The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) called Charles Webb Murphy “one of the most controversial figures” of early American baseball.
Murphy, who was born in Wilmington and attended Wilmington High School, was the owner of the Chicago Cubs professional baseball team from 1906 to 1914.
Following his exit from professional baseball, Murphy returned to Wilmington and had the Murphy Theatre built in downtown.
As the Cubs continue to play well this season and strive to end their championship drought, we can trace the storied franchise’s greatest success to when Murphy was its owner. Love him or hate him, Murphy was the lead figure during the Cubs only two World Series championship seasons — 1907 and 1908.
While those of us in Clinton County will be forever grateful to Murphy for leaving us with a small-town theatre comparable to those in much bigger cities, Murphy was not well-liked in many baseball circles.
In his own words, according to the SABR biography of Murphy, “When I had the Cubs I was too busy for entertaining, or cultivating people. It is some task to run a championship ball club and cater to 25 prima donna ball players. When night comes you are all in and don’t care for wine parties … at least I did not.”
Of fellow owners, who may have despised Murphy, he wrote, “Some I refused to loan money to, others were not in love with me because my club had beaten theirs so often, and the Chief Executive (John Tener) was not pleased with me because I had refused to sign his contract — the only club owner who kicked on his compensation, which was more than baseball could afford.”
Shortly after Wilmington High School, Murphy took his turn as a journalist with newspapers in Cincinnati before becoming employed by the New York Giants professional baseball team in 1905. The SABR biography says it was about that time that Murphy overheard the National League president tell the owner of the Reds the Chicago Cubs would soon be for sale.
Murphy, 37 at the time, secured a reported $100,000 loan from Charles Taft and is said to have purchased all of the Cubs stock for $105,000.
In his first full season as owner, Murphy reportedly made $165,000 in profits and repaid Taft in full for the loan amount.
Murphy went on to purchase the West Side Park in Chicago and the part ownership of the park in Philadelphia, the Baker Bowl.
Murphy made enemies with the media — he put them in the back row of the grandstands to cover games — and players. It was said Murphy sold World Series tickets to scalpers for a profit and the players did not like that because they weren’t afforded the same opportunity to make a buck.
With all the furor surrounding Murphy, league officials persuaded Taft to buy Murphy’s stock for $500,000 following the 1913 season. Murphy’s time as Cubs owner ended on Feb. 21, 1914. Some said Murphy was forced out as owner, but he later wrote he took the money because it was simply a good business decision. According to the website DollarTimes, which calculated how much $500,000 in 1914 would be today, the amount was nearly $12 million. Using the same website, Murphy’s initial investment was the equivalent of $2.3 million today.
“Imagine a man being ‘forced’ to take $500,000 for a baseball franchise,” Murphy wrote in Baseball Magazine in 1918. “No force was required … I sold out to Mr. Charles P. Taft and without force, but for what every other thing of value is obtained — a price.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports