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Danny Murtaugh

Danny Murtaugh

Position(s):
2B, SS, 3B
Born:
October 8, 1917
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 9"
Weight:
165 lbs
Major League Debut:
7-06-1941 with PHI

If patience is a virtue, perhaps sainthood should be bestowed upon Danny Murtaugh, the frequent manager and one time secondbaseman of the Pirates.  He not only won two World Championships as field leader of the club, but dealt with sometimes difficult personalities, manipulated undermanned pitching staffs and used his sense of humor to not only lead his players but handle the media extremely well as he was one of the most quoted figures in Pittsburgh sports during his over quarter of a century association with Pittsburgh’s ballclub.  Still, he credited his players for the success of the team rather than taking the spotlight, often caricaturing himself.  Lampooning a quote attributed to Dodger manager Charlie Dressen who told his charges if they kept the game close, he’d figure out a way for them to win, Murtaugh said, “Blow everyone away.  Don’t expect me to outmanage anybody.  If you keep me close in the eighth inning, I’ll blow it every time.”

Murtaugh’s lessens in patience began early.  He broke in with a terrible Phillie team as a secondbaseman in Though he appeared in only 85 games and hit just .219, the rookie led the league in stolen bases with 18, using his baseball savvy as well as his speed to accomplish the feat.  Murtaugh’s hitting improved against wartime competition until he went into the service in 1944.  When he returned in ’46, he played in only six major league games before being sent to Rochester and was drafted by the Boston Braves following the season.  He spent most of 1947 in the minors as well, with Milwaukee.

When Billy Meyer was named Pirate manager for 1948, he asked that Murtaugh be included with JohnnyHopp in a trade which saw the Pirates relinquish Johnny Russell, Bill Salkeld and Al Lyons.  Murtaugh had an excellent year in ’48.  He hit .290, setting career highs in hits and games played.  Defensively, he led the league in put outs, assists and double plays and his fielding percentage was just one point behind the league leader, Jackie Robinson.  Frankie Frisch, who was working as a broadcaster for the Giants at the time, credited the Pirates rise to contention as much to Murtaugh’s fine play and spirit as to the thunderous bat of Ralph Kiner.

The homerun king remembered his former teammate.  “He was a kind of comedian and a character, but a good, solid player,” Kiner said.  “He would chew tobacco and spit on your shoes from about 50 feet away, or so it seemed like it.  He really was a regular guy, much as he was as a manager.”

Injuries kept Murtaugh to 74 games at secondbase in 1949 and his average fell to .203.  While he came back to hit .294 in 1950, when the 34-year-old’s average fell to .199 the next season, Murtaugh accepted a player-manager’s job with the Pirates’ New Orleans farm club.  He remained there through 1954 and it was at New Orleans that Danny first connected with Joe L. Brown, who was the Pelicans’ general manager at the time.  Murtaugh resigned after losing the Southern League playoffs to Atlanta, but accepted an assignment as manager of the club’s team at Charleston inCharleston was having financial problems which led Murtaugh to leave in midseason.  He was ticketed for a job at Williamsport in 1956, but joined the Pirates’ new coaching staff under his former double play partner from his days with the Phillies, Bobby Bragan.

“Murtaugh and I played together in Philadelphia,” Bragan recalled, “He had a great sense of humor and liked to smoke cigars.  Mostly, he was real good baseball man.”

When Bragan was fired in 1957, Brown first offered the managing job to Clyde Sukeforth, who was the senior coach on Bragan’s staff.  Sukeforth said he wasn’t interested in managing, so Brown turned to Murtaugh, who became the first former Pirate player to lead the team since Pie Traynor in the 1930’s.  Hired at first on an interim basis, Murtaugh quipped, “Don’t worry, Joe.  I’m a better manager than you think.”  Murtaugh predicted the Pirates would play .500 ball under him for the remainder of the year and when the team did, he was rehired for 1958.

The Pirates surprised almost everyone in 1958, except perhaps Murtaugh, who had seen the players maturing.  The Bucs finished second and Murtaugh was named Manager of the Year, something he had kiddingly hoped to avoid.  During the season, Birdie Tebbetts and Fred Hutchinson, both recent recipients of the award had lost their jobs.  Discussing this with Giants’ skipper Bill Rigney, Murtaugh told him he wouldn’t vote for him if Rigney returned the favor.  Rigney kidded him back, ‘Too bad, Danny.  It looks like you’re a lock.”

The Pirates’ suffered injuries to a couple of key young pitchers in 1959 and the team never really got going.  Murtaugh helped bring the club back strong in 1960, especially once Brown was able to add some pitching depth with Vineger Bend Mizell and Clem Labine.  In the World Series, Murtaugh’s brain was matched with another comedic genious, Casey Stengel.  The Pirate manager made several crucial moves, including replacing his leading homeruns hitter, Dick Stuart, with Rocky Nelson for the decisive seventh game.  Nelson responded with a homerun to give the Pirates an early lead in the contest.

Murtaugh’s managing could not overcome injuries and slumps which engulfed the team in 1961 and although the team had a successful record in 1962, it was aging.  Brown traded away ¾ of the club’s infield following the season and the team’s starting leftfielder, Bob Skinner, early in 1963.  As the team retooled, Murtaugh began to experience health problems.  The Pirates announced in August, 1964, that Murtaugh would be back in ’65, but Danny stated he was retiring a few weeks later due to health problems.

