Tim Murchison

This article was written by Chris Rainey

Tim Murchison was a 23-year old left-hander who went north in the spring of 1920 with the eventual World Champion Cleveland Indians. He had excelled at Guilford College and logged about 600 innings in the minors. The St. Louis Cardinals had given him a brief look in 1917. But he worked only five innings for Cleveland before they sent him to the Southern Association New Orleans Pelicans in May.

Murchison went reluctantly because he thought summer in New Orleans was too hot. Less than two months later, he made the career-altering decision to jump his contract with the Pels and take the extra cash offered by Jackson, Mississippi, in the outlaw Delta League.

By jumping his contract, Murchison thumbed his nose at baseball’s hierarchy and made it clear he was more interested in an immediate payday than his long-term development. After all, the summers in Jackson were not appreciably cooler than in New Orleans. He was young, left-handed, showed decent control and had a sharp curve to go with his fastball. Some solid coaching and improved control could have led to a long major league career.

The New Orleans ownership filed suit against the Jackson team and demanded $50,000 in damages. The lawsuit was thrown out in November when it was determined to be “defective and vague.”1 The decision to suspend Murchison and other jumpers for five years was upheld in baseball circles and Murchison found himself on the ineligible list.2

Thomas Malcolm Murchison joined his sister Bessie and parents John and Lenora (Teague) Murchison on October 8, 1896, in Liberty, North Carolina. (Joe Frazier, who would manage the New York Mets in the late 1970s, was born 26 years later in Liberty.) The Murchisons were of Scottish decent and had been in the state for generations. Many people in the area were furniture makers or worked in woolen mills; Tim’s father was a farmer.

A well-fed and healthy young man, Murchison grew to be six feet tall and weighed in at 185 in his prime. He would often be referred to as “big”; in the 1920s the word “gigantic” started to be used. Finally, in 1939 a writer labeled him “fat and fortyish.”3 He batted right-handed and played first base and outfield when not pitching. He attended elementary school in the Pleasant Hill Community before going on to Sylvan High School in Snow Camp. After graduation he attended Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, for two years.

Murchison played for the Liberty team in the summers even before his eighteenth birthday. His name became known to fans and scouts when he dominated on the mound for both his high school and town teams in 1914. It was reported that he had a 21-2 record over four months of action and had struck out 297 opponents in those games.4

In 1915 and 1917 he pitched for Guilford College and was a teammate of Tom Zachary, who would amass 186 wins in the majors. (Zachary will forever be linked to Babe Ruth because he surrendered the Babe’s sixtieth home run in 1927.) Game stories are scattered for the Guilford team, but we do know that in 1915 Murchison beat the University of Vermont on March 25, 6-3. He struck out 11 and walked 5. On April 30 he toed the rubber in Chapel Hill but lost to the University of North Carolina (UNC), 7-2, allowing six runs in the eighth inning. Future Detroit Tiger catcher Larry Woodall sparked the late rally with a lead-off home run.

In 1917 the Guilford Quakers embarked on an ambitious schedule, no doubt excited about the pitching pair of Murchison and Zachary. They scheduled 19 games against the likes of Haverford, Wake Forest, Davidson, UNC and the University of South Carolina. Murchison opened the campaign in grand style. Striking out 14 batters, he led Guilford to a 3-1 win over Haverford. At the plate he smacked a double and single and scored a run.

Guilford managed to play 10 collegiate games on their schedule and won them all, which gave them the state collegiate championship. They also played semipro teams and suffered their only loss of the season in their final game to a team known as the Spencer Railroaders. Overall they were 12-1. Murchison won six of his starts and allowed a mere 18 hits while striking out 89. He also batted a team-leading .449.5

While box scores show him at Guilford in 1915 and 1917, a Guilford College Alumni Directory claims he was in attendance in 1916 and 1917.6 Adding to the mystery are game stories from 1916 that show Murchison, “a former college player,” pitching for Bonlee high school.7 The Guilford baseball team posted an 11-5 record in 1916, but no box scores have been uncovered with Murchison on the mound.8 The season summary failed to mention Murchison as a pitcher or hitter.9

