Gripped By the Game
Murtaugh's Four Stints with Pirates Included Two World Series Championships
By SAMANTHA CARR
November 30, 2009
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Danny Murtaugh battled health issues throughout his managerial career and despite retiring three times, baseball kept bringing him back.
“He was a baseball man,” said Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson. “He liked it so much he came back to it when he shouldn’t have.”
|Danny Murtaugh is one of twenty finalists for election to the Hall of Fame Class of 2010 by the Veterans Committee. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)|
Murtaugh retired for the fourth and final time in 1976 and died of complications from a stroke within two months. But his steady hand and savvy decisions kept the Pittsburgh Pirates at or near the top of the National League standings for almost two decades.
Murtaugh is one of 10 finalists on this year’s Veterans Committee managers/umpires ballot at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Veterans Committee will vote on Dec. 6 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 7. The results of the Veterans Committee election for executives will also be announced on Dec. 7.
The 10 candidates on the managers/umpires ballot are: Charlie Grimm, Doug Harvey, Whitey Herzog, Davey Johnson, Tom Kelly, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Hank O’Day, Steve O’Neill and Murtaugh. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010.
Entering professional baseball at age 19, Murtaugh broke into the big leagues four years later with the Philadelphia Phillies. He played for nine seasons with the Phillies, Boston Braves and Pirates – mostly as a second baseman. He left baseball in 1944 to serve as a paratrooper in the Army during World War II, but returned following his service.
His best season was his first in Pittsburgh, foreshadowing success to come. In 1948, he led the league in putouts for second baseman, assists and double plays all while hitting .290 en route to a ninth-place finish in the NL MVP voting.
In 1952, Murtaugh asked Pirates general manager and future Hall of Famer Branch Rickey for a managing assignment in the minor leagues. He took the helm of the New Orleans Pelicans farm club and led them to a fifth place finish while playing part-time at second base.
During the 1957 season, Bobby Bragan was fired by new Pirates general manager Joe Brown and replaced by Murtaugh, who had been the third base coach of the team for less than two seasons. Murtaugh would look to Brown as a mentor and a friend throughout his career.
“I loved him like a brother,” said Brown.
In 1958, Murtaugh led the Pirates to a second-place finish after eight years of Pittsburgh finishing at or near the bottom of the National League. Just two years later, they would claim an improbable World Series victory against the New York Yankees.
Following Bill Mazeroski’s ninth-inning, Game 7 Series-winning home run on Oct. 13, 1960, Murtaugh exclaimed, “Of course it is my biggest thrill. What bigger thrill could a baseball manager ever have than win the World Series?”
Murtaugh retired two years later because of heart problems, but stayed on as a part-time scout, a position he enjoyed.
“Scouting is the golf tour of baseball. Easy traveling, out in the sun, real enjoyable,” he said.
The gig didn’t last long. Murtaugh was back managing in 1967 when Harry Walker was fired. He retired after that season, but returned again in 1970.
He led his team to another World Series win in 1971, this time beating the Baltimore Orioles and Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver in seven games. Following yet another retirement after the Fall Classic, Murtaugh was named the Director of Player Acquisition and Development. Although uncomfortable with the title, this job seemed to fit Murtaugh well.
“He was a man who was nearly a father to his players and who was on friendly terms with their families as well as those of everyone who worked in Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh’s home park,” said Washington Post staff writer Bob Addie.
Convinced to come back to coaching in 1973, Murtaugh was reluctant but managed the team to division titles in 1974 and 1975, losing in the NLCS to the Dodgers and Reds, respectively. He retired for the final time after the 1976 season with a .540 winning percentage and 1,115 wins. This time, he cited the desire to spend more time with his grandkids after missing out on a lot with his own kids. Sadly, Murtaugh never got that chance.
Murtaugh died Dec. 2, 1976, in his home in Chester, Pa.
“He was a man who parried adversity with wit, and yet beneath the humor was the suggestion of a vein of sadness,” said Addie.
He finished his managerial career with five postseason appearances, four National League East titles and two World Series championships.
“Brilliant managerial thinking and dumb Irish luck,” he once said about his managerial career.
“Managing a ball club is like getting malaria. Once you’re bitten by the bug, it’s difficult to get it out of your bloodstream.”
Samantha Carr is the media relations coordinator for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum