If you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t believe it all happened in the space of about five weeks in the summer of 1978. But it did happen. In those five weeks, Bill Murray played professional baseball and established himself as a bona fide movie star and the Grays Harbor Loggers – representing the twin cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, Washington – posted the best winning percentage in America and won the Harbor’s only professional sports championship in living memory.
None of it would have happened without artist, film producer, and baseball impresario Evander “Van” Schley.
VAN SCHLEY: Before baseball, I was involved in art. I was supposed to have an exhibit in Houston, but there was a flood and it was canceled. So I figured the gods are telling me I should be doing something else. I was at a hamburger joint, reading a Sports Illustrated story about the Gulf States League, and started calling the National Association office once a week. Finally someone there said, “If you’re so interested, why don’t you get a team?”
The Gulf States League went belly-up after the ’76 season, but was essentially replaced by the Lone Star League, and in ’77 Schley owned the new circuit’s Texas City Stars.
JOHN ALEXANDER (painter): Van was doing these avant-garde works of art, combining photography and performance. I remember an interesting series where he photographed airline food on his lap, then blew up the photos and hung them on the wall. He was having a show at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. I was just establishing myself, getting some success in the region. A friend introduced me to Van, and we became friends. He hung out in Houston a lot.
So Van saw this article in a magazine, and decided he was going to run this baseball team and film the entire process, as a sort of performance art. And this team was in Texas City, which was a grim, hideous place, famous for one thing: the biggest explosion in U.S. history before 9/11.
JOHN ALEXANDER: Dirty Al Gallagher was a hell of a manager. Van had these great posters printed up, looked like something you’d see for an old blues band or something, and there was a photo of Gallagher with a caption, just “Dirty Al.”
VAN SCHLEY: I met Bill Murray through TVTV. I met Bill’s brother Brian first, through some project they were working on in Los Angeles. This was right after Watergate, and I said to my girlfriend, “Wanna go do something weird?” And TVTV was doing a show, a comedy show, which we just sort of lucked into seeing.
TVTV was the first comedy group to work with cheap video equipment. They made 10 or 12 shows for PBS. They did something at the Oscars, at the Republican convention, and the Super Bowl show. Bill, Brian, Chris Guest, and Harold Ramis all worked on "TVTV Goes to the Super Bowl." That was the one in Miami: Pittsburgh vs. Dallas. Most of the people who worked on it were actual journalists, but Bill has said if they hadn’t chopped it up, cut it down to 45 minutes the way they did, it would have been a great comic documentary.
JOHN ALEXANDER: When Bill got the job on "Saturday Night Live," he was still out in California. So he was going to drive his old beat-up Nash Rambler across the country to New York, and Van invited him to swing through Texas on his way.
Murray did swing through Texas, and made one of the more memorable entrances in minor-league history …
RED SHUTTLEWORTH (Texas City bullpen catcher, team poet): We probably played in one of the few ballparks where you could walk half a block to a 7-11. We’d just finished batting practice, and it was July in Texas so we’re all hot and sweaty, just about to walk to 7-11 in our spikes to get some orange juice.
Well, this limo pulls up right in front of Robinson Stadium. This guy gets out of the limo, he’s wearing a New York Yankees hat. He pulls off the hat, throws it on the ground and yells, “Fuck Billy Martin! I’m here to play baseball, and if anybody doesn’t like it, I will fight him for his job!”
It was a real Yankees hat, and nobody knew who this guy was. This was before "Saturday Night Live." So we’re thinking, “Where did this guy get released from? Double-A? Triple-A? Whose job is he taking?” The guys were real worried at first.
RICK SEID (outfielder): I played in Texas City in ‘77. Bill was down there for a week or two, and we developed kind of a friendship. I think he sang the national anthem, all-around having a good time, just taking some b.p. and hanging around.
In fact, Murray had already been a "Saturday Night Live" cast member for 12 episodes in the 1976-1977 season. Meanwhile, his friend Van Schley was looking for a way to stay in baseball.
VAN SCHLEY:Well, the Lone Star League went belly-up, too. So I went to the Northwest League meetings in Hawai’i and applied for a franchise in Victoria, British Columbia. I got it, but then I started looking at the numbers and realized I would get killed, financially. So I backed out of Victoria. Then I looked into getting a team in Bremerton, but that didn’t work out, either.
