Ed Murphy

This article was written by Chris Rainey

Described as the “possessor of a magnificent physique and a splendid right arm,”1 Ed Murphy was one of three 1903 St. Louis Cardinals employed as both pitcher and fielder. The trio of Jack Dunleavy, Jim Hackett, and Murphy took the mound in 36 games, 31 of them as the starter. They combined for 11 victories. Hackett played 89 games at first base, Dunleavy 38 in the outfield. In August and September, when manager Patsy Donovan suddenly started to use Hackett as a pitcher, Murphy was pressed into service as a first baseman. Not surprisingly, the Cardinals limped to a last-place finish with a 43-94 record.

Edward James Murphy was born on January 12, 1877, in Auburn, New York. Auburn lies in the Finger Lakes region of the state. He was one of seven children born to Edward and Mary Murphy. Both parents were immigrants from Ireland. The elder Edward had come to the United States in 1847 and gained citizenship in 1856. He worked as a laborer. Murphy had two older brothers who no doubt schooled him in the art of baseball. In later years he would play with and against his brother Steve, who was four years older. Ed grew to be 6-feet-1 and weighed 185 pounds in his prime.

The elder Murphy must have impressed upon the children that working as a laborer was a less-than-satisfactory lifestyle. The three boys all went into business, with Steve eventually joining the Auburn treasurer’s office. The girls were trained as seamstresses. The children attended Holy Family School in Auburn, but the extent of their schooling is uncertain.

Murphy played with the local team as a teenager and quickly earned a reputation for his fastball. Auburn was located on the rail line and Murphy found himself being contacted by teams to the north and east. In 1894 he and brother Steve traveled to Potsdam, New York, to play with a semipro team. Ed pitched or played outfield. Steve played shortstop or catcher. They were very successful.  Ed showed that he had a strong bat to go with his arm. He was 3-for-6 one game and ended the season pitching the team to a 10-5 win over St. Albans, Vermont, and driving in four runs.

In 1895 he joined the Binghamton Crickets in the New York State League. Available newspaper stories indicate he posted a 9-4 record. When the league folded, Murphy joined the Hornells from Hornellsville, New York. The team had been considered for membership in the NYSL, but then denied admittance. Steve also joined him and played outfield. An 11-5 win over a tough traveling team earned the attention of the Rochester Browns of the Class A Eastern League. Murphy joined another recruit, Red Donahue, by signing in mid-July.2 Donahue stuck with Rochester, but Murphy was returned to the Hornells without seeing any on-field action. He was kept on the Browns reserve list in the fall.

Murphy stayed in the semipro ranks in 1896. He started the season pitching for his hometown, but in June he traveled west to join the Hornells. Auburn and the Hornells met twice with Murphy pitching against his hometown and splitting the two decisions. The New York State League was revived for 1897 and Murphy joined the Auburn franchise, dubbed the Maroons, in the Class C league. Brother Steve played for the Palmyra and Lyons teams.

The Maroons had a strong pitching staff led by Murphy and Bill Duggleby from Utica, New York. The third member of the staff was Chris Pfrom, who had experience from the Pennsylvania State League. The Maroons jumped out to a 10-2 record and held onto first place until August 7. Murphy won his first five decisions, but the batters eventually caught up to his heat. He had a change of pace but had not yet developed an effective curveball.

Based upon available box scores, Murphy had a 15-13 record. The Reach Baseball Guide credits Duggleby with the lowest runs-per-game average in the league, 1.31. Murphy was close by, allowing 1.48 runs per game.3 Murphy was credited with 65 games both on the hill and in the field. He played more than 30 games at first base and an occasional game in the outfield. 

The season ended on a sour note for Murphy. Facing Cortland, which had been especially tough on him, in a crucial game, he surrendered four first-inning hits. Worse yet, his fielders committed four errors, leading to seven runs. “Murphy threw the ball over the grand stands and left the grounds in a huff.”4 Duggleby finished the 12-7 loss, then pitched the Maroons to a 9-6 win in the second game.

Despite the unflattering ending to his season, Murphy was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies. He joined them for 1898 spring training in Cape May, New Jersey. His performance in intrasquad matches and exhibitions landed him a spot on the Opening Day roster. The young right-hander made his debut on April 23 vs. the New York Giants.

Murphy pinch-hit for pitcher Davey Dunkle in the seventh and slapped a single to drive in a run. He then closed out the game on the mound. He allowed an unearned run when he fumbled a grounder for an error and then gave up a triple to pitcher Ed Doheny.5 The following week he was acquired by Bill Traffley of the Hartford Cooperatives, who were members of the Class B Atlantic League.

