From 1872 to 1884, Tim Murnane was a first baseman and outfielder who compiled a .261 lifetime batting average in 383 major-league baseball games. An average ballplayer during the formative years of professional baseball, better known for his fielding and baserunning than his hitting, Murnane made a more lasting contribution to the sport of baseball after his playing days. He was a baseball writer (notably for the Boston Globe) and minor-league executive.
Timothy Hayes Murnane was the oldest son of Irish immigrants Patrick and Bridget Murnan (the surname was originally spelled without an “e”). He grew up with his older sister Bridget and younger brothers Jeremiah and Patrick in southern Connecticut. The family initially lived in the Union City neighborhood of the town of Naugatuck, which is 25 miles north of the city of Bridgeport. By 1860 Bridget Murnan was a single mother raising her four children in the Saugatuck section of the town of Westport, which is 10 miles southwest of Bridgeport.
It is widely reported in baseball reference works that Murnane was born on June 4, 1851, in Naugatuck, Connecticut. He was more likely born in Ireland, however, and came to the United States with his immigrant parents around 1855. There is no record of Murnane’s birth in the Naugatuck town records. His mother reported to census enumerators in both the 1860 and 1870 federal censuses that her son Timothy was born in Ireland (as was his sister), while her two younger sons were born in the United States. Although nearly all obituaries of Murnane cite Naugatuck as his birthplace, the obituary writer for the Naugatuck Daily News, who would have had a closer knowledge of Murnane’s upbringing, reported: “He was born June 4, 1851, in Tipperary County, Ireland, and when he was only six years old his parents removed to Naugatuck, Conn.”
Murnane first declared to a government official that Naugatuck was his birthplace when he applied for a passport in 1874 to participate in a baseball tour to Europe (see below). It is unclear whether he was unaware of his Irish birth, and believed he was born in Connecticut, or that he fabricated his birthplace to claim undisputed U.S. citizenship, since on the passport application he had to attest that he was “a native and loyal citizen of the United States.”1
The 1916 edition of Who’s Who in New England neatly encapsulated Murnane’s education: “common schools in Saugatuck [Connecticut] and in world at large.” After playing baseball for amateur teams sponsored by the local social clubs in Saugatuck, Murnane advanced to play for more talented clubs, as a catcher for the Liberty club in Norwalk in 1869 and the Osceola club in Stratford in 1870 (which included Jim O’Rourke, a future Hall of Fame ballplayer). Both clubs likely shared gate receipts with the players, thus making them semi-pro in an era where professional ballplayers were just becoming accepted.
Murnane whetted his appetite for playing baseball for money when he attended his first professional ballgame in June 1870 in Brooklyn, New York. There the Atlantics met the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first openly professional ballclub. That winter, Murnane’s spirit of adventure led him to travel south to Savannah, Georgia, for construction work. He also played catcher for the local Savannah ballclub in 1871. The ambitious Savannahs scheduled a northern baseball tour; when the team landed in Connecticut, Murnane left the Savannahs to join the Mansfield club in Middletown, where he played first base rather than catcher.
For the 1872 season, Murnane became a full-fledged professional ballplayer when the Mansfields entered the fledgling National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the forerunner of today’s National League. Murnane rejoined O’Rourke as a teammate on the Mansfields, which folded by the end of the season. For the 1873 and 1874 seasons, Murnane played for the Athletic ballclub of Philadelphia, where he was a part-time outfielder and substitute infielder. The highlight of Murnane’s 1874 season was the Athletics’ mid-season trip to Europe, made in conjunction with the Boston ballclub, for which he required the passport noted above.2 On the European trip, he got to know better his teammate Cap Anson, a future Hall of Famer, as well as Boston players Jim O’Rourke, Andy Leonard, and Harry Schaefer. In addition, he made an impression on Boston manager Harry Wright. For the 1875 season, Murnane took advantage of the league’s player mobility principle to negotiate with other clubs after fulfilling his one-year contract. He joined the Athletics’ intracity rival, the Philadelphia ballclub, where he was again a substitute infielder-outfielder.3
Murnane was on the move again for the 1876 season, the inaugural year of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs. He seized the opportunity to join Wright’s Boston championship team after four star ballplayers defected to join the Chicago club, one of whom was first baseman Deacon White. In his first season as a regular player, the left-handed-hitting Murnane batted a respectable .282 in 69 games, but committed 55 errors in the field, the most of any first baseman in the league that year.
