Matt Murray

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Matt MurrayMatt Murray spent seven seasons working his way up through the minor leagues, finally making it to the majors in 1995 — when he pitched briefly for two first-place teams, the Atlanta Braves and the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox were swept in the Division Series by the Cleveland Indians, who went on to face the Braves in the 1995 World Series. The Braves won that year’s Series, four games to two. Murray watched the games on TV. 

A native of the City of Boston, Matthew Michael Murray was born there, in the Dorchester section, on September 26, 1970. In a 2019 interview, Murray said, “We lived in Mattapan my first couple of years and then we moved to the North Shore. Swampscott. My mother was a property site manager in Salem Heights and my father was in sales. Mostly machine parts, but when he was 40 he went back to college and became a licensed therapist. It was a big change. I had just one brother, Chris. He played football at Colgate in his freshman year but then realized it was a full-time job and decided, ‘I’m just going to be a student.’”

Matt was actually drafted before completing high school, which is typically not permitted. He was a second-round draft selection of the Atlanta Braves in the June 1988 amateur draft, but he had only completed his junior year at Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut, a large prep school. Garry Brown of the Springfield (Massachusetts) Union-News explained: “He actually has another year of prep school to go, but because his original high school class in his native Swampscott graduates this month, he is draft-eligible. Murray may be the only draftee who will have to go back to secondary school to get his diploma after he turns pro.”

Brown wrote that Murray could be “one of the real sleepers in the draft.” Murray threw right-handed, though he batted left. He was already 6-feet-6 when he was drafted and was listed at 200 pounds. Braves scout Paul Ricciarini is credited with recommending Murray. 

Seventeen years old at the time, Murray was assigned to the Pulaski Braves in the rookie-level Appalachian League. He appeared in 13 games (with eight starts), striking out 76 batters in the 54 innings he worked. His record was 2-4 with a 4.17 ERA. 

The 1989 season saw Murray work in Sumter, South Carolina, for the Single-A South Atlantic (Sally) League. He started 12 games and was 3-5 with a 4.33 ERA (the team was 60-81). He also pitched in two Rookie League games that year and was 1-0. 

His third year in pro ball was 1990 — he was still only 19 years old — and he played Single-A ball again, this time in the Midwest League for the Burlington (Iowa) Braves. He had a very good season, 11-7 (3.26) with 134 strikeouts in 163 innings. He started 26 games and completed six of them.

In 1991 Murray appeared in only two games (1-0), for the Durham Bulls of the Class-A+ Carolina League. He didn’t pitch again until 1993. Murray recalled: “1991 opening game, I pitched seven innings and felt a little twinge in my elbow. The next day, I could barely move my arm. It was not torn. Based on the MRI, they thought it was frayed and that I could rehab it. So I rehabbed that entire year and then went to spring training in ’92 and felt it pop. I had the surgery in April of ’92. It was quite an ordeal. Lots of rehab. Lots of downtime.” He had won that opening game, though.

The Braves franchise in the Sally League in 1993 was the Macon Braves. Murray joined them in July on a rehab assignment and stuck; he started 15 games and recorded a superb 1.83 earned-run average. His record was 7-3, and again he struck out almost as many batters (77) as innings he pitched (83⅔). 

In 1994, on his second successive one-year contract, he pitched for two teams — Class A+ Durham, where he was 6-7 with a 3.79 ERA in 15 starts and the Double-A Southern League’s Greenville (South Carolina) Braves. At the higher level, he struggled more; he was 3-4 (5.08) in 12 starts. After the season, Murray was designated for assignment. He was sent to Richmond, and could have been claimed by another team in the December Rule 5 draft, but was not.

In 1995 Murray made the major leagues. In fact, he played for four teams before the season was done. First up were five starts with Greenville; he was 4-0 (with a 1.53 ERA). He was promoted to the Richmond Braves in the Triple-A International League. There, Murray was 10-3 with a 2.78 ERA. Even as the season was just getting underway, and he had won his first two games with Richmond, Braves manager Bobby Cox suggested that Murray might be in line for a September call-up. “All that waiting has paid off,” Cox said. “We’ve been waiting on him for three or four years.”

On August 11 pitcher Steve Bedrosian announced his retirement. The Braves brought up Murray to take Bedrosian’s place on the roster. He was excited about the opportunity. He admitted that he had considered quitting baseball when faced with the elbow surgery. “I really thought about it,” he said, “but my family wouldn’t let me.” He said, “It’s been a long road. It’s the pinnacle of something I started out to do a long time ago. It’s really a matter of saying, ‘I deserve to be here and believing it.’”