Murphy debuted with Hartford on May 5 against Lancaster. He scattered seven hits on the way to a 5-1 victory. He also had a single to drive in a run. He followed up the first win with three consecutive shutout victories. The batters in the league must have thought Murphy was the second coming of Kid Nichols. After a 2-1 triumph, he tossed another shutout. His six complete games with only two runs allowed placed Hartford atop the league.

Newark finally pinned a loss on Murphy, beating him, 2-1, on June 5. Undaunted, Murphy won his next game, 4-3, thanks to his triple to clear the bases in a four-run seventh. But Hartford’s roster started to crumble. Pitching partner Cy Bowen left the team and there were other changes brought on by a financial crunch that hit half the teams in the circuit. Murphy tossed a 9-1 win on June 22, but then suffered three losses the next week.

Murphy regained his command and won three of four in July before he was summoned by the Phillies. According to box scores from the Philadelphia Times, he posted a 12-7 record for Hartford, which finished the season in seventh place. Jack Fifield had injured a finger and Murphy was brought in as insurance. His first appearance came on July 20, against Chicago. Wiley Piatt was driven from the box in the midst a nine-run sixth. Murphy was sent in to finish the game. He picked off the inherited runner, pitcher Nixey Callahan, but then allowed a total of six runs in the 15-5 loss. At the plate he had two hits.

Murphy made three starts and two more relief appearances that season. The only winning contest he was in came on August 8 in Chicago. He drew the start for the second game of the doubleheader and scattered eight hits to win, 8-3. He had a shutout going into the ninth but tired. Just 21, Murphy had acquitted himself well, but it was obvious that he could use some more experience and pitch development.

Murphy joined the Reading Coal Heavers in the Atlantic League for the 1899 season. He was given the start on Opening Day in Lancaster and responded with a hard-fought victory. He allowed 12 hits and 6 runs but shut down the opposition in clutch situations. He also was the hitting star in Reading’s 8-6 win. He had three hits, scored once, and drove in two runs. His statistics would have been even more impressive if minor-league veteran Carl McVey had not tracked down his long drive to left field and caught it with his bare hand.6 For the season Murphy batted .343 and had 9 extra-base hits in 99 at bats.

Murphy was the workhorse of the Reading pitching staff. He toiled 230 innings before the league folded in early August. Game accounts point to Murphy being a flyball pitcher. He had strong performances with Reading as indicated by four shutouts. However, he allowed more than a hit per inning and averaged less than two strikeouts per game. He had a 12-16 record before moving on to Montreal in the Eastern League.

Murphy debuted with Montreal on August 10, scattering six hits for a 2-1 win over Rochester. He made 11 appearances and posted a 5-5 mark for the second-place Royals. His best performances came in early September, when he shut out Springfield on five hits and then went 10 innings against Syracuse in a five-hit tie game.

The Rochester Bronchos finally succeeded in getting Murphy to play in Rochester. He was signed in March 1900 and became the youngest member of a talented, hard-working pitching staff. Manager Al Buckenberger used a four-man rotation of Murphy, Charles “Pop” Morse, Frank McPartlin, and Cy Bowen.

The Bronchos jumped out to an early lead in the standings thanks to heavy hitting. Murphy’s first start came April 30 against Worcester in an easy 12-3 win. The local paper noted that he had added a “puzzling assortment of curves” to his repertoire.7 That win was one of the few blowouts that Murphy won. Most of his outings were either won or lost by a run or two. He joined his teammates with a hot bat; in fact, on June 12 he was leading the team with a .344 average.

The weak spot for the Bronchos was defense. Veteran Frank Bonner was playing shortstop regularly for the first time in seven years and was struggling. In the same June 12 statistics, Bonner had committed 32 errors in 38 games. Nevertheless, the Bronchos had a 26-14 mark and led the league. Then the bats went cold and two weeks later they had surrendered first place to the Providence Grays and their record had fallen to 29-23. They never caught the Grays.

Murphy pitched 303 innings, won 18 games and played first base and the outfield. He closed out the year batting .245. As would be the case throughout his career, Murphy returned to Auburn for the winter. He and Steve opened a haberdashery in the town. It became a local attraction for area ballplayers and travelers. Aspiring players in the area were known to stop in and get advice from Murphy. His earliest protégé was Alan Storke, who had a four-year career in the National League.8

On April 8, 1901, manager Patsy Donovan of the St. Louis Cardinals announced that he had paid “a big price” for the release of Murphy to St. Louis.9 He began the season as the sixth man on the staff but moved up when Ted Breitenstein and Cowboy Jones fell out of favor. Murphy struggled early in the year and had trouble getting through the first inning. He was pulled after three innings on May 2 against Cincinnati in a 16-12 loss. Ten days later he gave the Reds six runs in the first three innings of a 6-3 loss. He followed that with two losses in which he surrendered four runs in the first.

