By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
To watch him in action in the bullpen the first time was like seeing an expectant first-time father going into a delivery room.
He walked with a strideful purpose.
Over the years, he had been described as either pacing like a caged lion at feeding time when the keeper was late at feeding time or a youngster who was waiting in line at the bathroom.
That is how quickly he moved back and forth.
His pupil, who he had never seen before was on the raised mound at Nelson Park in Burlington less than five feet away. The pitcher was auditioning ... with high hopes to make the team.
The teacher stood a few feet to the pitcher’s left, hand on chin ... thinking and watching quietly. To see where the arm finishes, if there was any recoil, if he could see the ball or if he hooks it or wraps on his arm swing.
Two or three pitches later, he bounced around to other side, the third base side. Was this young guy early or late with his hand separation? Was his arm path too close to his body? Did he separate his hands over his rubber and over his right knee? Did he create tilt with his shoulder? Does his back leg collapse?
And three pitches later he bounced behind the mound to see exactly what kind of movement the teenager’s pitches had. He checked the direction of his foot landing, was his left shoulder open or closed? Was his curve ball a floater or a snapper?
And around he went again.
All the while he was sticking his hands nervously in and out of the elastic band on the side of his sweat pants and wetting his index finger the way baseball lifers do when they were thinking.
Only after he has assessed the youngster from every angle of the perimeter did he move in and say something to the pitcher trying to make his team.
Not once did he scream “YOU’RE FLYING OPEN!” or “WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU THINKING, SON?” or “WOULD THERE BE ANY CHANCE OF YOU POSSIBLY REPEATING YOUR DELIVERY?”
No, he calmly made a couple of suggestions, gave a quick demonstration or two and soon the catcher’s mitt was popping as the prospect filled the strike zone.
That was the first time I ever saw Murray Marshall, a man I had known for years, work out a pitcher one chilly night at Nelson Park in Burlington during the Hamilton Astros fall tryouts in 2001.
* * *
And now Marshall, 59, who began playing for East York, from peewee to senior, coached East York, the Astros and was president of Team Ontario, is gone.
He will be missed by many from peewee to senior, from East York to Hamilton and across the province from his days coaching the Ontario Youth Team, which would head to the Canada Cup.
Marshall succumbed to renal cancer after it was discovered at the end of January. He passed away at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton.
* * *
His childhood friend Greg (Chopper) Minor was asked how he would describe Marshall to someone who had never met him.
“Murray Marshall had a love for life and he loved life with a passion,” Minor said. “He had a passion for people. He had a passion for baseball, a passion for fishing, a passion for anything he did.”
Minor said he had phone calls from Marshall’s friends for if “you had Murray Marshall as a friend, you were a lucky man.”
“He had an amazing personality, he could relate to a CEO, or stand and shoot the breeze with the guy cleaning the back room with a broom,” Minor said. “Murray got along with people. He always brought a smile to people’s faces.”
Some people have the ability to light up a room when they enter ... and all eyes turn their way.
Former Blue Jays manager Jim Fregosi was like that.
Former Houston Astros reliever Charlie Kerfeld, now a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies is like that.
Murray Marshall was like that. He could enter a room and have people laughing quicker than a slide step.
It didn’t matter whether he was hitting ground balls, fishing, getting into the wine business, or playing golf ... he was always on the go. The threesome would be standing on the first tee and around the corner Marshall would come arriving one minute before tee-off time and open with “well are you guys ready to golf or not?”
* * *
Marshall was a third baseman at East York and a right-handed hitter. The peewee team he played with won the CNE tourney and he played all the way up through the system through junior for coach Bob Nelson in 1977-78 and a year of senior for the legendary Alfie Payne.
Then, he helped Bob Nelson coach the East York juniors which were awful close to a dynasty from 1979. Nelson left in 1987 to scout for the Toronto Blue Jays and the late Bobby Prentice. Later on he was either the manager or a coach with the likes of Ontario’s best coaches in Rick Johnston, Marc Picard, Remo Cardinale and Mike (0-2) Carnegie.
He moved to Stoney Creek and coached his son Brock all the way up to grade 12 with the Astros before the Astros merged with Team Ontario. Eventually he became president of Team Ontario, the second oldest elite team in the province behind the Ontario Blue Jays started by Gene Bartolozzi and then Gary Willson and Bill Byckowski.