I still had players under contract from the Lone Star League. I had a manager, too: Dirty Al Gallagher. But then he got a big-league coaching job. Gallagher suggested Bill Bryk, who’d managed Beeville in the same league, and I hired him.
So we ended up in Grays Harbor. I had a company called Texas State Baseball, and took my players there. My relationship with the local owners? It was mixed. Joe Tolomei was the big-shot there, and he wanted to have a good team. We did have some problems, but winning the championship made everybody happy.
Previously, the Loggers had roughly split their home games between Aberdeen’s Pioneer Park and Hoquiam’s old Olympic Stadium. But in ’78, they played all but a few games in Hoquiam’s larger facility.
RICK ANDERSON (longtime Grays Harbor sportswriter and editor): It’s an all-wood ballpark, built by the Works Progress Administration in 1938. According to a former Hoquiam mayor, it’s the only one of its type that hasn’t burned down. It’s a real old-style ballpark. They did a renovation when the Western League team came in a few years ago. They built a new scoreboard, new locker rooms, a new concession stand. You know, the locker rooms when the Loggers were there were pitiful, almost like a cave.
SUSAN KING (longtime resident, team host): My dad was a big baseball fan. He’d played, and pitched the first game at Olympic Stadium with lights, with Aberdeen High School. Baseball was just a big part of his life. When the Loggers came, he wanted to be involved but didn’t really have the money. So my husband and I put up the money so my dad could be a stockholder. We were sort of silent partners, but every night I went to the stadium, took tickets and counted people. My dad was vice president of the team in ‘78.
DARRIN KING: My grandpa came and said I was going to be the home batboy, and my younger brother was going to be the visiting team’s batboy. These players were from all over the country and most of them were really young, so we were like their tour guides. Of course there were neighbor girls, in high school, and the players seemed pretty interested in them.
BILL BRYK (Loggers manager): We had some older guys who’d played professionally, with other organizations. And we had a lot of other guys who hadn’t. It was fun, but it was tough, because a lot of these guys were at the end of the line. It was tough traveling, meal money. It was just tough, they weren’t making much money. It was cold every night, you know.
JIM GATTIS (Loggers first baseman): We were cold. They called me “The Queen of the Infield” because I wore panty hose. Everybody wore long underwear because it was cold. I wasn’t a very fast runner; all I need is long underwear, now I’m even slower. So somebody said, “Hey, just wear these panty hose. The heat gets in there and it stays in there.” And it worked! So then of course I was abused.
But that was a long time ago. That was a wild team, but it was a good team.
TRACY HARRIS (knuckleball pitcher):We had Jim Gattis, called him “Metalhead” because we thought he had a metal plate in his head. We had another guy, story was that he’d used his brother’s name when he signed and was actually 26 or 27 instead of 21. I just saw this big mixed bag of guys. The Bad News Bears of the Northwest.
I was 23, and these were a bunch of fun-loving guys. And you didn’t have the concern, all the time, that the parent club was looking over your shoulder. Bill Bryk was great, just said to be ourselves … but not get thrown in jail.
Toward the end of July, Bill Murray, fresh off his first full season on "Saturday Night Live," arrived “on the Harbor” with a film crew, including director Gary Weis and writer Don Novello.
VAN SCHLEY: To be honest, he was going to be hanging out that summer anyway. So when Lorne Michaels decided to do a show about what all the cast did that summer, Bill just said, “Why don’t I do a bit with Van’s team?”
HUDSON MARQUEZ (member of Ant Farm art collective, co-creator of the Cadillac Ranch, designer of Loggers’ uniforms): Oh, did I visit! Billy Murray and I went up. I think Brian Doyle-Murray, Billy’s brother, was there too. Nice funny Irish boys. I’d known Billy and Brian for a long time. I think I introduced Billy to Van. Things are a bit hazy. I think somebody from SNL was there to shoot Billy for a “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” piece.
We improved with Billy as a ball player. We had pretty good stuff. Billy loves an audience and he had one there in the beautiful WPA ballpark. He was coaching first base and would turn around and schtick it up. Wonderful laughs. We were eating a lot at some steakhouse chain — the only edible food in the Greater Grays Harbor Metropolitan area. I got a BAD hot dog at the park because, you know it was, well, a hot dog. I was food-poisoned close to death. Giant shot of Thorazine straightened me out, but I missed Billy at the local thumpatorium. Disco.
The logo? I was going for the only two things I knew for sure were in Grays Harbor: Loggers and baseball bats. Always had to have some action, like a chainsaw. Actually a no-brainer. Van got us all blue satin ball jackets with the logo embroidered in white. You’d think that I wouldn’t know where this jacket is located. I do! I gave it to a Japanese whore, who swore she’d return it. But, you know Japanese whores.
I had a ball with Van and the Texas City Stars, too. I designed their uniforms, emblems, posters and more. Texas City was one hot bitch that summer.
Wednesday afternoon, the field was so wet that gasoline was poured on the pitcher’s mound and set aflame. Murray posed for comic photos before that night’s game against the Victoria Mussels – like the Loggers, unaffiliated with a major-league franchise – then coached first base for seven innings. In the eighth inning, things really got weird.
Paul Kirsch (Mussels outfielder): Jim Chapman, our manager, had seen me throwing from the outfield. He must have liked what he saw, because he said, “I’m going to get you into a game sometime.”
So we’re in Grays Harbor and I do get into the game. Now it’s late and we’re behind, and I see Murray come out in the on-deck circle. Pretty good crowd for Grays Harbor, a lot of excitement in the stands. So Chapman comes out to the mound and says, “Give him something good.”
I threw a fastball down the middle of the plate and he whacked it. He put a great swing on it, which impressed me. But yeah, I pretty much grooved one to him.
Bill was really nice about it. After the game he came up and said, “That meant the world to me.”
RICK ANDERSON: Jeff Bogdanovich was the writer who covered Bill Murray’s lone home pinch-hitting appearance. Jeff was a stringer for us. With their customary lack of public-relations savvy, the Loggers neglected to inform us in advance they were activating Murray (who appeared a few times as a non-playing coach), so we assigned a stringer to the game and didn’t have a photographer on hand.
JIM GATTIS: I’m sure that was between Van and Bryk. I’m confident they said, “Hey, we’re going to film this thing, and he’ll hold his own and we want to get him an at-bat. And I’m sure Bill said, “Hey, let me have an at-bat.”
I don’t know whether the pitcher was trying to help him out.
BILL BRYK: Well, we’re going for first place and you gotta do something to bring fans into the ballpark. Van Schley brought it to my attention, said Bill’s only going to be there for so long. So then it became a combination of when it’s the best time for me, and the best time for the TV show.
JEFF BOGDANOVICH (Daily World stringer): As I recall, that was a surprise. It was definitely a hit to left field, and I recall it was between third and short. I don’t recall the pitch being grooved. I was sitting behind home plate when Cal Ripken hit the home run in the All-Star Game. They say that was grooved, but it wasn’t an eephus or anything like that; he still had to hit it. You know, it was a base hit to left field. And I think that one got picked up by Associated Press, nationwide.
RICKEY HILL: He threw a soft one down the middle, probably a 75-mile-an-hour fastball. It was a gift.
From the Associated Press story that did go around the country: “Bill Murray of television’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ is finding out that baseball is just as tough to crack as show business… He was in Aberdeen this week to try out for the Grays Harbor Loggers of the Pacific Northwest League. He didn’t have to be nervous – he had the script on his side. ‘I’m going to make the team,’ Murray predicted. But Murray did not need the script to prove his athletic prowess after all. Stepping in as a pinch hitter Wednesday, he banged out a single as the Loggers defeated the Victoria Mussels, 10-5.”
The score was actually 7-4. Another small detail from the box score: Only 141 fans showed up, and we might assume that fewer than 141 were still around for Bill Murray’s first appearance as a professional baseball player.
RICK SEID: He was really a consummate professional in his craft. Same thing with baseball. When he came out to the field and took batting practice, he was serious about it. You’re old enough to remember Walter Mitty? It was like that with Bill. He just loved being a part of it. Bill was just a good guy. Really good all-around guy.
JIM GATTIS: When you’re young … Well, we would abuse guys who would come out and not be able to hit. Or if they were really bad, we would be nice to ‘em. But Bill was pretty good. It’s his turn to hit? Well, let him hit. So he would get in the hitting group, and he would do what we did. He wasn’t pro good. But he was good.
The next night, with the Bellingham Mariners visiting the Harbor, filming began for the SNL piece. Lured by Free Hot Dog Night, more than a thousand fans showed up. In the Daily World, Ray Ryan wrote, “TV comedian Bill Murray put the audience through a series of cheers, boos and gasps for use during the episode being shot on location at the stadium.”
DON NOVELLO ("Saturday Night Live" writer, author of classic Olympia Cafe sketch, creator of “Father Guido Sarducci” character): I wrote that special; some pieces alone and some with others. Of course Bill helped a lot with his.
I think they gave me the special to write because I’d broken my hip on the show. It was toward the end of the season. Michael Sarrazin was hosting, and he’s Canadian so we did this hockey sketch. You couldn’t see below our knees, and we’re all wearing roller skates. I got going fast and couldn’t stop, ran into a wall and broke my hip. I had crutches for a month, then a cane for three months.
We had a lot of fun doing it, took a whole crew up there, and I loved that old ballpark.
The Saturday Night Live special, “Things We Did Last Summer,” which would eventually air on October 28, 1978, consisted of four short films and a few stage performances by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as The Blues Brothers. In the short films, each of the other Not Ready for Prime Time Players – Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris, and of course Bill Murray – were featured separately.
Murray’s film begins with him motoring down a road, ostensibly in Pennsylvania. He pulls over and calls his mother, explains that he’s bought a convertible Shriner’s car – actually a modified Willys-Overland Jeepster – and is heading to Aberdeen, “near Seattle,” to live his dream, giving up comedy (“I’ve already done that.) for baseball.
Cut to Murray pulling up in front of Olympic Stadium. He trots into the ballpark, where young men are doing baseball things. Bill walks up to a slightly older fellow in uniform and says, “Mr Brykczynski? Bill Murray.”
“Where the hell you been?”
“I got two speeding tickets in Montana. Sorry, Mr. Brykczynski.”
“Just call me Skip.” (spits) “What position you play?”
“Wherever I can help the ball club.”
“That’s a refreshing attitude. I think I’m gonna use you in right field.”
Rick Seid comes up and says hello, shakes Bill’s hand. They know each other from Legion ball. Bryk asks if that’s American Legion, and Seid makes a lame joke – lame jokes will be the running gag in the film – about the French Foreign Legion. Bryk swaps out Murray’s Yankees cap for a Loggers cap, and tells him to go play some pepper.
TRACY HARRIS: They said, “We’ve got a speaking part here. Who’s got a bad joke?”
“OK, get in there.”
So when we’re playing flip, I’m the guy who says, “Hey, I got a joke for ya. Lady goes into the doctor’s office, says, ‘Doctor, my husband thinks he’s a dog.’ Doctor says, ‘How long has he had this problem?’ Lady says, ‘Ever since he was a puppy.’ ”
MIKE MANDERINO: They asked me to come up with something, and I’ll be damned if I couldn’t think of a joke. So later, Bryk threw a “Manderino” into one of his lines. He told me later, “I just wanted to make sure I got you in the show.”
DARRIN KING: They had me sign a contract. Right before Murray hit his home run, I told him a joke. He handed me the extra bat he’d been swinging and I said, "Hey Bill" and he replied sarcastically, "What, kid?"
I said, "What did the big chimney stack say to the little chimney stack?"
“You’re too young to smoke.”
Murray just looked at me and said, "Kid, why don’t you go wash the bats."
Then he walked up and hit the home run. I think the joke got cut from the show, though. It’s been a long time since I watched it.
RICK SEID: I mean, I’m not trying to take credit for anything, but I gotta claim a little bit of credit for how the SNL thing turned out. This is just what happened. There were two little bits. In the beginning, Bill’s talking to his mom on the phone and says he got a speeding ticket in Montana. So I said to Bill, when you’re talking to the manager, say you got two tickets. And they used that. The other one, they took my suggestion about having someone tell Bill a long joke in Spanish. I think that must have been Jorge Santos, who was with us for just a few days.
When Santos (or some other Spanish-speaking Logger) finishes telling his long joke, Murray off-handedly says, “I’ve heard it. Cantinflas, 1957.”
Next, a graphic appears on the screen: One Week Later … THE BIG GAME
Bill Bryk’s on the bench before the game and says, “Anybody seen Murray?”
“Haven’t seen him, coach.”
We cut to Murray perched over the engine of his jeep. Then back to Bryk in the ballpark, still wondering about his star right fielder. Cut to interior of mechanic’s garage, where Bill’s sitting in his jeep, which is raised on a lift. He asks a mechanic on the ground how long the repair will take, because he’s got a game at 7:30.
