Murphy learning on the fly at helm of Padres
SAN DIEGO -- Last week, four hours before first pitch for a game in San Francisco, Pat Murphy followed his 14-year-old son, Kai, up the steps of the lower seating bowl at AT&T Park.
When they got to the top of the concourse, Murphy turned to survey the field and the ballpark, soaking in the picturesque view spread out before him.
"I've never been here before," Murphy would tell reporters later.
There have been -- and likely will be more -- notable "firsts" like this for Murphy, who is closing in on two weeks on the job as the Padres' interim manager.
"I've learned a ton and have also learned I need to learn more. I've got great people around me. They've helped me immensely make that adjustment," Murphy said.
It's been a whirlwind for Murphy, 56, who has a resume dripping in college coaching experience -- he won 1,000 games, mostly at Notre Dame and Arizona State -- and then spent four-plus years in San Diego's organization, the last two-plus seasons in Triple-A.
But before June 16, Murphy hadn't spent a moment in a big league dugout.
Now, the moment is his.
"It's been great … it's only been like one week, but he's been great," said right fielder Matt Kemp, who has moved into the leadoff spot, an idea that Murphy enacted recently.
It's a wonderful opportunity, yet also a terribly difficult one -- parachuting into a clubhouse of a team that has underachieved and fallen short of expectations this season. The learning curve is steep. The game might be the same as in El Paso or Tempe or South Bend, but there's far more to the job than lineup construction or knowing when to pull your starter.
"The most important thing is learning the guys. This is a game about people and a game about team. I don't want to be patient, but I feel I have to assess and learn people," Murphy said. "I feel a sense of urgency. But I want to make my words count and make my steps solid."
The Padres, who open a two-game series against the Mariners on Tuesday at Petco Park, are 5-7 since Murphy took over. In a small sample size, there have been exhilarating highs -- like an 11-inning victory over the Giants last week when the team came back against Madison Bumgarner.
There have been excruciating lows, too. In Murphy's second game, the team was thumped by the A's, 16-2, and the day after that momentous victory over Bumgarner, the Padres were flat in a 6-0 loss to the Giants, a setback emblematic of the team's inconsistent play.
"I think as you get more comfortable, you learn a little more. I don't know how these things are supposed to go," Murphy said. "But I have had an open mind and have tried to learn everything I can.
"But it still comes down to playing winning baseball."
To be sure, it's a monumental leap going from having your bio on page 249 of the media guide with the Minor League staff, to being the public face of the franchise. The challenges are many. First, there's no guarantee of anything beyond this season. And consider this: Murphy is taking over for longtime manager Bud Black, who was popular and highly respected by the players and the front-office staff.
No one understands the difficult nuances of being an interim manager better than San Diego third-base coach Glenn Hoffman, who, like Murphy, was promoted from Triple-A to take over as the interim manager of the Dodgers in June 1998. Hoffman went 47-41, but at the end of the season, the team removed him as manager, though he remained on the coaching staff.
"The mood of the club after the other guy is let go … there's a little shock," Hoffman said of his own experience. "At that time, I had veteran players just like here. They helped tremendously. They realized what was going on and saw we had to move on.
"But when it first happens, you don't know how [players are] going to react. And on top of that, there's the media [component], before and after the game. And it's also 50, 60 questions when you walk through the door. That's on top of doing what you can to keep the team together."
Despite Murphy's inexperience at this level, many who have played for him feel that he is cut out for the job.
"The best way to describe it that Murph wants to build a culture," said former Padres pitcher Josh Spence, who played one season at Arizona State for Murphy in 2010. "I think one of the things that makes him good is his ability to reach a diverse group of people."
Infielder Brett Wallace, recently recalled from El Paso, has seen Murphy at various points in his career; Wallace played for Murphy at Arizona State, he played for him in El Paso and now the two are reunited again in San Diego.
Wallace still vividly remembers his first impression of Murphy from his recruiting trip.
"I think that I left there with the understanding that he was going to push me and everyone to best the best that we could be," Wallace said. "For me, that was something I saw in him. That's something I wanted for myself."
A week ago, Murphy sat down at the team hotel on the team's off-day in San Francisco, exhaled for first time and wrote for four hours -- questions for staff, players and other inside the organization. He jotted down a few ideas; areas he wanted the team to attack while trying to figure out how can become the genuine leader of this team.
The answers, though, much like victories, aren't always readily apparent. Even the rookie manager understands this. But it doesn't mean he has to like it.
"You want to make everything happen right now, from the beginning. But you know the reality of it is that you're in a situation where today is an important day," Murphy said, smiling.
"I'm just trying to move the needle. That's my motto."