For more than a decade, Danny Murphy was one of the best and most powerful hitters in the American League, a fine fielder with a strong arm, a savvy base runner, and a pioneer in the art of sign stealing. The consummate team player for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, he replaced one Hall of Fame second baseman, Nap Lajoie, and later stepped aside for another, Eddie Collins. To make way for Collins, Murphy moved from second base to right field in mid-career and paved the way for one of baseball’s earliest dynasties. Just 5’7″ (some sources say 5’9″) and 175 pounds, little Danny was considered a “long distance” hitter. A right hander, he ranked among the AL’s home run leaders six times between 1904 and 1911, and batted .319 between 1910 and 1913. He was one of Connie Mack’s favorites; though popular with the Philadelphia fans, his teammates, and baseball writers, he was described as “retiring,” and was seldom quoted. After Philadelphia released him, Murphy committed an act that Mack considered betrayal, but he was eventually forgiven by the Tall Tactician, and returned as a prodigal son.
Daniel Francis Murphy was born in Philadelphia on August 11, 1876, as the City of Brotherly Love celebrated the centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Though Danny was referred to as a native son throughout his career in Philadelphia, his family moved to New England when he was a youngster. He entered professional baseball at age 20 with Fall River of the New England League in 1897. He played for the independent North Attleboro team in 1899, and landed with Norwich in the Connecticut League in 1900. The New York Giants acquired the 24-year old that fall, and he played his first major league game on September 17. Murphy finished the season as the Giants’ second baseman, collecting 20 hits, just one for extra bases, in 74 at bats. Murphy returned to New York for the first five games of the 1901 season, but after just four hits in 20 at bats, he was returned to Norwich on May 7, and batted .336 for the Witches the rest of the way. He also led the Connecticut State League in all three types of extra-base hits, with 32 doubles, 16 triples, and 12 homers. He was even better in 1902, hitting .462 through 49 games. Mack, seeking a second baseman because of the Pennsylvania court decision that nullified Lajoie’s contract after one game in 1902, journeyed to Norwich and purchased Murphy’s contract on July 7 for $600.
Murphy’s American League debut on July 8 was spectacular. Arriving after game time, Murphy entered Philadelphia’s game at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds in the second inning and smacked six hits in six trips to the plate, including an inside-the-park-three-run home run off Cy Young. He also flawlessly handled 11 chances at second base in the Athletics’ 22-9 win. Although he hit no more home runs that season, Murphy batted .313, drove in 48 runs, stole 12 bases and in the words of the Sporting News, filled “the shoes of the great Lajoie,” well enough to lead the Mackmen to their first AL championship. On August 22 he also married Catherine Moriarty, a 17-year old cotton mill worker from Norwich, then collected two hits that afternoon. He played good ball again in 1903, batting .273 with 31 doubles, 11 triples and a home run and was dubbed the “hit interrupter” for his “brilliant and brainy” glove work at the keystone for second-place Philadelphia. The Mackmen slid to fifth place in 1904, though Murphy achieved career highs in home runs with seven (tied for second in the AL) and runs batted in with 77, and stole 22 bases.
Philadelphia made its first World Series appearance in 1905 as Murphy smacked 42 extra base hits and tied for third in the AL with six home runs. The smart little second sacker batted .277 during the season, but collected just three hits in 16 at-bats as the Mackmen were blanked three times by Danny’s old Giants teammate, Christy Mathewson. In 1906, Murphy batted .301, but the Athletics slumped to fourth. Near the end of the season, Murphy grew homesick and returned to Norwich, where Catherine was living with an older brother and two sisters. Mack journeyed to the Nutmeg State and convinced his second baseman to return. Although it was rumored that Mack would trade Murphy, his little sparkplug returned for the 1907 season. Early in the year, he suffered a broken or badly sprained ankle, but managed to hit .271.
Late in the 1907 campaign, 20-year old Eddie Collins played six awkward games at shortstop. In 1908 Collins played shortstop and in the outfield before Mack decided he might be better suited for second base. “So I got another idea,” Mack later told sportswriter Fred Lieb. “I thought, why not put my second baseman, Danny Murphy, in right field and see what Eddie could do at second base? Though Danny had been my second baseman since my first pennant winner in 1902, he didn’t pivot too well on double plays, but Murphy always was a sweet hitter.” The move was not popular with either the Philly faithful or the rest of the Mackmen. Murphy was well liked, and his fresh-out-of-college replacement had already earned the moniker “Cocky” Collins. If Murphy himself was bitter, he didn’t show it. As Collins later observed, “When I replaced him in the infield, and he took over in right field, it didn’t sit too well with the A’s followers…Murphy wasn’t resentful of the shift. In fact, unlike many players of that era, he willingly cooperated with me. I took to the position naturally and really found myself there, but Murphy played a great part in helping mold me into a good infielder, or rather a good second baseman.” For his part, Murphy went from being an average second baseman to an exceptional outfielder. He led the American League in fielding percentage in 1909 and in assists in 1911. While playing the outfield, he also became a better hitter. In 1908, playing 56 games at second base early in the season and moving to the outfield for 84 games, he drove in 66 runs, sixth most in the AL. By 1909, when Mack opened baseball’s first steel and concrete stadium, Shibe Park, Murphy (who recorded Shibe’s first RBI, double and inside the park home run) was entrenched in right field. He batted .281, stole 19 bases, and ranked among the league’s top 10 with five homers and 69 RBI. Although Cobb and the Tigers won their third straight pennant, the Athletics’ climbed to second.