* * *
How close were Greg (Chopper) Minor, Bob Nelson and Marshall? Well, we give you a couple of answers. Both Minor and Nelson described Marshall as “one of their best friends.”
A few years ago the East Yorkers were playing a game of shinny at Leaside arena, Minor headed to the bench out of puff. Nelson said jokingly “ah, you’re getting too old,” for Nelson was older than Minor.
Minor headed for the locker room and Marshall followed. There he found Minor in the early stages of a heart attack and called an ambulance. Minor was rushed to Toronto East General and then had his heart attack. Doctors then shipped him to St. Mike’s and he had surgery.
And then all was well. The next year Minor showed to the annual hockey game -- which Minor was not cleared to play in -- to find a chalk outline of a body. No one knows who came up with the idea.
East York had a non-contact senior team named the Rum Runners.
“Every Christmas we’d play a game,” Nelson said. “Murray slide up beside me and whisper ‘let me take the face off.’ So, in he goes, the ref drops the puck, both guys sticks slash together and a hand falls out of the ice. The ref jumps back, the other centre man is startled. Murray had a fake hand in his glove.
“Some of those teams used to shake their heads at our team.”
* * *
Loretta Murray would help get Marshall headed in the right direction for like all good baseball men he sometimes needed a little help with the organizational details (did we book umpires? do we have enough new baseballs? And what date is the banquet?).
Keith Murray and Loretta’s sons Brad and Brett played for Marshall, but Loretta stayed on and becoming one of the most respected, organized business people involved in Ontario baseball. Once when Marshall took his team to Disney's Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the giant corportion called Marshall wanting to hire her. Disney executives were told this baseball gig for Loretta was a sideline and she had a full time job. Meanwhile, Marshall would tell the story and add "no way Loretta would leave me to work with Mickey Mouse and Goofy."
“Murray left us all with a wealth of knowledge on baseball, plus stadiums full of life examples on how to treat each other as well as how to love and respect one another,” said Murray. “I will miss his loving bear hugs. However, reaching into that Murray Marshall ‘goodwill well’ for answers hurts more than words can say.
“No time to say goodbye or to thank our 'Great One' for his valuable love and friendship. His work here was done and God wanted him home. Heaven has received a glorious angel.”
* * *
Rick Johnston played outfield for East York.
“Murray was a kind hearted, passionate man, who always made you feel a sense of accomplishment,” said Johnston, who left Peterborough to play at East York after his final year of midget. “I was warmly welcomed by him and Bob Nelson. Murray had the uncanny ability to keep everyone loose on the bench, no matter the score or the scenario of the game.
“Simply put he was a coach that was so very easy to play for, if you make a mistake, he would pick you up; if you needed a stern kick in the rear, he would do it in a way that made you feel like it is OK to make a mistake.
“If you needed a team lift, he was the guy to break the ice ... loosen us all up. And if you made a great play, he was the first to come over and let you congratulate you.”
There were a ton of East Yorkers who played for Nelson and Marshall: Randy Rutledge, Garfield Malcom, Brian Baker, Rob and Rich Butler, the Marks Brothers, Ross (Harpo) and Scott (Skid), Chris Lahoda, Peter Garbel, Gord and Ron Lewis, Scott Carter, the Oudekirk brothers, Keith and Kevin and Greg Hamilton to name a few.
Both Hamilton, director of Baseball Canada’s national teams, and Johnston were out-of-zone imports from Peterborough with East York addresses.
OBA lifetime member Howie Birnie and former president has pointed to the pair when the subject of residence comes up: “We had two guys accused of playing under false addresses ... one became the best coach in Canada (Hamilton) and the other (Johnston) runs one of the best indoor facilities in the province.”
Besides the Ontario Youth team, Johnston went on to coach with the Canadian Junior National team and now runs the Ontario Terriers.
“Murray was a consummate teacher daily of little things during a game, he was a coach, he had impact on so many of us,” Johnston said. "He was a man with a huge heart."
