Lefty Gomez has always been one of my favorites. He was a good enough pitcher, but he was even better with a quip. The story goes that after a particularly good outing on the mound, a reporter asked him to what did he attribute his success. Without missing a beat, he replied “Clean living and Johnny Murphy.”
Murphy was born in 1908 in New York City, went to Fordham University. While at Fordham he set the team ERA mark, a record that lasted until 1986. Toward the end of the 1929 Fordham season, Murphy signed a contract with the New York Yankees. He remained a minor leaguer until 1932, when he made the big league team as a bullpen man. He went back to the minors (although his brief appearance in 1932 got him a World Series share) and finally made it back to the Yankees to stay in 1934. He split time that season between the bullpen and starting. He started 20, relieved 20, and went 14-10 with an ERA of 3.12. After the ’34 season, Murphy went to the bullpen and became the Yankees regular closer (although they didn’t call it that back in 1934). Although the stat hadn’t been invented yet, Murphy led the Major Leagues in saves in 1938, 1939, 1941, and led the American League in 1942 (Hugh Casey of Brooklyn in the National League had more). In the Yankees championship years of 1936-39 Murphy appeared in all four World Series’ picking up a save in each of the first three and a win in game 4 of 1939, the final game of the sweep over Cincinnati. In 1941, he was the winning pitcher in game 4, the game famous for Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike that should have ended the game. He did not participate in the 1942 Series, but picked up one final save in the 1943 Series. He lost 1944 and 1945 to World War II. He didn’t join the military, but rather worked at Oak Ridge on the Manhattan Project. I have been unable to find out exactly what he did, so would appreciate anything someone can give me to enlighten me on this point. He was back with the Yanks in 1946, didn’t do badly, but didn’t do well either and ended up in Boston with the Red Sox for one final season. Again he didn’t do badly, but at age 38 he was through.
Boston hired him as a scout, then named in vice president and director of minor league operations. He held the latter job until the end of the 1960 season. In 1961 he took a job as scouting supervisor for the Mets and the next year became defacto personnel director (his official title as “Administrative Assistant”). In 1967 he negotiated the deal that brought Gil Hodges to the Mets as their manager and in December 1967 Murphy took over as general manager. He held the job during the 1969 “Miracle Mets” run, then was felled by a heart attack on 30 December 1969 (41 years ago today). He died in January 1970 and is buried in the Bronx. The Mets rookie award is named for Murphy and in 1983 he joined the team Hall of Fame.
Murphy isn’t the first great relief specialist (Firpo Marberry is), but he’s one of the best. For his career he went 93-53 with 107 saves, one of the top three save totals prior to 1960. He walked 444 men, struck out 378, had an ERA of 3.50, and gave up 985 hits in 1045 innings pitched. His ERA+ is 118 with a WHIP of 1.367. In World Series play he was 2-0 with four saves and an ERA of 1.10 a WHIP of 0.918 with four walks and eight strikeouts. He pitched in five World Series’ and the Yankees won every one of them. The lone Yanks loss of the era, 1942, is the single series Murphy sat out.
Lefty Gomez’s comment about clean living is a testament to Murphy’s value to the Yankees dynasty of the late 1930s-early 1940s. He went further than just a great reliever, when he went to the Mets front office. As scout, personnel director, and general manager, he is one of the major forces in bringing the Mets to their 1969 victory. As such, he’s one of a very few men who’ve made both a major contribution to one team as a player and another as a front office man.
Will not be posting any more this year. Enjoy your holiday, have a good time, don’t drink and drive (PLEASE!!!), and have a wonderful 2011. Will be back to posting next year.