Wednesday, September 2, 2009

SENTIMENT CONTINUES TO GROW FOR MURTAUGH HALL ELECTION


Gaining entrance into any hall of fame is never an easy thing (not that it should be) and over the years the fans of our various Pittsburgh professional teams have had their fair share of causes. "How could "Iron Mike" Webster not be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?" we would grouse. Then one year "Iron Mike" finally got in. Or, "How could Bill Mazeroski, owner of the greatest World Series home run and the sweetest second-baseman's glove ever, not be in Cooperstown?" and then he was.

Dick LeBeau has long been viewed as having been passed over twice, first as a player and then as a defensive wizard. LeBeau was just nominated by the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee and he should now be a lock to make it. So who's now left as the most glaring oversight on the local landscape when it comes to hall of fame induction?

ABOVE: One of the earliest Murtaugh images, from his 1949 Bowman card.

Taking centerstage is one Daniel Edward "Danny" Murtaugh.

ABOVE: This is probably the most enduring image that we have of the Pirate Skipper as a manager in his 40's. This one even happens to be autographed!

Danny Murtaugh was one of those players that coaches love. Never the most physically gifted, he made up for his shortcomings with pure hard work and hustle. A lifetime .254 hitter, Murtaugh led the N.L. in stolen bases in his rookie season with 18 (at that time a yet-unexploited art). Murtaugh had 661 hits and 219 rbi's during his career...not the stuff of legends, that's for sure. But it's only after his playing days were over that the plot thickened for him.

ABOVE: This Danny never portrayed the Pirates skipper, but ironically his name was "Murtaugh". Figure that out!
During his nine seasons in the majors, Murtaugh played for the Phillies, Boston Braves and Pirates. His career was interrupted during World War II and he would see combat in Europe during the three years of his career that he missed between 1943-46. His last club being "yer Buccos". After retiring as a player, Murtaugh landed a job as the skipper of the New Orleans Pelicans. But he would not be a Pelican for long, trading one "P" for a more familiar one that has chopped-off corners.
ABOVE: Murtaugh had one of those faces that artists in his day loved to portray. Note chopped-off corners on "P".

Amazingly, during four separate stints with the club, Murtaugh would manage the Buccos for 15 seasons winning two World Series championships and having five post season appearances during those years. It must be remembered that during Murtaugh's managerial career that there weren't as many opportunities to take a team into the post-season, so his results, for his era of baseball should be considered as being very good. In fact, Murtaugh is one of only 36 managers in baseball history to win over 1,000 games. His final career mark was 1115-950.




















ABOVE:
Not the glamorous type, Murtaugh nevertheless made his share of magazine covers.

Murtaugh's managerial career with the Pirates could best be compared to that of a wino with a bottle of muscatel in a brown paper bag. He loved managing and couldn't stay away from it. But he knew that it was very bad for his health and would do it anyway. He couldn't help himself!

So every time General Manager Joe L. Brown (alias Lucifer) would come around with another bottle of "Vino de Pirates" Murtaugh simply couldn't resist. Joe L. Brown's favorite manager always came through for him, so whether it was Bobby Bragan, Harry "The Hat" Walker, Alex Grammas or Bill Virdon, Murtaugh was always ready to take over for a failed administration.

ABOVE: Murtaugh celebrates with Maz after his little hit in 1960 in this famous photograph.

Probably the saddest moment in Murtaugh's career came in 1969. The Pirates had a wealth of talent, but Alex Grammas wasn't getting it done. So Joe L. Brown reached back into his severely-limited bag of tricks and once again selected the "sure thing", Murtaugh. There had been widespread speculation that Don Hoak, third baseman on their 1960 championship team and a manager in their minor league system was the leading candidate for the job. For whatever reason, Joe L. didn't pull the trigger with him, and the result, tragically, was that Hoak, always the fiery competitor, suffered a massive heart attack and died in 1969. Now that's called taking a defeat hard.

ABOVE: Murtaugh with "The Great One" in a staged shot.. "I hit zee boll," Clemente would explain to his skipper.

Murtaugh himself suffered with a variety of ailments, but his heart was always his major concern. In 1971, after winning his second title, this time over the Orioles in what has become known as the "Clemente World Series" around here, Murtaugh stepped down and handed the job to his hand-picked successor, his assistant coach and former Pirates star center fielder, Bill Virdon. Alas things did not go well for "The Quail" as Bob Prince once dubbed him, so Brown fired him late in 1973, asking Murtaugh to come back once again. Murtaugh reluctantly accepted after getting clearance from his doctors (who had to have been on Joe L. Brown's payroll), and guided the team back to two more post season appearances in '74 and '75. The team lost in the NLCS in both of those years.
ABOVE: For a man who was the Pirates GM for over 20 years, pictures of Joe L. Brown are nearly impossible to find. This one looks like a black and white polaroid!

Murtaugh retired after the 1976 season citing his health issues and his desire to spend more time with his grandchildren as primary reasons for stepping away from the game he so very much loved. Sadly, after only two months into his retirement, Danny Murtaugh suffered a massive stroke and died on December 2, 1976 at the age of only 59.
ABOVE: Danny in his rocking chair with his grandchildren, Colleen Walton Hroncich and Joe Walton. Sadly he would pass away only two months after retiring.

But while Murtaugh's later years were made difficult by his many health problems, he still managed to forge ahead guiding the Pirates to two of their greatest successes in history. There have been flashier players and managers, surely, but Danny Murtaugh was a man best remembered as enjoying his rocking chair in his office. His players loved and respected him and knew that only total effort...as he always gave during his own playing days..was the only thing acceptable to him.

Today, as the movement to get Danny Murtaugh elected into Cooperstown gains momentum, there's even been a website established to help convey that message to the hall voters. It's been dubbed http://www.murtaugh4hof.com/.

Getting this wonderful human being into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is something that all Pittsburghers should take on as a cause. Let's not rest until Danny Murtaugh gets his just recognition as not only a winning manager but a man who also managed to be beloved by his players at the same time. This is not an easy thing to accomplish...just ask any manager or coach... and is simply another reason to suggest that Murtaugh belongs there.

ABOVE: Image portrayed on the Murtaugh promotional website.

1 comment:

Dan said...

I very much enjoyed the article today, good work! The pictures look great!

By the way any idea why a "feedburner" pop up is asking me for a username and password on your site??