The mechanic, of course, just wants to tell Bill all the jokes he can remember. “You know, I was in the navy,” he says. “I heard a lot of good jokes when I was in the navy.”
John Alexander, visiting his friends Van Schley and Billy Murray on the Harbor, got the part of the slow mechanic.
JOHN ALEXANDER: Maybe it was because I had an accent. Maybe Don Novello was attracted to that. It wasn’t really scripted. They just said, “Say something funny.” Billy was very helpful, did a lot to make me comfortable. I’d never acted before.
Back at Olympic Stadium, the players take the field for the National Anthem, still no sign of Murray. When he finally shows up, the Loggers are losing 10-0. But Bryk gets Murray into the game immediately, and he spurs one of the great comebacks in baseball history, with big hits and two sparking plays in right field.
In the afterglow of Murray’s brilliant performance, he takes the field to address the crowd from behind a microphone:
“I consider myself the luckiest man in the world. No, in the universe. Well, maybe not the whole universe, but certainly the United States. This has been my dream come true: to be able to play Organized Baseball. But I guess I didn’t realize, deep down inside, I had taken a more serious vow. Oh, sure: I can run, field, hit, hit with power, and throw. But unlike all of you guys and most of the people in this town, I have another gift, and that is, what is at least some resemblance of a sense of humor. Deep down inside, I guess I always knew I can never quit. I have decided to go back to comedy.”
Most of the baseball scenes were filmed Thursday night. Friday night, before an Olympic Stadium crowd of just 352, Murray coached first base but didn’t play. Saturday night was Fan Appreciation Night, with postgame fireworks attracting a season-high crowd of more than a thousand customers. There were also some hijincks in the stands, courtesy of the Loggers’ resident comedian. In the paper, Jeff Bogdanovich reported that Bill Murray “brought a keg of beer to the stadium for the crowd to enjoy. He wandered through the stands during the late innings of the game and passed out the free brew dressed in his Logger attire and his now familiar No. 17 on the back. Apparently Hoquiam mayor Jack McGuire arranged to have a banquet permit at the stadium as long as the beer was not sold.”
PAUL STRITMATTER (Loggers minority owner, and attorney): I can assure you that’s not what happened.
Every year, I would go to the city council and plead for them to allow beer sales in the stadium. Every year, every minister on the Harbor would tell horror stories about what would happen if we sold beer. And every year, I would lose.
So Bill shows up, and the first night he notices that nobody in the stands is drinking beer. So this night they’re filming, he brings a keg of beer into the stadium and a whole bunch of cups, and is walking around in the stands. Meanwhile, I’m out in the bullpen, just watching the game with one of the other owners when someone runs up and says, “My God, the Hoquiam police just arrested Bill Murray for selling beer!”
Of course I knew all the police in Hoquiam, so I went up to see what I could do. Once I understood all the details, I assured them that Mr. Murray just didn’t know about the city ordinance. I said, “If you really arrest him, we’re going to get the sort of national attention that we really don’t want.” So they let him go.
After the Bellingham series, SNL filming completed, the Loggers got on the bus for a road trip, and Bill Murray got right on that old bus with them. First stop: Walla Walla, Washington, home of the first-place Walla Walla Padres, managed by (naturally enough) Cliff Ditto.
In the series opener, the Loggers took an 11-5 lead into the ninth inning. Once again, Bill Bryk called on pinch-hitter Bill Murray. But Padres reliever Randy Miller wasn’t as charitable as Paul Kirsch, and struck out Murray on three pitches. After the game, Murray said, “I thought he would at least waste one on me after going 0-and-2. I didn’t have a clue.” Murray also downplayed his earlier base hit, describing Kirsch’s pitch as a “junior-high fastball.”
After the Walla Walla series, Bill Murray put his baseball summer on hold in favor of another professional endeavor, heading off to Halliburton, Ontario, and Camp White Pine.
IVAN REITMAN (co-producer of Animal House, and director of Meatballs, Ghostbusters, and numerous other huge box-office comedies in the 1980s and ‘90s): We started shooting "Meatballs" in the first week of August. After working on "Animal House," I knew we needed someone really funny, a real star, if the movie was going to work. I’d been trying to get Bill to do it, and he kept saying he just wanted to play baseball and golf all summer.
My partners and I owned the movie, which made it particularly risky when I didn’t know if I had a star. So we’re back and forth, negotiating, and finally the day before we’re supposed to start shooting, Bill’s lawyer says yes, he’ll show up. And he did show up on the second day of filming.
