The Case for Danny Murtaugh

Murtaugh with Roberto Clemente

Murtaugh with Roberto Clemente

When I finished my post on the 2014 Veterans Committee managers ballot, I commented I would let Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre appear on my ballot, but neither of the other two candidates. I received a handful of emails from friends questioning my assertion that I’d take Danny Murtaugh over Bobby Cox. They pointed out that Cox won more than Murtaugh if you considered division titles and that his winning percentage was higher than Murtaugh. So in answer to them, here’s my case for Danny Murtaugh.

First a brief aside to tell you a little about Murtaugh. He managed a long time ago and many of you won’t remember him. He got his start managing Pittsburgh (the only team he ever managed) in the last half of 1957. He replaced Bobby Bragan (who shows up in the recent movie “42” as the Alabama born catcher who changes his mind about being traded). Pittsburgh had a losing record (36-67) when Murtaugh took over. He went 26-25 for the rest of the season. It wasn’t much but it was a winning record. He got the Pirates to second the next season. losing to the Braves (later Cox’s team) by eight games. The team slipped back to fourth in 1959, but maintained a winning record. In 1960 they won the World Series, then slid pack into the pack through 1964 when Murtaugh retired because he was sick. He moved to the front office and returned briefly to managing in 1967 when the Pirates were 42-42. He managed to keep them at .500 then returned to the front office at the end of the season. After Pittsburgh fired their manager just before the end of the 1969 season, Murtaugh was called on again to take the team. He managed the team to a division title in 1970 and the World Series title in 1971, then retired again. Finally, he was brought back late in 1973 (going 13-13) and stayed through the 1976 season, winning division titles in both 1974 and 1975 and finishing second in 1976. He died in December 1976 and had his number retired in 1977.

Now why Murtaugh for the Hall of Fame?

1. He has two World Series titles. That’s impressive enough, but if you look at the dates (1960 and 1971) it gets even better. He does it with two almost entirely different teams. The only 1960 holdovers still around in 1971 are Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski, and Maz only plays 70 games (Dave Cash is the primary second baseman) and bats all of once in both the NLCS and the Series, getting a hit in the NLCS. So with very different talent Murtaugh wins.

2. He does it in two eras. It’s a very different game in 1960 than in 1971. The pitching revolution has occurred, there have been two rounds of expansion.

3. He has two seasons in which he manages his team to less than .500. They are 1963 and 1964 and in the latter year he’s 80-82.

4. He manages in five full seasons in which there are two rounds of playoffs. He reaches the playoffs in four of those (1970-1971, 1974-1975).

5. He was instrumental in easing Roberto Clemente’s way in the beginning of his career. He became a mentor and confidant. But in fairness, Bobby Bragan also did those things in Clemente’s earliest days in the Majors.

6. On 1 September 1971, he put nine American black and dark-skinned Latino players on the field at the same time, something that had never happened before. The team won the game.

So I think Murtaugh deserves a spot in Cooperstown. With his two World Series wins, I think he deserves it over Cox.

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2 Responses to “The Case for Danny Murtaugh”

  1. W.k. kortas Says:

    Actually,there was some friction between Clemente and Murtaugh at the end of Danny’s first stint as Pirate manager, but they did get along pretty well as a rule. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say Murtaugh should be enshrined before Bobby Cox, ol’ Dan gets surprisngly little credit or recognition for what he did in Pittsburgh.

  2. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    I agree that he’s being ignored. I’m kind of surprised by this. I remember Murtaugh very well, and he was highly respected.

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