Murphy, at 61: 'I get the risk I'm taking'

Brewers bench coach ready to tackle season amidst uncertain times

July 3rd, 2020

MILWAUKEE -- More than ever, baseball is a young man’s game. Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy might have noticed, had he spent any time thinking about the concept of age.

Murphy, 61, will be the senior member of the Brewers’ Summer Camp when it opens Saturday morning at Miller Park. He works under a manager, Craig Counsell, who is 49 and played for Murphy at Notre Dame. The only coaches in their 50s are third-base coach Ed Sedar, 58, and pitching coach Chris Hook, 51. The other coaches are all in their 40s, and they all work under a president of baseball operations, David Stearns, 35, who was the youngest GM in baseball when he was hired five years ago.

Statistically, coaches are at higher risk for complications of COVID-19 than the typically younger players reporting for duty around baseball this week, and some coaches will work remotely for the time being for a variety of reasons. Among them are three Mariners coaches including first-base coach Perry Hill, 68; Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz, 65; and Mets hitting coach Chili Davis, 60.

Murphy was asked whether that entered his mind as he reported for baseball’s restart.

“I didn’t even think about it,” Murphy said. “I respect all of the things going on, and I respect wholeheartedly people who are compromised -- young, old, it doesn’t matter. Age is truly a number. … The reality is that the older you are, the more at risk you can be. So I get the risk I’m taking, but I don’t let that enter my mind much. I know the Brewers are taking care of us. I didn’t know I was the oldest guy. I guess I am on paper. A lot of things on paper aren’t what they really are.”

He added, “They [Brewers officials] asked me about it, and I respected that care and that love. But I don’t consider that number -- how many years I’ve been on this Earth -- at all. My knee doesn’t work, my shoulder doesn’t work, but that’s probably not just age. That’s throwing horrible batting practice for 40 minutes at a time for 35 years.”

Murphy’s family helps keep him young. He has four children: A daughter, who is 34 (and married to former Pirates All-Star Pedro Álvarez) and three sons, who are 19, five and one. He resides in Mesa, Ariz., and visited American Family Fields of Phoenix from time to time during baseball’s pause. But he was quick to credit other coaches and instructors for putting in much more time with players to keep them ready -- men like Hook, bullpen coach Steve Karsay, assistant hitting coach Jacob Cruz, first-base coach Jason Lane, bullpen catcher Robinzon Diaz and Triple-A manager Rick Sweet. All live in the Phoenix area and scheduled their appearances to align with players in need of work while staying aware of distancing.

Since MLB announced its plan to play a 60-game regular season, Murphy has taken part in a series of Zoom calls to help set the Brewers’ plans. They will host two workouts per day at Miller Park beginning Saturday, each with a mix of pitchers and hitters and starting with live batting practice on Day 1. There will be a lot of intrasquad games, Counsell said, and the Brewers were also looking at playing a couple of exhibition games against another team before Opening Day.

“We all have to remind ourselves that we don’t know what’s going to happen the next day,” Counsell said one week ago in his most recent briefing with reporters. “I will tell you I went into Miller Park for a couple of hours today, and I was quickly hit in the face with, ‘Wow, I’ve got a lot to do.’ I thought I had that ready, and it’s not even close to being ready. That’s what the days look like, I think. That’s what the next three weeks are going to look like. We’re going to be hit with the unexpected frequently.

“Instead of getting frustrated by it or complaining about it, we’ve got to move on to the next thing and understand that’s where we’re at right now and do our best with it. I’m looking forward to leading the guys on that journey that we’re going to have to do that with.”

So is Murphy, who is the Brewers’ unofficial motivational specialist.

“I don’t know [what to expect], but I’m excited about it,” he said. “It’s going to be history. We’re part of history. We’ll see how it brings out certain things in people. People say, ‘Well, we don’t have fans to provide energy,’ and that’s true. They bring so much energy, and players feed off that energy. Now they have to reach down and get it from some other spot. We’re going to find out some things, good and bad. It’s hard for the front-office people to evaluate. Really hard, I think.

“I think the protocols put in place, people are going to find them cumbersome sometimes, but I think it’s going to help us all. It’s going to help us figure out if we want to be connected, if we want to really be a team. You’re going to have to be a team, because one guy can make some mistakes and it affects the team, it affects families. We’re having to adjust, and there’s a lot of positives in that.”