Matt recalled when he had nearly packed it in. That was ’94. “I played in Low-A ball in ’93, rehabbing, and had some success. In ’94 I went back to Durham, where I had been three years prior to that, and I gave up 20 home runs in the first half! What do I do? I was at a crossroads. I’m 24 and I can’t get anybody out in A ball. I spoke to my manager, Matt West, and my pitching coach, Bill Slack. They gave me some great advice — to concentrate on the progress I was making. I was trying to be perfect. A lot of my former teammates were in the major leagues — Mark Wohlers, Javy Lopez, and all those guys. They taught me that the ink was dry on the last pitch and to look forward. I asked my wife, “Should I come home, and go to work?” She said, ‘No, this is your dream. You’ve got to keep going.’ I had a good support system from my coaches and my family.”

Murray debuted in the major leagues the night after his recall, August 12, coming into a home game. The Rockies led the Braves, 5-2, after five innings. Murray retired the first three batters he faced, retiring the side in the sixth. But in the seventh, he walked the first batter, gave up a single, and then surrendered a three-run homer to Larry Walker. He got the next three batters, but was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh. 

The Marlins came to Atlanta and just two days later, Murray got a start. He pitched 4⅔ innings, but with two outs and two baserunners in the top of the fifth, he was replaced by reliever Brad Clontz, who gave up back-to-back singles, allowing both inherited runners to score and thus adding two earned runs to Murray’s line.

On the 19th in St. Louis, he worked two innings, giving up a solo home run to Scott Hemond.  

On August 29, back in Atlanta, the Astros and Braves were tied, 9-9, after 11 innings. Murray pitched a scoreless top of the 12th, but in the 13th gave up a solo home run to Houston’s Tony Eusebio. A double and a stolen base, with a suicide-squeeze sacrifice bunt, scored another run. It was his fourth and final outing for the Atlanta Braves.  

As the Braves began to consider their postseason roster, they had added Mike Devereaux near the end of August and there was some thought that they might keep the veteran Rod Nichols, sending Murray back to Triple A. As it happens, they sent Murray to the American League instead.

“I had been in the Braves organization my whole career,” Murray recalled. “John Schuerholz brought me in the office and said, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. What do you want first?’ I said, ‘Give me the bad news.’ ‘The bad news is you’re no longer a Brave.’ Oh, man. ‘What’s the good news?’ ‘The good news is you’re going home.’ Just for a split-second, I thought, ‘Are they releasing me? That’s good news?’ He could tell I was confused, and he said, ‘We traded you to the Boston Red Sox.’” 

Matt’s family still lived in Swampscott. He’d been a Red Sox fan growing up, 16 when the Red Sox and Mets squared off in the 1986 World Series. Little did he know he would later become a teammate of Roger Clemens.

“It was bittersweet,” he said. He’d been with the Braves organization for a long time. “And we were having a pretty good year! But I got traded to the Red Sox and it was just a whirlwind. My family. Friends. Tickets. They [Red Sox] had their roster pretty much set. Once they clinched, they had their playoff roster to set up, so I only pitched twice. Once in relief in Yankee Stadium, and then I got to start in Fenway Park. If I could pick two places where I would want to pitch. …”

On August 31 Murray was the player to be named later, sent to the Red Sox to complete a trade made at the July 31 trading deadline, when the Sox also acquired Mike Stanton. Braves GM Schuerholz then acquired veteran pitcher Alejandro Peña, optioning Terrell Wade to Richmond and outrighting Rod Nichols. Murray was out of options, so rather than release him, they dealt him to Boston. The Red Sox sent two minor-league prospects to the Braves as well, RHP Michael Jacobs and outfielder Marc Lewis.

Murray left one first-place team for another; the Red Sox held a 14-game lead over the second-place New York Yankees in the American League East. The Braves had a 14½-game lead over the second-place Phillies. 

GM Dan Duquette of the Red Sox had begun to make some moves, too, designating Juan Bell for assignment and bringing outfielder Matt Stairs back up. Lee Tinsley was put on the 15-day DL. Pitcher Vaughn Eshelman was complaining of some left-shoulder stiffness, according to manager Kevin Kennedy. Early in September, Boston had six players on the 15-day disabled list.