On a long road trip that started in late June, Murphy finally found the secret to success. He beat Brooklyn on June 29 and helped his cause with two singles, a double, and two runs scored in a 7-4 win. He followed that with a 3-2, 11-inning win over Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Inquirer said he “twirled a magnificent game.”10 Two more wins raised Murphy’s record to 4-4. He closed out the season with a 10-9 record for the fourth-place Cardinals.

The Cardinals were hit hard by defections to the new American League, including their top three pitchers. Murphy opened the season in the rotation with Mike O’Neill, Stan Yerkes, and Bob Wicker. He won his first two starts, but the Cardinals quickly dropped into the second division and never recovered. Murphy’s life took a hit in early August when his father died. He closed out the year with a 10-6 mark. Still a fly-ball pitcher, he led the league by surrendering seven home runs.

Donovan remade the pitching staff in 1903 and Murphy was lost in the shuffle. He posted the seventh most starts on the staff and tossed nine complete games. He had a 4-8 record to run his career mark to 25-25. His control became an issue and he walked the most men (38) of any of his big-league seasons. He also saw action at first base, but batted only .203. In February 1904 the Cardinals released Murphy and utilityman Jack Ryan to the Kansas City Blues in the American Association in a trade for Mike Grady.11

Blues manager Dale Gear listed Murphy as his sixth pitcher. Ed took the mound on May 4 and May 10, both against Columbus. He lost the first 4-0. The second ended in a 6-6 tie after eight innings so the teams could catch trains. He was used as a first baseman and posted a .246 batting average in just 18 games. The Blues released him during the season.

Murphy signed with the Buffalo Bisons of the Eastern League in February 1905. There seemed to be a bit of confusion as to his background. Both the Buffalo Evening News and the Buffalo Courier identified him as a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, who had recently played with Johnstown. The misinformation continued until just before the start of the season. It was not the only time Murphy was confused with Edward F. Murphy, a minor-league catcher.

The Bisons got off to a strong start, taking the opening series from Montreal. The Evening News gushed that Murphy, now a full-time first baseman, was always in the game and at his best. The Bisons ran their record to 6-0 with a win over Toronto on May 2, and the normally taciturn Murphy showed some emotion.

Toronto center fielder Dick Harley had a reputation as a spiker. In the first inning he caught Murphy’s foot on the instep. The next time Harley came up “he jumped on Murphy’s foot again and cut the leather on Murphy’s shoe.” Murphy warned him, “If you spike me again I’ll swat you in the jaw.” Harley tried to spike Murphy a third time in the fifth and received the promised swat, which landed him on his backside. Murphy jumped on top and pummeled him.12 Both men were ejected and later fined $10 apiece.

After the first nine games, Buffalo was 8-1 and Murphy was leading the team with a .382 batting average while batting cleanup. Then he suffered a hand injury that hampered his hitting. The team cooled off from its opening rampage and by midseason had fallen below .500. The Bisons closed out the season in the second division. Murphy batted .241 with little power. In February 1906 his contract was sold to Zanesville of the Class C Ohio-Pennsylvania League.

Murphy refused to report to Zanesville and was wooed by teams in the Southern League, but no agreement could be reached. In April he signed with Washington, Pennsylvania, in the Class D Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland League (POML). He received a salary similar to his pay at Buffalo.13

At age 29 Murphy was likely the oldest player on the squad and served as captain. The pitching staff featured 21-year old Barney Slaughter, who would play eight games with the Phillies in 1910. Nineteen-year old Bill McKechnie anchored third base in his inaugural season. The league was a sterling example of parity. Only the Charleroi franchise, which was a late replacement, never mounted a challenge.

The Washington team was referred to as Senators in news stories, but it is unknown if this was their official moniker. The team shared first place with Cumberland through June and July before Uniontown crept into the lead in August. It became obvious that the race was going to come down to the wire and that a single win could make all the difference. League President Richard R. Guy was forced into action in early September to ensure that postponed games would be played. He also reversed some forfeits and ordered them replayed.14

On September 14 Washington was scheduled to play at Waynesburg. When the umpire called “play ball,” the Senators were nowhere in sight. The squad was at home preparing for an exhibition against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The game was forfeited, making Washington’s record 56-43. Uniontown won that day to push its record to 53-42. Washington had a doubleheader with East Liverpool and Uniontown finished with a tripleheader against Charleroi on the final day.

