Murphy brings carrot and stick to San Diego
When the Padres called up their top prospect last month, his Triple-A manager had some fun with the moment.
First, catcher Austin Hedges was asked by the team's trainer if he'd been in trouble the night before. Hedges said he had not. Are you sure? Hedges said he was sure.
Hedges then boarded the team bus only to be approached by two men who looked like cops.
"Come with us," one of them said.
And only then did El Paso manager Pat Murphy let Hedges know that he was headed to the Major Leagues.
"He got me good," Hedges said later.
And now it's Murphy's turn.
The Padres on Tuesday named him their manager for the remainder of the 2015 season and will give him 96 games to show he deserves the job permanently. All he has to do is jump-start a club that is 32-35 and closer to last place than first in the NL West.
The Padres lost Murphy's first game, 6-5, to the A's on Tuesday. This isn't what was expected after a furious offseason roster overhaul by new general manager A.J. Preller. For all his work, the Padres are sixth in the Majors in runs and 19th in ERA. Now they will find out if Murphy can get more out of the team than Bud Black, who was dismissed on Monday.
Here's what we know about the 56-year-old Murphy: He will make his players laugh. He will often do it loudly. He will let them know when they've done something wrong, but he will let them know when they've done something right, too.
"Keep learning, keep working," he says, over and over.
He's knows the game inside and out, having spent his entire life playing, coaching and studying it. He is a teacher, too, and by most accounts an excellent one.
Another one of his favorite lines is: "I'm like an offensive lineman. My job is to open holes for these guys so they can run through them to the big leagues. It's my job to help them be their best self."
He's one of those people who engages everyone, who never seems to meet a stranger and has the ability to make people feel at ease. His players will love playing for him. That was true at Notre Dame and Arizona State, where he won 947 games.
His players loved playing for him at El Paso, too, and that was a different kind of challenge. Triple-A players don't want to be there, and most of them believe they don't belong there. Still, Murphy made it a productive environment.
This is a guy who has experienced almost everything there is to experience in baseball. He will engage his players with doses of both humor and anger. The Padres will always know where they stand with him. And these are the most important things a manager can bring to the table in 2015.
At a time when front offices can offer managers mountains of data on everything from lineups to defensive alignments to pitching matchups, one thing will never change: The manager's responsibility is to get a professional effort from his team every single day of the season.
He must make players understand that everything he does is what he believes is the best thing for the team. Players must be convinced that if something is right for the team, it's also right for them.
The decision to dismiss Black surely was a painful one for Preller, who surely would be the first to acknowledge that Black is among the best managers in the game and also one of the best people.
Black will be the top man on virtually every general manager's list if he decides a managerial change is necessary. Preller didn't dismiss Black to hire someone better, because that's unlikely to happen. He also didn't dismiss him for doing a bad job. Because he didn't do a bad job.
Murphy will tip his hat to Black if he has success. In recent years, Black has offered Murphy an array of advice related to running games and dealing with players.
It was former Padres general manager Randy Smith who hired Murphy to assist with personnel decisions and manage in Class A. Murphy was so impressive that he was promoted to Triple-A the following season.
When Murphy met with his Triple-A players that first spring, he offered a simple formula for winning.
"The state of play," he said, "will always be aggressive."
And the team played that way and had a few laughs, too. When the Padres called up pitcher Cory Mazzoni, Murphy called him in and told him he'd missed curfew and was being suspended for five games.
Before Mazzoni could protest, Murphy laughed and said, "You're being called up. Congratulations."
Like a lot of others, Mazzoni said he loved playing for Murphy, that he appreciated his sense of humor and his energy and all the rest. Murphy now gets the kind of opportunity plenty of baseball people dream about. The Padres are sure he'll change the tone. They're hoping that's just the beginning.