Given his 93-mph fastball, Cincinnati Reds reliever Rob Murphy is a man you like to see coming out of the bullpen. The 26-year-old lefthander is also the best man in baseball to see about a horse.
Murphy, a computer science major at the University of Florida and the grandson of famed racetrack announcer Frank Ashley, is a bloodstock agent for clients interested in purchasing thoroughbreds. Using a portable Apple IIC computer, Murphy has developed a successful program he calls M375 Thoroughbreds.
Murphy developed the program in downtime between seasons of Class A and Double A ball in 1983 and '84. Working 12 to 14 hours a day, he isolated more than 50 factors that, when combined, produce an optimum racing pedigree. He fed the data into his program, which he then tested on the horses that had been offered at the 1975 Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sales.
Structured to approve or reject the purchase of individual horses, it signaled "buy" for only two of 202 yearlings. The first, Royal Hoofer, sold for $7,200 and went on to win more than $53,000. The second was Seattle Slew, the famed bargain beauty who won the 1977 Triple Crown. (The M375 program was named in salute to Slew; on a computer printout it reads SLEW upside down.)
Murphy's next step was to find an investor who believed in his system enough to use it to select and buy a horse. That investor turned out to be Larry Hillis of Edmonds, Wash., who gave the young ballplayer a $100,000 credit line to purchase a colt named Artillerist at the 1984 Hialeah Two-Year-Old Sales.
"My heart was pounding out of my rib cage during the bidding," says Murphy. "I knew what the research was, and I was sure of what the computer said. But I kept asking myself, 'Why is no one bidding against me?' It was just me. But the computer liked him."
Murphy purchased Artillerist for just $30,000. Artillerist's first race, a six-furlong sprint at Calder Race Course on Nov. 10, 1984, was a memorable one. The colt went head-to-head for the first half, then surged ahead to win by five lengths.
Hillis's hopes for the '86 Kentucky Derby rose after the horse finished second in the Tropical Park Derby in early January, beating Proud Truth and Creme Fraiche. But in February Artillerist bowed a tendon in training; he will probably never race again. Still, his winnings totaled more than $77,000, and he was valued at $400,000.
Murphy's system has enjoyed several other successes. But racing remains only a sideline for Murphy. The 6'2" 200-pounder had a two-game cup of coffee with the Reds last year. He was called up again on July 17. Since then he has pitched 37⅖ innings and has a record of 2-0 with one save and an ERA of 0.96. The secret to his pitching success cannot be found on a computer chip, however. It seems Murphy does his best pitching when he wears black silk underwear under his uniform. In addition, Murphy may be the only player in baseball whose girlfriend—Kimarie Stratos, a lawyer in Miami—is also his agent.
The Reds are too many lengths behind the Astros in the NL West, but they're very happy to have a closer like Murphy in their stable.