It’s no secret that Bill Murray is a baseball fan. During and after the Cubs’ run to the 2016 World Series championship, he was everywhere and anywhere. But Murray’s impact on the minor leagues is significant, and he merits his own page here at Minor League Geek. This is the Bill Murray page.
Bill Murray’s first documented run-ins with the minors were in the late seventies. Shortly before his tenure at Saturday Night Live began, Murray met a man named Evander “Van” Schley, an entrepreneurial fellow who had ties to show business and the art world. On a whim, Schley had started an independent baseball team called the Texas City Stars–part of the one-year wonder Lone Star League. In the summer of 1977, Murray was driving from California to New York in order to start his first full season at SNL. Schley invited Murray to stop by Texas City on the way, and Murray hung out with the team for a week or two before continuing on his way.
When the Lone Star League went belly-up after that one season, Schley applied for a franchise in the Northwest League, and ended up with the Grays Harbor Loggers. The Loggers had been founded as the Grays Harbor Ports in ’76, and took their place name from the county in which Hoquiam’s Olympic Park is situated. The Loggers were a sleepy independent club playing in a small city. The sort of team that generally passes unnoticed in the annals of the minors, but Bill Murray changed their legacy in a major way.
SNL Producer Lorne Michaels had come up with the idea to have cast members document their summer in sort of a “what I did over summer vacation” bit called “Things We Did Last Summer.” Murray’s idea was to go hang out in Hoquiam with Schley and the Loggers. He practiced and took BP with the team, and was then tabbed to coach first base for the team in a game against the Victoria Mussels. Late in that game, Murray was called in to pinch hit for the Loggers. The Mussels’ pitcher (an outfielder) is said to have grooved a mid-seventies fastball, and Murray poked it into left field for a base hit.
Murray and company spent the next few games filming the bit for SNL, and Murray would wander around the stands. During one game, he was nearly arrested for giving out free beer to Loggers faithful. After the filming wrapped, Murray joined the Loggers on a road trip to Walla Walla. He was given another at-bat, but this time was mowed down on three pitches. Murray then went off to film Meatballs, and left his professional baseball playing career behind, with a .500 career batting average. Here’s his Baseball Reference page.
I’m not entirely sure what Murray’s next dalliance with the minors was, but suffice it to say that he was pretty busy in those days with his other pursuits–namely becoming an international film superstar. As far I known, his return to the minors came in 1981, when he became part owner of the Utica Blue Sox. The NY-Penn League’s Utica franchise had just been abandoned by the Toronto Blue Jays, and in ’81, they were bought up by a ragtag group of part-owners, including minor league mogul Miles Wolff, actor Brian Doyle Murray, and his more-famous brother Bill, who sang the national anthem before the ’81 home opener. The team resurrected the old Blue Sox identity that had been used by an Eastern League team in the forties, and operated independent of MLB affiliation in the early eighties. I’m not sure for how long that Murray was a part-owner of the Utica franchise, but according to a 1983 People magazine feature on the Blue Sox, he was still involved when Roger Kahn took the reins of the cash-strapped club that year.
Murray kept his schedule full in the mid-Eighties with Ghostbusters and such, but became a minor co-owner again in 1987, this time with the Pioneer League’s Salt Lake Trappers. Yet again, his brother Brian was involved in this adventure. Yet again, I can’t say for how long he was involved with the Trappers, but they were sold and moved to Ogden in the nineties.
In 1989, the Florida State League’s Miami Marlins were sold to an ownership group headed up by Marv Goldklang, who had holdings across the minors, as well as a partial stake in the Yankees. Musician Jimmy Buffett and Bill Murray were brought along as minority owners. Murray was involved with the Miracle up until the franchise was sold in 2014. Murray would continue to work with Marv Goldklang as part of the Goldklang Group, owning baseball clubs across the affiliated minors, summer collegiate leagues, and independent leagues.
One of these clubs was the Butte Copper Kings of the Pioneer League, scooped up by the Group in 1996. Miles Wolff was a part of this ownership group as well, and the team did not have 1-to-1 affiliation with an MLB team.
This seems like as good of a time as any to point out that most of the clubs Murray has been involved with (Stars, Loggers, Blue Sox, Trappers, Miracle, Copper Kings) all share this trait to some extent. Murray’s cohorts like Goldklang, Wolff, and Mike Veeck all seem to gravitate toward independence, whether within the affiliated minors or the indy leagues. Murray is also a current co-owner of the St. Paul Saints, probably the most successful and highest-profile independent professional baseball club in the country.
In addition to the Saints and the summer collegiate Pittsfield Suns, there are currently two affiliated minor league clubs owned by the Goldklang Group–the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League and the Sally League’s Charleston RiverDogs. Murray spends a lot of time with the RiverDogs in particular, and was even inducted into the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame in 2012.
That’s about where we sit with Murray. He travels around to baseball games (often with his brother) and drums up publicity as “Director of Fun” for the Goldklang Group. But Murray’s ties to the game go back forty years, and he is an undeniable figure within the history of minor league baseball.