our childhood institutions. This week Bob Murphy announced his retirement for the end of this season. Bob is a real pro, and I would describe his delivery as family-style. He was best listened to with your feet up on the porch on a warm summer's day with a cool lemonade at your side.
Now I would miss Murph even if that was all there was to it. But there's more. The Mets, through their history have had their moments, but there has been a lot of periods when they were just plain bad. And the Mets of the 60's were the worst. It says a ton about NY and human nature that they were as popular as they were during that period. My brother and I listened to a lot of games over the radio and unless we were mistaken, it seemed that the Mets were always in the game until Murph came to the mike. "Bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the ninth, Mets down by one, Kranepool steps to the plate. What a fine looking young lefthander! The crowd is on the edge of their seats! Niekro looks in for the sign ... and here's the pitch! .... (sound of bat meeting ball) ... (pause) ... And he pops it up ..... " Shut off the lights, get some sleep, tommorrow's another school day.
Now any person who follows sabermetrics at all appreciates how silly a pitchers won-loss record is, yet it's quoted and followed all the time. The rules for determining the winning and losing pitcher are pretty clear, if somewhat arbitrary in certain situations. Could you apply the same rules to the game announcer to determine who was the winning and losing announcer of a game? In other words, if Murph was announcing at the time the Mets took the lead, he would get credit for a win. It seems to us that in 1967, Bob Murphy went 0 and 60. Yes, the evidence is anecdotal, but it appears that Bob Murphy went winless during the 1967 season. Kiner and Nelson went .500 that year to bring the Mets to a semi-respectable 50 wins for the season, but Murph couldn't break an egg that year. This season remains to this day longest announcing streak ever, and is widely considered around here as the record least likely to be broken (or exist).
Murph, despite 1967, I will really miss you. Thanks for being part of my life, and for helping make baseball the special game it is.