Washington lost the opener but won the second game thanks to three hits from Murphy. Meanwhile Charleroi arrived late in Uniontown and had to forfeit the morning game, then lost the afternoon pair. Uniontown took the title by .007. Later in the week, Guy, the league president, announced that Braddock, which had made a furious finish to reach 55-43, was tied with Uniontown and ordered a playoff. Uniontown refused and hired John M. Ward to represent them in the dispute. No playoff was ever held.15

Murphy moved on to the Steubenville Stubs in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland League for 1907 and took over as the captain who ran the club on the field. He was joined for part of the season by Irish McIlveen, who had been with him for a short time in Washington. Uniontown, Steubenville, and Zanesville battled for first place until July 8. The Stubs held onto the top spot from then on. Murphy’s performance earned him an upgrade for 1908.

Canton in the Class C Ohio-Pennsylvania League hired him to manage and play first. Murphy brought in McKechnie to play third. He put together a fine catching corps with Bill Rariden, Red Munson, and Charley Wahoo. At age 31 he played like a man rejuvenated. His defense at first base was “ultra good” and he “radiated confidence” to his younger teammates.16 Murphy even took over at shortstop in a game against McKeesport.

Akron and East Liverpool had the strongest squads, but Murphy kept the Watchmakers in the hunt until mid-July. Injuries to his pitching staff doomed any chance of contending for the pennant. The club’s finances suffered, and it was placed in receivership. On August 13 Murphy made two errors that led to a loss despite his long homer to right field. The next day he was released. “I’m sorry better results couldn’t have been secured, but under the circumstances a fair showing was made, in my opinion,” he said.17

Murphy was not unemployed for very long. Joining Grand Rapids in the Class B Central League, he played 18 games at first base and batted .242. The following season found him serving as manager of the Troy Trojans in the Class B New York State League. They finished in the second division as Murphy closed out his professional career.

Murphy settled into life in Auburn. He was a member of the Elks and the Knights of Columbus. As a service project for the Knights, he traveled to Europe after World War I and helped with recovery efforts. He possessed a sweet tenor voice and sang in the church choir. He also performed in local musical productions.

At this point Murphy’s baseball was confined to offering advice and telling stories at the store, but he still excelled athletically. He was a member of the local country club and one of the best golfers in town. He was also skilled at billiards. Murphy’s obituary mentions that he coached baseball for Syracuse University. Lew Carr was the head coach during the teens and ’20s, meaning that if Murphy had coached there, he was an assistant.

The haberdashery business suffered two disastrous fires and went out of business. Murphy considered getting into the movie-theater business, but an illness ended those plans. The undisclosed illness made him an invalid and he spent his last years in a nursing home. He died on January 29, 1935. He was laid to rest in St. Joseph’s Cemetery after a funeral mass.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Len Levin and fact-checked by Alan Cohen.

 

Notes

1 “Edward J. Murphy’s Death After Sad Invalidism Recalls Career of Prowess and Popularity,” Auburn (New York) Citizen-Advertiser, January 29, 1938: 6.

2 “Exit Whitehead,” Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle, July 21, 1895: 15.

3 Judging from box scores and the number of runs in games, these must have been earned-run averages.

4 “Each Won a Game,” Democrat and Chronicle, September 7, 1897: 14.

5 “Joyce’s Joyful Joints,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 24, 1898: 11.

6 “Reading Stock Leaps Upward,” Reading (Pennsylvania) Times, April 28, 1899: 1.

7 “Worcester Left at the Post,” Democrat and Chronicle, May 1, 1900: 15.

8 “Edward J. Murphy’s Death.”

9 “Donovan Signs Ed Murphy,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 9, 1901: 9.

10 “No Flies on Pitcher,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 6, 1901: 6.

11 “National League News,” Sporting Life, February 20, 1904: 3.

12 “Battle of First Base at Olympic Park,” Buffalo Evening News, May 3, 1905: 8.

13 “Former Eastern Leaguer to Captain Team in P.O.M. League,” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, April 2, 1906: 9.

14 “Important Baseball Decisions,” East Liverpool (Ohio) Evening Review, September 3, 1906: 1.

15 “Uniontown Protests,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, September 22, 1906: 8.

16 “Notes of the Game,” Canton (Ohio) Repository, May 24, 1908: 16.

17 “Murphy Out as Manager,” Canton Repository, August 15, 1908: 1.