Last week the Chicago Cubs, of all people, gave $100,000 to a 17-year-old boy, making him the highest-priced bonus baby of 1960 and one of the most expensive baseball properties of all time. His name is Daniel Francis Murphy III, which is worth something, of course, but hardly $100,000. To surrender Phil Wrigley's money, the Cubs had to go all the way to Beverly, Mass., a small town 20 miles north of Boston, and outtalk the other major league teams. The reason the Cubs considered all this worthwhile was because Danny Murphy can hit a baseball.
From the time he was 6 Danny Murphy has been hitting baseballs, hard. When he was very small, the Murphys lived in a house with a cellar 40 feet long which happens to be the regulation Little League pitching distance. Every night throughout the long New England winters Mr. Murphy would come home from his job as a timer at the United Shoe Machinery Corp. and play baseball in the cellar with Danny.
Eventually, all the broken water pipes paid off. Danny was playing Little League ball with boys 10,11 and 12 when he was only 7. By the time he was 11 he had won two league batting championships, a home run championship, pitched a smattering of no-hitters and been requested by fathers of other Little Leaguers to go play somewhere else. Last summer, at 16, Danny was home run champion of the very fast Nova Scotia semipro league; last week he pitched and batted St. John's Prep to the eastern Massachusetts state high school championship. When Danny turned in his St. John's uniform and arrived home, the big league scouts were waiting. Some of them had been waiting for almost 10 years.
The practice of handing grandiose sums of money to young boys who have done nothing to earn it is a phenomenon peculiar to big league baseball. The clubs are not necessarily happy about the bonus system; but they know that in the frantic competition to sign youngsters who may one day become superstars they must pay and pay big, or wake up one season and find themselves in eighth place. The teams which can afford to gamble do not mind the spectacular and well-publicized failures as long as they occasionally can come up with a Johnny Antonelli, a Robin Roberts or even an Andy Carey.
June 26, 1960
In Danny Murphy the scouts knew they had a good bet. He looks like a ballplayer and he moves like one. He is 5 feet 11 inches tall and a trim, solid 185 pounds; he is a left-handed pull hitter with outstanding power; he has an arm that makes even big league scouts blink. In Danny Murphy, the big leagues also saw other qualities: intelligence, spirit, maturity and self-control.
Eight happy Murphys
The Murphys, eight of them, live in a large, two-story gray house on Cabot Street in downtown Beverly, in the rear of which Danny's grandfather, Dr. Daniel Francis Murphy Sr., has been practicing medicine for more than 40 years. It is Dr. Murphy who says that young Danny is a throwback to his great-grandfather, Humphrey Daniel Murphy, once handball champion of County Kerry in Ireland. The other children are Maureen, Lenny, Kevin and Janet. Maureen, 16, is very pretty, like hex mother. Lenny, 12, plays baseball but would rather go lobstering. Kevin, 9, is a long-ball-hitting Little League catcher, firmly convinced the major league scouts are already watching him, too. Janet, 5, doesn't do much except eat and run around with boys.
Danny, Lenny and Kevin share a large room filled with baseball books and pictures and pennants. The Red Sox are over Lenny's bed, and the Yankees are over Kevin's. Danny has been careful recently to show no preference for any team and the wall over his bed is bare. "I just want to be a big leaguer," he has said time and again. "I don't care what team. I'd like to go to college and maybe I will, between seasons, but if I can get as much as $50,000 for signing a baseball contract, I'd be foolish to pass up the chance. I know it sounds awful, but I'm going to sign with the club that makes the best offer."
The Cubs were supposed to have the edge because of the family's deep friendship with Lenny Merullo, Chicago's New England scout. But both Mr. Murphy and Danny said no, this was not going to influence them a bit. Besides, Merullo is not Danny's godfather, as has been reported. He is Janet's. Actually, Danny leaned toward the Orioles.
The evening Danny finished his high school career, those teams still interested telephoned to make appointments for the next day. Mr. Murphy allotted each one 30 minutes. "We have done all the preliminary talking we need to," he said, thinking back over the months during which the Murphys had entertained an almost continuous stream of big league scouts. "I think 30 minutes is enough for anybody to make an offer." Nine teams were on the list: Cardinals, Athletics, Tigers, White Sox, Braves, Pirates, Red Sox, Cubs, Orioles. It was about what the Murphys expected. The other big league teams were either loaded with young outfielders, or were spending their bonus budget on catchers and pitchers, or simply weren't spending big bonus money this year. Mr. Murphy made one thing clear. "This is not going to turn into a bidding match," he said. "No team is going to get a chance to raise its original offer. This may not be customary. I'm sure we could command a higher price by allowing some of you to rebid. But we feel this is the most honorable way to handle the affair."
Day of days
Wednesday, June 15,1960, was the big day. It went like this:
7 a.m.—Mrs. Murphy awakens, makes coffee.
8—Dr. Murphy comes down for coffee, goes to office.
8:30—The first of many photographers and reporters arrives, thoughtfully bringing three dozen doughnuts, and drinks a cup of coffee.
8:35—Cardinals phone. Scout George Kissell says he will make offer over telephone instead of coming to house. Makes offer. "It wasn't too good," says Mr. Murphy.
8:45—Rest of Murphys now up, except for Danny. "Are you going to sign today or not?" his mother asks. "Bring 'em up here," says Danny, "and I'll sign in bed."
9—Kevin and Lenny start ball game in backyard with four friends.
9:30—Janet comes in with three boy friends, snatches up some bonus doughnuts. "She has more boy friends," says Maureen. "Why doesn't she have any girl friends?" "She's a tomboy," says Mrs. Murphy.
