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Tom Murphy

June 20, 2011

I saw the Brewers play the other day, back in the American League where they belong. The day I saw them, they were apparently so excited to have a designated hitter again they batted him leadoff, and he promptly launched a home run over the Green Monster. One pitch later, the next batter homered, too. I had barely pretzeled myself down into my seat. It was disorienting yet somehow vaguley familiar. For a moment it seemed like an old-fashioned American League Brewers rout might ensue. The Brewers came into focus for me in the late 1970s with the rise of the core that would become known, in their 1982 pennant-winning year, as Harvey’s Wallbangers, after the team’s tobacco-leaking manager, Harvey Kuenn, and the team’s ability to send batted balls hurtling toward, through, and over outfield barriers. Gorman Thomas, Sixto Lezcano, Ben Oglivie, Ted Simmons, Cecil Cooper, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount. A team like that tends to imprint itself pretty vividly on the mind, and it’s still the team I think of when I hear the words “Milwaukee Brewers.” The Brewers this year look pretty good, but I guess I’ll only ever really relate to that one Brewers era from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, and everything else before and after will pale in comparison.

Tom Murphy is from the shadowy Brewers years just before their golden era. They were neither here nor there. He was pretty decent, especially in the year just before this card came out, when he posted a 1.90 ERA out of the bullpen, but who remembers? I can barely keep my focus on him even while I’m staring at his card. Most of the time, my mind wanders.

According to baseball-reference.com, Tom Murphy is among 41 major league Murphys. The first Murphy surfaced in 1884, and that season boasted no less than five Murphys. There was Cornelius B. Murphy, known more commonly as Con Murphy or by his seemingly mutually exclusive nicknames “Monk” and “Razzle Dazzle”; John Murphy, who split time in 1884 between two short-lived teams in the Union Association, Altoona Mountain City and the Wilmington Quicksteps; Tony Murphy, who appeared in one game with the New York Metropolitans, champions of the American Association; Gentle Willie Murphy of the Cleveland Blues and Washington Nationals; and a player known in the baseball record books only as Murphy.

The Murphy who is listed only as Murphy played one major league game, on August 16, 1884. That day, for the Boston Reds, Murphy had four plate appearances and reached base once, by a walk. At catcher, he made 2 errors, perhaps prompting a switch to left field, where no balls were hit his way. He might be my favorite character in my favorite narrative, the one I first started to study back in 1975 through the Neft and Cohen Baseball Encyclopedia. That first baseball encyclopedia in my life didn’t actually venture in detail back far enough to include Murphy in its story of the game. It wasn’t until my twenties that I discovered Murphy. I was sharing an apartment with my brother, who got his hands on a copy of the MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia, which included the name of everyone who ever made it into a major league game. I was leafing through it one day, losing myself in the vast story I’d been exploring since 1975. The story never exhausts itself. New mysteries are always opening. I was surely a little bored, flipping through the pages, and I came upon Murphy. He was anyone and no one. In a few hours I’d go to my job on the evening shift at a liquor store. It was one of those nameless days. The short entry for Murphy made me happy. After the discovery, I got on with my day: shower, subway ride, ring up some liquor sales, lock the gates, subway ride home. I wanted to be a writer, and the idea I had for my life at that time was that before each day at the liquor store I’d work diligently in the service of that dream. Some days took the shape of that intention, but more often I sat around in my underwear eating toast and engaging in what most people would classify as wasting time. But is it a complete waste of time if on one of those days you discover Murphy? I got this feeling every once in a while back then, sometimes when I thought I was in love, sometimes when a particular song had a hold on me, that there was something so beautiful in the world that it made me want to yelp out loud, an illiterate Whitman yawp I guess, this desire to sing crowding out all the words I might ever be able to say. Murphy was here.

