When Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Danny Murtaugh fielded Major League Baseball’s first all-minority starting lineup on Sept. 1, 1971, he wasn’t trying to make history.
“I put in the nine Pittsburgh Pirates that I thought had the best chance to win tonight,” he said. The Pirates won not only that game, but the World Series the next month.
Though I was born after he died, as Danny Murtaugh’s great granddaughter, I naturally grew up hearing stories about him. My mom even wrote his biography. But only as I got older did I appreciate the significance of his achievements.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Murtaugh’s all-minority lineup. And that — along with his impressive managerial successes — explains why he’s currently on the Golden Days Era ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame. On Dec. 5, the Golden Days committee will vote on Murtaugh’s induction as a Hall-of-Famer and forever memorialize his legacy as a fighter for equal opportunity, both on and off the field.
In his 15 years with the team, Murtaugh compiled a .540 winning percentage. He’s the only manager to lead the Pirates to two World Series victories. Before the 1971 win, Murtaugh’s team beat the Yankees in the 1960 World Series, clinching the championship with Bill Mazeroski’s famous walk-off home run in Game 7. Pitcher Bob Friend credited Murtaugh for their success: “He was the best manager I played for. I think our success was a function of Danny’s managerial style.”
Murtaugh grew up in a poor neighborhood near Philadelphia. His home had holes in the roof, so when it rained or snowed the family slept with umbrellas over their heads to keep dry. To heat their house, he’d walk along the railroad tracks looking for bits of coal. Meals were often a potato sandwich — two slices of bread with raw potatoes in the middle. Despite lacking money, Murtaugh loved his childhood. And playing sandlot baseball games with the neighborhood kids instilled in him a life-long love for the sport.
Murtaugh broke into the big leagues as a second baseman for his hometown team, the Philadelphia Phillies. In 1941, however, he was drafted for World War II. He tried to join the Army Air Corps but was rejected because he was colorblind. Murtaugh turned down an offer to play for the U.S. Army baseball team, thinking he could better help the war effort in the infantry. Years of trekking across Europe as a soldier wrecked his legs, and his playing career never fully recovered. After several years bouncing between the majors and minors, he was named manager of the Pirates in 1957.
Though the term is now out of fashion, in Murtaugh’s time he’d reference his colorblindness not just as a physical trait, but as the way he viewed his players. “When it comes to making out the lineup, I’m colorblind and my athletes know it,” he said. Murtaugh wasn’t trying to put himself in the history books through his all-minority lineup, he just wanted to win the game.
While the 1971 lineup was historic, it wasn’t Murtaugh’s first. Years earlier, in 1963, he had penciled in an all-minority starting lineup in a pre-season game. On their way back north from spring training that year, the Pirates stopped in Asheville, North Carolina, to play an exhibition game against the Philadelphia Phillies. A local sponsor confronted Murtaugh and told him his all-minority lineup wasn’t allowed. Phillies star Dick Allen — who is also on this year’s Golden Days ballot— said Murtaugh fought for his lineup. “I can still see tobacco juice flyin’ out of Danny’s mouth and goin’ all over this guy’s shirt,” Allen recalled. To get the game underway, Murtaugh started Mazeroski, who was injured, and then pulled him after a single plate appearance, returning to his initial all-minority lineup.
The Pirates have already recognized Murtaugh’s achievements by retiring his number 40 and choosing him in 1999 as manager for the Pirates Team of the Century. Notably, both managers who lost to Murtaugh’s teams in the 1960 and 1971 World Series are already in the Hall of Fame, as are two members of the 1971 team, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. Now it’s time for Murtaugh to join them, on the 50th anniversary of a landmark game.