Murphy Calls Out an Umpire

12 Oct

Three years before Chicago Cubs President Charles Murphy ousted legendary manager Frank Chance, he picked a fight with the most powerful and respected umpire in baseball.

In September of 1909 the second place Cubs had just taken three of five games from the league-leading Pirates in Pittsburgh.

On September 9 Murphy filed a formal protest with the league over the fourth game of the series (won by the Pirates 6-2) charging that umpire Bill Klem “(D)eliberately acted as a conspirator, robbing the Cubs of any reasonable chance for victory.”

The Cubs had argued several calls by Klem during the game and Manager Frank Chance and Cubs’ infielders Joe Tinker and Harry Steinfeldt were fined for comments made to the umpire.

Murphy questioned Klem’s honesty and demanded that he not be allowed to serve as umpire in any games played by his team and that the game be replayed.

Klem was an unlikely person to have his integrity questioned.  Generally credited with professionalizing umpiring, he had come forward with fellow umpire Jim Johnstone the previous season to report they had been offered a bribe to help determine the outcome of the October 8 Cubs game with the New York Giants to decide the pennant (the make-up game for the September 23 “Merkle’s Boner” game).

While the league never released specific details of the bribe attempt, the allegations made by the umpires were found to be true and barred the “unnamed conspirators” from any Major League ballpark. Both umpires were commended by the league for demonstrating to the “American public the honesty and integrity of our national game.”

League President John Heydler (appointed after the suicide of Harry Pulliam) immediately announced his support for Klem in the dispute.  Murphy responded by announcing he would ensure Heydler would not be reappointed president of the league that winter—Murphy would be successful spearheading the effort to replace Heydler.

Murphy was never able to cite any specific reasons for his charges and was pressured to drop the protest, which he eventually did, but Klem remained indignant and asked to have his name cleared.  According to newspaper reports:

“The umpire does not propose to let the matter rest.  He considers that his reputation has been attacked, and he therefore will ask the league to investigate him.”

There’s no record that the investigation was ever conducted.

Klem attended that year’s winter meetings in order to be on hand when Murphy was pressured to make a formal, public apology.

Chicago Cubs President Charles Murphy

More on Murphy and his feuds in the coming weeks.

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8 Responses to “Murphy Calls Out an Umpire”

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