Player mobility worked against Murnane for the 1877 season, when White rejoined Boston to play first base. That relegated Murnane to part-time status in the outfield, where he shared playing time with Schaefer. Although Boston won the pennant in 1877, Murnane played in only 35 of the team’s 60 games, batting .279, and Wright released him after the season concluded. For the 1878 season, Murnane played with the new Providence ballclub. He hit .239 in 49 games as the regular first baseman.
For the 1879 season, Murnane and several of his friends on the Boston team (Leonard, Schaefer, and Jack Manning) abandoned the National League. They had a more lucrative opportunity to play for the Capital City team in Albany, New York, in the National Association, formerly known as the International League. The Capital City club disbanded after only two weeks, but businessman Asa Soule bought the franchise and moved it to Rochester, New York, where his manufacturing company was located. Soule made hop bitters, a fermented malt akin to low-alcohol beer. Soule named the team the Hop Bitters and used it as an advertising medium for his business. The Hop Bitters dropped out of the National Association in July to embark on a barnstorming tour across the country to advertise Soule’s drink. They eventually landed in San Francisco, California, by September.
Murnane played just two games for the Albany team in the 1880 season of the soon-to-die National Association. He then retired as a ballplayer to focus on supporting his wife and growing family. Two years earlier, on April 23, 1878, he had married Frances Manning in Boston. She gave birth to daughters Mary Adelaide in 1880 and Emma Louise in 1882. At first Murnane ran a billiard room to earn an income, but in 1884 baseball lured him back.
While Murnane was away from the game, the American Association had joined the National League as a second major league in 1882. Both leagues recognized the Northwestern League as a subordinate minor league in an 1883 agreement. The leagues had also instituted the reserve clause in player contracts, to eliminate player mobility and thus reduce salaries. With a more orderly structure for professional baseball, many new minor leagues were established in the next few years. Although Murnane’s baseball skills weren’t up to National League standards, he could carry his own weight in lower-level competition, preferably a league that recognized player-mobility rights.
The Union Association was formed in 1884. Years later it was eventually recognized as a third major league, but at the time it was considered more on the minor-league level. The organizers of the Union Association hoped to lure ballplayers from the two existing major leagues by eliminating the reserve clause from its player contracts. It was an admirable idea, but failed to elicit much interest. George Wright helped to organize a UA ballclub in Boston; Frank Winslow, the proprietor of a local roller polo rink, was president and James Mullen was treasurer. They hired Murnane to be manager and play first base. The UA lasted just one season; Murnane managed Boston to a 58–51 record and batted .235 in 76 games in his last stint as a major leaguer.
The Eastern League was also formed as a minor league in 1884, and continued into 1885 when Murnane played outfield for the Jersey City team. He played his last games as a professional ballplayer in June 1885, when the team disbanded. Meanwhile, though, Murnane had formed an appreciation for the value of the minor leagues in developing ballplayers for major-league competition. He continued to dabble in sports to earn an income. He published his own sports periodical (the Boston Referee), wrote content for the New York Clipper, and served as a roller polo referee.
The New England League was established as a minor league in 1885 among the region’s larger textile and shoe manufacturing cities. In 1886, James Mullen (a backer of the Boston UA team) established a new ballclub in the league to play in Boston to draft off the popularity of the city’s National League entry. He hired Murnane to manage the new club, called the Boston Blues for their dark blue uniforms, to distinguish them in newspaper accounts from the Boston
Nationals. Murnane recruited some local players to form a team. In early June Murnane bought out the initial backers of the ballclub to own the team, thinking he could run the entire operation better. Yet only one month later, after suffering a financial loss, he sold the club to Walter Burnham.