By 1910 it was apparent that Mack had strengthened the club at two positions. “That master move started a new pennant era for Mack,” the Sporting News said of the switch. Collins batted .324, stole 81 bases and drove in 81 runs. The 33-year old Murphy, dubbed “Old Reliable,” played in 151 games, became the first player to hit for the cycle at Shibe Park on August 25, batted .300 and led the team with 28 doubles, 18 triples and four home runs (tied with Rube Oldring), and the Athletics captured the AL flag by 14.5 games. In the World Series he batted .400, lashing eight hits, including three doubles and the only home run of the series, and drove in nine runs as the Athletics crushed the Cubs 4-1 for Mack’s first World Series win.
With the “$100,000 Infield” in place, the Mackmen were every bit as good in 1911. A seasoned 35-year old by the end of the year, Murphy enjoyed arguably his finest campaign. He batted .329 with 44 extra base hits and 66 RBI, and led the AL in outfield assists with 34. The 1911 Reach Guide said, “No outfielder in the country in that position outdistances Murphy.” The Athletics returned to the World Series, where Murphy batted .304, scored four times and drove in three runs. He smacked four hits in Game 6 as the Athletics wrapped up a 4-2 Series victory over John McGraw’s New York Giants. After the season, field captain Harry Davis was named manager at Cleveland, and Mack tabbed Murphy to replace him, even though Collins had been acting captain. Murphy, accompanied by Catherine, led the Athletics on a trip to Cuba for an exhibition series. Collins stayed behind, citing seasickness.
The new captain started fast again in 1912, batting .323 with two homers and 20 RBI through 36 games, but disaster struck. On June 4, while making a steal attempt, he suffered a broken kneecap, and most likely, structural damage to the joint. He would never be the same ballplayer. “Dan Murphy will smash no [more] base hits for the Athletics this season,” the Trenton Daily Times reported. “The captain and the team’s heaviest hitting outfielder has such a bad case of water on the knee that he is physically incompetent to get into another game this year. It is possible that his playing days are over for all time.” His playing days weren’t over, but his skills were severely diminished, and a sore arm developed in spring training in 1913 hampered his return. Murphy, the eighth oldest player in the AL, appeared in only 40 games that season, and made just nine outfield appearances. He could still hit, batting .322 in just 65 trips, primarily as a pinch hitter. The Athletics returned to the World Series that fall to face the Giants, but Murphy did not appear in any of the games. Mack had a chance to use him, in a scoreless tie against Mathewson in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2. Charles Conlon, the great baseball photographer said, “Now there was one man Matty didn’t like to pitch to and he was Danny Murphy. ‘If Mack had sent in Murphy, I would have run out of the park, I was so nervous,’ Mathewson said.” Mack elected to let Eddie Plank hit for himself, and Matty retired him and the Giants won the game 3-0 in 10 innings. Though Murphy didn’t play in the Series, the Athletics won 4-1, and he returned home to a victory parade in Norwich and was named a lifetime member of the town’s Elks Club.
But his career with the Athletics was over. On March 6, 1914, Mack sold him to Baltimore in the International League. Murphy wasn’t willing to go back to the minors. Three days later he signed with the Brooklyn team in the Federal League, owned by the Tip Top Baking Company’s Ward family. Murphy was reported to be the team’s new manager, but the Wards tabbed former Cleveland Indian Bill Bradley. Murphy was signed as an outfielder and “scout.” Mack soon found out what that meant. “Danny Murphy, who had been one of my standbys, became an agent of the Federals, and he began to operate among my players,” Mack said later. “He was working for the Ward Brothers of the bakeries. Murphy offered my players three times what they were getting from me.” The Athletics were on their way to their fourth AL pennant in five years. But Mack later told Lieb “I felt it was the most unhappy season I ever experienced…The Federal League was after our players from the spring to the World Series, and the season was one of trouble and unpleasantness. What made it even more bitter was that Danny Murphy, who had played on five of my championship clubs, was the scout for the Brooklyn Federals.”
