Cubs Owner During Two World Series Championships
Brought to Life in New Book
By David A. F. Sweet
In a history extending almost 150 years, the Chicago Cubs have won all of three World Series titles.
Many of us know the Ricketts family was at the helm of the 2016 championship. Can you name the owner during the other two?
Perhaps Wrigley, the name that graces the ballpark? Nope. Charles Weeghman, the man who moved the franchise to Clark and Addison? No again.
If you guessed Charlie Murphy, you have a magnificent knowledge of baseball history.
A new biography focuses on this former journalist who became a bombastic baseball owner near the turn of the 20th century. Penned by Jason Cannon and published by the University of Nebraska Press, Charlie Murphy: The Iconoclastic Showman Behind the Chicago Cubs reveals the man who oversaw World Series titles in 1907 and 1908 – and watched one of the greatest teams in major-league history lose to the Hitless Wonders (team batting average: .230), better known as the Chicago White Sox, in 1906.
Originally, Murphy wanted to buy a minor league team due to his modest salary as a journalist, according to Cannon. But with a $125,000 price tag on the Cubs — then located on the West Side — he jumped in thanks to a $110,000 loan from Charles and Annie Taft, brother and sister-in-law of the 27th President.
“He enjoyed marketing and confidently knew he could promote any ballclub that he owned,” Cannon noted.
Murphy took over a solid team and made trades to turn it into a juggernaut. With the double-play tandem of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance (made famous by the poem Baseball’s Sad Lexicon) already in place as the core, Murphy added strong supporting players that led the team to an unbelievable 116-36-3 record in 1906 before capturing back-to-back World Series.
“I don’t think Murphy gets enough credit for the Cubs championship teams because — quite frankly — no one gives him any,” Cannon said. “More than anyone else, Frank Chance should be the authority on the matter, and he believed Murphy played a crucial role in the team’s success.”
But troubles soon gathered. The Cubs were marred by ticket-scalping and sign-stealing scandals. Murphy accused the St. Louis Cardinals of tanking games. The players turned against their owner, believing they weren’t being paid enough and angered that he chastised them for drinking and smoking too much.
As the “most upsetting and hated figure in the game” tried to survive, he was finally undone by American League President Ban Johnson, who held tremendous sway over even National League matters. Cannon said Murphy and Johnson had despised each other since the early 1890s, when they had both worked as reporters in Cincinnati.
“We will go to any extreme to eliminate Murphy from organized baseball,” Johnson said in 1914. That year, Murphy was tossed out of the game.
“He (Murphy) was well aware that his methods were unique and rubbed many of his peers the wrong way,” Cannon said. Charles Taft bought the team before selling the franchise two years later to Charles Weeghman, who moved them to Weeghman Park – now Wrigley Field.
Why would Cannon — a native of Central California — write about Murphy? He was originally interested in two Cubs’ players of that era who lived near where he grew up, and he was intrigued by their contract squabbles with the owner.
“As I looked up information about Charlie, I couldn’t find out anything about him,” said Cannon, who was also motivated as he dug into his research by the fact that Murphy received zero credit for the great teams he oversaw.
No personal letters or belongings from the childless owner are known to exist, meaning unearthing information about Murphy was extremely tough. Cannon cited the National Baseball Hall of Fame as an invaluable resource.
“Going over the National League meeting minutes was like reading court testimony,” he said. “If you want to get to know the mechanics of how the business of baseball worked, you could find it, and you could get to know the owners.”
There are wonderful stories beyond baseball in the book. One involves turn-of-the-century Irish immigrants. President William Howard Taft was slated to speak to the Irish in Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day, and sod was ordered from Ireland for him to stand on. After he left, Cannon said, “As people walked by the sod, men would pray over it and women would weep over it.”
And if you’ve heard of or used the saying “He’s out in left field” – that’s in the book too. An insane asylum stood just beyond the West Side ballpark’s left-field area during Murphy’s tenure, and patients there would scream out of windows during games.
Cannon spent 4 ½ years researching and writing about this little-known but highly important baseball figure, and his dedication is punctuated by 33 pages of notes explaining which newspaper article or other source provided the information he shared. The biography is an overdue and important addition to baseball knowledge. As a quote from the long-defunct magazine McClure’s notes, “For a real wonder-story, the history of Charles W. Murphy outranks anything in baseball records.”
The Sporting Life columnist David A. F. Sweet is the author of Three Seconds of Munich. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.