Once again Murnane scrambled among a variety of sports-related jobs to earn a living. Along with organizing sporting events at Frank Winslow’s Union Grounds, he once served as a substitute umpire for a National League game in Boston on September 21, 1886. He also scouted players for National League clubs. Murnane had an eye for baseball talent and a way with words, even if he wasn’t much of a businessman. He arranged for Blues catcher Marty Sullivan to sign with old friend Cap Anson of the Chicago club in the National League after the 1886 season ended. Sullivan was just one of many players that Murnane scouted and sent Anson’s way the next few years. His most famous signing was Hugh Duffy, of Lowell in the New England League in 1887, who played with Chicago in 1888 and then went on to a Hall of Fame career.
William D. Sullivan, the sports editor of the Boston Globe newspaper, hired Murnane in 1887 to be a baseball writer, as part of publisher Charles H. Taylor’s push to expand the paper’s baseball coverage. The new job signaled not just a change in employment status for Murnane but also a change in the spelling of his surname. From birth, his last name had been spelled “Murnan” – but now an “e” was added at the end to make it “Murnane.” While the byline on his articles had been “Tim Murnane” in 1888, the Globe switched to a byline of “T. H. Murnane” in 1889, which was used until his death in 1917.
What was behind the change in spelling and use of initials? Boston had a longstanding image of discrimination against its large Irish immigrant population, as summed up in the legendary subtitles in job advertisements, “No Irish Need Apply.” At least one historian has argued that such signs were extremely rare or nonexistent.4 Yet Murnane’s case shows the perception of prejudice. Sports editor Sullivan, though a Harvard University graduate, was an Irish Catholic himself.5 He portrayed the new sportswriter – who had a deep Irish brogue – as having an Anglo-Saxon heritage instead, ostensibly to avoid offending the newspaper’s predominantly non-Irish reading audience. In exchange for a steady income, Murnane apparently had little problem with the name change.
Beginning with the 1888 season, Murnane covered the Boston baseball teams from spring training in March through their final games in October. The job didn’t pay much, but for the gregarious Murnane, it had many perks in travel and access to talk baseball with executives, ballplayers, and fans. His many connections throughout major-league baseball and locally in the New England League served him well in his new capacity as a full-time baseball writer. He could inform Globe readers not only about game details but also the inside “dope” he gathered from sources, some of which came as return favors for his scouting of local ballplayers. Murnane had a colorful writing style. Though he is often credited with inventing the “notes” column of dispensing numerous tidbits and gossip about baseball, such a vehicle already existed when Murnane was hired in 1887. However, he greatly expanded the breadth of the notes concept (initially titled “Murnane’s Gossip on the Game”) as well as the depth of information provided to readers, eventually making it a cornerstone of the baseball coverage in the Globe’s Sunday edition.
Murnane had the good fortune to embark on a baseball writing career at just the right time in Boston baseball history. Within his first six years as a Globe writer, Murnane observed many star ballplayers on Boston teams, including future Hall of Famers John Clarkson and King Kelly, and witnessed five championship Boston teams (1890 Players League, 1891 American Association, and 1891–1893 National League). Murnane was an unabashed supporter of the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players, the first union of ballplayers, and the Players League it spawned, since both organizations advocated player freedom through the elimination of the reserve clause. He had close connections with the two leaders of the Brotherhood movement, John M. Ward and Boston-area-native Tim Keefe. The famous ballplayers and championship teams provided more than enough copy to satisfy the demand for baseball information by Globe readers.
The New England League, like many minor leagues of this era, went in fits and starts. There were many franchise shifts and league failures and revivals. The league had collapsed after the 1888 season, restarted in 1891, and disbanded again during the 1891 season. In March 1892, its club owners elected Murnane as president to be the face of the third incarnation of the league. Murnane navigated the circuit through the turbulent waters of the late 1890s, as the National League increasingly took action to subdue the minor leagues into functioning as low-cost player-development farms for the sole remaining major league.
Murnane brought two critical elements to the New England League presidency. As a newspaperman, he could deliver publicity for the league. More importantly, his connections with the major-league owners meant that he could secure better financial compensation from them on behalf of the New England League owners for mid-season player sales. He could also marshal the latter’s concerns about their relationship with the major league.
