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Johnny Murphy joins Mike Stanton in the bullpen of Yankees complementary greats

Remembering Johnny Murphy and his six championships.

New York Yankees Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

In the last segment of our complementary greats series, I took the time to talk about the roles of a reliever, and how relief duties have shifted throughout baseball’s history. The left-handed reliever we ended up choosing was Mike Stanton, a setup man and occasional lefty specialist with the late ‘90’s and early ‘00’s Yankees.

The right-hander selected to join him in our bullpen pitched before the time of closers, when the save wasn’t even an official statistic. It was a time when the usage of a top reliever was primarily influenced by high-leverage situations, regardless of what inning those situations happened to arise. The opening statement of this player’s SABR page calls him “an ace relief pitcher for the 1930’s Yankees.”

The final player selection for the roster of complementary greats in Yankees history is Johnny Murphy.

Career NYY stats: 93-53, 3.54 ERA, 990.1 IP, 116 ERA+, 1.37 WHIP, 13.9 WAR

Murphy was born on July 14, 1908 in New York City. He went on to play college ball at Fordham University, a very fine baseball program at the time. There he stood out and was called one of the more impressive freshmen players by the New York Times. As a senior in 1929, he broke school records, including the best single-season ERA (1.54), which lasted for almost six decades.

Paul Krichell, a Yankees scout, had followed the right-hander closely ever since his high school days, and before he could finish his senior season, Murphy signed a professional contract with the Yankees organization. After three years in the minors, Murphy made his major league debut in 1932, but only had two appearances. The Yankees beat the Cubs to win the World Series that year, and Murphy ended up earning $500 for his work during the season. The next year, Murphy actually started 20 games* — exactly half of the total number he would have for his career. Out of those 20, 10 were complete games and overall, Murphy was extremely successful and cemented his spot in the big league club.

*For those wondering why Murphy didn’t qualify for our swingman role, if you take away his first full season, he had 375 games as a big leaguer and only 20 starts. He quickly transitioned into the role of relief ace and never let go, making Ramiro Mendoza a better choice for the hybrid role.

At that time, the decision to use a talented pitcher entering his prime (or even at the beginning of his career) in a relief role was not common. Nonetheless, the 6-foot-2 right-hander quickly earned the trust of manager Joe McCarthy, who began deploying him in tight spots with great success.

From 1937 through 1939, Murphy made three All-Star Games, and although the save wasn’t an official statistic yet, he became known for his ability to throw multiple innings and often finish out games. He retroactively led the league in saves in four different seasons, topping out at 19 in 1939.

The New York native actually finished 293 of his 415 career games, and when saves were eventually recorded, he was credited with 104 in his Yankees career and 107 in total. That figure might not seem like a ton, but for=that era, it certainly was, as no one saved more games through the first 90 years of professional baseball.

As most know, a reliever’s legacy often is defined by his play in the postseason; whether that’s fair or not is a whole different debate. But Murphy had plenty of game-saving opportunities as a key figure in a great period in Yankees history. He did the most with those chances, winning all six World Series he was a part of, pitching 16.1 innings with four saves, a 1.10 ERA, 0.97 win probability added.

After winning his sixth championship in 1943, Murphy voluntarily left baseball to work on a special defense project during World War II. He returned for another couple of major league seasons, retiring with the Red Sox in 1947. Murphy would eventually move into front office roles and was actually the GM for the “Miracle” Mets during their first title in 1969. He passed away in January of the following year from a heart attack at age-61, but he left behind a remarkable baseball legacy.