After 3 years retired, Murphy returns to MLB ... in the booth!

February 27th, 2024

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Dressed in khakis and a light hoodie -- the standard-issue Spring Training uniform of so many baseball executives, reporters and other employees -- seemed like any other visitor to the Mets’ clubhouse on Tuesday morning. Leaving the room, he turned a corner and found himself disoriented in the maze of tunnels behind Clover Park. Then Murphy stepped outside into a sunny morning and immediately felt at ease.

“I love to come out here,” he said, looking around the stadium he once called his spring home.

The last time Murphy had stepped onto the field here, he was an active player. That career ended -- for the second time -- last summer, giving birth to a potential new hobby (if not a clear long-term plan). Murphy arrived Tuesday as part of SNY’s broadcast team, having signed on to be a color man for two games this week alongside Gary Cohen and Ron Darling.

“To do something new is to probably do it poorly,” Murphy quipped in his typical self-effacing tone. “But I’m really humbled and excited to have Gary there, just with how skilled he is. I’ll be a different person after this game -- hopefully better in the booth and better for the next one. But yeah, definitely anxious.”

When a network executive initially reached out around the holidays, Murphy requested some time to consider the offer. He had already been doing a weekly radio spot on a local Jacksonville sports station and enjoyed the baseball talk. With four young children at home -- including a 15-month-old -- Murphy had little desire to commit to something that would take him away from Florida on a regular basis. But a two-game trial run in the SNY booth just a three-hour drive from his house seemed perfect. His wife and others pushed him to try it.

So there was Murphy on Tuesday morning, a media credential looped around his neck, lounging around the dugout watching batting practice and reconnecting with old acquaintances. Before the broadcast, he admitted to some nerves, but cited play-by-play man Gary Cohen’s expertise as reason to feel comfortable in spite of them.

The elephant in the room: Back in 2015, Cohen famously called Murphy “a net negative” on air, due to his poor fielding performance despite solid results at the plate. The comment raised some eyebrows and, after Murphy signed with the Nationals and reported to Spring Training the following year, Cohen drove an hour up the interstate to apologize.

“It happens,” Murphy said. “To be honest, at many points, he most certainly probably wasn’t incorrect in calling me a net negative.”

By that point, Murphy had transformed into a clear and obvious positive, revamping his swing, hitting seven home runs during the 2015 postseason and parlaying that into a three-year, $37.5 million contract. All told, Murphy played for another half decade, retired, took three years off, then attempted a comeback last summer at age 38. But Murphy’s bat had slowed. Feeling the pull of family back home, he eventually retired -- this time for good.

Since then, he’s busied himself being a dad, which is why he has yet to seriously consider a second career as a hitting coach. Eventually, Murphy may do so. He routinely watches YouTube videos on hitting, contrasting his swing positions to those of some all-time great left-handed hitters -- Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins and others. Since going back to school and finishing his degree at Jacksonville University in 2020, Murphy has become a voracious reader, soaking up literature on baseball and other subjects. It’s that quest for knowledge that leaves him feeling like he can offer something the current generation of hitters.

But it’s a potential pursuit that will have to wait.

“For eight months, boom, you just go and try to win a pennant and a world championship,” Murphy said. “There’s something about that, when you get a group of people together, that’s unmatched in my opinion. But then again, you leave for eight months. It has a cost. As of right now, the ‘leaving’ weighs more than how much enjoyment I know I would get from it.”

Until that equation changes, Murphy is happy to be around baseball in the ways that he can -- helping to coach his son’s under-10 team, reading about the game and its history, watching hitting videos from home, and contributing to a broadcast or two. Perhaps eventually that commitment level will change. Until then?

“I’m having a blast,” Murphy said. “I’m not going to get out today.”

He paused, frowning.

“But I won’t have a chance to get any hits, either.”