* * *
We didn’t see Marshall’s teams play a lot. He was the first I have ever seen four of five innings into a game walk into the dugout and kick the bats sending the aluminum crashing off the metal bench, scaring everyone within 15 feet of the dugout and almost giving me the big one.
Ah, what happened Murray?
“Oh nothing, I kicked the bats ... time to wake up the bats,” he said with his impish smile.
And then there is the famous tale when Marshall went out to hit infield at the Canada Cup. All the scouts were paying close attention as they do during warm-ups -- it was a chance to see everyone’s arm. A third baseman does not always get a chance during the game.
Except the scouts didn’t see much. Marshall ran a phantom infield -- he hit an imaginary ball to third, the third baseman toss an imaginary throw to first, the first baseman would scoop it out of the dirt and then throw a perfect strike with the imaginary ball to the catcher. And on and on it went.
The bench and the fans thought it was funny. The scouts? Not so much.
“He had a great sense of humour and worked very hard on behalf of kids,” said Windsor’s Marc Picard. “Doing something as outrageous as having a phantom infield certainly shook up the stoic scouting profession.”
And then there was the game Marshall's Astros headed to Georgia and had an East Cobb team down heading into the final inning. The lead quickly evaporated and now Marshall's team had a one-run lead and the bases were loaded. Marshall went to lightly-used reliever Corey Berneski, who had not pitched that much.
Berneski came in did his warm ups signally the catcher before each pitch. Then, it was time to face the hitter. Berneski signalled the catcher as to what pitch was coming, the hitter froze and took the first pitch. Meanwhile, Steve Berneski was in the seats watching this unfold his heart in his mouth.
The first hitter popped up and the next guy lined out. One out to go. Berneski got a grounder to first and it looked like the game was over ... except the ball skipped past the first baseman and both runs scored.
Hearing of the story years later I asked Marshall if he tried to stop a zoned-in Berneski from tipping his pitches.
"Aw, it seemed to be working," Marshall said.
* * *
Billy Hurley (Mississauga, Ont.) now of the Mississauga Southwest Twins pitched for Marshall with Team Ontario, while his brother Michael played for the Astros.
“Murray once asked a couple of us pitchers what Roger Clemens always said his most important pitch was,” Hurley said, ”of course as 17 year olds we had a couple of guesses.”
No, Marshall said.
“Strike one?” was another guess.
No, said Marshall.
“Murray’s answer was “no, Clemens always said the second time I drilled a guy ... because then the other team knew I wasn’t messing around the first time.”
That was Marshall’s baseball humor.
“Murray was always in a positive mood,” Hurley said. “Many times if you asked how he was doing his response was ‘if I was any better there’d have to be two of me.’ This is so sad."
An hour or so later we were in contact with Billy Hurley’s father, also known as Bill, or Hallway Hurley. Michael Hurley played for Marshall with the Astros.
“His favorite lines were ‘LET’S PLAY THREE’ or if he was asked how he was he would say ‘IF I FELT ANY BETTER I WOULD BE TWINS.”
One year the Astros played in a tourney in Jupiter. The coaches decided to take the players on a trip to South Beach. Marshall drove one van, following another coach in a van leading the way. Once they got off I-95 every once in a while Marshall would give come behind the first van and give him a little nudge.
“On the same trip, the play of the boys was a little lethargic and all of a sudden Murray comes storming down the bench and takes a mighty swing at the bats up against the fence and knocks them flying saying TIME TO WAKE UP THESE BLEEPIN’ bats,” said Hallway Hurley. “Then quietly Murray turned around and walked to the other end of the dugout like nothing has happened.”
* * *
By the time October of 1993 rolled around Bob Nelson was working for the Toronto Blue Jays as director of the minor league system, a position he held until the J.P. Ricciardi era.
The Jays as they had in 1992 under Paul Beeston flew front office members to Atlanta to see the franchise’s first visit to the World Series. Now, a year later the same invite to a each staff member and guest to take the charter to Philadelphia. Since Nelson’s wife was pregnant, Nelson invited Marshall.
Due to a mix-up in hotel rooms the Jays could not stay in downtown Philadelphia, so they bused from the airport to the Hyatt in a secluded town on the outskirts: West Conshohocken, Pa. Except their arrival was not much of a secret. The banner across Main Street “Welcome AL champions” kind of gave it away.
