Flashback: Former World Series-winning manager Danny Murtaugh gained valuable experience with New Orleans Pelicans
Danny Murtaugh received his first opportunity as a minor-league manager with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1952. He leveraged his three seasons with the Pels into becoming the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957, his first of 15 MLB seasons in the role.
Just three seasons later, Murtaugh’s Pirates shocked the baseball world with a dramatic Game 7 victory over the New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series. It was the Pirates’ first World Series championship since 1925. He led the Pirates to another world championship in 1971. Considering the Pirates have won only five World Series in their 135-year National League history, Murtaugh is regarded one of the all-time best managers in team history.
As a player, Murtaugh began his professional career as a 19-year-old in 1937 in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. The infielder made his major-league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1941 and spent two more seasons with them before being called into military service in 1944 and 1945 during World War II. For the most part, he had an undistinguished career as a player.
He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1948, when he had his best major-league season, finishing ninth in MVP voting. After a poor season in 1951 with the Pirates, he approached Pirates GM Branch Rickey about a managerial job in New Orleans, then a Pirates affiliate.
At 34-years-old, Murtaugh became player-manager for New Orleans in 1952. In that era, it was rare that a person’s first job as manager would occur at the Double-A level. The Pels finished with an 80-75 record for fifth place in the Southern Association.
Frank Thomas, a future big-league player with the Pirates, was the best player on the Pels team, with a league-leading 35 home runs, 131 RBIs, and 112 runs scored. Lefty pitcher Lenny Yochim, a New Orleans native who prepped at Holy Cross, fashioned a 12-8 record. Murtaugh appeared in 55 games as a player, with a .212 batting average.
The Pelicans posted a 76-78 record in 1953 for sixth place, followed by an impressive second-place finish in 1954 with a 92-62 record. The 1954 Pelicans included several players who later played for Murtaugh in the majors—Roy Face, Gene Freese, Danny Kravitz, Hardy Peterson, and Nelson King.
Murtaugh was promoted to a coaching position with Pittsburgh in 1956. After Bobby Bragan was fired as manager after 103 games in 1957, Murtaugh was elevated to manager. In his first full season as skipper in 1958, he was named the Associated Press Manager of the Year.
Murtaugh brought respectability back to the Pirates. They won the NL pennant in 1960, their first since 1927, and went on to face the favored New York Yankees in the World Series. The Yankees heavily outscored the Pirates, 38-3, in their three wins, while the Pirates barely skipped by the Bronx Bombers in each of their first three wins. In Game 7, the Pirates came from behind to defeat the Yankees on Bill Mazeroski’s dramatic walk-off home run off Ralph Terry.
Murtaugh walked away from the game as Pirates manager on three occasions, due to health problems. He took front office jobs instead, but each time was convinced by Pirates GM Joe L. Brown to pick up the managerial reins again.
After his second return in 1970, the Pirates won their division, as he was named the NL Manager of the Year for the second time. They won the NL pennant again in 1971 and went on to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
He was absent from the dugout again during the 1972 season and most of 1973.
Following his third return as manager late in the 1973 season, he won two more division titles before finally retiring after the 1976 season. He died from complications of a stroke on December2, 1976, at age 59.
His 15-year MLB career managerial record was 1,115-950. He is second only to Fred Clarke in career wins by a Pirates manager. His number 40 was retired by the organization in 1977.
In addition to Murtaugh, former Pelicans personnel who went on to the big-league Pirates in various capacities included: Joe L. Brown, general manager; Joseph O’Toole, assistant GM; and Lenny Yochim, a scout for over 36 years.
New Orleans baseball historian
Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.