Murchison was pitching in the amateur ranks in the summer of 1916 when the Greensboro Patriots of the Class D North Carolina State League came calling. He had a two-game tryout with them in late June. He lost to Charlotte, 9-3, when he walked six and allowed eight hits. Two days later he only lasted two innings against Durham. A sportswriter opined, “He has the stuff, but poor control.”10

A week after the Guilford team finished its 1917 season, Murchison returned to the North Carolina State League with the Winston-Salem Twins (listed as Winston in the local papers). He was wild and allowed 11 hits in his debut but emerged with a 7-3 victory which moved the Twins into second place in the six-team league. He suffered his first defeat of 1917 on May 16 when Durham beat him, 4-3. According to box scores, his record stood at 3-3 when the league disbanded in late May.

On May 25, Murchison took Lucile Thomas from Snow Camp as his bride. The couple would reside with his family. There is no indication that they ever had children and the marriage ended in a divorce sometime in the early 1920s.

About two weeks after the wedding, Branch Rickey signed him for the St. Louis Cardinals. A St. Louis writer noted he was “merely halting here on the way to the minors.”11 He made one appearance with the Cardinals, facing Cincinnati on June 21. He pitched a scoreless ninth inning, walking two and striking out two in the 7-1 loss. A week later he was sent to Alton, Illinois, in the Class B I-I-I League.

He made three appearances with the last-place Blues before the league folded. His first action came on July 1 against Rockford. He left after nine innings in an eventual Blues loss. He defeated Bloomington on July 4 and followed that up with a 0-0 tie with Hannibal. From there he went to the Houston Buffaloes in the Class B Texas League.

In his first start, on July 18 against the Dallas Giants, he left in the fifth with a lead despite surrendering five runs. He remained with Houston and piled up a 4-8 record in 17 games.

Murchison went to spring training with St. Louis in 1918 before being assigned to the Little Rock Travelers in the Class A Southern Association. He posted a 9-5 record with them before being recalled in mid-June by the Cardinals. Rickey included him in a swap with the American Association’s Milwaukee Brewers that brought outfielder Austin McHenry to St. Louis. Murchison played five games with the Brewers before the league suspended operations because of World War 1.

In 1919 the Brewers opened the season in Louisville against the Colonels. Murchison took the mound in the third contest and was hammered for six runs in the first four innings before going to the showers. His contract was sold to the Peoria Tractors in the I-I-I League, where his first start was a three-hit shutout against Bloomington. The Bloomers took revenge a few days later beating him, 4-2. The Tractors got off to a hot start and were 22-8 after five weeks of play. Then injuries struck, including a foot injury that cost Murchison a couple of starts. Bloomington swept by them and captured the pennant by 15 games.

Murchison gave the Tractors everything he had. He played outfield and pinch-hit. On the mound he toiled a league-leading 294 innings and racked up 218 strikeouts, which some writers claimed was the minor-league high for 1919.12 His ERA and WHIP were both in the top five for the circuit and his 18-12 record included a no-hitter and a one-hitter.13 He batted .267 with nine doubles.

While newspapers across the nation carried the announcement (perhaps erroneous) that his contract had been sold to Milwaukee, Murchison was joining the St. Joseph Saints in the Class A Western League for their late pennant push. According to box scores, he posted a 3-2 record in September and twice fanned 14 batters in a game for the league champs. The Cleveland Indians secured his services in March for the 1920 campaign.

Cleveland came north from New Orleans with four lefties on the roster.14 None of them remained when the Indians claimed the pennant that fall. Murchison’s first action came on April 25 in St. Louis against the Browns. He entered the game in the eighth with George Sisler on third. Murchison coaxed two grounders while Sisler held his base. Then Sisler tried to steal home and was easily caught.