Ken Fidlin wrote in the Toronto Sun how it was similar to an Andy of Mayberry episode when Barry Fife put up a “Welcome Secret Gold Shipment” banner and booked the marching band.
On the first afternoon the Nelson and Marshall headed across the freeways to King of Prussia mall to a restaurant for lunch. Rolling Rock beer was headquartered in Latrobe, Pa.
“Murray orders a bucket of Rolling Rock,” Nelson said. “Inside the bucket are six beers and a bunch of rocks. We have another bucket, we get talking to these guys. At the end of the day I say ‘if you are ever in Toronto ... here’s my card.’”
Sure enough a year later four of Marshall and Nelson’s day-long friends showed. They were staying at the SkyDome Hotel. Nelson was able to find them tickets.
While the morning paper read “Pat Who?” Pat Hentgen pitched six innings allowing one run and fanned six as the Jays won 10-3 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Series thanks to a homer and triple from Paul Molitor, a Rickey Henderson double and Devon White and Robbie Alomar each tripled.
It rained all day on Wednesday before Game 4. Marshall suggested they rent a car and travel to Atlantic City -- especially since rain was forecast for all night -- where a sports book was opening its doors for the first time.
“Murray was a horse handicapper and he picks this trotter, well the horse wins but it threw its driver,” said Nelson. No driver equals no winner. While Marshall was studying the program, Nelson was continually on the phone. Now, the game was back on, so they hopped into the car and headed to Veteran’s Stadium.
They rushed back and make the game on time. Deciding not to sit in the rain they headed onto the concourse and found a bar.
“I had warned Murray that Philadelphia fans were the worst, we had to be careful, but he was cheering every time we scored, back and forth it went,” Nelson said. “People in the bar would turn and laugh. He was always one of the most outgoing people around and Murray became a very good coach, he became better and better.
“After a while, they started buying drinks for us, they’d send us a drink. It was a unique evening.”
The Jays scored four in the first as Todd Stottlemyre slid chin first into third.
The Phillies came back with three in the bottom half and two more in the second.
The Jays scored four in the third.
Philly came back with one in the fourth and five in the fifth.
Toronto scored two in the sixth.
The Phillies scored once in the sixth and again in the seventh for a 14-9 lead.
Then came the edgy eighth: Joe Carter singled with one out and John Olerud walk. Paul Molitor doubled home a run and Tony Fernandez singled in a run. After a walk to Pat Borders, Rickey Henderson singled in a run with two out, Devon White tripled to knock in a pair for the lead.
As the old saying goes during and after the four hour, 14 minute game “a good time was had by all.”
* * *
John Milton of the Ontario Terriers said he never had the privilege to coach with Marshall, but did have the opportunity “to coach against Murray.”
“You always knew that Murray was in the park because of his infectious smile and booming voice,” Milton said. “The things that I remember about coaching against Murray was that his teams were prepared, and he would constantly frustrate you because you had to expect the unexpected.
“Off the field, Murray was very generous by scheduling a winery tour and dinner for my coaching staff and their wives. We lost a good baseball man, but Murray’s contributions to the game will continue.”
* * *
Buck Reed, former Leaside Leaf and dear friend of Alfie Payne: “I knew Murray - from East York Baseball - a good baseball guy - respected the game and the people in it. Another loss to soon.”
Former coach Remo Cardinale: “We have lost a great man, father, husband, baseball leader and friend. Murray was an important mentor to all his players teaching life skills first and foremost coupled with the love of baseball. That is what the entire baseball community will miss the most.”
Team Ontario director of operations and 18U head coach Jason Booth: “To commence our recognition of Murray’s contributions to Team O, we will be retiring his No. 6 jersey.” As one of many tributes, Team Ontario’s caps will be adorned with MM to honour Marshall.
