RENOVO - He was the first full-time batting practice pitcher for the New York Yankees
He witnessed first-hand the "M&M Boys" 1961 home run campaign in which Roger Maris out-lasted Mickey Mantle, and hit a then record 61 home runs.
Socially, he even hung out with Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.
Former New York Yankees batting practice pitcher Meredith “Spud” Murray, left, owns a camp on Summerson Mountain in northern Clinton County and has been entertaining Renovo area residents with his stories and first-hand accounts of baseball memories, including five trips to the World Series from 1960-1964. On Saturday, Spud met with Rick Sanford of Cross Fork and verified that a baseball owned by Sanford and signed by New York Yankees in the 1960s is authentic. KEVIN RAUCH/THE EXPRESS
For all that, Meredith "Spud" Murray ranks visiting his camp on Summerson Mountain in northern Clinton County as one of his career highlights. And his stories have made him a favorite visitor as Spud's memories and baseball legends often go hand in hand, affording him a unique recount of baseball's golden era.
Murray's stories have been a hit at the Sons of Italy in Renovo, as he simply amazes many area residents, not only with the things that he witnessed but the detail in which he tells them.
"Spud-speak" is something right out of the era in which he played ball.
He tells of "shaggin" balls in Florida when he first met Mantle. He talks about being the only one that DiMaggio wanted hitting "fungos" (fly balls) to and says that third baseman Clete Boyer was the only "lamb" in the line-up. He quickly adds that Boyer made up for it by being one of the best fielders he has ever seen.
Murray was a baby in 1929 when his mother listened to the Chicago Cubs beating up on her team - the Philadelphia Athletics - while she rocked Spud. The A's scored eight runs in the bottom of the ninth ... leading his mother to put her baby down and run out into the street to tell everyone what she had just heard on the radio.
Mrs. Murray came back into the house and hoped, then literally prayed that one of her sons would grow up and play baseball.
"I ended up getting the job," Murray says very matter-of-factly.
Murray was on pace to pitch in the Majors, spending the late 1940s in numerous farm systems. After hurting a muscle in his arm, his spot as an ace on a Major League roster fell away, as treatment options were limited at the time.
Ten years later, the Phillies called Spud and asked him to be a batting practice pitcher. Murray said that the team was one of the worst ever, but it did enable him to meet one of his best friends - Phillies great Richie Ashburn. A Google search on Murray reveals an Ashburn quote as saying that, if Murray was ever to write a book, it would be one worth reading.
In 1960, Murray came to Summerson Mountain and started building his camp. That's when the phone call arrived that would change his life. The New York Yankees, who were about to spend the next five seasons in the World Series, called and wanted Murray's services as a batting practice pitcher.
In those years with the Yankees, Murray witnessed first hand some of baseball's finest moments, including what he considered the best of all - watching Roger Maris' 61st homerun.
"Roger dealt with so much, he literally had his hair falling out of his head," said Murray of Maris's plight. Many Yankee fans at the time were rooting for Mantle, some even actually rooting against Maris. The subject has been detailed in books and the movie "61*" directed by Billy Crystal.
Spud said he never watched the movie, saying simply, "It's not Mickey, it's not Roger."
Many baseball purists now again recognize the home-run chase in 1961 as the best ever, since the steroid era has shaken the record books. Murray agrees, saying steroids in the game today are not fair to people like Mantle and Maris.
In another Mantle recollection, Spud says "Mantle had two good legs. There was not a record that he would not have set ... Every single day Mickey wrapped both of his legs from his ankle to the top of his thigh. People do not know the pain he played through."
Whereas Mantle appreciated the fly balls that Murray hit because he did not have to run after them, DiMaggio appreciated the fungos because of their accuracy as well.
"Joe was a perfectionist; he wanted things a certain way," Spud said.
Murray said that DiMaggio's relationship with Marilyn Monroe faltered because the Yankee great wanted a housewife, while Ms. Monroe could not give up the Hollywood attention to just sit at home. He recalls sitting with the couple for more than a half hour one night ... "What I wouldn't give to have a picture of the three of us."
On Saturday at the Sons, Spud was able to give first-hand authenticity to one area resident's extraordinary collectible.
Rick Sanford of Cross Fork has a baseball supposedly signed by a 1960's Yankees team. The ball had been passed down from his grandfather and father but Rick never knew much about the ball, other than his grandfather had picked it up while working on the railroad. In fact, a big part of him assumed it was a fake.
Four decades after signing the ball, Murray told Sanford Saturday that the ball in fact is real, holding it in his hand once again.
"I have a couple of little tricks there with my name ... I signed that ball," said Murray, whose name accompanies the likes of Maris, Mantle and Yogi Berra.
By studying the signatures, Spud believes the ball was signed by the 1963 Yankees team.
Murray still attends some old-timer events, even being invited to the newly opened Yankee Stadium this past summer. He often shows the 1961 World Championship ring or 1962 Rolex that was awarded to him.
But it is his memories that set him apart from the crowd.
"The players didn't need to be told by managers of how to behave," says Murray. "The Yankees motto was, 'Don't mess with my money.' The winners of the World Series received an $8,000 bonus, the losers $6,000. Either way, the Yankees wanted to be there every year, and you had to be on board, or they were looking at you like you were wasting their time and money."