Quotable Murtaugh up for HOF for 3rd time

December 1st, 2021

On Dec. 5, the Hall of Fame’s Early Baseball Era Committee (pre-1950) and Golden Days Era Committee (1950-69) will meet to vote on 10-player ballots, with the results announced live on MLB Network that night at 6 p.m. ET. We're here to offer a primer on the 20 players who are up for consideration. Click here to view the other posts.

If they had a Hall of Fame for quotable managers, Danny Murtaugh would already be in it.

While Yogi Berra may be more widely known for his quotes, quips and malapropisms, Murtaugh’s name might not be familiar to fans outside of western Pennsylvania, where he led the Pirates to two World Series titles during four different stints on the bench. In his 15 seasons as skipper of the Bucs from 1957-76, Murtaugh would, according to his SABR bio, often talk to reporters from a rocking chair in his office:

• On criticism from fans: “Why certainly I’d like to have a fellow who hits a home run every time at bat, who strikes out every opposing batter when he’s pitching and who is always thinking about two innings ahead. The only trouble is to get him to put down his cup of beer, come down out of the stands, and do those things.”

• Responding to his wife, who said the aftermath of the 1960 World Series win was the happiest she’d ever seen him: “If you had been standing on one side of me and Bill Mazeroski on the other side, and somebody said I had to kiss one or the other, it wouldn’t have been you.”

• On returning to guide the Pirates again and again: “Managing a ballclub is like getting malaria. Once you’re bitten by the bug, it’s difficult to get it out of your bloodstream.”

This year, Murtaugh is up for Hall of Fame consideration for the third time when the 16-member Golden Days Era Committee votes on Sunday, with 75 percent (12 votes) needed for election. Murtaugh was previously considered in 2008, when he fell six votes short, and 2010, when he missed by four.

A players’ manager, Murtaugh wasn’t known to set many rules. Not one for curfews, he’d still use them because “the club needed one for their protection,” former left-handed pitcher Jerry Reuss wrote in his memoir, “Bring in the Right-Hander! My Twenty-Two Years in the Major Leagues.”

Without telling the team when he’d enforce the curfew, Murtaugh one night gave an elevator operator at the team hotel two baseballs, asking him to have any players he saw sign them both. The next morning, Murtaugh retrieved one of the balls and let the elevator operator keep the other one for his troubles.

“Once the team arrived at the ballpark, he called the players who signed the baseballs into his office one at a time,” Reuss wrote. “‘Were you in your room by curfew last night?’ The response, as expected, was an emphatic, ‘Yes, I was.’ Danny gave the unsuspecting player one more chance. ‘Are you sure about that?’ Danny asked. ‘Absolutely, Danny.’ Murtaugh produced the signed baseball, catching the player by total surprise. Danny told the embarrassed player, ‘Your fine for missing curfew is doubled for not telling the truth.’ The story ends, as the rest of the players who signed the ball walked into the manager’s office one by one and placed their fines on his desk without a word being spoken.”

Murtaugh’s nine-year playing career produced only a .254/.331/.317 hitting line, and after he hit just .199 at the age of 33 in 1951, Pirates general manager Branch Rickey offered him a job as player-manager with their Double-A affiliate in New Orleans. By ’56, he’d joined the Pirates’ staff as a coach. When manager Bobby Bragan was fired in 1957 after a 36-67 start, Murtaugh took over for the rest of the season.

That began Murtaugh’s first – and longest – stint at the helm. He closed out the ’57 season with a 26-25 record, then led Pittsburgh to 579 wins against 522 losses over the next seven seasons. Included in that stretch was the 1960 World Series win over the Yankees, clinched on Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in Game 7.

During Spring Training in 1962, Murtaugh learned that he had issues with his heart, and after the ’64 season, he stepped down from his post, citing his health. He moved into the front office, which put him in position to step in again as manager in 1967, when Harry Walker was fired after 84 games and Murtaugh finished the season before returning to the front office.

Two years later, the Pirates found themselves once again looking for a manager, and Murtaugh agreed to reclaim the role. Pittsburgh won the NL East in 1970 and repeated in ’71, going on to defeat Baltimore in the World Series for its second title in 12 seasons.

That ’71 season was historic for another reason: On Sept. 1, Murtaugh’s lineup card had the names of nine Black and Latino players on it, a first in AL/NL history. After the game, he deflected his role in literally rewriting history, telling reporters, “When it comes to making out the lineup, I'm colorblind and my athletes know it. They don’t know it because I told them, but they know it because they’re familiar with the way I operate.”

But Murtaugh missed a couple weeks during that season because of hospital stints related to his heart and once again moved back upstairs. This time, his time away from the bench wouldn’t last two seasons. He retook the reins in September 1973, then won the division in ’74 and ’75. In what would truly be his final season, the Pirates finished second in 1976.

In 2,068 games, Murtaugh’s Pirates teams went 1,115-950-3 for a .540 winning percentage. His cumulative postseason record was 12-16, but he did win both World Series in which his teams appeared, each one going the full seven games.

Murtaugh managed his last game on Oct. 3, 1976, a 1-0 walk-off win – a game that Reuss started and went the distance – in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Cardinals. Fifty-eight days later, he suffered a stroke and, after a brief hospital stay, died at the age of 59 on Dec. 2.

Murtaugh’s 1,115 wins are still second in Pirates history to Fred Clarke, and in his 15 seasons (or partial seasons, including the years he finished out the season for a dismissed skipper) he led the team to a losing record only three times. Under his guidance, Pittsburgh won the 1960 and ’71 World Series and claimed NL East titles in 1970, ’74 and ’75, plus two other second-place finishes.

“I didn’t have many conversations with Danny during the three years we were together,” wrote Reuss, who played for Murtaugh from 1974-76. “In fact, few players did. Wisely, Danny let the players have the clubhouse and stayed out of their way.”