Murtaugh accepted a much less stressful scouting position in the organization, but was coaxed into taking the team over from Harry Walker in the middle of 1967.  Don Schwall, who played for both managers, contasted their styles. While acknowledgeing Walker certainly knew baseball, he said, “Danny was more a people person.  He knew how to work well with people.”  Murtaugh made it clear, however, he would not be back in 1968.

Larry Shepard managed the team the next two years and after he was let go, Brown convened with Murtaugh to discuss who would lead the club into the 1970’s.  While there was much media speculation former thirdbaseman Don Hoak would be given a shot at the job, when Murtaugh informed Brown his doctor had given him a clean bill of health, Brown’s choice was obvious.

Murtaugh won his second Manager of the Year Award in 1970 by giving Pittsburgh its first Eastern Division Championship.  In 1971, battling health problems which led him being hospitalized for a time and to miss 22 games, Murtaugh won an even bigger prize, his second World Championship Trophy.  Among his key decisions during the 1971 team’s run was using Bob Johnson as an emergency starter in Game 2 of the NLCS and keeping veteran Jose Pagan on the post season roster over hot-hitting rookie Rennie Stennett.  Johnson, only 9-10 during the regular season, outpitched the great Jaun Marichal, 2-1.  Pagan contributed two clutch hits in the World Series, including a hit and rundouble which scored Willie Stargell with the decisive run in Game 7.  Following the Series, Murtaugh retired for a third time.

Although Murtaugh managed the National League All-Star Team to victory in 1972, it appeared his days as a big league pilot were over when Bill Virdon successfully won the Eastern Division that year.  However, with the Pirates floundering following the death of Clemente in 1973, Brown asked Murtaugh to replace his former centerfielder and coach in September as the Pirates still had a shot at the pennant.  Murtaugh could only manage the team to a .500 record over the final 26 games as the Pirates finished third.

Although some expressed surprise, the term interim was not attached to Murtaugh’s appointment.  He returned in 1974 and his patience afforded him well when the team got off to a horrible start.  Murtaugh kept a cool head and made some adjustments, such as platooning Bob Robertson and Ed Kirkpatrick at first and staying with young righthander Larry Demery, even though Demery lost his first four starts.  He also helped relief ace Dave Giusti, who slumped during the season, by giving Giusti a couple of starts so he could work out his difficulties without the game being on the line.  Most importantly, he reminded the team all along it was the most talented in the division.  Some wondered if Danny’s age was advancing more quickly than his birth certificate indicated when he allowed Juan Jimenez and Jim Minshall, two September call ups, to absorb a painful extra inning defeat at the hands of the club’s chief rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.  The loss gave the Cardinals a ½ game lead in the standings, but Danny answered his critics that the season had another seven games to play and he was not going to disrupt his starting rotation for the sake of one game.  The Pirates got strong performances from their starters in the remaining games and came away from the pennant war victorious, despite having lost that one battle at Busch Stadium.

Murtaugh also had some difficult times on the way to his final first place finish in 1975.  In August, the very established and productive Pirate lineup fell into a terrible slump and the team went 2-12 on a roadtrip to squander their lead in the race.  Pitcher Dock Ellis, first refused to pitch in relief when he was demoted to the bullpen due to ineffectiveness, then, after being suspended for a few games and fined, called a team meeting.  What Murtaugh and his staff expected would be an apology turned into Ellis criticizing management, Murtaugh and some of his teammates.  The usually calm Murtaugh became furious and took over the meeting.  Ellis, who later stated he had not intended to insult Murtaugh or the other players, was suspended without pay once again.  The Pirates played well afterwards as the club won its fifth title under the Irishman.

Reporters often quoted Murtaugh, who’s sense of humor made him good copy.  He often made fun of his own gruff exterior while holding court relaxing in his rocking chair, drinking a glass of milk.  “I got together with Yogi Berra this spring,”  Danny once joked, “Now there’s a picture Rembrandt would hate to paint.”  Comparing himself to the youthful looking Bruce Kison, Murtaugh said, “I looked older than him the day I was born.”    

Murtaugh also had an answer for those who would criticize his decisions.  “I’d like to have that fellow who hits a homerun everytime, who strikes out every batter when he’s pitching and who never makes a mistake on the field. The only trouble is getting him to put down his beer and come down out of the stands.”

Even at the press conference to announce his presumed retirement as 1976 was drawing to a close, Murtaugh tried to get one last joke in on the media.  “I’m happy to announce,” Murtaugh began, “That I’ll be back for two more years.”  A reporter called his bluff and Danny departed the Pirates stating he hoped to spend time with his grandchildren, something he had perhaps not done enough of with his own kids as they were growing up 1955.

Sadly, he never got the chance.

Murtaugh suffered a stroke just two months after managing his last game, slipping into a coma and dying two days later.

Recently, the popular Murtaugh’s name has come up for consideration in Hall of Fame deliberations.  His credentials are stronger than some already enshrined.  His five first place finishes and managing of two distinctly different teams to World titles standout as does an impressive winning percentage of .540 based on a 1,115-950 record.His skills with people have also been compared to current inductees.

“He was laid back,” Bragan commented, “He was like Walter Alston.  In other words, if he wanted to tell you off he would, but usually in private.  But otherwise, he was easygoing, not a hellraiser, but a very good manager.”

Joe Gibbon, who pitched for Sparky Anderson as well as Murtaugh when asked to compare the two added, “They were both good managers and a lot alike.  They knew how to handle men.  Managing isn’t too difficult if you can do that.”
   
   

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