Murchison’s other appearance came on May 3 in Detroit. He again entered a losing cause, this time in the fourth, and went four innings. He surrendered three hits, but none to heavy hitters Harry Heilmann or Ty Cobb. He was released to New Orleans on May 11.

Murchison posted a 6-4 mark with the Pelicans before heading up to Jackson. After the Delta League season ended, he stayed in New Orleans and joined a semipro team for the rest of the year.

While young men “join the Navy to see the world,” semipro baseball players in the 1920s were much more likely to see tiny hamlets throughout the Midwest and the South. Now ineligible to play in organized ball, Murchison embarked upon a six-year odyssey that covered Illinois and surrounding states. At a time when factories ruled the employment scene, he worked as a laborer and pitched, usually for one main team for the entire summer, but occasionally hiring out to others..

In 1921 his primary team was based in Harrisburg, Illinois. The most notable game that season found him matched against future Hall of Famer Joe McGinnity. The old “Iron Man” emerged victorious in a pitcher’s duel. On a positive note, Murchison tossed a no-hitter and fanned 15 in an early May victory. He also applied for reinstatement that year but was turned down by Commissioner Landis.15

He spent most of 1922 playing for Pontiac, Illinois, with some time in Menasha, Wisconsin. He also made a few appearances with the independent Ottawa, Illinois, team, which led to a near scandal in baseball circles.

On August 10 it was reported that Murchison played for Ottawa in an exhibition against the Chicago White Sox. He was listed as Murin in the lineup and had been listed that way on a roster submitted ahead of time to the Sox. After the Black Sox Scandal there were strict rules forbidding major league teams from playing against ineligible players.16 Executives and sportswriters claimed that the Sox players knew Murchison was the player listed as “Murin.”

In his defense, Murchison claimed it was manager “Dinny” Dunn of Ottawa who listed him as “Murin” and that none of the White Sox players in attendance that day was acquainted with him.17The issue went to Landis, who issued his verdict in late November. He clearly placed the blame on Ottawa management and in no uncertain terms made it clear that the independent team was now barred from any contests against teams in organized baseball.18 Landis’s response led to a lengthy editorial in The Sporting News which pointed out other instances of White Sox “carelessness” concerning games involving ineligible players.19

In the spring of 1923 Murchison donated his services to help coach a high school baseball team in Bloomington, Illinois, before joining the high-powered semipro team from Lowell, Illinois. The following year found him splitting time between Lowell and Elgin, Illinois, and Huntington, Indiana. He often appeared in games of the Midwest League of semipro industrial teams that spanned three states.

In 1925 he played for Aurora, Illinois, and on September 14 attempted to win both ends of a doubleheader versus Hammond, Indiana. He allowed 16 hits in 20 innings and suffered two losses. Earlier he had been recruited to play for the Elitch’s Gardens team from Denver, Colorado. In the tenth annual Denver Post Tournament, he lost a classic pitchers’ duel in the semi-finals to eventual champion Lubbock, Texas. Murchison was considered “the leading pitcher of the tournament.”20

In 1926 he moved to Hammond, Indiana, and took factory work there. He also began a long association with area semipro teams as a player and manager. In his first game in a Hammond uniform he tossed a shutout over Racine and had a perfect day at the plate with a home run, single and sacrifice.21 He was recruited by a team in the Pennsylvania Railroad League and helped them to the Railroad title late in the summer.

Murchison, now 30, was finally reinstated for the 1927 season. Since he had been on the New Orleans ineligible list, his first contract was signed on March 3 with the Pelicans. His first outing was an 11-inning loss to Mobile. He followed that up with a 1-0 victory over Little Rock, but was then sidelined with a sore arm. He struggled to a 2-4 record before being released on June 1.

Signing with the Laurel, Mississippi, Lumberjacks of the Class D Cotton States League, he won his first appearance on June 11 and was pitching good ball when he was traded to the Alexandria Reds for pitcher Ed Tenney and cash. He quickly became the ace of the Reds’ staff. On August 19 he again attempted to toss both ends of a doubleheader. Facing the Meridian Mets, he allowed seven hits and threw 16 innings of scoreless ball for a double win. He followed that up with another shutout in his next appearance. He ended the season with a 15-8 record in 199 innings of work. At the plate he batted .258 with six doubles in 33 games.