9:50—Kansas City arrives. Farm Director Henry Peters and Scout Bill Enos go into living room with Danny and Mr. Murphy. Close door.
10:25—Athletics leave. "We made Danny the best offer we have ever made a boy," says Peters. "We were surprised," says Mr. Murphy.
10:35—Backyard ball game called in third inning because of neighbors. "They say we trample their flowers," says Kevin. Score was 13-11.
10:50—Detroit Scout Lew Cassell arrives, grins toothlessly at everybody, goes in living room.
10:55—Cassell comes out. "I may not have my teeth," says Cassell, "but I can still talk fast. I'm just afraid the Tigers aren't as rich as some of these other clubs." Mrs. Murphy makes more coffee. Ron Northey of the White Sox goes in.
11:15—Northey comes out. Won't comment on White Sox offer but mentions that his son hit .817 last year in a Chicago Little League.
11:30—Time out for lunch. Mr. Murphy goes upstairs to catch a nap. Danny drives off in family Ford to eat alone at local diner. Mrs. Murphy goes out to buy more coffee. Kevin and Lenny descend upon corner drugstore. Maureen has large bowl of ice cream. Janet disappears.
1 p.m.—Farm Director John Mullen, Scout Jeff Jones of Braves arrive.
1:30—North Shore Gas Co. service truck pulls up, Repairman Arthur Fontaine comes in to replace motor in clothes drier. "What's going on here?" he asks.
1:50—Braves come out, said they spent their time trying to talk Mr. Murphy into allowing second bids. "The Murphys are fine people," says Mullen. "I know they're sincere. But we like open competition. We made an offer, but we're willing to go a lot higher. If the Murphys change their minds they know where to reach us. I doubt that they will. We're sorry. We'd sure like to have that boy."
1:55—Scout Bob Whalen of Pirates goes in.
2—Whalen comes out, stops for coffee. "Isn't this silly?" he asks. "In the '30s I used to sit in my living room and boys who wanted to play baseball would come to me."
2:10—Red Sox Scout Neil Mahoney arrives. "I don't see how the Red Sox can afford to let Danny get away," says Whalen. "Local boy. Man, would he draw here."
2:20—Len Merullo and Farm Director Ray Hayworth of Cubs arrive. Merullo, usually relaxed and very pleasant, is drawn and tense. At 2:38, Mahoney comes out, they go in. Mahoney says yes, indeed, the Red Sox made a good offer. How could Boston afford not to for a local boy, particularly one with a name like that?
2:45—Janet comes in with a girl friend. Maureen looks relieved. Janet has lunch, a sandwich.
3:10—Cubs leave, without coffee. Harry Hesse of Yankees phones, says he'd like to drop by and shake hands. Mr. Murphy shrugs, says O.K.
3:15—Mrs. Murphy eats lunch. Ham sandwich.
3:20—Hesse of Yankees arrives, shakes hands, drinks coffee, wishes Danny good luck, shakes hands. Mr. Murphy shrugs. "We made our offer earlier," says Hesse to reporters outside. "Yeah," says Danny, "they tried to sell me Ruth and Gehrig."
3:30—Man passing by on street calls out, "Has he signed yet?" Report says local bettors are laying odds on which club lands Danny. Orioles favored, Braves second, Cubs, Tigers, Cardinals third.
3:40—Janet comes in with boy friend. Drinks milk.
3:45—Orioles arrive: President Lee MacPhail, Farm Director Jim McLaughlin, Comptroller Joe Hamper, Scouts Frank McGowan, Joe Cusick.
4—Orioles leave. Danny and Mr. Murphy get in car, drive off, say they will announce decision by 5:45.
4:30—In nearby Rockport, at his sister-in-law's house, Mr. Murphy phones Merullo. "It's you, Lenny," he says. "We picked the Cubs." "wow!" says Merullo. "Thank you, Dan. We'll be right out."
6:40—Formal contract signed in Murphys' living room.
Actually, Danny Murphy made his decision the moment the Cubs made their offer. "It was fantastic," he said later. "I couldn't believe it. I was so happy that in the car when I told Dad what I wanted to do, I cried." For a 17-year-old boy, he had held up pretty well.
Later, news reports were to say that the Cubs gave him $125,000. Some even said $135,000. Danny Murphy received a bonus of exactly $100,000, to be paid over a five-year period. Of this amount he will get to keep about $65,000 after taxes. The Cubs signed him to a 1960 contract for $10,000, which is $2,500 over the major league minimum. A baseball rule says that player contracts cannot exceed one year, but Phil Wrigley has never cut a player's salary, so Danny stands to receive at least $150,000 in bonus and salary during the next five years.
Finally, the Cubs offered him an immediate chance at playing in the big leagues, which, to Danny, was very important. Two days after signing, Danny was with the Cubs in Cincinnati. On Saturday he played, taking over center field while Richie Ashburn went to the bench. On Sunday he got his first big league hit.
The Orioles offered Danny $90,000, and the toughest thing for the Murphys was to turn Baltimore down. The Athletics were third, to everyone's surprise, with $80,000. The Pirates offered $75,000. None of the others were close, although the Braves, like the Orioles, made it plain that they would have bid all night.
While photographers were taking Danny's picture in a Cub shirt with No. 34 on the back (he has always worn No. 6) and in a cap one size too small, someone reminded Mr. Murphy that June 15 was his 19th wedding anniversary.
"Oh, my Lord," said Mr. Murphy. "I forgot. I didn't get Ann a thing." "Well," said the other, "maybe she'll settle for $100,000."
Janet giggled and went off to get a bowl of ice cream.