Last week the Chicago Cubs, of all people, gave $100,000 to a 17-year-old boy, making him the highest-priced bonus baby of 1960 and one of the most expensive baseball properties of all time. His name is Daniel Francis Murphy III, which is worth something, of course, but hardly $100,000. To surrender Phil Wrigley's money, the Cubs had to go all the way to Beverly, Mass., a small town 20 miles north of Boston, and outtalk the other major league teams. The reason the Cubs considered all this worthwhile was because Danny Murphy can hit a baseball.
From the time he was 6 Danny Murphy has been hitting baseballs, hard. When he was very small, the Murphys lived in a house with a cellar 40 feet long which happens to be the regulation Little League pitching distance. Every night throughout the long New England winters Mr. Murphy would come home from his job as a timer at the United Shoe Machinery Corp. and play baseball in the cellar with Danny.
Eventually, all the broken water pipes paid off. Danny was playing Little League ball with boys 10,11 and 12 when he was only 7. By the time he was 11 he had won two league batting championships, a home run championship, pitched a smattering of no-hitters and been requested by fathers of other Little Leaguers to go play somewhere else. Last summer, at 16, Danny was home run champion of the very fast Nova Scotia semipro league; last week he pitched and batted St. John's Prep to the eastern Massachusetts state high school championship. When Danny turned in his St. John's uniform and arrived home, the big league scouts were waiting. Some of them had been waiting for almost 10 years.
The practice of handing grandiose sums of money to young boys who have done nothing to earn it is a phenomenon peculiar to big league baseball. The clubs are not necessarily happy about the bonus system; but they know that in the frantic competition to sign youngsters who may one day become superstars they must pay and pay big, or wake up one season and find themselves in eighth place. The teams which can afford to gamble do not mind the spectacular and well-publicized failures as long as they occasionally can come up with a Johnny Antonelli, a Robin Roberts or even an Andy Carey.
In Danny Murphy the scouts knew they had a good bet. He looks like a ballplayer and he moves like one. He is 5 feet 11 inches tall and a trim, solid 185 pounds; he is a left-handed pull hitter with outstanding power; he has an arm that makes even big league scouts blink. In Danny Murphy, the big leagues also saw other qualities: intelligence, spirit, maturity and self-control.
Eight happy Murphys
The Murphys, eight of them, live in a large, two-story gray house on Cabot Street in downtown Beverly, in the rear of which Danny's grandfather, Dr. Daniel Francis Murphy Sr., has been practicing medicine for more than 40 years. It is Dr. Murphy who says that young Danny is a throwback to his great-grandfather, Humphrey Daniel Murphy, once handball champion of County Kerry in Ireland. The other children are Maureen, Lenny, Kevin and Janet. Maureen, 16, is very pretty, like hex mother. Lenny, 12, plays baseball but would rather go lobstering. Kevin, 9, is a long-ball-hitting Little League catcher, firmly convinced the major league scouts are already watching him, too. Janet, 5, doesn't do much except eat and run around with boys.
Danny, Lenny and Kevin share a large room filled with baseball books and pictures and pennants. The Red Sox are over Lenny's bed, and the Yankees are over Kevin's. Danny has been careful recently to show no preference for any team and the wall over his bed is bare. "I just want to be a big leaguer," he has said time and again. "I don't care what team. I'd like to go to college and maybe I will, between seasons, but if I can get as much as $50,000 for signing a baseball contract, I'd be foolish to pass up the chance. I know it sounds awful, but I'm going to sign with the club that makes the best offer."
The Cubs were supposed to have the edge because of the family's deep friendship with Lenny Merullo, Chicago's New England scout. But both Mr. Murphy and Danny said no, this was not going to influence them a bit. Besides, Merullo is not Danny's godfather, as has been reported. He is Janet's. Actually, Danny leaned toward the Orioles.
The evening Danny finished his high school career, those teams still interested telephoned to make appointments for the next day. Mr. Murphy allotted each one 30 minutes. "We have done all the preliminary talking we need to," he said, thinking back over the months during which the Murphys had entertained an almost continuous stream of big league scouts. "I think 30 minutes is enough for anybody to make an offer." Nine teams were on the list: Cardinals, Athletics, Tigers, White Sox, Braves, Pirates, Red Sox, Cubs, Orioles. It was about what the Murphys expected. The other big league teams were either loaded with young outfielders, or were spending their bonus budget on catchers and pitchers, or simply weren't spending big bonus money this year. Mr. Murphy made one thing clear. "This is not going to turn into a bidding match," he said. "No team is going to get a chance to raise its original offer. This may not be customary. I'm sure we could command a higher price by allowing some of you to rebid. But we feel this is the most honorable way to handle the affair."