The Treasure Coast Palm
October 11, 2006
(c) Houston Astros
Former major league player and Port St. Lucie resident Ivan Murrell died on Sunday at the Treasure Coast Hospices Residence in Stuart.
Murrell, 63, played for three major league organizations, including time with both the expansion Houston Colt .45's (who later became the Astros) and the San Diego Padres. Murrell also played for the Atlanta Braves.
During a 10-season career that spanned 1963-74, Murrell had 33 home runs and a .236 batting average in 564 games.
Murrell was a popular member of the community and coached high school and college players, as well as serving as a scout for the Oakland Athletics and spending time as a coach for the St. Lucie Mets.
Murrell also was an undefeated amateur middleweight boxer and was selected to play on Panama's soccer team in the 1963 Pan-Am Games before signing a contract with the Colt 45's.
The former outfielder/first baseman had been involved in several local charity events since moving to Port St. Lucie in 1989.
Where Have You Gone, Ivan Murrell?
by Sandy Burgin
He played in one of the most famous -- some may say infamous -- no-hitters in the history of baseball. He may have been the youngest Latino player to make it to the big leagues; depending on whose birth certificate records you want to go by.
He was one of the first players ever to be part of two expansion teams. He was an undefeated amateur boxer, who could have played pro soccer. He has a son and daughter playing professional beach volleyball.
And at the age of 56 or 58, he's still involved in a game that he loves -- baseball.
Ivan Murrell, a member of the original 1969 San Diego Padres, has a host of memories from a 10-year Major League career and a lifetime in-and-around baseball.
Murrell, who began his career with the expansion Houston Colt 45's in 1963, played for four teams, including the Houston Astros, Padres and Atlanta Braves, with whom he concluded his Major League career in 1974.
Murrell, an infielder and outfielder, played five full seasons with the Padres, beginning with their inaugural year of 1969. He played in a game on June 12, 1970 that is part of the folklore of baseball and strangely enough tied to the Padres present and past.
On that date, Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis hurled a no-hitter, tying a Major League record by walking eight. He hit two batters, including Murrell, and loaded the bases twice in a 2-0 win in the first game of a twi-night doubleheader at then Jack Murphy Stadium. It was the first and only no-hitter thrown in San Diego until May 12 of this past season when the Marlin's A.J. Burnett no-hit the Padres, walking a Major League-record nine batters and breaking Damian Jackson's hand with a pitch in a 3-0 victory at Qualcomm Stadium.
What made Ellis' no-hitter more remarkable was the fact that he did it while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs provided (according to Terry Cannon of The Baseball Reliquary) by Dr. Timothy Leary himself.
"I knew Dock Ellis pretty well," said Murrell from his home in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "He was a very hyper and competitive guy what we would call in a good sense one of the 'crazy' guys. That was certainly a strange game, but I don't think any of us thought there was anything that strange about it.
"But what I remember most about that time was a couple days later seeing Dock walking across the field from the Pittsburgh dugout to the bullpen," recalled Murrell. "He turned toward me and yelled out 'hey Murrell, Murrell, check this out." I looked at his hair, he had an Afro in those days, and he had those pink curlers.
"He also was wearing a jacket that day that read: "Mr. No-No. He was definitely someone who you couldn't figure out where he was coming from or where he was going. He always came up with the unexpected."
Murrell is well aware of where he is going and where he came from.
Murrell now coaches high school and college baseball players on an individual basis.
"I've been trying to set up my own baseball academy to give back to the kids," said Murrell. "I've helped quite a few high school kids to go on to college and college kids to go on to the pros."
"Right now I have to use a lot of county and high school fields because I don't have a field of my own," Murrell said. "Unfortunately when we played I didn't make the money that they make today. My first check was $5,500 and my last check with the Braves was $34,000.
"What I'd like to be able to do some day is buy piece of land and build my own field. A few years ago, I was coaching three teams of different age groups. We would take them all over the state of Florida, Puerto Rico and Santa Domingo. It was hard to get sponsors, so now I do one-on-one coaching."
While Murrell's Major League career ended in 1974, his professional career continued for a number of years in the Mexican League.
"I played up until 1984," Murrell said. "I wanted to play until I was 50. I was in pretty good shape, but playing in Mexico the money wasn't that good. I led the league in home runs and RBIs for a couple of seasons. I felt after a while there wasn't much left to prove."
So Murrell gave up baseball and moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he and a friend established a social nightclub from 1989-90.
"There were just too many drugs, too much fighting, a shooting, it just didn't work out, said Murrell. "After that I moved to Stuart, Fla. and started coaching kids and also taught ESO (Education of Students of Other Languages). Then there was the short-lived Senior League for players over 35."
Murrell has always been willing to take his shot at lot of different things. He grew up in Costa Rica, where he played soccer and studied mechanical aviation. After his parents divorced, he went back to Panama with his mother and began boxing. He was undefeated as an amateur middleweight boxer and had offers to turn pro.
He was selected to play on Panama's soccer team in the 1963 Pan-American Games, but wound up signing a Major League baseball contract with the Houston Colt 45's.
"I had never played organized baseball until I was 17," Murrell said. " Fortunately for me, I found out I had a better opportunity to come to the United States as a baseball player. When I came back to Panama two years later after playing in the Majors in 1964, people were wondering 'How they heck could you make it so quickly.' I told them I had that desire and that burning feeling in my heart."
Murrell may or may not have been the youngest Latino player in the big leagues.
"My baseball age today is 56, although I am really 58," Murrell said. "Back in those days and even now some of the Latino players will drop their age a year or two. It helped when you get an extra $1,500 for making Single-A, $2,500 for Double-A and $5,000 for Triple-A. Now of course you can make extra millions if they think you're a year or two younger than you really are. When I turned pro I was supposed to be 18, but I was actually 18 going on 20."
Murrell had some memorable moments with the Padres during the 1970 season. He hit a long homer into the second deck at the Murph against the old Seattle Pilots. He was one of four Padres to hit a home run in the ninth inning (along with Ed Spiezio, Dave Campbell and Cito Gaston) against the Dodgers on July 12, 1970. He also hit a home run to beat Atlanta when the Niekro brothers Joe (for the Padres) and Phil (for Atlanta) pitched against each other. Murrell says he keeps in contact with Gaston, Spiezio and Al Santorini, another original Padre, sometimes at celebrity golf tournaments.
On a personal level, Murrell and his wife Gail, from who he is divorced, have three children. Their daughter Jen married Dexter Holdren of pro beach volleyball fame. Jen and Dexter live in Santa Barbara and both play on the pro beach volleyball circuit. Murrell's son, Jeffrey, lives in L.A. and also plays pro beach volleyball. His other daughter, Lourdes, lives in Canada.
While Murrell is enjoying coaching youngsters, he is also concerned about American youths and their love to play baseball.
"There is so much more to do for youngsters here in America," said Murrell. "They can play Nintendo and computer games, there are roller blades and skateboarding and scooters, girls and cars. Kids aren't hungry enough; there are too many things to distract them from playing. In 10 or 15 years, who knows how many Americans will be playing in the Major Leagues."
Those persons interesting in contacting Ivan Murrell can do so at P.O. Box 7956, Port St. Lucie, Fla. 34985.
Sandy Burgin covers the Padres for MLB.com.