This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Some people called him Smiler. His daughter said he was known as the Clark Gable of Dallas. Because he came from North Carolina, some called him Tarheel.i George King Murray was a right-handed pitcher from Charlotte and his father, William, was a railwayman.
The Murrays – William and Mary Lee – lived in Charlotte, and George was their second-born. His older brother, Edward, helped welcome him to the family on September 23, 1898. The family later added two daughters, Sarah and Mary. William R. Murray worked for the railroad in 1900 and by 1910 was yardmaster in Charlotte for the Southern Railroad.
George attended the First Ward Elementary School and then Charlotte High and the Charlotte University School, a local prep school. He went on to higher education and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in textile engineering from North Carolina State College in 1921. He was a guard and fullback on the football team, too. He was captain of the baseball team in 1921. That same year he started his professional baseball career, signing with the New York Yankees on June 17. He was assigned on option to the Rochester Colts in the International League, and recorded a 13-7 season with a 3.67 earned-run average. He was officially recalled to the Yankees on September 11.
Murray went to Yankees’ spring training in New Orleans and earned his first subhead in the March 13, 1922, New York Times: “Murray Pitches Well for Hugmen.” He’d thrown five innings, giving up just two hits – a “superb exhibition” by the “husky twirler” (he stood 6-feet-2 and weighed 200 pounds). Other subheads followed, and Murray made the team. When he first appeared, it was in New York against the Chicago White Sox on May 8; he entered the game in relief of Waite Hoyt and earned the win. Five days later, against the visiting Tigers, Murray was hit for three runs in the top of the 13th inning and bore the loss.
On May 17 Murray made his mark, coming on again in relief of Bob Shawkey, this time in the second inning with the Cleveland Indians ahead, 4-0. In the bottom of the second Murray came up to bat with two men on base and homered into the Polo Grounds’ left-field bleachers, making it 4-3. In the sixth inning he hit an even longer drive, but this one was to left-center and stayed in the park, and he had to settle for a triple. Murray didn’t allow another Cleveland run, and the Yankees won the game, 6-4. Murray finished the season 3-2 (3.97 ERA), starting two games and appearing in 22 contests, closing out the game in 13 of them. Though eligible, he did not appear in the World Series against the Giants.
Yankee Stadium opened in 1923, but Murray first pitched there as a member of the Boston Red Sox. On January 30 the Yanks and Red Sox had executed another in a series of trades, with Boston sending Herb Pennock to New York and receiving Murray in return, along with Norm McMillan, Camp Skinner, and the not-inconsiderable sum of $50,000.
Red Sox owner Harry Frazee was reportedly “delighted” with the deal and said, “Don’t tell Huston or Ruppert I said so, but I think that in Murray alone I got a better player than Pennock.”ii
After a couple of relief outings, Murray got his first start, in Boston on April 28 against the Yankees, and pitched a complete-game 5-3 win on five hits, two of which came in the ninth inning. He was 1-for-3 at the plate. Each of his next starts was a loss, but he still had a 3.16 ERA at this point. By season’s end Murray had started 18 games and appeared in 21 as a reliever, throwing 177? innings. He was upside-down in strikeouts to walks, granting 87 bases on balls while striking out 40. That, plus the 190 base hits off him, saw him with a WHIP (walked plus hits per innings pitched) of 1.559 and helped lead to a 4.91 earned-run average for the season.
Lee Fohl replaced Frank Chance as manager of the Red Sox in 1924. The team trained in San Antonio, and news stories of the day referred to Murray as one of the established players on the staff, despite his being just 25 with just a couple of years of major-league time. There was some optimism approaching the regular season; a Boston Globe headline read “Red Sox Have Men and Spirit to Climb Out of the Cellar.” Murray was an “older pitcher.”iii
Again, Murray relieved in 21 games but in 1924 he was asked to start only seven games, dispersed as spot starts throughout the season. His first appearance didn’t come until May 31, because of a broken foot he’d suffered in spring training, and he was hammered in the one-third of an inning he pitched, tagged for five runs on three hits and a walk in the first inning by the Washington Senators, and losing the game, 12-0. He improved on that initial 108.00 ERA, but lost his first six decisions before winning a game against the Browns on July 11 while throwing 6? innings in relief of starter Jack Quinn.
Murray won two games in 1924 but lost nine (he was 1-6 in the starting role), with a 6.72 ERA. He’d brought down the bases on balls to 32 against 27 strikeouts, but pitched less than half the number of innings: 80?. He later let it be understood that his mother had died during the 1924 season and that caused his work to suffer.iv
Murray pitched for the Mobile Bears of the Southern Association in 1925. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but a late December piece in the Globe had seen the “probability” that Murray (and Jack Quinn and Bill Piercy) would not be brought back to Boston.v On January 20 he was unconditionally released to Mobile. Piercy and Murray had both come to New York in the Pennock trade and “Like Piercy, Murray, at times looked like a prospect worth while. Last season, this pair was given what Pres Quinn and Manager Lee Fohl considered a thorough trying out, and it was decided that neither of them would ever develop into the kind of boxmen that are wanted on the Boston club, and so they were turned loose.”vi
There was a little payback during an April 2 exhibition game in Mobile, when Murray and the Bears beat the Red Sox, 5-4. “Sox, Helpless While Facing Discard Murray, Lose” read a headline in the next day’s Boston Globe. He’d held them to three hits in the five innings he pitched.
In two seasons for Mobile, Murray was 10-9 (4.24) in 1925 and 11-11 (4.06) in 1926. He’d also gotten married, in January 1926, to Miss Martha Powell.
