Before Tom Verducci blessed the readers of Sports Illustrated with his prose and Bill James showered baseball fans across America with vast amounts of statistics about the game that they loved, the world of baseball journalism was sparse and bleak. The game needed a narrative that people could read and enjoy on a daily basis. In stepped Tim Murnane. The long-time writer for the Boston Globe developed a style that could be followed for all of eternity. This is his story.
The Early Years
He was born on June 4, 1851 in the tiny town of Naugatuck, Connecticut. Tucked in the rural terrain of New Haven County, the town of just over 1,700 probably provided young Tim Murnane with an idyllic childhood. Not much is known of his youth and even less is known of his education. It has been widely speculated that he attended a one-room schoolhouse somewhere in New Haven County.
However he was raised and educated, the oldest son of Irish immigrants set out to make a name for himself in a new sport that was slowly sweeping New England: baseball. He fell in love with the game when he attended an 1870 match between the Brooklyn A's and the Cincinnati Red Stockings. That day, he took in the sights and sounds of the atmosphere as the A's pulled off the biggest upset of the century, breaking the Red Stockings' 81-game winning streak. From that moment on, baseball was no longer just a hobby for him, it was a way of life.
Before he became a nationally renowned journalist, Tim Murnane was a ballplayer, debuting with the Middletown Mansfields on April 18, 1872 where he batted .360 and collected 16 RBI. His career was sporadic from there as he never stayed with any one team for more than two years.
He stole eight bases for the Philadelphia A's in 1873 and stole 30 for the Philadelphia White Stockings in 1875. After collecting 34 RBI for the Boston Red Caps in 1876, he moved on to teams such as the Providence Grays (1878) and the Boston Reds (1884). He also managed the Reds that year, leading the team to a 58-51 record and a fifth-place finish in the Union Association. He retired as a player when the season concluded and set his sights on an industry still very much in its infancy: sports journalism.
It was the winter of 1887 and Charles H. Taylor, the publisher of the Boston Globe, sent his sports editor William O. Sullivan to find someone who would encapsulate all that the game of baseball was at the time. At the same time, Tim Murnane's career as a ballplayer had come to an end three years earlier and he was coming to the realization that he had yet to find his place in this world. When he met Sullivan, he had yet to truly realize his greatness as a writer but what he had instead was a simple love for the game.
He began his journalism career in 1888, covering baseball throughout Boston. He quickly found pleasure in the perks of the trade such as travel and the ability to talk shop with the stars of the era. But what he may have enjoyed even more was the writing process, the gathering of new sources and using the inside scoop in his work. In a sign of the times, some of his sources were return favors for scouting local players.
At the time, Boston ruled professional baseball, boasting championship squads in the Players League (1890), American Association (1891) and the National League (1891-1893). And Tim Murnane was there to witness it all very early in his career. He was able to bring to life on the pages of the Globe the exploits of the stars of the era, future Hall of Famers such as John Clarkson and King Kelly.
It was around this time that he began to take advantage of a little-known section of the newspaper: the notes column. Although he would later be credited with inventing it, the notes column had actually been in existence for several years. What he did do was provide more depth to its coverage and as the years went by, that little-used section of the newspaper became the cornerstone of the mighty Boston Globe. Soon, word began to spread through the streets of Boston about a new writer for the Globe that had an affinity for making his readers feel like they were a part of the action.
As he became comfortable in his seat at the typewriter, Murnane began to see the flaws of the game, including the endless battle between the players and the owners for the almighty dollar. Due to his close relationships with John Montgomery Ward and Tim Keefe, he was able to better understand the prevalent players union of the day, the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players as well as the league that it spawned, the Players League. In his many conversations with Ward and Keefe, he was able to put a face on the ballplayer's plight against the reserve clause, a part of their contract that tied players to their respective teams for a lifetime while giving them no true leverage in negotiations.
In 1892, Tim Murnane was awarded for his work and fame within the industry by being named the president of the New England League. The league's owners hoped and were proven correct that Murnane's influence and name could provide it with much-needed publicity and financial exposure to the major leagues. While no longer a player, Tim Murnane was still living a childhood dream by sticking around the game that he loved so much. Life was good.
Until tragedy struck. In 1895, after a bought with Bright's Disease, his wife passed away, leaving him alone with two daughters. We all deal with grief in our own ways. While some may find comfort in weeping for days on end, others chose to dive into their work, burying themselves in whatever tasks their jobs may ask of them, not wanting to face the pain that they know is inevitable for all that lose a loved one. Naturally, Murnane was devastated and could only see nothing but fog in his near future.
Blinded with grief, he chose to send his two daughters away to the Sacred Heart Convent in Providence and to bury himself in baseball. After decades of working within the game, developing lifelong friendships and becoming well-renowned throughout New England with his distinct prose, baseball was the only entity that he could look to that could provide him with the emotional crutch that he so desperately needed.
This period of his life proved to be beneficial for both him and the game. In short order, he teamed joined Ban Johnson to create the Western League and remarried, starting a second family that rejuvenated his career and gave him a renewed purpose in life that had nothing to do with athletics.
At the turn of the century, the Western League changed its name to the American League and quickly became a thorn in the mighty NL's side, eventually forcing the birth of the World's Series in 1903. Loving how his old friend was wreaking havoc on the established order, Murnane applied many of the AL's strategies to the New England League, forming invaluable relationships with the trolley companies that provided the minor league with much-needed capital and exposure as attendance grew and more stadiums were built within rural areas, expanding the NEL's reach.
However, the region's Blue Laws proved to be its downfall as Murnane (for secular, not religious reasons) and the rest of his league refused to play on Sundays. Meanwhile, the Connecticut League was more than happy to play on Sundays and soon took over its neighbors in popularity and at the box office.
Despite the woes of his league, Tim Murnane continued to expand his reach as a sportswriter, writing for Sporting Life, editing the annual Minor League Guide and writing the instructive book How to Play Baseball. He even found time to be the treasurer of the BWAA in 1908 and was a weekly correspondent for the Sporting News from 1910-1912. As with many men his age, Tim Murnane's hair turned white, earning him the nickname "the Silver King", a moniker that would stay with him the rest of his life.
Weighed down by the slow demise of the New England League, he resigned as president in 1916 and focused on his role as the baseball editor of the Boston Globe until his death. While waiting for his wife to check her coat before seeing the Irish operetta Eileen, Tim Murnane collapsed from a sudden heart attack in the foyer of Boston's Shubert Theater. He passed away that evening, February 7, 1917.
Baseball was blindsided by his sudden death and many of the era's luminaries came to his funeral. Due to the meager savings that he left behind, Major League Baseball decided to hold a benefit game in his honor that fall, hoping to provide his family with some financial stability in the coming years. The September 27th game held at Fenway Park welcomed a who's-who of Hall of Famers with Babe Ruth beating a team of All-Stars that included Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Shoeless Joe Jackson. The audience of over 17,000 hauled in $13,000 on that memorable day. He entered the writer's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame when he posthumously received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for his years of service as the sport's first great storyteller.