Daniel Murphy always has had a knack for getting more attention than he probably deserves.
That probably sounds like a dig, but it’s not intended as such. It’s simply an acknowledgement that over the course of his six-plus seasons in New York, Murphy has had a weird tendency to show up in the headlines more than you might expect for a player of his ability and stature.
Because let’s be honest: Murphy has, for the duration of his career, been an O.K. major-league ballplayer. Nothing more, nothing less. According to FanGraphs, Murphy has accumulated a total of 13.8 wins above replacement in his Mets career, including 2.5 this year. That means that, in keeping with our modern tendency to quantify everything, a season of Daniel Murphy is about equal to 60 games or so of walk-year deadline acquisition Yeonis Cespedes. Murphy is useful, he’s serviceable, he’s perfectly adequate. But given that the Mets have spent basically the entire duration of Murphy’s career in baseball’s version of debtor’s prison, one wouldn’t expect to hear all that much about him all that often.
Yet, as any New York sports aficionado can tell you, that simply hasn’t been the case. Early in his Met tenure, Murphy was a frequent topic of sports radio angst, mostly for the team’s inability to find him a position. He bounced around just about everywhere, never hitting with enough power to stick in left field or at first base, but never quite skilled enough with the glove to hold down a spot at second. Even in 2015, in which he's played first, second and third due to a series of injuries, there is still a lingering sense that we don’t know where Murphy truly belongs, and we probably never will.
Of course, Daniel Murphy, conversation piece, doesn’t apply simply to his performance on the diamond. In April 2014, he sparked one of those wonderful “is this really a controversy?” controversies when he decided, in accordance with baseball’s own rules, to miss the first two games of the season in order to be present for the birth of his first child. The whole affair followed a rather predictable cycle: A handful of people questioned Murphy’s priorities, the vast majority of the enlightened world wondered what their malfunction was, Murphy defended his decision, and those who had lost all perspective apologized. Progress!
That made it all the more frustrating when the next Daniel Murphy imbroglio was of his own making. In March, after Mets general manager Sandy Alderson arranged for MLB's Ambassador for Inclusion, Billy Bean, to meet with the team, Murphy came under fire for comments that displayed a less-than-enlightened view on homosexuality.
“I disagree with his lifestyle,” Murphy explained to NJ.com’s Mike Vorkunov, “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and get to know him. I don’t think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect. Getting to know him. That, I would say, you can still accept them, but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100%.”
Murphy’s comments were, sadly, unremarkable, the sort of “love the sinner, hate the sin” hedge that continues to traffic not only in locker rooms, but throughout this country. This time, it was Murphy who was forced to apologize, although his assertion, through a team spokesman, that he would “stick to baseball” and keep his religious views to himself, was less than satisfying given the missed opportunity to listen and engage.
So, through it all, one thing has been a constant. Far more chatter, more column inches, more consideration, than any eminently interchangeable infielder might expect to receive. And wouldn’t you know it, that trend has continued into the 2015 playoffs.
When you hit five home runs over the course of a week in the regular season, it’s a fun little novelty. (Heck, Lucas Duda clubbed nine dingers over an eight-game stretch earlier this year, and it inspired this particular author to write a frivolous ode to his Instagram account.) But October magnifies everything, and so Daniel Murphy’s burst of inexplicable power—he has hit five home runs in seven postseason games, and is just the eight player ever to homer in four straight playoff games, after hitting a career-best 14 dingers during the regular season—isn’t simply a quirky byproduct of an inherently streaky game. No, it’s something more.
It’s a chance to celebrate perseverance and hard work. It’s reason to reopen the debate about his future in New York. It’s the emergence of a franchise hero, a player who will be celebrated with merchandise, and folklore, and maybe a spot on the team-owned local cable outlet, when all is said and done. All this, and more, can be yours, if you just have Murphy’s fortuitous timing, his flair for the dramatic, his savvy instinct to say “yes, sir,” and “no, sir,” and present himself, in this crescendo of his career, as the very model of a modern major leaguer.
There’s still a long way to go, of course. The Mets, which take their 2-0 NLCS lead on the road to face the Cubs Tuesday night, need six more victories to turn this October into that October, the sort of transcendent run that becomes the stuff of legend. And even if the Amazins are successful, there’s no guarantee that Murphy will continue to play such an integral part, that he’ll play David to baseball’s postseason pitching Goliaths, that he’ll continue to homer each and every game, providing all the offense that this updated edition of Generation K could possibly require. No, it’s far more likely that Murphy will return to being the player he’s always been. A single here, a double there, the occasional booted ground ball, or inexplicable brain lock on the base paths.
This month isn’t going to change Daniel Murphy, but it may change the way he’s perceived, the way he’s remembered, the space he occupies in our sporting universe moving forward. It may help guarantee that he’s talked about at all, far more than you might expect for a player with a .755 OPS and a negative dWAR for his career—someone who’s too good to discard, but not quite good enough to ever be truly comfortable with.
But then, Daniel Murphy has never needed much help getting a dialog going. New York is always mulling him over, for reasons amusing, endearing, and occasionally infuriating. Now he’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind because he refuses to slow down during baseball’s most hagiographic time of year.
October doesn’t just make champions; it writes stories. And Daniel Murphy’s is going to be a little more interesting than he probably deserves.