Murray pitched well enough for Mobile in ’26 that after he won nine games in his first 15 starts, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith paid $8,000 to Mobile on July 23 to purchase Murray’s contract.vii He started in all 12 of the games he pitched from August 2 through the end of the season, five of them complete games. His best was against Boston, a 5-1 win on September 3 at Fenway Park. He was 6-3 for Washington but with a 5.64 ERA. Murray began the 1927 season with the Senators and won against the Red Sox on April 21. It was his one win. He lost a game to the St. Louis Browns on May 8 and then pitched only sporadically, just seven times through June 5. His ERA was 7.00, and on June 14 the Washington club sold his contract to the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association.
But Murray was less than enthusiastic about the venue and let it be known. “The former hurler objected to the deal, saying that his former experiences in the Dixie heat were sufficient, and rather than argue with Murray, the New Orleans club simply called off the deal.”viii Washington found another willing taker in the Kansas City Blues. Murray pitched for the Blues in the rest of 1927 (6-5, 4.59) and again in 1928 (11-7, with a 3.96 ERA.) He didn’t play baseball in 1929.
On May 29, 1930, Murray’s contract was sold to the Dallas Steers of the Texas League.ix In Dallas he enjoyed his best years. In his first season, 1930, he had a 14-12 year with a 4.35 ERA for a last-place team in the eight-team Class A league. Under new manager Hap Morse, the Steers climbed to fourth place in the league in 1931, helped in large part by Murray’s 20 wins. He was 20-17 with a very good 3.07 ERA.
After the 1931 season Murray took up work in the East Texas oil fields, but that work consisted at least in part in playing baseball and he picked up a little extra cash working for Hap Morse’s all-star team which played some dates in Mexico.x
Murray had an even better year in 1932, 24-15 with a 2.86 ERA. One of his more notable wins came in Beaumont late in the season, on September 4. He didn’t have his best stuff on the mound, but he hit a homer, a double, and two singles and scored three runs in a 6-4 victory, his 23rd of the season. Dallas won the second-half championship and placed second in the league standings, then was swept in three games by Beaumont in the playoff. Murray was one of the three pitchers named to the league All-Star team.
On January 12, 1933, Dallas sold Murray’s contract to the Chicago White Sox for cash and two pitchers. He was purchased on a conditional deal, with the White Sox reserving the right to return him before the May 15 cutdown date. Still, six years after he’d last played in the majors, Murray was back in the big leagues. He said he wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of having another shot. “If they send me a contract calling for six bits, I’m going to sign. You watch my smoke next summer. I know it’s my last chance and, if bearing down and trying will turn the trick, I’ll make the grade.”xi He also claimed that he was not born in 1898, but in 1902, saying that when the Yankees signed him out of college “I was so young and green that I was afraid to give my right age.” This would have meant he was a college graduate at age 18, however, a fairly unlikely situation. For some time, Murray was in the record books as born in 1899, but after his death his daughter wrote Joe Simenic at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, stating that he had truly been born in 1898.xii
On April 28 in Cleveland, Murray came on and threw the last two innings of a game against the Indians. The score was 3-1 in Cleveland’s favor when he entered the game. He gave up two runs, and the White Sox never scored again. On May 1, again facing the Tribe, he pitched a third of an inning and retired the one batter he faced. Those were the only two appearances he had – no decisions, and a 7.71 ERA. At cutdown time, Chicago took advantage of the terms of the deal with Dallas and returned him. On May 29 the Boston Braves took title to Murray, agreeing to pay Dallas the balance of what the White Sox would have paid.
He wound up pitching for the Minneapolis Millers (7-5, 6.29) in the rest of 1933. In 1934 Murray began with the Millers but most of the time worked for Birmingham (10-13, with a 3.72 earned-run average). In 1935 and 1936 he pitched for multiple teams as well. In 1935 it was Birmingham (0-2) and then Dallas and Oklahoma City (4-10, despite a good 3.39 ERA). In 1936 it was Rochester and Toronto (13-8 combined, with a 5.38 ERA). And it in 1937 Murray pitched in the Pacific Coast League, 6-3 for Sacramento – again with a high ERA, this time 6.00.
Murray’s final two seasons were 1938 for Savannah and 1939 starting with Savannah, then pitching some for Spartanburg and for Winston-Salem. He was 3-2 in 69 innings in 1938, and a combined 8-15 in 177 innings at age 40 in 1939. His final minor-league totals showed 160 wins against 143 losses with an overall 3.90 ERA (though not every year shows complete ERA statistics).
Murray’s daughter said he umpired for several years after finishing his playing career. His main work after baseball was with the Wray Williams Blueprint Company in Memphis, where he worked in the photo department. He died of a heart attack in Memphis on October 18, 1955.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Murray’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
i All three nicknames come from the George Murray player questionnaire completed by his daughter Dabney Stuart Murray Milner and returned to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
ii Boston Globe, February 3, 1923.
iii Boston Globe, April 13, 1924.
iv The Sporting News, January 19, 1933.
v Boston Globe, December 28, 1924.
vi Boston Globe, January 21, 1925.
vii Washington Post, July 24, 1926.
viii Washington Post, June 16, 1927.
ix San Antonio Express, May 30, 1930.
x Galveston Daily News, November 1, 1931.
xi The Sporting News, January 19, 1933
xii Letter from Dabney Murray Milner to Joe Simenic dated September 23, 1970, and kept in Murray’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.