September 25, 2003

End of an Era and the 'Happy Recap'

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Tomorrow night will be the end of an era.

And to millions of Mets fans, after tomorrow night, baseball on the radio just won’t be the same.

That is because Bob Murphy, the Mets’ legendary radio voice, is retiring after providing the soundtrack for the franchise over its first 42 years.

There’s a special relationship between a baseball announcer and baseball fans. To millions, Murphy has been the voice of summer in New York, the one staple over the airwaves through decades of change. Murph is a rarity. Just as the player who stays in once place his entire career is now an anomaly, so is the broadcaster. And Bob Murphy has seen it all.

He joined the fledgling organization before its first game in 1962, one of three original broadcasters tapped to narrate games both on radio and TV. Along with Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner and the nationally-known Lindsay Nelson, Murphy was part of an instant success story. He in particular, with his personable demeanor and gentle Oklahoma drawl, quickly became a fan favorite.

The product on the field, of course, came nowhere close to matching the instant success in the broadcast booth. The 1962 Mets lost 120 games, a major league record that still stands (as of the time of printing). Things didn’t improve much in the early years, either. The Mets didn’t lose fewer than 100 games until 1966. Their first winning season didn’t come until 1969. It’s appropriate, though, that that first winning season was also the team’s first championship season.

And Bob Murphy was there to “paint the word picture,” every step of the way.

On Sept. 24, the Mets clinched their first-ever NL East title. Two weeks later, they completed a three-game sweep over the Atlanta Braves in their first-ever National League Championship Series. And on Oct. 16, 1969, the Mets did the impossible — beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-3 to win the World Series in five games.

Even as the Mets returned to mediocrity and the crowds at Shea thinned in the late 1970s, Murph remained as popular as ever. Fans rushed to their radios after wins to hear his “happy recaps,” and though the losses piled up, his on-air optimism remained as bright as a summer afternoon.

In 1982, Murphy shifted full-time to the radio, while Kiner became the Mets’ lead television voice. The move set up some of the most memorable calls in New York sports history.

By Sept. 17, 1986, it was already a foregone conclusion that the Mets would win the NL East. But that didn’t prevent Murphy from his trademark excitement when the game ended:

“And a groundball to the right side of the infield