DANNY MURPHY, THE FORGOTTEN BASEBALL GREAT WHO ONCE CALLED NORWICH HOME
He may not be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but the nearly forgotten star baseball player and coach Daniel Francis Murphy lived in Norwich from 1900 through 1919 and was considered to be one of the best players from New England.
As recounted in a new book by former Norwich resident Tom Sullivan, it was during his coaching years that Murphy became known as “The Sherlock Holmes of Baseball,” as his knack for anticipating pitches became legendary.
Born in Philadelphia in August 1876, Murphy moved with his family to Providence, R.I., before relocating to Fall River, Mass. During the 1890s, Danny worked in a mill and played amateur baseball for his mill team before beginning to supplement his income in 1896 with a few dollars by playing once a week for semi-pro teams fielded either by local athletic organizations or businesses. One such organization in North Attleboro also rewarded him with a job in a jewelry factory.
Back in those days, mill and factory workers toiled five and one-half days a week, with Saturday afternoons the only opportunity to play organized baseball due to Sabbath restrictions.
In 1900, Murphy took his baseball talents to Norwich to play for the minor league baseball team the Witches. They won the Connecticut State League championship that year, and Murphy’s talents were considered to be a big part of this achievement.
He was purchased by the major league team the New York Giants in September 1900. He played with the Giants for the remainder of the season and continued during the 1901 season.
However they let him go in July. Living in the city, he had made a lot of friends who shared his Irish ancestry, and his social drinking was affecting his abilities on the field.
He returned to Norwich in the summer 1901 and re-joined the Witches, who had changed their name to the Champs. In 1902, he was recruited by the Philadelphia Athletics, whom he played with for 12 years. He gave the team a heart and soul that made them champions in the World Series in 1910, 1911 and 1913. Also, the Athletics made it to the 1905 and 1914 World Series but fell short of a championship.
Still, Murphy was an important piece that helped bring the Athletics to four World Series.
He set World Series records playing second base and the outfield. He was also an intimidating hitter who brought fear to his opponents.
He played second base until 1908. Then he moved to the outfield (legendary A’s coach Connie Mack named him the top right fielder on the teams he led during 50 seasons). His playing time during the 1913 season was limited because he broke a knee cap. He didn’t play at all during the World Series that year, but served as the team’s captain.
Out of the 1,496 games Murphy played in, he had a .289 batting average and scored 705 runs. He also boasted 289 doubles, 103 triples, 44 home runs and 702 RBIs. He had 193 stolen bases. In 16 World Series games, he had a .305 average with one home run and 12 RBIs.
Murphy’s debut in the big leagues was on Sept. 17, 1900 for the New York Giants. His last game in the pros on July 1, 1915, was for the Brooklyn TipTops, where he played for two seasons.
Everyone who knew Murphy called him Danny. He was a goodhearted and well liked member of all the teams he played for and coached. He was easy going and willingly shared his knowledge of the game.
In 1902, he married a young woman from Norwich, Catherine Moriarty. This became the main reason he stayed in Norwich. He lived here on Spring Street with his wife and her family for 20 years. Murphy and his wife had no children.
After Murphy had settled down with his wife in Norwich, he opened a cafe and a saloon. He also worked with many of the city’s organizations, most notably the Elks Club. The city of Norwich held parades and other events in his honor to show their appreciation. But, sadly, in 1918 his wife Catherine died in the Spanish Flu pandemic. After her passing Murphy re-located and lived with his wife’s siblings in Jersey City.
But his love for the Rose City remained, and he returned to Norwich often. The final time he returned was when he was buried next to his wife in 1955 in Saint Mary’s Cemetery.
When he retired from playing, he managed minor league baseball in New Haven from 1916-1919. He then coached the Philadelphia Athletics from 1920-24 and scouted for them from 1925-26. In 1927, one of Murphy’s mentees, Stuffy Mclnnis, who was managing the Phillies, brought Murphy in to be their head coach.
But in 1928 Murphy retired completely from baseball. However he still openly shared his knowledge of the game with neighborhood kids and amateur baseball teams from Jersey City.
During his coaching years Murphy became known as the Sherlock Holmes of Baseball. He had an uncanny ability to understand an opposing pitcher’s changes in their stance, approach, and every other factor no matter how subtle, and relay what kind of pitch he was expecting to his batter.
Tom Sullivan, the author whose book, “The Sherlock Holmes of Baseball,” came out late last year, said his grandparents lived for several years on Spring Street in Norwich, the same neighborhood where Murphy, his wife and her family had lived.
Sullivan has lived elsewhere for the past 50 years, but his roots in Norwich are deep and he felt that Murphy’s incredible story should be shared with the denizens of Norwich and everyone else. He hopes that anyone who reads the book will find it uplifting and he hopes it’ll give the people from this small city a new sense of pride knowing that a forgotten baseball hero once lived in their home town.
About the author
Tom Sullivan, author of the recently published book, “The Sherlock Holmes of Baseball” about the life of a forgotten baseball great, Daniel Francis Murphy, grew up in Norwich and played for the town’s Little and Babe Ruth leagues. He also listened to games on the radio from beginning to end in his bedroom.
However, he and his friends only thought about the baseball stars of the day in the 1950’ and ’60s. Yet every time his widowed grandmother saw him and his friends with their gloves and wearing their little league uniforms, she’d talk about how great of a baseball player Danny Murphy was and how she had lived on the same street in Norwich that Murphy had lived on.
In 1973 Sullivan started a job with the U.S. Department of Defense in Maryland as a research analyst. He retired in 2013, and still lives in Maryland. Now that he has the time, he began researching his family, historical people and events in Norwich. As luck would have it, he came across Danny Murphy and he remembered how fond his widowed grandmother had been of him and what she had said about his baseball career and how they were neighbors living on the same street.
Sullivan wished he had asked more questions about Murphy when his widowed grandmother was living with his family in Norwich.
When Sullivan’s grandparents were first married, they lived on Spring Street in Norwich. This happens to be the same street that Danny Murphy his wife and her family had lived for 20 years. Sullivan’s grandparents lived here during six memorable seasons that Murphy was playing professional baseball.
The author researched for three years from his home in Maryland. Danny Murphy and his wife never had any children. So, they had no descendants Sullivan could get information from. Also, Murphy died in 1955 so there were no living friends or colleagues he could talk to. The author spent another year getting the book to reach publication.
Sullivan did genealogical research and scanned newspapers covering years of Murphy’s life. He examined baseball sites. He used 350 different newspapers from The United States and Canada. It was the papers from Boston Philadelphia and Connecticut that gave him the best information about the real man and baseball personality Murphy was. Joining the Society of American Baseball Research was also very helpful.
Sullivan hopes his book will shed new light on Daniel Francis Murphy’s amazing career as a professional second baseman, outfielder and hitter as well as his achievements as a baseball coach, scout and his amazing ability to decipher what an opposing pitcher was going to throw.
Steven Birt lives in Mystic.