Bonnie McHenry, mother of former player Al McHenry, who is now a Team Ontario coach: “Good morning Bob. Please let me start off by saying thank you for the wonderful tribute to such a great man and friend Murray Marshall. As I read along I saw your note to share with you a story and right away thought I would. My son was one of those young men who had hopes as he tried out to play for the Astros. As I watched Murray with these boys I became more and more impressed. The one thing that has never left me was how after each young man was done for the day he took each of them for a walk, arm over their shoulder. As a parent/spectator you didn’t know if he was asking this young man to return tomorrow to continue, telling him it just wasn’t time for him to be an Astro or thanks for coming we look forward to you being a member of our team. Each young man walked away with a smile and a little piece of Murray Marshall knowledge. Our son was one of the fortunate ones who got the chance to be an Astro and go on to get a scholarship at a University in Jackson, Miss. He also has had time coaching with Murray and still am active member with Team Ontario. We as a family got to know and love this wonderful man and he will be truly missed by the McHenry Family. Once again thank you for the wonderful words that you shared I hope everyone who reads your words goes away feeling that in some way they got to know a little piece of this man.”Former player Brad Murray: “The forecast for today’s game is cloudy with a chance of heartache ... Coming across this article by Bob Elliott sure did add a ray of sunshine though! Thank you for the lessons, both on and off the field coach. Until we meet again.
The news of our friend, coach and mentor passing has broken the hearts of everyone that had the pleasure of knowing him. He redefined the word selfless. He was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. He dedicated so much of his time helping kids achieve their dreams. At a loss for words. You will be missed coach. Thank you for the memories, lessons and life experiences that helped shape me into the person I am today. You have changed the lives of thousands of players. There is not one of us that hasn’t been impacted for the better. The ripple effect of your kindness and generosity will last generations. Thank you for that final hitting lesson at last year’s silent auction, boy you know I needed it! Until we meet again (hopefully on a ball diamond with a lipper). Your legacy lives through all of us Murray. We will miss you terribly ... but we promise to honour your memory with the same commitment and intensity that you gave us! Today may not be a good day for baseball ... but it’s the perfect time to celebrate the life of a truly great man. RIP Coach.”
Former player Brett Murray: “Today we lost our leader, our coach and most importantly a member of our extended family. Murray Marshall is the definition of an superior individual that has impacted the game of Baseball in Ontario for thousands of kids. I remember being 17 years old playing for Murray and looking up to him as my mentor. I always wanted to be as personable, funny and witty as he was. He always seemed to be able to say the right things at the right time. His legacy will now carry on forever in our hearts and prayers. We love you Murray! Until we meet again.”
Team Ontario vice president of operations, Joel Gattoni: “Murray was always happy to be at the ball park, and the Canadian baseball community will sorely miss his passion, drive, and knowledge.”
Zach Pearson: “RIP coach Murray Marshall I’ll never forget the time you spent with me and forever grateful how you were the first person to give me the opportunity to play elite baseball in Ontario. #6
Graham Tebbit: “I still throw the curveball grip that he showed me when I was 16. R.I.P. Murray.”
Trevor Nyp “Damn. Rest in peace Murray.”
* * *
Marshall is survived by his wife, Darlene, children, Brock (Tanya), Natalie (Kent), and Suzanne, as well as grandchildren, Gray and Sawyer.
Deepest sympathies are extended to his family from the Canadian Baseball Network at this time.
* * *
Murray moments: Do you have a Murray Marshall you would like to share?
Drop us a line (BobElliott49@gmail.com).
* * *
Funeral arrangements for Murray Marshall (April 15, 1957 – Feb. 2, 2017).
A cherished family man and friend to all, passed away peacefully on Feb. 2, 2017 in his 60th year. He will be missed by all who knew him, most especially by Darlene, his beloved wife of 37 years. He was a devoted father to Brock (Tanya), Natalie (Kent) and Suzanne (Jessie). Cherished grandfather of Sawyer and Gray. Loved brother of Gordon (Vickie), James (Brenda) and Lynda (Bill). Missed also by his brother-in-law Brent (Jacquie) and mother-in-law Edith Burnett. Murray will be deeply missed by many nieces, nephews, friends, and by the countless people whose lives he touched over the years.
Special thanks to the staff of St. Joseph’s Hospital ICU for their fabulous care and compassion. Cremation has taken place.
Funeral Service: Wesley United Church, 651 Highway #8, Stoney Creek (at Fruitland Road) on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 11 AM. In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Murray to Hamilton Health Sciences-St. Joseph’s Hospital ICU would be sincerely appreciated by the family.