The internet is filled with stories of Bill Murray popping up in random places.
Maybe you’ve read the one about Murray showing up at a house party in Scotland and washing the dishes. Or the one where he filled out a job application at a P.F. Chang’s restaurant in the Atlanta airport.
Last year, he showed up at a Vancouver Canucks game wearing a Hudson’s Bay scarf and holding a whole lot of 50-50 raffle tickets.
Dig deep enough into Google search results and you’ll find stories that say Murray took the field for the Victoria Mussels, a short-lived independent minor league baseball team that played at Royal Athletic Park in the late 1970s.
Like so many stories about Murray, the details vary depending on who you ask. Some say he played for the Mussels, some say he didn’t. Some don’t remember all the details of the story but say it sounds like the sort of thing Bill Murray would do.
Bill Murray’s summer vacation
While there is debate about whether Murray played for the Victoria Mussels, he definitely did play in a game against the Mussels.
In the summer of 1978, fresh off his first season at “Saturday Night Live”, Murray joined the Grays Harbor Loggers, an independent minor league team in Hoquiam, Wash.
Murray was there to film an “SNL” special titled “Things We Did Last Summer,” a series of comic vignettes showing how cast members were spending their summer hiatus. In the 10-minute sketch, Murray scraps show business to pursue his dream of playing pro baseball.
Murray hooked up with the Loggers through his friend Van Schley, who worked in player development.View link »
Murray actually played in two games for the Loggers, the first of which was against the Mussels.
Mussels co-owner Jim Chapman, who was also the team’s manager at the time, said when Murray came to bat for the Loggers, he told pitcher Paul Kirsch to take it easy on the actor and “throw him something he could handle.”
“So he did and, boom, Murray got a hit,” Chapman recalls.
An Associated Press report confirmed Murray registered a hit in the Loggers’ win over the Mussels.
Chapman said Murray, then 28, didn’t look out of place on a baseball diamond.
“It wasn’t one of those ridiculous scenes where he looked like a fool,” he said. “He actually looked like he knew what he was doing.”
After the “SNL” crew left, Murray joined the Loggers on a road trip to Walla Walla, Wash., and took one more at-bat.
According to Loggers manager Bill Bryk, Murray “loved the game” and didn’t seem to be in any rush to return to show business despite the fact that director Ivan Reitman desperately wanted him to star in his new film.
The Loggers would go on to win the Northwest League championship that season and Murray left the team to join Reitman on the set of the comedy “Meatballs”.
The next summer, “Meatballs” was a box office hit and the Victoria Mussels, now in their second season, were struggling.
The team, which had a logo featuring a smiling mollusk with brawny arms, was struggling to draw fans to Royal Athletic Ballpark.
Murray’s friend Schley had moved his players from Grays Harbor to Victoria, and according to Chapman, there was talk of bringing Murray, now a movie star, to Victoria to drum up interest in the team.
The particulars of what happened on that day in August 1979 aren’t entirely clear.
Bryk, who took over as Mussels manager in 1979, says Murray played in Victoria.
Schley, however, told Global News that Murray was “never in a game for the Mussels.”
He noted that Baseball Reference, an exhaustive online encyclopedia of baseball history, has an entry for a William Murray, that includes two games with the Grays Harbor Loggers, but makes no mention of the Mussels.
Chapman says Murray was definitely at Royal Athletic Park on that day in 1979. He says he thinks Murray played in the game but can’t say for certain, thanks to the passage of time and the fact he was busy multi-tasking during the game.
An article that appeared on Page 17 of the Aug. 19, 1979, edition of the Daily Colonist newspaper appears to shed some light on what happened that Saturday afternoon.
According to the story, Murray suited up for the Mussels but did not play. Instead, he coached first base.
The report said Murray goofed around with players — putting pitcher Roy Moretti in a headlock — and tried to lead the crowd in cheers, but “didn’t make it between the foul lines” that day.
The Mussels went on to beat the Bellingham Mariners 9-5. The winning pitcher for the Mussels that day was Tom Candiotti, a knuckleballer who went on to play 16 seasons in the Major Leagues.
Fewer than 200 fans were in attendance.
After the game, Murray told Colonist reporter Tom Keyser that he “may have been wasting time in showbiz” all these years, according to the 1979 newspaper article.
Murray’s appearance did little to bring attention to the team, which folded in 1980 after just three seasons in the Northwest League.View link »
The fact that the details around Murray’s time in Victoria are so hazy seems fitting, given so many stories about the actor hover somewhere between fact and urban legend.
If there is a common thread to all those stories — be they real or apocryphal — it is Murray’s uncanny knack for making random strangers feel like old friends.
Jim Chapman may not recall all the details from that day in 1979, but he clearly remembers Murray as someone who wanted nothing more than to be one of the guys in the clubhouse.
“The players loved him,” he said. “He didn’t show up and ‘Hollywood’ them. He showed up and he was who he is.
“I mean, this guy is a classic.”
— With files from The Associated Press