Memorial Day represents different things to different people. To some it was the soldiers on the front lines, to others it was family members going overseas and us wondering if we were ever going to see them again. Just so many things.
To me I remember being such a big Yankee fan and being upset that the next Mickey Mantle (Bobby Murcer) was being drafted by the Army. The fact that he was gonna be gone for two years really hurt because as a young Bronx – Brooklyn kid I thought Bobby was the coolest thing to ever come to the Yankees since Mickey Mantle.
A couple of years later the same thing happened to this little fat catcher named Thurman Munson. When he first got to the Yankees in 1969, I thought this was the next Yogi Berra. However the Army came knocking for him too. As a fan who had endured the retirement of his hero Mickey Mantle and a couple of last place finishes, it really hurt that two players that looked like future Hall of Famers were being taken by the army.
Thurman Munson was stationed at some base in New Jersey for a bit so every once in a while he got weekend leave and was able to get to the Bronx and play. Those weekends were a big tease because it gave us fans a chance to see what the future looked like. With Murcer, we had to wait two full years before he got back. We did get to see a little glimpse of him before he left for the Army.
Murcer actually got to play with his hero Mickey Mantle, thanks to a September call up in 1965 and also during the 1966 season. When he finally got back to New York in 1969, he was still only 23 years old. He instantly became everyone’s hero.
When I joined the Yankees as a batboy in 1973, the two guys that I was so excited about meeting were Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer. They were closer than brothers. They actually taught me what friendship really meant. They also explained to me that they didn’t have any regret at all in serving our country in the armed forces. They were actually quite proud.
In 1973 and 74 these two men impacted me so much that, following the ’74 season, I was joining the US Army reserve but a funny thing happened on my way to the recruiter. In those days they used to have a January baseball draft. Well, before leaving to enlist, the phone rang and I had been drafted in the second round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. I told my mom and she got very upset because she thought I was talking about being drafted by the Army and they were sending me off to war. When my little Puerto Rican mom realized that it was a baseball draft, she was the happiest person in the world.
Naturally, I did sign with the Pirates but my batting average was less than my weight. And thanks to George Steinbrenner, I ended up coming back to the Yankees.
This is my Memorial Day story. I am always so very proud that two men that I loved more than brothers were proud to serve their country but more importantly I can honestly say that they were two of the most wonderful individuals that I have ever known. They truly had a role in who I would become. Thanks M&M Boys.