Tom Murphy (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Tom Murphy

This article was written by John S. Murphy

Tom Murphy (THE TOPPS COMPANY)Right-hander Tom Murphy pitched parts of 12 years (1968 to 1979) in the major leagues with six teams and enjoyed his greatest success with the California Angels and Milwaukee Brewers. Initially a starter when he broke in with California, he spent the second half of his career in the bullpen. Overall, Murphy won 68 games and saved 59.

Thomas Andrew Murphy and his identical twin brother, Roger, were born on December 30, 1945, in Cleveland. Their parents, Herbert R. and Josephine “Sophie” Murphy, lived in Euclid, a suburb just east of Cleveland.

Herbert had a lengthy career in the shipping department of Dill Manufacturing, a maker of tire valve stems and repair kits for inner tubes.1 In 1961 Eaton Corporation purchased Dill Manufacturing and three years later moved the business from Cleveland to Roxboro, North Carolina.2 The Murphys, however, stayed in Euclid.

One could speculate that there was baseball DNA in the Murphy brothers’ Irish-Slovenian heritage. As a kid, Sophie had played fast-pitch softball and was the catcher on a traveling team. Herbert played center field on local sandlot teams in his youth. Tom and Roger’s great-uncle, Buttons Briggs, pitched five seasons (1896-1898 and 1904-05) with the Chicago National League franchise, known variously as the Colts, Orphans, and Cubs.3

Tom and Roger played Little League baseball when they were 9 years old. They were “probably slightly above average but by no stretch of the imagination were we the top dogs of our team,” said Tom in an interview with the author. The boys were skinny as kids, even when they were playing Pony League ball. A growth spurt in high school put Tom on track to be listed at 6-feet-3 and 185 pounds.

Every summer, the boys’ father, Herbert, would get tickets to a game or two, and they became fans of the Cleveland Indians. Among Tom’s favorite players was a pitcher who, as luck would have it, would later become his pitching coach and manager – Bob Lemon.

At Euclid High School, Tom lettered in baseball, basketball, and cross-country.4 As a 1963 senior, he led the Panthers to the Ohio State baseball championship. The Panthers were coached by Bob Addis, a big-league outfielder for four seasons (1950-53) with the Braves, Cubs, and Pirates.5 Addis was a tough-as-nails coach who demanded much from his players but delighted in their successes. His players respected him and long after graduating would visit him when they were in town.

Murphy was a hard-throwing right-hander. On the march to the 1963 title, he won five of Euclid’s six tournament games: two in the district playoffs, two regionals, and the 8-4 victory over Lima (Ohio) in the championship game.6

He finished with a 10-2 record for a Panther team that went 25-3. Cleveland Plain Dealer sports columnist James E. Doyle dubbed Murphy “the iron boy of the mound.”7

After winning the championship, Tom and a teammate, shortstop Berke Reichenbach, were selected to play in the East-West All-Star baseball game in Columbus. Tom closed out an outstanding prep baseball career by pitching the East to a complete-game 1-0 victory.8

Given his high-school success, Tom could have gone to any number of colleges. He chose Ohio University in Athens to play for legendary coach Bob Wren. (When Wren retired in 1975, his teams had won 11 Mid-American Conference baseball championships, and a remarkable 54 players, including Murphy, had signed professional contracts under his tutelage.9)

Tom had no trouble transitioning to college baseball. As a sophomore he posted a record of 10-0 and was named to the All Mid-American Conference team. The following year he went 6-1, fanning 94 batters in 69 innings, and again was named to the All Mid-American squad. He was also selected for a team representing the United States at the World Amateur Baseball Tournament in Hawaii in August 1966.

Tom had great success in the offseason summer months. In 1965 he went 9-4 for the Bloomington Bobcats of the Central Illinois Collegiate League. He led the circuit with 10 complete games and was second in ERA (1.68) and strikeouts (94). The following year he went 11-1 and led the league with a 1.68 ERA, 11 complete games, 3 shutouts, 93 strikeouts, and 102 innings pitched.10 He was a unanimous league all-star choice both years.11

At the end of his sophomore year, Murphy was drafted in the 18th round by the Houston Astros in June 1965, but he rejected the offer because there was not enough money in it to offset his desire to finish his college education.12 The following year he was the fourth-round pick of the San Francisco Giants, but once again he decided not to sign. The Giants wanted him to change his delivery to a more overhand motion. Having just gone 16-1 at Ohio University, Murphy objected.13

Midway through his senior year, Murphy was taken by the Angels as the sixth pick in the first round of the 1967 January secondary draft. He was signed by Nick Kamzic and Carl Ackerman, who proposed a plan to satisfy his desire to finish college. The Angels flew Murphy from Ohio to spring training in California, then to wherever the Quad Cities (Iowa) Angels of the Class A Midwest League were playing on weekends.14

Just as Murphy was starting his pro baseball career, his twin brother, Roger, who had set records at Northwestern University as a walk-on wide receiver, began his pro football career with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.15

Murphy made his professional debut against the Wisconsin Rapids Twins on May 5, 1967, and notched his first win, 4-2, to the delight of manager Fred Koenig.16 In six starts, he went 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA.

In June Murphy advanced to the Seattle Angels of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He struggled there, going 0-4 with a 3.98 ERA over 43 innings in nine appearances (five starts). On July 26 the Angels sent him to the El Paso Sun Kings in the Double-A Texas League.17

Murphy was in El Paso not only to gain experience, but also to establish Texas residency for entrance into a local Army Reserve unit. With the Sun Kings, he completed six of eight starts, including one shutout, and finished with a 2-5 record and a 2.76 ERA.

Murphy began the 1968 season with Seattle, but he did not remain there long.18 On May 27 he returned to El Paso for two starts before the Angels promoted him to the majors on June 8. With California, he worked under pitching coach Lemon, his favorite player as a kid.

Murphy made his major-league debut on Thursday, June 13, 1968, at Fenway Park in Boston. He allowed two runs on four hits in six innings with seven strikeouts. He left the game trailing the Red Sox 2-1, but the Angels scored three times in the eighth to rally to a 4-2 victory. Five nights later in Anaheim, Murphy went the distance against the New York Yankees to earn his first win, 3-1. He allowed four hits and one run, walked four and struck out five.

A highlight for Murphy was facing Mickey Mantle for the first time. “Do you realize how much I used to get for his baseball card?” he said in an interview with John Wiebusch of The Sporting News. “A whole team, that’s how much. You can’t imagine what a thrill it was to face him.” Murphy got Mantle to hit into an inning-ending double play and struck him out the next time he came to the plate.19

One of Murphy’s gutsiest performances came against his hometown team on July 16. In a three-hitter, he threw only 89 pitches, walked one, and struck out five against the Indians. Manager Bill Rigney pulled him after nine innings with the game tied. Cleveland scored the winning run in the 10th.

Murphy’s season ended on August 20 when he reported to Army basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey, for six months of active-duty military service. In 15 starts, he was 5-6 with a 2.17 ERA. Murphy and roommates Andy Messersmith and Jim McGlothlin – collectively dubbed the M-Squad – posted a collective ERA of 2.92, significantly better than the rest of the pitching staff’s 3.62.20

Rigney was optimistic about the coming year. “When you talk about Murphy, Messersmith, and McGlothlin, you’re talking about guys in their early 20s who haven’t come close to reaching their potential,” he told Wiebusch of The Sporting News.21

In late September 1968, Dick Walsh was named the Angels’ new general manager, and Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach Lefty Phillips was named director of player personnel. Walsh, seeking trades to add power to the lineup emphasized that no one was immune from being traded, including the M-Squad.22

Rigney’s optimism was short-lived as the 1969 Angels won just 11 of their first 39 games. On May 27 Phillips replaced Rigney as manager. By the end of July, the Angels were on pace to lose 100 games. California finished the season 71-91, 26 games behind the Minnesota Twins.

The year was also not kind to Murphy. He struggled with control throughout the campaign, throwing a league-leading 16 wild pitches and hitting a major-league-leading 21 batters. He completed only four of his 35 starts and finished 10-16. Phillips claimed that Murphy was not keeping his arm up while releasing his curveball. “It’s much the same problem Don Drysdale has had over the years,” the manager said in a late-season interview. “When Tom starts bending his arm, he falls into the bad habit, and that’s what he’s doing now.”23

After the season the Angels sent McGlothlin and rookie hurlers Pedro Borbón and Vern Geishert to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Alex Johnson and infielder Chico Ruiz. Johnson had hit .312 in 1968 and .315 in ’69 with 17 homers and 88 RBIs. His was the big bat the Angels were seeking.24

More trades followed, and only 13 members of the ’69 Angels were still on the team when the club assembled for spring training 1970.25 After they ended a lackluster exhibition season with a thud when the Los Angeles Dodgers swept them in the preseason Freeway Series, Phillips sensed that his frustrated team was resolved to turn things around.

The bats came alive In Milwaukee and Kansas City to start the season. The Angels went 5-0 in the first week and scored 42 runs in a dazzling display of power.26 By the All-Star break, California was 18 games ahead of its’69 pace and Murphy, after a four-game personal winning streak, was 10-6 to match his victory total from the previous season.27

The second half of the season was a completely different story. Messersmith and Jim Spencer, a .327 hitter, sustained injuries in August; Ken McMullen went into a hitting slump; and run production plummeted. The Angels, three games behind Minnesota on September 4, were 11 games behind a week later as they fell into a nine-game losing streak. So swift was the demise of the Angels that one sportswriter datelined his story, “Aboard the SS Titanic.”28

Murphy enjoyed a highlight on September 21 against the Milwaukee Brewers. He picked up his 15th win, 7-6, and hit the only home run of his career, a solo shot to deep left field. “Looking back, I now realize I ran the bases way too fast,” he said with a laugh.29 The Angels finished the season 12 games behind the Twins, and Murphy completed his second full season with a 16-13 record. “I feel I have a real chance to win 20 games next season,” he told The Sporting News.30

On July 4, 1971, Murphy played his best professional game but lost 2-1 to the Oakland Athletics. He entered the contest with a 4-10 record to face red-hot Vida Blue, already 16-3 on his way to the Cy Young and MVP Awards. Both pitched complete games; Murphy gave up five hits and Blue scattered nine – two by Murphy, including an RBI double. Unfortunately for Murphy, solo homers by Mike Epstein and Joe Rudi proved decisive.

The Angels scored 120 fewer runs in 1971, and Murphy went 6-17 in 36 starts. California scored a total of 11 runs in his 17 defeats. Lefty Phillips was let go, and owner Gene Autry recruited Harry Dalton, the Baltimore Orioles’ director of player development, to be his new GM.

Murphy’s role changed in 1972, as the Angels had acquired Nolan Ryan and three other players for shortstop Jim Fregosi. Murphy was put in the bullpen and found it hard to get innings. He was traded on May 5, 1972, to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder-first baseman Bob Oliver.31 Murphy was devastated, mainly because he loved living the body-surfing beach-boy lifestyle he had enjoyed in California.32

On a positive note, the trade reunited him with Bob Lemon, who was managing the Royals. But Murphy arrived in Kansas City as the 13th pitcher on a 25-man roster. He knew getting regular work would be tough.

After three relief appearances, Murphy was moved into the starting rotation. His record was 3-1 when Lemon sent him to Omaha in the Triple-A American Association to get additional work. At Omaha he went 4-6 with a 2.61 ERA, including a no-hitter against the Indianapolis Indians on August 25. He was called back up to Kansas City in September.33 Despite pitching one shutout, he returned to the bullpen for the rest of the season. At season’s end, Murphy had appeared in 18 games (nine starts) and posted a 4-4 record with an ERA of 3.07 for the Royals.34

Murphy started the 1973 season with Omaha. Fred Koenig, his manager back at Quad Cities in 1967, was now the St. Louis Cardinals’ director of player development and was interested in Murphy. On May 8, shortly after Murphy faced the Cardinals’ affiliate, he was traded to St. Louis for Al Santorini. “I pitched seven innings of shutout ball and landed in St. Louis the end of the next week,” he said in a radio interview.35

The Cardinals were 5-20 when Murphy joined them in San Francisco, but they built a three-game NL East lead by September 5 before finishing a game and a half behind the Mets. His first Cardinals win was a complete game against Pittsburgh on July 4. He wound up 3-7 with a 3.76 ERA in his only season with St. Louis. On December 8 he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for utility infielder Bob Heise.

In spring training 1974, Brewers manager Del Crandall made Murphy a full-time relief pitcher. The Brewers had had problems with short relief in 1973, losing 33 games in the last three innings. Something had to be done.

Pitching coach Al Widmar made a dramatic impact on Murphy’s career. He noticed that Murphy’s arm was getting out in front of his body, putting a lot of stress on his arm. Widmar encouraged him to throw the ball more like a second baseman turning a double play. “Get that arm up and get on top of it every time,” Widmar said. The two worked together that spring, and Murphy had his best year in 1974.

Murphy finished second in the American League with 20 saves and had 10 wins against 10 losses and a 1.90 ERA. He appeared in 70 games and led the American League with 66 games finished and 123 innings in relief. He finished just one point behind the White Sox’ Terry Forster for the AL’s Fireman of the Year Award.

Expectations were high heading into 1975. Lou Chapman in The Sporting News heralded Murphy as “one of the best relievers in baseball.”36 Murphy managed to put up another 20 saves, but his ERA swelled to 4.60 with a 1-9 record. Shoulder stiffness and pain plagued him throughout the season. He was placed on the 21-day disabled list in July and missed five weeks. The Brewers finished 28 games behind the Red Sox.

Murphy got little work in the first two months of 1976. On June 3 he was traded to the Red Sox with outfielder Bobby Darwin for Bernie Carbo, famous for his clutch home runs in the 1975 World Series. Before the deal, Murphy was 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in 18⅓ innings, mostly in a mop-up role.

In Boston Murphy shared relief duties with Jim Willoughby. Murphy was roughed up in his second outing. Against Oakland, he walked two batters, allowed two hits, and was charged with his second loss of the season. His arm was hurt, and the pain contributed to his inability to get batters out consistently. He righted himself for the duration of the season and finished 4-5 with eight saves for Boston. His 81 relief innings ranked third on the club to Willoughby and swingman Reggie Cleveland. The Red Sox finished in third place, 15½ games behind the Yankees.

The 1977 season was a depressing time for Murphy. He was not getting the work he needed to stay sharp as manager Don Zimmer relegated him to mop-up duty. When he was waived in July, his ERA was 6.75, and he had pitched only 30⅔ innings in 16 appearances. The Toronto Blue Jays picked him up on July 27.

In going to Toronto, Murphy went from a pennant contender with a rich baseball history to a last-place expansion team. He remained with the Blue Jays until he was released on May 12, 1979, going 9-12 with nine saves and a 4.00 ERA in 164⅓ innings while battling a sore arm.

Murphy’s 12-season career ended with 68 wins, 59 saves, and 1,444 innings pitched, including three consecutive seasons with at least 200 innings. Though finished with the major leagues, he would not quit baseball. He pitched for the St. Lucie Legends in the Senior Professional Baseball Association in Florida in 1989. Back in Los Angeles, he played in hardball leagues until he was 59 years old.

Perhaps anticipating life after baseball, Murphy had obtained a California real estate broker’s license earlier in his career. Two players who’d retired a couple years before him – Bob Spence and Bill Melton of the White Sox – helped Murphy get into commercial real estate. Spence, a partner at Frost Spence Trinen, hired Murphy in April 1980 and mentored him during the transition into the business world.

“After about three years of really hard times, I became more confident and established as a specialist in high-rise office leasing in Orange County,” Murphy said in an interview with the author. He worked for some of the largest office developers and asset management firms. His niche was commercial office projects in excess of a million square feet.

Murphy eventually transitioned to corporate relocation, helping companies move into larger corporate facilities both at home and abroad. He oversaw the process from finding alternative space to negotiating business terms. He worked in corporate relocation until he retired in 2013.

The real estate business was rewarding for Murphy, but he has derived much more satisfaction from his 25 years of charity work with the Orange County Youth Sports Foundation. Founded in 1971, the group funds sports programs and activities for at-risk and less fortunate youth in Orange County, California.

The foundation awards scholarships and grants to scholar athletes and provides financial resources to other tax-exempt youth sports organizations. Murphy is a past president of the foundation.

“This has been a fabulous organization to be involved with over the last many years,” Murphy said. As of 2021 he also volunteered with Meals on Wheels and Hospice, but readily admitted, “Orange County Youth Sports Foundation is really where my heart is.”37

In 1972 Murphy married Danni Crews and they had two children, Erin, who was born in ’76 and Conor, in ’79. Danni traveled with him for many years, and they made their winter home in California. Though they divorced in 1992, they remained friends. As of 2021, Murphy had two grandsons, ages 5 and 7.

In 2000 Murphy married Kriss Masolini, who had two sons from a previous marriage, Giacomo, who has since passed away, and Matt, who as of 2021 lives with Tom and Kriss in Southern California. After working in banking for several years, Kriss returned to school and earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, specializing in treating trauma patients who have succumbed to addiction. She has a private practice in Laguna Hills, California.

In 2007 Murphy was inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.

In an interview with the author, Murphy expressed gratitude for having had the opportunity to be a teammate and friends with some of the great Hall of Fame players of the era, such as Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Bob Gibson, and Robin Yount. He also enjoyed lasting friendships with owners Gene Autry and Bud Selig; broadcasters Dick Enberg, Bob Uecker, and Dick Stockton; and a host of other friends and teammates.

In 2015 Murphy and a few of his teammates from Euclid High School traveled to Cleveland to see his high-school basketball coach, Harold “Doc” Daugherty, and Bob Addis, former baseball coach at Euclid, who was then 89 years old. It was not the first time Tom made such a trip. When reunions, banquets, and golf outings brought him to Cleveland, he carved out time to visit his early mentors – each visit an act of kindness. Addis died the following year.

Though Tom Murphy played with some of baseball’s greatest stars, he never forgot the coaches who helped shape him into a champion decades before in Euclid, Ohio.

Last revised: June 9, 2021

 

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Tom Murphy (interview with John S. Murphy, February 8, 2021)

The author is not related to Tom Murphy.

This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and Len Levin and fact-checked by Don Zminda.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and Murphy’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

 

Notes

1 Euclid, Ohio, City Directories, 1947-1963.

2 https://www.tirebusiness.com/news/dill-air-controls-celebrates-110th-anniversary (last accessed April 11, 2021).

3 Author interview with Tom Murphy on February 8, 2021.

4 William J. Weiss, Baseball Publicist Player Questionnaire, June 5, 1967, via Ancestry.com.

5 Edward Chay, “Euclid and Niles Score Victories, Clash for Title,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 17, 1963: 36.

6 Edward Chay, “Euclid Nine Wins,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 26, 1963: 54.

7 James E. Doyle, “The Sport Trail,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 28, 1963: 29.

8 Edward Chay, “6 Named to Ohio All-Stars,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 4, 1963: 34.

9 https://www.ohio.edu/athens/bldgs/wren.html (last accessed April 11, 2021).

10 Thomas A. Murphy clipping from file at National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, 1973.

11 Weiss Questionnaire.

12 John Wiebusch, “Rainmaker Murphy Likes Life as Angel,” The Sporting News, July 28, 1968: 22.

13 “Tom Murphy,” Interview by Dave O., 2014, https://clubhouseconversation.com/2014/12/tom-murphy/ (Hereafter Murphy-Dave. O. interview. Last accessed April 11, 2021).

14 Wiebusch, “Rainmaker.”

15 Author interview with Murphy.

16 “Class A Highlights,” The Sporting News, May 20, 1967: 42.

17 Thomas A. Murphy Player Contract Card.

18 “Deals of the Week,” The Sporting News, April 14, 1968: 43.

19 Wiebusch, “Rainmaker.”

20 John Wiebusch, “Angels Coo Over Their Cherub Chuckers,” The Sporting News, August 24, 1968: 19.

21 John Wiebusch, “M-Squad Rescues Faltering Angels,” The Sporting News, October 12, 1968: 12.

22 “Two Big Deals Cooking Under New GM Walsh,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1968: 45.

23 John Wiebusch, “Angels Slip, Slide, Land in Quicksand,” The Sporting News, August 23, 1969: 22.

24 John Wiebusch, “Angels Get Sock In Alex Johnson,” The Sporting News, December 6, 1969: 56.

25 “California,” The Sporting News, January 10, 1970: 6.

26 John Wiebusch, “Spring Flop Proves Angel ‘Blessing in Disguise,’” The Sporting News, May 2, 1970: 5.

27 “Angels Angles,” The Sporting News, July 25, 1970: 6.

28 Ross Newhan, “Angel Swoon Spurs Rebuke by Phillips,” The Sporting News, September 26, 1970: 19.

29 Author interview with Murphy.

30 Ross Newhan, “Murphy Eyes Plus Side of Angel Ledger,” The Sporting News, October 31, 1970: 45.

31 “Royals Obtain Angel Murphy,” The Sporting News, May 20, 1972: 4.

32 Murphy-Dave O. interview.

33 Bob Williams, “Murphy Masters Control, Indy,” The Sporting News, September 9, 1972: 40.

34 Thomas A. Murphy Player Contract Card.

35 Murphy-Dave O. interview.

36 Lou Chapman, “More Blue-Ribbon Relief, Murphy Tells Brewers,” The Sporting News, March 1, 1975: 36.

37 Author interview with Murphy.

Full Name

Thomas Andrew Murphy

Born

December 30, 1945 at Cleveland, OH (USA)

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