Murray appeared in only two games for the Red Sox. On September 8, at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees scored five runs off starter Tim Wakefield in the first two innings. Wakefield settled down and didn’t allow a hit for the next four innings, but with New York holding a 5-0 lead after 6½ innings, Kennedy gave the ball to Murray. He faced only four batters and they all reached base. Randy Velarde walked. Wade Boggs doubled Velarde in. Bernie Williams singled, Boggs taking third, and then Paul O’Neill doubled to right field, scoring Boggs and Williams. Brian Bark took over for Murray. 

On September 25 the Detroit Tigers were visiting Fenway Park and Bostonians got their chance to see the Boston-born Murray, who was given the starting assignment, a last-minute replacement for Erik Hanson. He set down the side in the first inning. He gave up a couple of hits, but no runs, in the top of the second, then saw the Red Sox put up a run on the board in the bottom of the inning. In the top of the third, he walked the first batter on five pitches, but then saw the next two batters reach base on errors by right fielder Stairs and shortstop John Valentin. The bases were loaded, with nobody out. Chris Gomez singled, tying the game at 1-1. But then Travis Fryman swung at the first pitch and hit a grand slam down the left-field line. Another base on balls and a single put two more runners on base, but a double-play ball hit back to Murray himself finally secured the first (and second) outs of the inning. A sixth run scored, though, when Phil Nevin singled weakly to third base. There was a third error behind Murray but it did not affect the scoring.

The Red Sox scored once in the bottom of the third. Kennedy stuck with Murray, but a double, groundout, and another RBI single by Gomez made it 7-2, Tigers, and Ken Ryan was brought in to relieve.

That was the last Murray pitched in the majors. He had been 0-2 (6.75 ERA) for the Braves in 10⅔ innings and 0-1 (18.90) in 3⅓ innings for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox signed Murray for 1996, but outrighted him to Pawtucket on March 22. “I think I pitched twice in spring training for the Red Sox,” he said. The Philadelphia Phillies picked him up off waivers and assigned him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (International League). He fared poorly there, with a record of 1-8 (7.67) in 13 starts. The Phillies let him go, and the Braves noticed — they reacquired him on August 9, sending him to Richmond. In 12 innings (two starts, three relief stints), Murray was 1-2 (6.00).

“I had shoulder surgery at the end of 1996. I hurt my shoulder in spring training that year rushing to get ready to get back to the major leagues with the Phillies. They were pitching-depleted. I battled through that whole year with shoulder issues but then had surgery at the end of the year.  It was terrible. I had pitched two innings in all of spring training, but I pitched six innings my first time with the Phillies. I felt OK. The next one, I think I threw seven innings and then we broke camp. My first game was in Syracuse and it was like 26 degrees. I threw seven innings and started having inflammation. It was just a bad year.”

For the next three seasons, Murray played independent league baseball.

In 1997 he pitched for the Catskill Cougars in the Northeast League. He was 0-3 in six games.  The next two years were in the Atlantic League, with the Newburgh Black Diamonds (5-7, 3.21 in 18 starts) in 1998 and then — his final year in baseball — with the Lehigh Valley Black Diamonds in 1999. (The franchise had moved.) Murray was 3-1 (3.75) in six starts.  

“After the surgery, I just was rehabbing. Trying to get my feet back under me. Get my arm in shape. 

“Catskill. 1997. That was through my agent. I think he had a connection there. My manager was Wally Backman. It was great. He was the best. That was just me trying to get my arm back in shape. The next year, a former teammate of mine was playing in the independent league so I went and joined him. A guy named Earl Steinmetz. 1998. I think that was the first year of the Atlantic League. They were building a stadium but it wasn’t done. They had no home stadium. You talk about going back to minor-league days; we bused every day!

“I went to Taiwan, too. That was ’99. Six months. My arm wasn’t coming back. I was 28 at the time. My daughter was born. Every game in Taiwan was televised and I was watching the replay, watching myself pitch. I pitched okay, seven or eight innings, but I was just watching myself pitch and I said, ‘It’s time to call it quits.’ Terrible. I called my agent that night and said, ‘Just get me home. I want to play one more time back in the States.’ So he called the Black Diamonds and they had a spot open. I went back there. Got to play in Nashua, New Hampshire, so my family got to see me pitch for the last time. And that was it.”