6 comments

  1. I am still rather grouchy about interleague play and so tend to ignore much of the June schedule in MLB, but I did take note of the old-timey AL East matchup between Milwaukee and Boston this weekend. With all the wild talk about realignment starting up again, I realize that Czar Selig’s toothpaste is long since out of the tube, forward ever forward et al, but I can’t help thinking that a return to “normalcy” might be all the realignment needed, if any is indeed required. National League out of Milwaukee!

    And another amen for your Baseball Encyclopedia chorus, Josh. The great work is as much for the very small shirkers as it is for the superstars, perhaps more so. We shirkers do tend to outnumber them, after all.


  2. All of baseball’s alignment and scheduling problems would be easily solved with two scenarios that are unfortunately both highly unlikely. One is to add two more expansion teams (MONTREAL EXPOS PART DEUX! yea, highly unlikely) or contracting two teams (I’m looking at you Oakland and Tampa, but yea, highly unlikely again). I would suggest the most likely of these highly unlikely scenarios would be to add an addtional team to the both the LA and NY markets, with the hope that they could compete as small market teams by siphoning off some Dodger, Angel, Yankee, Met traffic… Probably more realistic then thinking that Portland, Montreal, Vancouver, Indy, San Antonio, or any other KC/Pittsburg sized market could do any better.

    Of course, we won’t get any of that… Most likely we’ll get two 15 team leagues, with the Astros likely jumping ship because being in the AL West makes more sense then their WTF placement in the NL Central … and much like the Brewers back in the day, they got nothing really to lose. But of course, the 15 team leagues will require an interleague series happening at any given moment to keep the scheduling remotely feasible… and I’m guessing the union will insist on DH across the board in both leagues before they agree to sign off on the downright stupid play-in game or short series to allow for ten total playoff teams. In short, it’s going to be a hot mess…

    If I was omnipotent: Contract Oakland and Tampa, they both play in shit markets in shit stadiums and rarely sell tickets even when winning… Well, I guess Oakland did 25 years ago… but whatever. Between the Brewers, Astros, Diamondbacks or Marlins… pick whatever two strike your fancy, move them to the AL and go with two 14 team leagues, no divisions, no interleague, top four teams in each league make the playoffs, elminate the DH.


  3. I loved the ’82 Brewers. The ’78-’83 Brewers were some of my favorite teams. That’s a very underrated baseball town, too.


  4. Oakland plays in a crummy market? What about all of those “fans” masquerading as empty seats during Marlins’ games? I think they should contract Florida and Tampa Bay and, even though I am a Red Sox fan and love watching Big Papi, I would prefer to get rid of the DH as well. Whether divisions disappear or not, MLB really needs to get back to balanced schedules, more than anything.

    Back to story at hand, “Harvey’s Wallbangers” was quite a team back in 1982 and I would love to see the Brewers back in the AL. Great writing as always Josh. Who would have thought a story about a “Murphy” would be so thought provoking?


  5. Well, Oakland plays in an old multi-sport stadium with about 32,000 acres of foul territory keeping fans from the action and they have been bottom barrel in attendance numbers for a long, long time. Miami is indeed a horrible sports town (Stay classy Heat fans, walking out of game seven with three minutes left), but the Marlins are somehow getting a new stadium built… so that makes their chances for contraction virtually nil.

    As far as the early 80s Brewers… Robin Yount was my favorite non-Tiger back in the day… and always loved that logo with the mitt and ball that was also a clever “M” and “B” for Milwaukee Brewers… was probably 15 or 16 years old when I realized that the logo actually had stylized letters in it… I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.


  6. Josh,

    As always you give us a lot to reflect on in your “musings”. It is not every day that one comes across the name “stormin’ Gorman” Thomas or the fun loving Don Money of the ’82 Brewers. Could it be that a lot the old A’s magic came with Rollie to the Brew Crew? Bando was about from 77-81 as well! I also wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your new book as well. For those of us of that time you bring back a lot of good memories as well as give us something to consider in these days of running from one thing to another. Thanks for your writing!



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