Five years ago today, Bob Murphy, the flagship voice of the New York Mets, passed away at age 79. He lives on in audio archives as well as in the hearts and memories of Mets fans everywhere. At the end of each home victory at Citi Field, public address announcer Alex Anthony offers the “Happy Recap,” which of course became Murph's signature postgame phrase in the course of his Hall of Fame Mets announcing career, one that commenced with the franchise's inception in 1962 and continued into its fifth decade. Though a statue or other physical memorial accessible to Mets fans would be most welcome (the radio booth is named in his honor as it was at Shea Stadium), I believe keeping alive the Happy Recap is as marvelous a tribute to Murph as any the Mets could bestow.
The following is adapted from a series of posts Faith and Fear ran a couple of years ago in which we honored the Happy Recap as one of the Quintessential Mets bedrocks of our unique baseball culture. It is offered here as a way to fondly recall Bob Murphy, whose voice will always be missed but never be forgotten.
Bob Murphy called games for the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox, yet no fan of those teams could possibly connect the words Happy and Recap the way we acolytes of the New York Mets can. Murphy was always a true professional, but he reached and stayed at the top of his profession in the 42 seasons broadcasting the exploits of those who wore the orange and blue and shading them with requisite amounts of honesty, accuracy and warmth. However many Happy Recaps he delivered depended upon the actions of the players on the field below him.
There might have been 108 Happy Recaps, as there were in 1986, plus seven more in the postseason. There were usually dozens fewer. Lord knows there were arid stretches when the recaps grew less frequently happy than we would have preferred. But those that occurred, whenever they occurred, felt every bit as special as any that Murph summed up in 1986 or 1969. Bob Murphy was sunshine when darkness descended on Shea, not just between Met championships but long afterwards. He is remembered at his best for 1986, yes, but also for 1962, clear through to 2003. Bad years, good years, all years. Murph made each recap and every pitch that preceded them happy affairs just by communicating them.
Bob Murphy and Bill Buckner are linked forever through Mookie Wilson's fair ball that got by Buckner and the aftermath that allowed the Mets to live another day. What aftermath was that?
Rounding third Knight! The Mets win! They win!
The call lives on every bit as much as the result. Bob Murphy, however, wasn't just about those incandescent moments of victory any more than the 1986 world championship was constructed solely from one first baseman's error. Here he was on the radio broadcasting the end of an equally incredible, equally emotional Game Six thirteen years later.
The count is three and two. Now the pitch…he walked him! The season is over for the New York Mets. Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones forcing in the winning run from third base, Gerald Williams heads into score, and it's celebration time for the Atlanta Braves. What a horrible loss for the New York Mets.
Both Game Six events would have an intense feel to them regardless of who told you about them, but coming from Murph as opposed to Vin Scully or Bob Costas, it was coming from family. He was our great baseball uncle. He was blood. He cared because we cared. He cared because he cared, too. Announcing Mets games may have been a job for Bob Murphy, but did you ever detect the slightest ounce of clock-punching in his delivery? Every game was the biggest game Bob Murphy ever broadcast. Considering that The Happy Recap was never guaranteed and more than half the time impossible, that's an utterly magnificent feat. As few and far between as Game Sixes are, there is no plural version of Bob Murphy. There is only one.
But Murph wasn't perfect, even in the lingering afterglow of memory. Yes, it's true. There were a few flaws in his delivery.
Unbridled optimism in the face of a stretch of 64-98 seasons could get to you a little.
In later years he blew fly balls — had them being caught when going out and going out when being caught.
He blew smoke in his partner's face, not a good thing for either of them.
Once referred to Al Leiter as Larry Dierker.
Hosted Bowling For Dollars, though that could be taken as a plus in some quarters.
When you get right down to it, however, there is no way any true blue and orange Mets fan can find any real fault with Bob Murphy. There was only good to be had across his 42 seasons behind the Mets microphone. Put him and his signature up against broadcast ideal and…
Yes — they win the damn thing.
The Happy Recap is, to be precise, what Bob Murphy promised following a Mets win. He didn't make a big thing of it. He never teased it through the broadcast, didn't say “wow, the Mets are up seven to one, so you know there will be a Happy Recap when this game is over.” Can you imagine Murph being that self-serving? The fans and the game were his constituency. If the Mets lost, there was no mention of a Happy Recap. If they won, there would be a quick word that we (“we,” not “I”) would be back with The Happy Recap after this message.
When Murph returned from commercial, it was all about what Cleon Jones or Jerry Koosman or Del Unser or Craig Swan or Steve Henderson or The Man They Call Nails Lenny Dykstra or David Arthur Kingman or Ronnie Darling or John Olerud or you name him did. It was about the players and the Mets and the final score here at Shea Stadium, the New York Mets seven, the San Diego Padres one; our next broadcast will be…
That was it. That was The Happy Recap. A short summation, the runs, the hits, the errors and a signoff. Yet that little tail applied to the end of an afternoon or evening became a signature like nobody else's in Mets broadcast history. Nobody ever played up The Happy Recap per se. We all just knew about it. We tapped it out like Murph Code. For 42 years those were our words to root by, our goal to strive for. And when Bob Murphy stopped announcing for good in 2003, they stayed with us.
That's the power of the local announcer, the local radio announcer. Murph did TV, too, from 1962 through 1981, rotating back and forth between booths with Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson, Steve Albert and, briefly, Art Shamsky, but it was Frank Cashen's genius to assign him to permanent wireless duty in 1982. It was seen as a demotion of sorts in those days. From the invention of television, television was the glamour medium of our time. Stars were on TV. Home run-hitting, Cadillac-driving Ralph Kiner would stay on TV.
But somebody forgot to tell baseball. Baseball never stopped being at its best on the radio. We were realizing that all over again in the 1980s as a generation that had grown up smuggling a million transistors under a million blankets told its stories. Television could show us much. Radio could tell it all.
That was Bob Murphy's genius. He painted the word picture, the best picture you could have for a baseball game. The man didn't conduct a talk show from behind a WHN or WFAN microphone. He told you what was going on on the field. He told you who was warming up in the bullpen. He told you who the manager had left on his bench. He did it in a way that kept you engaged when the game was dragging and in a manner that kept you riveted when the game was bursting at the seams. He never discounted the possibility of a Mets comeback, which was darn thoughtful of him.
Bob Murphy clicked with a mass of New Yorkers despite — maybe because — he was most un-New Yorkish. Forty-two years on the job and he never picked up a vocal inflection to indicate this was home for more than half his life. Blessedly he never betrayed an ounce of the native cynicism either. Whatever negative thoughts Murph may have brought to the ballpark he put aside when the light went on. Bob Murphy knew he wasn't granted hour after hour of airtime to air his grievances. He was there to bring us a pair of four-letter words we will eternally associate with him…even more so than “damn”.
He brought us Mets. And he brought us hope.
To this day, we constitute a most receptive audience for his signal.
An appreciation of Bob Murphy, written in the hours after I learned of his passing, appears here.