The years 1895 through 1897 were a rough time for Murnane. His 35-year-old wife, Frances, died on August 21, 1895, while she tried to recover from Bright’s Disease at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. He sent his two daughters to boarding school at the Sacred Heart Convent in Providence, Rhode Island, and they stayed with Grandmother Manning when not in school. Murnane immersed himself in baseball during this period by taking a prominent role in a nascent minor-league organization that formed during the winter of 1896. The goal was to rebuff the National League and retain control within the minor leagues. He teamed with Ban Johnson, then president of the Western League, to lobby against the National League’s lopsided fee structure. The NL charged high to protect the reserve clause in minor-league player contracts, yet paid low when drafting ballplayers.
On February 22, 1898, Murnane married Mary Agnes Dowling, with whom he had a second family, three sons and a daughter. Their first child, born in 1899, was named Horace Greeley Murnane after the famous journalist of that era. The second family rejuvenated Murnane and stoked his enthusiasm for baseball writing at the turn of the 20th century. Around then the 50-year-old acquired the nickname Silver King, due to the color of his hair and bushy mustache.
The economic depression in the mid-1890s devastated New England cities, which were then dependent on the textile and shoe industries. Thus the New England League disbanded once again after the 1899 season, but Murnane was able to resurrect it in 1901 after the dormant 1900 season. The upstart American League, with Ban Johnson as its president, was just the catalyst needed. Murnane was an early champion of the AL – the new league gave ballplayers greater bargaining power, since there was now a viable alternative to playing in the National League. The Boston AL ballclub was managed by the popular Jimmy Collins, who had jumped across town from the National League team. The Hub’s second major-league team generated significant interest in baseball throughout the region, and Murnane took full advantage of it, both as a writer for the Boston Globe and as president of the New England League.
As the National League and American League waged war in 1901, the nation’s minor leagues were left in an unsettled position. In September, Murnane and the presidents of other prominent minor leagues met in Chicago to form an organized front for them to deal with the two sparring major leagues. This new organization – the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, known today simply as the minor leagues – ushered in a new relationship between minor-league and major-league baseball. Murnane was selected to be a member of the Board of Arbitration, which settled disputes among players and ballclub owners. He was also named to the rules and constitution committees. In his many capacities, Murnane was involved in the major issues of the day in the minor leagues, classification and player farming.
Murnane applied many of Ban Johnson’s American League strategies to the revived New England League. To stimulate some stability in the league, Murnane fostered relationships with interurban trolley companies, which enabled more spectators to attend games and new ballparks to be built in rural areas outside of deteriorating inner cities. He also recruited former major-league ballplayers who had ties to the region to be player-managers and new ballclub owners. After the 1901 season, the next five New England League pennants were all won by teams piloted by former major-league players: John “Phenomenal” Smith, Fred Lake, Billy Hamilton, Frank Eustace, and Jesse Burkett.
The Sunday notes column entitled “Murnane’s Baseball” debuted in the Boston Globe in 1902. Murnane’s second family expanded that year with the birth of another son, Theodore. Also in 1902, his daughter Mary married Lawrence Watson 2nd. The other daughter from his first family, Louise, who
served as his secretary to transcribe the words he dictated to her for his articles, never married.
In 1903, the Boston Americans won the AL pennant and then the first modern-day World Series that October. Murnane’s Sunday column helped enhance the popularity of baseball in Boston at the time. When Globe publisher Charles Taylor purchased the ballclub in 1904, with his son John as the nominal owner, this further accelerated the demand for Murnane’s baseball writing. Murnane had an easy-to-digest style, focusing on the details and adding a dash of flair here and there to inject his in-depth baseball knowledge to educate the reader.
Even with extensive rail connections and popular former major leaguers, the New England League couldn’t overcome a major obstacle: “blue laws” prohibited its teams from playing Sunday baseball in all six New England League states (though it was tolerated in a few enclaves in Rhode Island and Connecticut). On grounds more secular than religious, Murnane was opposed to Sunday baseball, which ultimately was his downfall as league president.
In 1905, coincident with the first officially sanctioned World Series in major-league baseball, Murnane and old friend Jim O’Rourke, now president of the Connecticut League, arranged a postseason tourney among the top teams in their two leagues for the Championship of New England. The four-team format seemed to be a trial run for an integrated league, combining the best of both circuits to form a true New England League (Murnane’s league never had a team located in Connecticut). Soon, the Connecticut League would overshadow the New England League in the region, since O’Rourke’s Bridgeport club started to play Sunday games in 1905 and other Connecticut cities shortly followed suit.
Murnane needed to support his growing second family, which welcomed Sarsfield in 1904 and Carol in 1908. He augmented his paycheck from the Boston Globe and stipend as president of the New England League with additional writing work. He wrote articles for Sporting Life, edited the annual Minor League Guide, wrote the book How to Play Baseball that was marketed through the Spalding Library, and was the weekly Boston correspondent for The Sporting News for three years, 1910 to 1912. He expanded his nationwide presence in the baseball community in 1908 when he was selected to be treasurer of the newly formed Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which lobbied for better working conditions at the ballpark for baseball writers. In his leisure time, he enjoyed golf.
Ironically, as Murnane was writing about the success of major-league baseball in Boston, that success contributed to the demise of the New England League. By 1912, when Fenway Park first opened, the automobile and bus were supplanting the interurban trolley as the preferred mode of transportation and thus more people could easily attend ballgames in Boston. Also in 1912, six years of franchise stability in the New England League belied the underlying trouble with the textile-based economies that still ruled a majority of New England League cities – the textile business was moving to locations in the South. The Labor Day crowds in 1912 marked the end of the New England League’s heyday, as the popularity of the Red Sox soon increased with their 1912 World Series victory.
Murnane had held the league together for two decades through 1912, but it all fell apart in the next three years. With financial woes mounting, the league’s franchise owners were increasingly dissatisfied with Murnane’s leadership. The owners began meeting without him to discuss a merger with the O’Rourke-run Connecticut League, now known as the Eastern Association, which at the very least would allow road games on Sunday in those Connecticut cities that tolerated Sunday baseball. Neither Murnane nor O’Rourke, who maximized their powerful positions by maintaining separate leagues in the region, was a proponent of such a merger.
Murnane, a staunch advocate for ballplayers and local ownership when his term as league president began in 1892, had increasingly come to treat the position as a sinecure and the league as a haven for his friends. Other forces then undermined his entrenched position The Federal League emerged in 1914 as a third major league, decimating the New England League’s best talent and forcing higher salaries to be paid to lower-quality ballplayers. The knockout blow was the opening of Braves Field in August 1915, after the Boston Braves had won the 1914 World Series. The new home of the Braves was the largest baseball park ever built at the time, with a seating capacity of 45,000 and transportation connections to attract spectators from all over Massachusetts, as well as Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
Since Murnane could no longer hold the New England League together, he announced he would retire as president following the 1915 season. From September 1915 through January 1916, the ballclub owners in both the New England League and Eastern Association (and O’Rourke) haggled over the details of a merger to save what could be saved of the two leagues. Finally they agreed on a ten-team combination to be called the Eastern League. However, when no consensus could be reached on the head of the new league, Murnane was brought back as titular president. He finally retired as a league executive in October 1916. However, he remained in his post as baseball editor of the Globe.
Murnane died of a sudden heart attack on February 7, 1917. After working past 7:00 p.m. and eating a hasty dinner, he collapsed in the foyer of the Shubert Theater in Boston. He was waiting for his wife to check her coat before they were to attend a performance of Eileen, an Irish operetta. The Evening Tribune of Providence wrote that he was “generally regarded as the greatest authority on the national game in the United States.” The Globe called him “a prince. A fine player, a great baseball official, a sound writer and a handsome fellow. He was an honor to baseball.”
Hundreds attended Murnane’s funeral, which was celebrated by his nephew Fr. Patrick Dolan, who was assisted by Cardinal William O’Connell of Boston. The pallbearers included Mayor James Michael Curley of Boston and Congressman James Gallivan; former Red Sox owner John I. Taylor was an usher. Numerous ballplayers attended, including Babe Ruth, then a pitcher for the Red Sox. Murnane was initially laid to rest in the Old Catholic Burial Grounds in Dorchester, but was later buried in the Old Calvary Cemetery in Roslindale.