The Murrays divorced and Matt has not remarried. They had two children, Jackson and Madeline. As of 2019 both Matt and Nikki lived in Calhoun, Georgia, where she was from. “She remarried and lives about a tenth of a mile from me,” Matt said. “We have a good relationship. Our kids are older now — one’s going to be a senior in high school and the other a senior in college. We had such a roller-coaster marriage. We got married in ’95. I started in Double A. Got promoted to Triple A. Promoted to the big leagues. Then traded to Boston. Just a whirlwind in the first couple of years of marriage, but we hung in there. Once real life settled in, we found we had different goals. We get along well. Her husband and I get along. I said, “From now on, we’re business partners and our job is to raise our two kids as best we can.”

After baseball, “I left and I started working for Mohawk Industries, a flooring manufacturer. I lived in Calhoun, Georgia. That’s where Mohawk’s corporate headquarters is. My next-door neighbor — her sister was there. I was still unsure if I really wanted to quit and I was having a conversation with my neighbor. Her sister asked, ‘Are you still playing baseball?’ I said, ‘I’m not sure.’ She said, ‘Well, I need a salesperson. Today. I had a salesperson quit yesterday.’ I said, ‘I don’t know anything about carpet.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll train you.’ The rest is history.

“I started in sales, and then I moved into the Mohawk Home Division. When I got divorced, I didn’t want to have to travel. I had my children every other week. So I moved into product development. Now I’m the product director for the floor-mat division of Mohawk.” 

What was it like, he was asked, to have played for both the 1995 Atlanta Braves and the 1995 Boston Red Sox, both teams that went into the postseason that year? 

“With the Red Sox, we finished the season in Milwaukee. I wasn’t on the playoff roster so I went home. I was in Georgia watching it on TV. It was just one of those surreal things. I thought, ‘Wow, imagine if it was the Red Sox playing the Braves in the World Series.’ 

“After the season, Linda Miller — I think it’s her name — called me and said, ‘Hey, it’s Linda with the Atlanta Braves. I’ve got a question for you.’ I said, ‘OK.’ Because I’d been traded, I didn’t know if it was about insurance or travel or whatever it was. ‘I need your ring size.’ I said, ‘What? Don’t joke with me.’ She said, ‘I’m serious. Ted [Turner] wants everyone who was on the team, anyone involved, to have a World Series ring.’

“I was in Triple A the next year with the Phillies and when we came to Richmond, where the Triple-A affiliate of the Braves was, the GM — who I knew really well — gave me my World Series ring.”

Does it come up sometime when he’s in the business world, that he had played baseball?  Does it help him in some way?

“It really doesn’t. It’s not something that I boast about. I hardly ever wear my World Series ring. I’ve worked with people for six years, and they’ll ask, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ ‘It was a former part of my life.’ ‘You don’t like talking about it?’ ‘I love talking about it, but …’”

The memories are good. Murray had particularly nice words for 1995 Braves manager Bobby Cox: “He treated everybody the same, whether you’re a superstar or a guy like me. He was actually the general manager when I got drafted in ’88. He was just one of the true … truly one of the finest people — not just managers, but one of the finest people I’ve ever met.”

Notes

1 Matt Murray interview with author on May 10, 2019. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations directly attributed to Murray come from this interview.

2 Garry Brown, “John McNamara Falling into Red Sox Managerial Pattern?” Springfield (Massachusetts) Union-News, June 4, 1988: 21. 

3 Garry Brown, “Fenton Reports to L.A. Kings Camp Without a Contract,” Springfield Union-News, September 10, 1988: 6. This article presents Murray’s weight as 200. Murray later added another 40 pounds and is so listed in current databases. 

4 “Transactions,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, November 19, 1994: 48.

5 Bill Zack, “Wohlers Says Mattingly Helped ‘Mental Approach,’” Marietta (Georgia) Journal, May 10, 1995: 18.  

6  They also acquired Luis Polonia on the same day, for minor-league outfielder Troy Hughes.

7 Bill Zack, “Schuerholz Seeks Right-Hand Hitter,” Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle. August 13, 1995: 22.

8 Bill Zack, “New Brave Devereaux Excited About Being with New Ballclub,” Marietta Journal, August 27, 1995: 24. 

This biography appears in Braves Win! Braves Win! Braves Win! The 1995 World Champion Atlanta Braves (SABR, 2020), edited by Tom Hufford and Bill Nowlin. SABR members can download the e—book for free or get 50% off the paperback edition at SABR.org/ebooks.

Full Name

Matthew Michael Murray

Born

September 26, 1970 at Boston, MA (USA)

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