Posts Tagged ‘Gil Hodges’

Clean Living and Johnny Murphy

December 30, 2010

Johnny Murphy

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.

The Hall of Fame and Warfare

January 16, 2010

On a comment to an earlier post brettkiser (who has a blog worth checking out–do so) asked my opinion on two players who lost time to World War II. He wanted to know if I thought they were Hall of Fame worthy. I’ll answer that in a moment, but want to make a couple of points first.

I think Hall of Fame voters and people who study the institution need to understand that World War II, Korea, and to a lesser extent for Americans World War I took players away from baseball for what were considered at the time “greater causes”. Whether or not you agree these wars, or any wars, are worth fighting isn’t the issue here. The issue is the effect on the players. Their numbers are going to be lower than players who do not lose 1-4 years to a war (see Hank Greenberg as perhaps the greatest example). That should be both understood and considered when picking a man for enshrining at Cooperstown. That being said, the idea of “so how much did he lose to the war?” is something that cannot be answered. Maybe a man losing 3 years to a war lost a huge number of positive statistics, but maybe if he had been playing in 1943, he would have been sculled on the first pitch he saw, developed eye problems, and never played again, thus losing any numbers he put up after 1945. We can’t know.

Having said all that, here’s a look at how the Second World War effected a handful of players (some already Hall of Famers):

Johnny Pesky-lost all of 43-45. I don’t think he was destined for the Hall anyway. His hitting numbers aren’t special and he was no Marty Marion with the glove.

Dom DiMaggio-lost all of 43-45. Maybe the hardest choice (and one of brettkiser”s 2 questions).  Missed hitting 300 by two points, led the league in triples once, in runs twice, and stolen bases once (with all of 15, the lowest number to ever lead either league). To get in contemporaniously with his teammates, he had three real problems: he missed 300 (a stat that really matters in 1950s Hall voting), he wasn’t as good as his brother, he wasn’t the best player on his team (Ted Williams was). He may have been the best Center Fielder (but see Richie Ashburn). I think he had no chance in his era, but the Veteran’s Committee (who steadfastly refuses to elect anyone–JERKS) should look at him closely. I’d vote for him, but I wouldn’t put him at the head of the ballot.

Tommy Henrich-lost all of 43-45. Yankees stalwart in Right Field. Major player on a bunch of pennant winners and was still pretty good when he got back from the war. Probably the third best outfielder on his team (DiMaggio and Keller), so not going to get much support at the time. I like him, but don’t know that I’d vote for him.

Cecil Travis-lost all of 42-44 and the 2nd of brettkiser’s questions. Heck of a player for an obscure team, Washington, that no one cared about (see a comment earlier on Harlond Clift for another of those). Hit 314 with little power and not much speed. Led league in hits once. I like the average, but there’s not much else going for him. I’m a little surprised he didn’t get a lot more support in the 1950s and 1960s when the voters seemed to worry a lot more about batting average. I think I’d vote for him, but could be talked out of it.

Mickey Vernon-lost all of 44-45. Teammate of  Travis at Washington, led league in doubles twice, won two batting titles, hit 280. Like him better than Travis, but  don’t see him in the Hall anytime soon. As with Travis I could vote for him, or be talked out of it..

Warren Spahn-lost all of 43-45. OK, he’s in the Hall, but did you know he came up in 1942 and had exactly zero wins prior to heading off to war? Give him those 3 years and he might have got around 400 wins (or blown his arm out in 1943 and ended up ith none at all. See what I mean by speculation?)

Terry Moore-lost all of 43-45. Cardinal Center Fielder on the 1942 World’s Champions. Good solid career and someone who might have made it if his numbers hadn’t been hurt by the war. He’s the guy I have most trouble with here, because I like what I see, I just don’t think its good enough to stand up to Hall of Fame standards.

Hugh Casey and Larry French-both lost all of 43-45. Were mainstays of the Dodgers teams that won in 1941 and were competitive later. French had 197 wins, went off to war and never won another game. Had he gotten 200 wins he might have made it, but had more hits than innings pitched and his walk/strikout ratio wasn’t very good. He’s not in and I don’t think the war kept him out. As for Casey, he was basically a reliever in an era where nobody cared about relievers. He’s not in and I don’t think the war is why. Personally, wouldn’t vote for either.

Gil Hodges-lost all of 44-45. Let me start by saying I’d vote for Hodges anyway and think the Veteran’s Committee is being silly for not putting him in. I’m not sure how much the war effected his numbers. He was up in 43 (he went 0 for 2), then went off to war. In 1946 he was in the minors, so I don’t know that he lost much by going off to war. Had he been given 44 and/or 45 in the minors maybe he’s up in 46 and do well (or maybe not).

There are others, people like Pete Reiser, and Early Wynn (who only lost 1 year and still made the Hall) who could be considered, but this list will do for now.