Mack said that during the season, “The Philadelphia club was split into two groups. One was for sticking with me; the other was for jumping to the big money. The players kept squabbling among themselves, and they had a meeting and told me they would stick by me in 1914, but would jump in 1915.” The Athletics hung on to win the AL flag but were swept by the “Miracle Braves” in the Fall Classic’s most stunning upset. Disgruntled, Mack dismantled his team. He released three pitchers Murphy had been in contact with–Bender, Eddie Plank and Jack Coombs–and sold Collins to the Chicago White Sox. Over the next couple of years, Frank Baker, Stuffy McInnis, Jack Barry and others were also jettisoned.
Though blamed for his role in ending the Philadelphia dynasty, Murphy brought no players of significance to the Brookfeds. He did make a contribution on the field in 1914. In 52 games, Murphy batted .304 with four home runs, 32 RBI and four stolen bases. He was released on July 2, 1915, at age 38, after collecting just one hit in six at bats. It was a quiet end to a career in which he scored 705 runs, drove in 702, stole 193 bases, placed in the AL’s top 10 in batting three times, slugging six times, doubles eight straight years (1903-1910), triples three times, home runs six times, extra base hits seven times, and RBI four times.
Murphy became a manager in the Eastern League, at New Haven from 1916 to 1918 and Hartford in 1919, without much success. The Athletics had even less success, finishing dead last every year from 1915 to 1921. Before the 1920 season, Mack and Murphy reunited. The Sporting News reported that “The veteran Danny Murphy is ‘home again’ after six years of more or less prodigal wandering. Danny and Connie have something of a falling out in 1914 and Danny went astray to the Feds. Since then, he has had an uncertain career as a minor league manager.” Mack later said, “I was pretty sore at the time–awfully sore….Today, over the perspective of the years, I feel a little differently. The players were taking advantage of a baseball war to get all they could, just as I took advantage of a baseball war to raid the National League when we first put a club in Philadelphia. I long have forgiven the players who gave me those 1914 headaches, and most of them have been back with me in some capacity.” Murphy was hired to coach the bases and the outfield, joining his old teammate, George Davis, who coached the infield while Mack took care of the pitchers and catchers. Together, they were referred to as “The Three Wise Men of Baseball.” Murphy and Davis also served as an exceptional sign stealing tandem. In August 1922 the Washington Post reported: “Danny Murphy has certain clubs in the American League excited because he is stealing the signs of opposing batters. He beat the Indians recently that way.” Murphy had a history of stealing opponent signs. According to Phillip Lowry’s Green Cathederals, in 1910 “Mack had Danny Murphy use opera glasses to steal signs from a building in right center [across the street from Shibe Park] and use a weather vane to signal A’s hitters.”
Murphy was popular with the team, and served as buffer between the players and the often-aloof Mack. “Mack is one of the greatest managers in history, but he is only human and he is getting on in years,” the Sporting News reported. “To his advantage, he has men like Jasper [Harry] Davis and Danny Murphy to make the solidarity nearly complete as possible. Murphy has the personality to keep youth in good humor. He has always captured the young player by his openhearted ways and sympathetic interest. Many a young player, including Eddie Collins, Jack Barry and Stuffy McInnis was aided in his adventures by the kindly-hearted interest Dan showed.” Among the players who credited Murphy with their development was Al Simmons, who would lead Philadelphia to AL pennants from 1929 to 1931, but by then Murphy would be gone. Despite Murphy’s efforts to maintain harmony, the Athletics of the mid-1920s were in turmoil. There was a rift on the team between players from the North and those from the South, some of whom were reportedly Ku Klux Klan members. Writers speculated that Mack, who turned 62 in December, 1924, would step aside. If Murphy had any aspirations to manage the Athletics, they were dashed when Connie’s son Earle replaced Murphy in 1925. Earle, who played five games for the Athletics from 1910 to 1914, was dubbed the heir apparent.
Cut loose before the 1925 season, Murphy reportedly worked as a scout and then caught on as a coach for his old teammate, Stuffy McInnis, with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1927. Stuffy lasted just one season, however, and Murphy went with him, marking the end of his on field baseball career. For a time, Murphy ran a hardware store in Newark, NJ. While so engaged, a con man impersonated him in Chicago, but was nabbed on Christmas Eve, 1929. The real Murphy, by then a widower, lived with Catherine’s brother and sisters in Jersey City, NJ, where he worked at the Hudson County Hospital with former major leaguer Art Devlin. He reportedly did some scouting, played in old timers games, spent time hunting and attended wrestling and boxing matches. In 1948, Mack named Little Danny as the right fielder for his All-Time Philadelphia Athletics team, and in 1949, Murphy sat and reminisced with the Tall Tactician at Connie Mack Day in Yankee Stadium.
In the early 1950s Murphy suffered a broken hip, and then a two-year illness. Murphy was living with a niece when he died on November 22, 1955 at the Jersey City Medical Center. He is buried at an unknown location in Norwich.
This biography originally appeared in David Jones, ed., Deadball Stars of the American League (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc., 2006).
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