In career full of twists, Murphy unsure of next turn
Padres manager finds redemption in San Diego, but for how long?
SAN DIEGO -- It's been a long, hard road for Pat Murphy to get here, and it will be a long, tough slog for him to remain.
But as the Grateful Dead sang in the last line of the last song they performed before Jerry Garcia passed away, life has its anomalies: "Such a long long time to be gone and a short time to be there."
This may be Murphy's "Box of Rain," his one shot at the big brass ring. The 56-year-old career baseball man is not a quitter. Don't count him out. Murphy had an older brother who died of testicular cancer and another who survived prostate cancer. He's a single parent of a son who has traveled the bushes to the big leagues with him.
In 2009, Murphy was forced to resign from his signature head coaching job at Arizona State and the rest of his life since then has been about self-awareness and redemption. And finally, he replaced the much beloved Buddy Black as the Padres' manager on June 16. The team hasn't appreciably played any better since then. His future is hardly secure.
Murphy is well aware of the awkward circumstances of his hiring, and this is how he definitively feels about the man he replaced: "I love Buddy, too." He also added that he's not dwelling on that future.
"I'm looking at it as we just have a ballgame tonight. I'm being honest," Murphy said. "I don't even know what day it is. I'm just thinking about making the right decisions and putting us in a position to have the right outcome. I'm not thinking about my situation at all. I know it's there. I'm not denying it's there. I know I'll have a job somewhere next year. I think I will."
As far as a decision on Murphy's future? Unless something changes dramatically, he will undoubtedly be a candidate during a wide-ranging managerial search when the Padres' disappointing 2015 campaign comes to an end.
"It's not going to be done this season based on the fact that we we've lost seven in a row or won six. We'll wait until the offseason to address that," general manager A.J. Preller said last week. "I think he's getting used to managing in the big leagues, getting used to this group. It's going to be great to see in about six weeks whether the team can jump off and get to the consistent level we want to get to."
Murphy is an engaging character, no question about it, and his former and current players speak very highly of him: Dustin Pedroia and Andre Ethier, who played for him at Arizona State; Keyvius Sampson, a pitcher who was on his Triple-A team last year; and James Shields and Melvin Upton Jr. on his current squad.
"Murphy's done a great job, said Shields, who signed a four-year, $75 million deal, the richest for a free agent in Padres history, this past February. "It was a tough situation to come into especially because of the fact that Murphy and Buddy were such good friends. He's definitely a very intelligent manager. One of the reasons I came here was because of Buddy, but I'd be totally comfortable with him coming back."
"The little bit of time I spent with Buddy, it was great, but Murph has come in and done a great job," Upton said. "It's been really, really tough on him. Coming in in the middle of the season would be tough on anybody. But he's handled this well, man. He's behind us and we're behind him."
Murphy is always hugging and talking to somebody as he roams the field during batting practice. In the visitors' dugout at Citi Field during a recent series, prior to each game, he individually introduced himself to every member of the media he didn't recognize. Nobody does that. It's no wonder Murphy is constantly embracing the players. During a long career that also included a seven-season stint at Notre Dame and six years in San Diego's Minor League system, he knows almost everybody.
"My best friends in the world are my former players," Murphy said.
Here's what a few of them had to say about Murphy:
"I loved him. He was great. He's a good man. He helped me a ton," said Pedroia, the longtime Red Sox second baseman. "I can't say enough good things about him. He helped me in everything. He helped me grow up as a ballplayer. He helped me as a man. He taught me how to respect the game, to respect people. Try to be the very best at anything you choose to do. He's a very special guy. He supported me in every way, every single day."
"Murph's a great guy," said Sampson, now a rookie pitcher the Reds picked up from the Padres on waivers this past January. "He's been around the game for a long time. He knows how to relate to players. He's never played in the big leagues, but he's been around baseball for so long. The guy knows how to win, I will say that."
"He teaches you a lot, especially when you're an 18-, 19- year-old kid going off to college," said Ethier, the veteran Dodgers outfielder. "He became a mentor. That's what a college coach does. He takes you under his wings, not only when it comes to baseball, but other life issues that come up as you try to be an adult for the first time."
Murphy abruptly resigned from Arizona State in 2009 after 15 seasons amid a two-year investigation involving academic fraud and improper recruiting travel. He won 629 games and went to the College World Series four times while there. The program was ultimately placed on probation by the NCAA.
Murphy said years later that the entire affair made him evaluate his weaknesses. Jeff Moorad, then trying to buy the Padres, hired him and installed Murphy as a manager at the club's lowest Minor League level. He slowly worked his way to the top. Even now, Murphy says he's continuing to learn about the game, about the players, during his first months in the big leagues. It's all about learning.
"He said it was a learning experience for him," Ethier said about the Arizona State situation. "It's funny because he always preached to us about how we'd respond to adversity. It was definitely an adverse situation he had to deal with. It took him awhile to get back on his feet. Sometimes you only get one chance at it, and if you mess up, that's it. But Murph realizes it was a mistake and he's a better man and coach for it happening."
Life certainly is all about redemption, is it not? Learning from mistakes, not making the same ones over and over again. "Look out of any window, any morning, any evening, any day," the Dead sang.
Murphy's Box of Rain. He's there right now. No matter where the path continues to take him.