Nolan Ryan is one of the best baseball players of all time, and it was a former East Texas pitcher, who signed him and other players, who would go on to have spectacular careers.
Baseball history is rich in Tyler and East Texas, and many minor league players in the area moved onto the majors, including Tyler Trojans player Joh-nny “Red” Murff.
Murff, a pitcher for the Trojans, battled Texarakana’s Jodie Phipps in a 19-inning pitching duel, which was eventually won by Phipps in a game played on the Trojan Field in 1952.
“Talk about a game. If there was only one game that I could go back in time in see, that would definitely be the one I would pick,” local baseball historian Brent Horton said.
Horton said, although Phipps won the 19-inning battle, the Tyler Trojans captured the championship, led by Murff and his 21-13 pitching record.
Muff went on to win The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1955 and subsequently pitched for the Milwaukee Braves in the majors in 1956-57.
Murff’s biography “The Scout,” details how Milwaukee scout Earle W. Halstead negotiated with Dick Burnett, owner of the Dallas Eagles in the Texas League, where Murff played after leaving Tyler.
The book states the two men reached an impasse until Halstead proposed a game of gin rummy, with the winner setting the terms of the trade. Halstead won, and the Braves paid Burnett $40,000 and three players from the 40-man roster to obtain Murff’s contract.
In 1957, he was 2-2 with the Braves, when they defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series. After stints with the Wichita Braves and Louisville Cardinals, he became player-manager with the Jacksonville (Fla.) Braves.
But following his career as a player and coach Murff didn’t leave the game.
He became a major league scout and discovered the likes of pitchers Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan.
Murff discovered Ryan at Alvin High School when Ryan was a junior. The two became friends.
Ryan, speaking at his own induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame, said of Murff, “He thought when he saw me at 6-foot-2 and 140 pounds, he wasn’t discouraged by my build and by the way I threw the baseball as many other scouts were. And I appreciate the fact that Red spent so much time with me and worked to help me become a better pitcher. Thank you, Red.”
In the early 1970s, Murff helped start the University of Mary Hardin Baylor baseball program, and retired to Tyler in 1991 after serving 34 years as a scout.
Murff was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Texas Scouts Association Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 1994 the UMHB’s ballpark was named in his honor, Red Murff Field.
In 2008, Murff died in a Tyler nursing home at the age of 87.