I said to him once, “Look, if this little movie does something, you’ll have used your summer wisely. And he kept saying, “I just wanted to play baseball.” But once he was with us, he was with us to the end. Creatively, he was such a great partner, so funny. I quickly had a sense that we had something special there.
Shot in less than a month on location, with a budget under $2 million,"Meatballs" would recoup its production costs many, many times over and establish Murray as a viable box-office draw.
With Murray gone, the Loggers still had a pennant to win; the Harbor hadn’t seen a championship since 1908 in the old Northwestern League. But they would have to fight off those Walla Walla Padres.
BILL BRYK: Once the game started? They played hard. But it was always — I had to handle some kind of stuff every day. And I even broke out in a rash. By the end of the year, we’re going down into the stretch, and I had to, there was a center fielder, there was a fight, there was a fight all the time. It was like the old Oakland A’s. Once the game started, they played together. After that, they didn’t like each other.
JIM GATTIS:Instead of, “Hey, do you wanna come play” it was, “Hey, you wanna be a player-coach?” So I said, “I wanna play” and they were like, “You need to start player-coaching. Your playing days are coming to a close, pal.”
So the deal was, it was just baseball. But that team didn’t get along very well. I think, of all the teams I’ve been on, we liked each other less than any other team ever has. Guys just didn’t like each other. They were fighting all the time. But then we’d get together and play really hard. We were good. We played well, but then they’d go their own way.
BILL BRYK: Paul Stevens, he’s the Northwestern University coach now, he was on this team. Good baseball guy. I don’t think we had anybody make the big leagues after that, but we had, God, we had characters on that team. Rick Hill was one of them, you know. Fran Hirschy, from New York. A guy named Mike Manderino, he was the one that kept this team together. Second baseman.
JIM GATTIS: Look, here was the deal with Mandy. He called me “Platehead” and I called him “Scumbag.” I’d say, “Hey, Scummy! You gotta be on second if the ball’s hit to me.” And he’d go, “Hey, Platehead!” And the umpires, I remember they’re like, “How come you guys are calling each other names?”
Well, he was “Scumbag” because he would go on the road, and at first he would bitch, “Somebody stole my toothbrush.” The guy would go on the road with his cleats, his glove, and his hat. Plus whatever he had on. And that was it. I’d say, “You don’t need to pack a bag?” “No, I don’t need one.” And then he’d go through your room and he’d take your toothbrush. If he said, “Hey, I like that sweater,” or “That’s a good-lookin’ shirt,” you were screwed. He was sort of a little guy, and everybody liked him. Everybody. Even though that team didn’t get along. Everybody liked Mike.
BILL BRYK: It was one of those years when everything I did kinda turned out, you know what I mean? But it was a lot tougher, because these guys were always complainin’ about something.
MIKE MANDERINO (second baseman): That was a crazy team. There was some friction at times. A lot of egos. Good guys for the most part, but guys from all over. Drove Bill Bryk crazy. Did Bryk tell you he used to break out in rashes? He’d get so worked up and worried about all this stuff. Rickey Hill constantly complained, would say, “If I don’t get my bats, I’m going back to Fort Worth.”
RICKEY HILL: I used the biggest bat in baseball: 36 length, 37 ounces. Because I could swing it. I had quick hands. My dad wanted me to be in the ministry. My shoulders were 46 inches, my waist was 31 inches, and my thighs were each as big around as both of them are now.
Shortly after wrapping "Meatballs" in Ontario, Bill Murray hopped on a plane for Seattle, and rejoined the Loggers on the Harbor … just in time for a championship celebration.
The Loggers had finished the season 47-23, just edging Walla Walla for first place in the Northwest League’s North Division. Next up: a best-of-three series against the Eugene Emeralds, a Cincinnati Reds affiliate composed entirely of players 22 or younger.
Grays Harbor won the series opener in Eugene. The series was scheduled to resume in Hoquiam the next night. But the field at Olympic Stadium had been soaked by rains, and the ballpark back in Eugene had been drenched, too. Northwest League President Bob Richmond had already “ruled that the series must be completed by Monday due to off-season commitments on the part of players and coaches of both teams.”
