It is a team with everything, the Miami Murrays: superb management, skilled veterans, promising youngsters and the morale of a cloudful of angels. Of course, it helps that all 10 players come from the same background, which is not surprising, seeing that they are brothers and sisters. And that the front-office staff is small—two, in fact, and married to each Other.
Listen to Mrs. Betty Ann Murray: "People sometimes think children from large families are neglected, so I always wanted to be sure there was no doubt about ours." Certainly no one has ever expressed any. "When Tim was six [the oldest Murray son, now 21, plays on the Columbia University basketball team and is the undergraduate handball champion], I was so pregnant I could hardly walk, so I sat on a chair in the backyard, throwing a ball to him for batting practice. The other kids would catch it and throw it back to me." Later, during one of Tim's community league basketball games, his mother yelled so at the referee that he asked if she could do a better job. When she said she could, he threw her the whistle and down she came from the stands. And when Tim's coach broke his foot, Mrs. Murray look the job and the team won nine straight games and the league championship.
But Betty Ann Murray was not your typical Little League parent or swimming mother. Sports simply kept kids out of trouble, she thought, and the only trouble hers ever caused was to those who wanted to beat them at games. By Tim's freshman year at Miami's Palmetto Junior High School, the name Murray was already a legend. His sister Mary Jo, a junior at Palmetto High, was the best girl athlete at the school and the only girl ever to hit a softball over its left-field fence. By the time Tim was a junior, Mary Jo was too busy with classes at the University of South Florida, where she became Southeast Regional Ping-Pong champion, to accept an offer from the Converse Dots, who were one season away from a national title in women's slow-pitch softball. Tim won three varsity letters—in football, baseball and basketball—something no Palmetto junior had ever done before. "A strong, fierce, competitive kid," says his former football coach, "but then, look at his father."
Bill Murray, 50, keeps a tape measure in his dresser drawer and at bedtime he wraps it around his waist. Thirty-one inches or less and he eats the next day, but eat or not he is a three-times-a-week handball player, which in part reflects his desire to keep beating Tim and 18-year-old Howard, who will be going to West Point in July. Last season, as a freshman at the Florida Institute of Technology, Howard was the second-leading scorer on FIT's basketball team with a 14.6-point average.
The third son is 16-year-old Dan. Howard calls Dan "Ox." He did it once too often recently and wound up in a tree. Thrown there.
In 1968 Dan Murray won Florida's 12-year-old division in the Personna Grand Slam Baseball Contest. He has played park league jai alai, and one night in 1969 a jai alai promoter came to the house offering to get Dan coaching as he had the makings of a pro. But Bill Murray said no and that was that.
"Dad's like invisible reins." says Catherine, or Kit, at 25 the oldest of the Murray children. "Mother is the flamboyant one, the more outwardly affectionate. She was always at my high school swimming meets, embarrassing the daylights out of me with 'Go, Kitty, go!' No one else's parents ever showed up, but I can't complain. My mother has a complete and pervasive loyalty to us." Mrs. Murray agrees, a bit sheepishly. "I go to a basketball game and see only one person play," she admits. "I don't think that's particularly good, but it's the way I am. My family is the most important thing in the world to me. We've made a lot of sacrifices—driving them here, picking them up there—and it wasn't always easy paying those entry fees, but it's been worth it. A person has to be good at something. He has to get prestige from his peer group."
The Murray family is a peer group of 12. Theirs is a gentle rivalry of secure siblings, and No. 6 is 15-year-old Liz. She has played league softball since the age of eight—until recently, not too well. Last year, however, she dieted off 35 pounds, her softball improved, and she began taking tennis lessons. Perhaps it was the specter of 14-year-old Meg Murray coming up behind—Meg, who two years ago was an all-star second baseman on the Khoury League softball team that won the Miami Inter City Athletic Conference title. This may not make her an Olympic-class athlete, but that is not the point. The Murray sports machine is really a means to an end—the playing fields of Eton, as it were.
Consider 12-year-old Matt—or "Hoss." Matt keeps score at softball games. Though he has played jai alai and has wrestled, he is considered the least athletic Murray. His father keeps after him, though. "Let's shoot some baskets." he'll say. Or "How about a few laps around the track?" But the suggestions are subtle. Matt has never become self-conscious about anything, neither his weight—he is pudgy—nor the fact that he is totally deaf in one ear. "Kids learn self-consciousness," sister Kit says. "It's a listener's disease. My parents never make excuses for Matt or treat him with any special consideration. Matt is just what he is, like any of us."
And then there are Terry and Tina, 11 and nine. Terry is a third baseman, and last year was the only fourth-grader on an eight-to-12 Khoury League all-star team. Tina (or Teeny), a catcher, is the youngest Murray. "Remember, Teeny for tiny," her mother says. Tina does not always hold her glove right, but that won't last. Mrs. Murray sat with her not long ago, watching Terry play, and when someone caught a line drive, Betty Ann said, "See how that girl held her glove. That's how you should do it."