The following year he went to spring training with Shreveport of the Texas League. His hitting -- two homers in a game, spoke louder than his pitching and he was returned to Alexandria. He spent two months with the Reds before he was sold to Springfield in the I-I-I League.

During the drive north to his Illinois home, Murchison became ill and had to recover at home. Then an issue of eligibility arose. The league had a rule about the number of Class A players a team could carry, and it was debated whether Murchison put the Senators over the limit. When his health returned, he played some semipro ball. Finally, on June 28 he made his first start and lost to Bloomington. He would make two more appearances before being sold to Jackson in the Cotton States League.

He beat Meridian, 2-1, in his first start back in the south. Jackson battled Vicksburg for the second half title and finished a half game behind. Murchison helped with the pennant cause by hurling a no-hitter against his old teammates at Laurel. He was so dominant that “not a single ball was knocked beyond the infield.”22 The Reach Baseball Guide credits him with a 10-8 record and .268 batting average for the year.

The following year, Murchison was pitching semipro ball for Hammond when the Canton Terriers of the Class B Central League came calling. Canton was locked in a tight pennant race and was looking for some veteran pitching. Tim dropped his first game to Springfield, then was driven out by Dayton in the second inning. He was released on July 22 and returned to the semipro game.

From 1930 through 1936 he played and managed in semipro ball in the Hammond area. Tim became an astute judge of talent and sent catcher Stew Hofferth south to join Nashville. Hofferth would eventually play three seasons in the National League with Boston.

In 1937 Murchison went south to help Nashville during spring training, then served as a scout for them during the summer back in the Hammond area. He helped again in early camp in 1938 before opening his own training camp as the manager of the Tallahassee Capitals in the Class D Georgia-Florida League. One of their first exhibition games came against the New York Yankees with a lineup that included Lou Gehrig, Red Rolfe, and Tommy Henrich.

The team struggled and was in fifth place in the league after 25 games. Now 41, Tim found it necessary to use himself in relief. He was released on May 17 in “the best interest of the club.”23

The following year Murchison was hired to manage the Niagara Falls Rainbows in the Class D Pony League. The team’s record was just below .500 when he was fired on July 30. His next opportunity came on June 1, 1940, when the Bristol Twins in the Class D Appalachian League asked him to replace Larry Merville. He held the job for two months before being replaced by Lance Richbourg.

Now 44, Murchison was signed to a player/manager contract with the 1941 Leaksville Triplets, where 18-year old Joe Frazier from Liberty played third base for him. 24 The Triplets would capture the Class D Bi-State League pennant, but Murchison was not there for the glory. He was replaced May 24 by Wes Ferrell, who had been recently released by Boston. Ferrell joined his brother George, who managed at Martinsville. Murchison made four appearances in his final professional season.

Following his release, Murchison became a regional scout for Virginia and the Carolinas for the Chicago Cubs and moved back to Liberty. His most notable finds for the Cubs were catchers Rube Walker and Forrest “Smoky” Burgess.25

On June 4, 1946, Murchison found himself in the dugout again, as interim manager of the Quebec Alouettes of the Class C Canadian-American League. He was eventually replaced by Johnny Intelkofer.

If you think of a scout as the guy behind the netting with the radar gun, that was not Tim Murchison. Of course, he sat through games and evaluated the talent. In addition, he worked at spring trainings as an instructor. In 1946 he was even in charge of a three-team minor-league training camp in Shelby, North Carolina. He ran tryout camps and instructional camps with a watchful eye for talent. He seemingly spoke at every luncheon that would invite him. He also appeared before various city councils and county administrators in support of franchise opportunities. He was one of the foremost supporters of the game in central North Carolina.