Murnane had left only meager savings from his long career in baseball to care for his widow and four children from his second marriage. Therefore, the American League and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America established a memorial fund on behalf of his family. On September 27, 1917, more than 17,000 people attended a benefit game for this cause held at Fenway Park. The Red Sox, behind the pitching of Babe Ruth, defeated an all-star team comprised of many of the game’s greats from the other 15 teams (all had an off-day in the schedule), including an outfield combination of Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Shoeless Joe Jackson. The game raised $13,000 for the Murnane family and enabled the memorial fund to purchase a gravestone that was erected in 1919 at the Old Calvary Cemetery.6
On August 5, 1979, Murnane was immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown when he was posthumously awarded the J.G. Taylor Spink Award to recognize his three decades of baseball writing for the Boston Globe.
Charlie Bevis. The New England League: A Baseball History, 1885–1949. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2003.
Albert N. Marquis, editor. Who’s Who in New England. Chicago: A.N. Marquis & Company, second edition, 1916.
Mike Roer. Orator O’Rourke: The Life a Baseball Radical. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2006.
Fred Stein. “The Writers,” in A History of the Baseball Fan. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2005.
George Tuohey. “Boston’s Baseball Scribes,” in A History of the Boston Base Ball Club. Boston: M. F. Quinn, 1897.
Boston Globe, 1872–1919.
“A Century of Globe Sports: The W. D. Sullivan Years,” Boston Globe, March 13, 1972.
“Game Loses One of Best Loved Characters in Tim Murnane,” The Sporting News, February 15, 1917.
“Murnane Drops Dead in Theatre,” Boston Globe, February 8, 1917.
“Murnane’s Baseball Stories,” Boston Globe, January-March, 1915.
“Sudden Death of Tim Murnane,” Naugatuck Daily News, February 8, 1917.
“Tim Murnane, Old-Time Ball Player and Noted Writer, Dead,” Providence Evening Tribune, February 8, 1917.
“T. H. Murnan,” New York Clipper, July 5, 1879.
“T. H. Murnane,” The Sporting News, January 8, 1898.
Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Murnane player file.
Massachusetts State Archives, birth, death, and marriage records prior to 1910.
Naugatuck, Connecticut, town clerk’s office, birth records.
U.S. Census Bureau, federal censuses of 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, and 1910.
Murnane passport application, June 26, 1874.
Baseball-Reference.com, Murnane playing record.
WhittemoreLibrary.org, Historic Naugatuck: Timothy Hayes Murnane.
1 Murnane reported Naugatuck as his birthplace on his marriage certificate in 1878, but an 1879 biography in the New York Clipper was vague about his birthplace (“near Bridgeport”). It was not until 1898 that Naugatuck was publicly espoused, in a biography in The Sporting News, which is where most obituary writers picked up the birthplace information. His sister Bridget readily acknowledged her birthplace to be Ireland in both the 1880 and 1900 census, also reporting in the latter that she came to the United States in 1855. It is hard to believe that either his mother or his sister would not have told Murnane that he had also been born in Ireland and immigrated here as a toddler.
2 Because there were no photographs on passports in 1874, the passport application provides an unusual amount of descriptive detail about Murnane: 5’10”, high forehead, blue eyes, large nose, small mouth, round chin, brown hair, florid complexion, and large face.
3 Murnane wrote several articles in the Boston Globe in 1888 about his early years in baseball, including his time with the Savannahs and Mansfields, the trip to Europe in 1874, and the Hop Bitters trip in 1879 to San Francisco. In 1915 he also devoted several “Murnane’s Baseball Stories” columns in the Globe to the same experiences.
4 Richard A. Jensen, “‘No Irish Need Apply’: A Myth of Victimization,” Journal of Social History, Volume 36, No. 2, 2002.
5 Harry Clay Palmer et al., Athletic Sports in America, England, and Australia, New York, New York: Union Publishing House, 1889, 603. Paula M. Kane, Separatism and Subculture: Boston Catholicism, 1900-1920, Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1994, 288.
6 Boston Globe, June 9, 1919. The inscription on the gravestone reads: “In Memoriam / Timothy Hayes Murnane/ 1851–1917 / Pioneer of Baseball / Champion of Its Integrity / Gifted and Fearless Writer / This Monument Erected By/ The American League.”