Monday morning, with a bus warmed up in the parking lot of Joe’s Italian Deli — owned by Joe Tolomei, the Loggers’ No. 1 investor — ready to convey the Loggers to Eugene for a potential doubleheader, Richmond called off the rest of the series and awarded the Northwest League championship to Grays Harbor. “Van Schley and TV comedian Bill Murray,” Ray Ryan wrote in the Daily World, “appeared in the deli, almost as if on cue.”
BOB RICHMOND: You gotta make your call and go with it. I don’t remember any flap about that at all.
SUSAN KING: We were proud of them! They wanted to make something of their lives, and winning got them really hyped up. We were so proud of them, and the honor they brought to Grays Harbor.
In 2006, a number of independent baseball teams associated with Bill Murray issued bobbleheads commemorating his time with the Loggers. However, at press time his Wikipedia page didn’t mention the Grays Harbor Loggers at all. On his Baseball-Reference.com page, he’s listed as William P. Murray, with no birth place or specific date. But he’s hardly been forgotten by his teammates, or Loggers fans on the Harbor.
DARRIN KING: I have a sad story to tell you. I had a Polaroid picture taken with me and Bill Murray. And for some reason I traded the picture to a friend of mine for three old baseballs. Years later, I asked him – we’re still friends, today – about that picture, and he said he had no idea what happened to it. I’m not sure whether I believe him or not. But there’s still an empty spot in my scrapbook.
JIM GATTIS: Bill was completely in. This was before he’d done "Caddyshack"and "Ghostbusters" and all that. He was still sorta making his way. So he loved being with the guys, because nobody was after anything. All the players would have fun, and he loved that part of it. He would ride on the bus; he did all of it. That was his favorite time, for sure. He would relax.
RICK SEID: When Bill was with us in Grays Harbor, I would say I hung with him the whole time he was there. After games we would go here, go there. People knew him from the show, and would expect him to be the funny guy. I never saw him shun anybody or step away. He would step up and be the center of attention. Not that he needed to do that. But when it was expected of him, he didn’t seem to mind.
TRACY HARRIS: So tonight’s his last night in Grays Harbor, and they’re having a dance contest at The Rocker Tavern. Bill just grabs this girl, never met her before, and he’s out there doing all these things, like break-dancing before anyone knew what that was. And of course he winds up winning the damn dance contest.
RICKEY HILL: Yeah, off the field was pretty chaotic. We would have Murray come over and stay at our house. I don’t want to say everything we did. It was the late ‘70s. Bill was just one of the guys.
TRACY HARRIS: I took him to the airport a couple of times. One time we’re at SeaTac a little early, so we head into a bar for cocktails. This girl comes up and says to Bill, “Hey, I know who you are.” And Bill says, “OK, but do you know who this is? This is Don Drysdale. He’s in the Hall of Fame.” She says, “Can I sit here? I’m supposed to be meeting my boyfriend when his flight gets in, but I’d rather sit with you guys.” That’s just the way it was with Bill. Something was always gonna happen.
FRAN HIRSCHY (Loggers pitcher): We became really good friends at the time. You know what he did for me? He came to Staten Island for something that fall. He said, “Hey, you wanna be on ‘Saturday Night Live?’ Come on in and play a bit part.”
Walter Matthau was the host. I was in the opening, where they finish with the “Live, from New York, it’s Saturday Night.” Bill was playing John F. Kennedy, and I’m in the background as John F. Kennedy Jr. I was there all week, working on the bit. After the show, we all went out. I danced with Gilda Radner, hung out with Chicago, the band that week. We went to Belushi and Aykroyd’s dumpy bar.
I’ll never forget this. On the show I did my part. Before we go on the air, Belushi’s standing there, just bombed out of his mind, cigarette in his mouth and he couldn’t even hold it. Then they count down: 5-4-3-2-1 … and all of a sudden the cigarette drops out of his mouth, Belushi’s eyes light up, and he’s funny as hell. And I’m thinking, “How did he do it?”
SUSAN KING: I made Bill Murray a little ceramic figurine, maybe eight or nine inches tall. I put his name and number on the back. I gave it to him at the stadium. He gave me a hug and a kiss, and said he would keep it on his mantel forever. I just wonder if he still has it, and if he remembers us.
Van Schley, Tracy Harris, Bill Murray
photo courtesy Susan King
In addition to everyone interviewed above, I’m grateful to the reference staff at the Aberdeen Timberland Library, Bill Huntington at the Whitman College and Northwest Archives, Eric Reich, Jeff Freedman, Eric Gurian, and Gary Weis for their help in putting this story together.