In 1953 he switched to the New York Giants organization. His biggest name signings came with the Giants as he set Gaylord Perry, Bobby Bolin, Jim Ray Hart, and Randy Hundley on the path to the majors.26 Like any scout there would be players that got away and signed with another organization. Murchison listed Tony Cloninger and Don Buddin as the two he remembered who signed elsewhere.27

Murchison married Mary Elizabeth Myers in Indiana on September 22, 1924. They would celebrate 38 anniversaries before Murchison died from a sudden heart attack at home on October 20, 1962. Mary passed away in 1970 and they are both buried in Fairview Cemetery in Liberty. Mary obviously embraced the baseball life and accompanied her husband across the map. The couple became quite popular with teammates, their families, fans and sportswriters.

At Guilford, Murchison was the superior talent to Zachary, who piled up 186 wins in the majors. Fans can only guess at what numbers Murchison might have posted had he not been lured to the outlaw league in 1920. He did not let the years in purgatory ruin his love for the game, because he was certainly a “baseball lifer.”

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht, and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.

 

Notes

1 “Heinmann Loses in Delta League Suit,” Washington Post, November 9, 1920: 11.

2 Other players who went to outlaw leagues around that time included Ollie O’Mara, Ray Neusel, Ralph King. Neusel died in a car wreck and the other two remained ineligible until 1928.

3 John Whitaker, Speculating in Sports, Hammond (Indiana) Times, July 13, 1939: 6.

4 “Liberty is Anxious to Play Morganton Team,” Greensboro Daily News, July 15, 1914: 6.

5 “Guilford Team Makes a Remarkable Record,” Greensboro Daily News, May 13, 1917: 19.

6 https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=2888&h=14026&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=VjY1997&_phstart=successSource Last accessed June 23, 2019.

7 “Sylvan Hurls Defiance Back at Bonlee,” Greensboro Daily News, April 2, 1916: 4.

8 https://www.guilfordquakers.com/sports/bsb/Records/Year-By-Year.pdf   Last accessed June 23, 2019.

9 “Baseball Season at Guilford was a Success,” Greensboro Daily News, May 7, 1916: 21.

10 “Locals,” Siler City (North Carolina) Grit, June 28, 1916: 3.

11 “Defense Now Satisfactory,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 18, 1917: 14.

12 Because of the sketchy nature of statistics the authenticity of this claim cannot be verified.

13 “Three-I Pitching Averages,” The Dispatch (Moline, Ill.), December 11, 1919: 16.

14 Murchison, Petty, Dick Niehaus and Joe Boehling. Niehaus stuck around into August.

15 “Accuse Sox of Using Murchison as ‘Murin’,” Grand Rapids (Michgan) Press, August 15, 1922: 16.

16 Ibid.

17 “Tim Murchison in Attempts to Clear White Sox Players,” The Dispatch, December 16, 1922: 20.

18 “Ignorance Clears Them,” The Sporting News, November 30, 1922: 5.

19 Charles Spink, “The Minors and Ineligibles,” The Sporting News, November 30, 1922: 4.

20 “Lubbock, Tex., Wins Post Tournament Which Breaks Entry Records,” Denver Post, December 31, 1925: 11.

21 “Hammond Wins Over Racine,” Hammond Lake County Times, June 11, 1926: 26.

22 “Tim Murchison, Old Pel, Hurls No-Hit Game for Jackson,” New Orleans States, July 28, 1928: 9.

23 “Release Takes Effect Today; Savant Named,” Tallahassee Democrat, May 18, 1938: 5.

24 Technically the team was the Leaksville-Spray-Draper Triplets and sometimes was called Tri-City. Newspapers simply listed the team as Leaksville in the standings.

25 Smith Barrier, “Randy Hundley Signs for a Bonus of $110,000,” Greensboro Daily News, June 17, 1960: 27.

26 Thanks to SABR scouts guru Rod Nelson for scouting information.

27 Dick Herbert, “The Sports Observer,” News Observer (Raleigh, NC), June 5, 1958: 15.