Link to the memorial page for Spud, who passed away on 15 September 2011. A memorial service was held on June 30, 2012.
In the spring of 2009 at his request I arranged for Spud Murray, the full-time batting practice pitcher for the New York Yankees from 1960-68, to meet Jane Fonda while she was performing on Broadway.
Having acquired his nickname in childhood because he loved potatoes so much that his mother had to hide them, Meredith “Spud” Murray began his career by playing with the Cleveland Indians and the Phillies College League. (Except where otherwise indicated, all of the photos in this entry are supplied by Howard Grise.)
Subsequently hired by Casey Stengel, Spud wore Yankees uniform number 55 and worked with the team through five World Series. The only coach to pitch to the regulars, he threw his fastball except to Yogi Berra, who usually requested the curve.
At the age of two, Spud’s daughter Mandee became the first female ever allowed in the Yankee clubhouse. One day as he sat in the players' dining room, hitting instructor "Joltin' Joe" DiMaggio came over to introduce himself and his companion, Marilyn Monroe.
During Spud's Yankee career, his best friends were his fishing buddy Mickey Mantle and my father, and for a while the team made our tavern, the Old Mill Stream, as much of their hangout as a New Jersey establishment could be. We knew Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Bill "Moose" Skowron, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, Joe Pepitone, Jim Bouton, Ralph Houk, Elston Howard, Clete Boyer, Tom Tresh, a new young guy named Mel Stottlemeyre, and probably others I have forgotten. The 1964 team is pictured below.
One night my parents had all of the players and their various wives and girlfriends over to the house for a buffet. They felt so comfortable with my mother’s encouragement to help themselves that Joe Pepitone strolled into the kitchen and rummaged through the cabinets for a big glass that he proceeded to fill with milk. Considering his various arrests for substance use and abuse since the 1980s, he should probably have continued limiting himself to dairy beverages.
In ninth grade when I screeched my way through a school production of H.M.S. Pinafore as Josephine in falsetto, Spud and his girlfriend were with my parents in the audience. (A school production of anything must be an awfully powerful incentive to birth control.)
Well into his 81st year, Spud spent most of his time outdoors developing his hilltop property in rural Pennsylvania. On a typical day, he would fell a few trees, cut them up, load the firewood on his truck, cart it off to sell, and return home to harvest and distribute vegetables and fruits from his large produce garden. His other plantings included new trees, shrubs, forsythia, and foliage for the deer and turkeys that congregated on his front lawn. I myself saw this menagerie only as Lyme disease on four legs and bird droppings where there should have been breast cutlets, but Spud viewed them as God’s creatures and shot only those that got "nasty." He would stock up on venison and fish instead by frequently taking five-hour drives in his truck to his favorite fishing spots or to the hunting camp that he owned with partners.
Although for various reasons Spud didn't make the trip to New York to meet Jane, he and Mandee did attend Old Timers' Day at the new Yankee stadium. The photo below was taken at the event, and a video of his introduction during the field lineup is here.
Around this time Spud's cousin Howard (the family’s technical sage whose efforts neutralized Spud's Luddism) created a professional-looking DVD for him. It consists of still photos from his Yankee career, Old Timers' Day, and his family, followed by a long video of them eating Maryland crabs and showing off his World Series ring and watch while he tells stories: how unfairly people maligned Roger Maris and particularly Ted Williams; how Roger and Mickey Mantle never shared any animosity; how Mickey drank the Listerine, put the paper bag over the cabby’s head, dropped the fish into the locker room whirlpool, and the like; who roomed with whom on the road . . . with a few Marilyn stories tossed in.
Chris Wood of Pacmedia,who sent the following photo, offers a persuasive argument that the Yankee jersey on display in his office originally belonged to Spud:
“I believe that this jersey was issued to Mr. Murray in 1966, worn by him each season until 1968, and then handed to rookie pitcher Bill Burlach for use in 1969. The jersey has the original 1966 set tagging and Mr. Murray's uniform number (55) swatch in the collar. The zero in the felt numbering applied to the back of the jersey (50—Burlach’s uniform number in 1969) has been added to replace the second original "5," the outline of which is visible even though the change was handled very professionally. The 100th Anniversary MLB patch on the shoulder must have also been added for Burlach's use, as 1969 was the year all teams wore such a patch.”
Spud turned 81 on October 28th, 2009; I notified the Q104.3 DJ Ken Dashow, who gave him a shout-out the preceding Sunday on his Breakfast with the Beatles show. A player's birthday, of course, was not a suitable occasion for the Yankees to lose Game 1 of the World Series, but lose they did.
On February 18th, 2010 Spud suffered a severe heart attack following several silent ones. Having kept the hospital staff in stitches (as it were) with his wit, he completed rehabilitation and returned home, where he groused about not having been able to drive down to South Carolina to keep his bear-hunting date with Bobby Richardson. Ken Dashow reminded his audience of Spud's birthday and sent get-well wishes on behalf of baseball fans, along with kind thanks to me for the alert.
An article about Spud appears here.
Copyright © 2009 by Janice M. Cauwels, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
A published narrative appears on the Feature/Culture page
September 20, 2011