The game at Griffith Stadium was pretty much a lost cause, after Walter Johnson’s Washington Senators had scored eight times in three innings off starter Danny MacFayden and relievers Jim Brillheart and Big Ed Morris. Walter Murphy was the fourth pitcher in the game, and he threw a scoreless bottom of the eighth, facing four batters in all and being touched for just one hit. Frank H. Young of the Washington Post suggested that had Red Sox manager John “Shano” Collins “used his pitchers in different order the Red Sox might have given the Nats some trouble.”i
It was the fifth game of the 1931 season, on April 19, and with the 8-0 loss to the Senators, the Red Sox were 1-4 on the season. For manager Shano Collins, who’d taken over from Heinie Wagner, it was not the start he’d hoped for. Senators left-hander Lloyd “Gimpy” Brown got the win. Brown won 15 games in 1931, and this was his only shutout. The Red Sox won the next day, 13-3, but this wasn’t a Red Sox team that won many games. The team had finished in eighth place six years in a row. They ultimately finished the 1931 season with a record of 62-90 – but in sixth place.
The first year the Sox wore numbers was 1931, and Walter Murphy wore number 29 on his uniform, becoming the first Red Sox player to ever wear the number.
In late August of 1930, the Red Sox had purchased his contract from the Rock Island club in the Class D Mississippi Valley League, on the recommendation of Red Sox scout Pat Monahan.ii The Rock Island Islanders’ manager, Clarence Roper, had reportedly picked up Murphy “from the sandlots of Chicago.”iii
The right-handed Murphy (he was 6-feet-1 and weighed 180 pounds) had been 10-5 for the Islanders in 1930; the team had finished in second place in the league, just one game behind the first-place Cedar Rapids Bunnies. Teammate Delano Wetherell had let the league in wins with 21, but Murphy’s .667 winning percentage was tops in the league.iv Murphy had struck out 73 and walked 37.
The Red Sox received Murphy’s signed contract for the 1931 season on January 29, and stories said that Boston team owner Bob Quinn had personally promoted the purchase of Murphy’s contract. A story in the Washington Post declared, “What appealed to Quinn the most about Murphy was that the boy had intestinal courage in that he finished every game he started.”v The price paid was reportedly $1,500.
The Red Sox took 43 men to spring training at Pensacola, Florida. The Boston Globe noted, “Not since 1924 will a Red Sox manager have so much young baseball talent to try out as John Collins will have this spring.”vi Collins held his first team meeting on February 22, and Mel Webb of the Globe reported that Murphy “made a very good impression.” Three days later, Webb dubbed him “rangy and speedy.” When cutdown day came on March 31, as the team visited Nashville on its way north, Murphy made the team.
As seen above, the 23-year-old Murphy pitched well in his first outing, on April 19. On the 21st, while the team was still in Washington, Walter was again the fourth pitcher and once again pitched the final inning. The Senators again had an eight-run lead, the score being 10-2 after 7½ innings. Once again, Morris was pinch-hit for and Walter Murphy brought in. He walked one and gave up three hits, a triple by Heinie Manush and singles by Joe Cronin and Joe Judge; the Senators scored two runs, but Murphy settled down and squelched any further threat. Yet Murphy never worked for the Red Sox again.
The opportunity didn’t present itself. Both Murphy and pitcher Franklin Milliken were sent under option to New Haven on April 25, but rather soon afterward, when Ed Morris became ill, the Red Sox recalled Murphy from New Haven on May 6. As it happens, he wasn’t used. Murphy was later sent to Rock Island, where he appeared in ten games, not finishing all of them, throwing 52 innings with a record of 2-5. At this point, he disappears from baseball’s historical record, except for – perhaps – appearing on the 1938 roster of the Deland Reds in the Class D Florida State League. Whether or not it was the same Walter Murphy is uncertain, and there is no indication he played in a game, whoever he was.
The Red Sox’ Walter Joseph Murphy lived in big cities. He was born in New York City on September 27, 1907, the son on John C. Murphy and the former Caroline Stammel. At the time he signed with the Red Sox, he was living in Chicago. And at the time of his death in 1976, he lived in Houston.
What his parents did, we have been unable to discern. What Murphy did after leaving Rock Island in 1931, we do not know. The Certificate of Death from the City of Houston tells us that he had suffered from reticulum cell sarcoma for 17 years before his death on March 23, 1976. He died of sudden respiratory arrest. His occupation had been as director of industrial relations for a manufacturing business. He was married, and had never served in the US armed forces.
Murphy’s major-league record shows him having thrown two innings, one in each game, without ever making a play on defense. He faced ten batters and gave up four hits and walked one, and he bore a 9.00 earned-run average.
The 1931 Red Sox moved up in the standings, with a 62-90 record, finishing in sixth place. It was the highest they had placed since 1921. They would have to wait until 1934 before they reached the .500 mark in a season of play.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Murphy’s player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
i Washington Post, April 20, 1931.
ii Boston Globe, August 27, 1930.
iii Unattributed September 4, 1930 news clipping in Murphy’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
iv A number of newspapers reported his record as 12-5.See, for instance, the December 4, 1930, January 31, and February 15, 1931, Boston Globe, for example. Wetherell was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals.
v Washington Post, February 15, 1931.
vi Boston Globe, February 15, 1931.