We all know Bill Murray, actor and comedian.
But before he was chasing gophers in “Caddyshack,” he was devoting himself to a different passion: Baseball.
And he did it right here in Washington.
In the summer of 1978, in between filming for Saturday Night Live and before he took a leading role in any movie, Murray played for the Grays Harbor Loggers.
Rob Neyer, a longtime baseball writer and author of “The Big Book of Baseball Legends” says he was skeptical when he first heard the 64-year-old actor had played ball.
But then he did his homework.
“I did notice a ‘William Murray.’ And I looked at his page, and sure enough – William Murray, two at-bats Grays Harbor Loggers, 1978, oh you know what – it’s true. This is Bill Murray. He played baseball,” Neyer said. “If I hadn’t known about this, probably very few other people did and there must be a story here that hasn’t been told.”
Neyer set out to talk to the players from that summer to find out just what kind of ballplayer Murray had been.
“He wasn’t that talented, as everyone said,” Neyer reported. “He did take it seriously himself. He took batting practice with the guys. He worked hard in the pre-game practices and all of his teammates told me he really worked hard at it and wanted to be as good as he could be.”
Murray may not have been brilliant at the bat, but the Loggers were actually really good.
“The Loggers were a different sort of beast because as an unaffiliated, independent team, they didn’t have a bunch of 18, 19, 20-year-olds like most of the teams in the league did. The Loggers had a bunch guys in their mid-twenties who had been around for a while,” Neyer said. “So, they didn’t have the potential that most of the players on the other teams had. What they did have was more talent, more ability, because they were older. They had two pitchers who had tremendous seasons. They had hitters that had been around for a while. They just had a bunch of mid-twenties baseball players, who basically had no chance of reaching the major leagues or even AAA. But they could really play in the Northwest league.”
While the Loggers were heading towards a championship win, Murray was being pulled into movies.
The comedian was set to star in Ivan Reitman’s “Meatballs.”
But the director told Neyer that Murray said he wasn’t sure he wanted to do the movie. He thought he wanted to spend the whole summer playing baseball and golf.
But as we all know now, Murray eventually did show up at the latest possible time.
“Reitman told me very specifically, that he didn’t know if he was going to have star on location until two days before the were supposed to start filming. And he couldn’t do it without Bill Murray,” Neyer said. “So he didn’t know if he was going to have a movie. But Murray’s lawyer called him and said ‘He’ll do it.’ Then, the day after they started shooting, Murray actually showed up. So this was a last minute thing. That’s how close it was.”
In five weeks time, Murray played for an independent professional team, flew to Canada to film his first major film, and returned to the Northwest to join the Loggers for one last hurrah when they celebrated their championship.
It’s just too bad there’s so little left of that summer of 1978.
“Can you imagine that now? There are no photos, no film, of Bill Murray getting a hit.”
But luckily, KIRO Radio news anchor Bob Larson actually watched Murray play in a game against the Walla Walla Padres that summer.
“He was everything you’d expect Bill Murray to be playing first base coach,” Larson said. “He would turn around and play to the crowd a lot and it was just a lot of fun. He didn’t embarrass himself out there. He was a good athlete. He really showed what he could do. It was entertaining – both from a comedic point of view and sports point of view – to see somebody like that get out there and play.”
The Loggers may have lost Murray’s baseball talent, but Hollywood gained a signature comic.