Eugene Murdock shared his passion for baseball and history

eugene-murdock

Marietta College was the perfect place for this professor to pursue his two passions in life: history and baseball.

Dr. Eugene Murdock was only 7 years old when he attended his first major league game. On Aug. 10, 1929, the New York Yankees battled the Cleveland Indians at League Park. Babe Ruth hit his 499th home run off Milt Shoffner. According to the Society for American Baseball Research, an organization that Murdock was a member of and was honored by in 1991, the historian was able to interview the pitcher many years later.

“It is surprising to learn, after the fact, that he never played regularly with any team,” noted the editor of SABR in the 1991 publication that announced Murdock being honored with the SABR Salute. “Even in high school in Lakewood, Ohio, where he was born April 30, 1921, he was not the star player but sports editor of the school paper. That role established the pattern of his baseball interest as researcher and reporter.”

After graduating from Lakewood High, he attended the College of Wooster, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1942. Soon after, he joined the military, serving 18 months of his four-year enlistment with the 69th Infantry Division in Europe.

When he completed his service, he enrolled at Columbia University, where he received his Master’s in 1948 and his Doctorate in 1951. While pursuing his doctorate, he met and married the former Margaret “Rita” McColl. The couple had two children, Kathryn and Gordon.

He taught for several years at the University of Rio Grande before joining the faculty at Marietta College in 1956. He was promoted to the rank of full professor in 1963. He was the Andrew U. Thomas Professor of History and served as the Chair of the History Department from 1972 until he retired in 1986. Once an Emeritus Professor, he was also named the College Historian.

During his career, Murdock authored numerous books and publications — some about baseball, some about the American Civil War, and some about individuals who had local ties, including Ban Johnson ’21 and Bernard P. McDonough, the industrialist whose widow donated millions of dollars to the College to establish the McDonough Center for Leadership and Business.

In 1960, he was asked to serve on the Civil War Centennial Commission, which stressed scholarship and proper observance of the war, rather than celebrating its anniversary. Over the next few years, he researched and published the recruiting process during the Civil War and published a telling publication in 1963. Ohio’s Bounty System in the Civil War examined the Northern recruiting process and how professional soldiers “volunteered to fight in the Civil War, collected an enlistment bonus, and then deserted their posts, only to repeat the process countless more times under false identities.” About a decade later, he revisited the topic in his publication, One Million Men: The Civil War Draft in the North.

Toward the end of his life, he became friends with local sports reporter, the late Joe Davis, who worked for The Marietta Times.

Davis had the opportunity to visit Murdock in his home in Williamstown, W.Va.

“Murdock’s personal library was massive, and perhaps the most telling documentation of his love for the game was in scrapbook form,” Davis recalled. “Against one attic wall, Murdock kept several volumes of wallpaper sample books. Each volume was marked by year and on each page he had meticulously pasted yellowed clippings from newspapers detailing games and other related events. As we turned the pages, Murdock would often put single events within the proper historical context. He knew baseball backwards and forwards, and took great delight in retelling anecdotes he had collected in his interviews with former stars and lesser-known players. These scrapbooks provided Murdock with a retreat from the harsh realities of what the National Pastime had become. In this cramped attic, Murdock could walk back in time for hours.”

But Murdock not only researched America’s national pastime, he played an active role in it at Marietta College. He was an official scorer at the NCAA Division III Baseball National Championships, which were held for many years in Marietta. He was a founding member of the Marietta College Athletic Hall of Fame Committee and a past president of the National Society of American Baseball Research.

Even after his wife’s passing on June 14, 1987, he remained active in his historical research and in the local community. In May 1990, he was diagnosed with cancer, though his radiation treatment didn’t bench him completely. Seven months after being diagnosed and while still undergoing treatment, Murdock penciled in his first hole-in-one on the 188-yard No. 2 hole at the Minibel Golf Course in nearby Vienna, W.Va.

Sadly, on July 23, 1992, he passed away

“In the brief time that I had known Eugene Murdock, I was moved by the irony in his relationship with baseball, a game that he embraced warmly in its past form but could care less about in the present age of salary escalation, the diluted talent base and sterile stadiums void of traditions,” Davis recalled. “Over the years, it seems that time had robbed Murdock of the game he learned to love as a boy growing up in northeast Ohio, the same game he strived to document as an adult.”

GI SMITH

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