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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

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Dumb and Dumber

“If he’s so dumb, how come he’s president?”
—Gerald Ford’s campaign slogan, as reported by Chevy Chase on Weekend Update, 1975

Those who cut the Mets miles and miles of slack for sucking as badly as they do point to the injuries. How could have we expected them to contend without their key players? I’ll buy that. I’ll buy that substituting for All-Stars and even regulars wasn’t going to be easy. I’ll buy that if you told me ahead of time that we’d endure most of 2009 missing mass quantities of Reyes, Delgado, Beltran, Maine, Perez and Putz (plus assorted other dollops of the disabled) I’d have no right nor reason to expect this team to be in the middle of a pennant race in mid-September.

But I’d also have no right nor reason to expect what we’ve gotten. We’ve gotten dumbass baseball from the moment the season started right down to its final weeks. We’ve gotten amateur baseball from professionals. We’ve gotten neophyte mistakes from those who have been playing the game continually since childhood.

It’s not that we don’t have good players. We don’t, for the most part, but it’s not that. It’s that we’re getting bad baseball. Dumbass baseball.

We’ve seen it emanate from just about every source imaginable since April, but from no one as repeatedly or as regularly as from Daniel Murphy. Since it’s a teamwide epidemic, I’m assuming we’ve seen more bad baseball out of Murphy in ’09 because he’s had the dratted luck to remain healthy this entire season. He’s played in ten more games than David Wright, twelve more than Luis Castillo. It only figures that by exposing himself more, he would be more exposed than any Met.

All Mets play bad baseball. Daniel Murphy plays it the most.

Murphy, to the best of my knowledge, was not granted a contract by the New York Mets because he clipped and sent in coupons from empty cartons of Dairylea for the honor. I assume he plays because he succeeded at it in school well enough to be drafted and played it well enough in the minors to be promoted. That’s where I came in to the Daniel Murphy story. I saw him, same as just about everybody else, for the first time last summer. For the better part of two months, he impressed with the bat. He held his own, albeit sometimes shakily, with the glove. He was handed left field for this year.

Then he charged out to left and proved he couldn’t play it. There is a tendency to offer the kid his own yard of slack for his glovework to date. Daniel Murphy had never been an outfielder before 2008. He was an infielder — a third baseman. Third base was taken. He had played some second base, we were told, and tried it again in the mythical Arizona Fall League (where we assume everybody’s shortcomings can be curtailed), but it didn’t work there and besides, we were blessed with a terminal case of Castillo. Carlos Delgado’s hip, Fernando Tatis’s limited utility and Jeremy Reed’s frightful experience gunning a ball to the backstop in L.A. made Daniel — who remained healthy and willing — the de facto everyday first baseman.

It wasn’t a disaster. Sometimes Daniel Murphy at first base was downright competent. Once in a while, as on a freak play against the Dodgers in July, he appeared brilliant. That’s both encouraging and a little misleading. I remember watching Dave Kingman play first base after he wore out his welcome in the outfield, and he managed to periodically appear brilliant if only by comparison to his defense elsewhere. Even Mike Piazza was once witnessed diving for a ball there. Anybody, with the exception of luckless Jeremy Reed (who, incidentally, has played the fourth-most games of any Met in 2009…who’da guessed?), can get by for a spell at first.

But Daniel Murphy is never going to be Keith Hernandez defensively. He is never going to be John Olerud or David Segui either. If we’re lucky, he’ll be Dave Magadan, no great shakes in the field, but no great shame — and a heckuva stick usually minus the power. Mostly, he’s Daniel Murphy. He’s likable, he works hard, he gave us that most appetizing glimpse in ’08…we want him to succeed.

To this point in his young career, he is not succeeding. He is not close to doing so. And if he didn’t give us two nice months and didn’t have a name that a lot of fans seem to enjoy slapping on their backs with his number, I can’t imagine a lot of us would particularly care whether he was here next year or not.

If it were just about last night and three dreadful moments in a brutal ninth inning when sensible people were sleeping — failure to corral (or go after) a fair ball down the line that didn’t have to be a double; failure to cleanly pick up a grounder; and compounded failure to grasp that same ball as it practically bounced into his glove — the impulse would be to say, as Murph himself did, that it was just a “pretty awful day” at the office. We’ve all had those, particularly at the age of 24. But Murphy has actually had a pretty awful year by every measure except health and attitude.

While not proceeding gracefully afield in 2009, he has also shown he’s not yet a big league caliber hitter. Murphy didn’t hit Wednesday night. Not hitting is typical behavior for the Mets, who strangely lead the N.L. in batting average yet don’t seem to drive runners home. It’s not to his credit that Murphy went 0-for-4, but that’s just an ohfer. His .258 average is about as high as he’s batted since May. He’s on base barely more than 30 percent of the time; he slugs at a .403 clip — and those are after compiling his best stretch of OBP and SLG of the season. These are not the numbers you’d expect out of a cleanup hitter, which is what he’s been on paper for much of the year, but we know that’s a technicality, and we understand it. But they’re not numbers you’d readily accept anywhere in the lineup, save for the pitcher’s spot.

Light production isn’t necessarily the most vexing problem with Daniel Murphy in the wake of his first full season (though it sure doesn’t help his cause). It’s not even that he made two to three lousy plays in the ninth to cost the Mets a ballgame they should have won. It’s that this is how too many Mets play, Daniel Murphy more frequently than any of them in 2009. If Murphy dove for Garret Anderson’s double instead of thinking, in essence, “um, it’s not foul?” Anderson might have been caught at first. He certainly would have been held there. As for the double-muff that ended this sodden affair from Atlanta, of course he should have come up with Ryan Church’s grounder. It was an in-between hop, but it didn’t appear (on television) all that tricky. But Murph literally took his eye off the ball and — where have you seen this before? — didn’t use both hands available to him. When the ball somehow caromed right back in his midst, he simply missed it. A lot going on there, much as there was when Reed melted down at Dodger Stadium (which happened to be the same game wherein Church skipped by third base; oh the irony).

Is all that bad luck? Inexperience? Unrefined instincts? Or dumbass baseball? After a full year spent in the company of Daniel Murphy, I’m veering to that last choice. We saw it in the outfield until it could be seen no longer. We saw it on the basepaths in Philadelphia Sunday night when he took off for third despite having no chance — none — of being safe on a ball that trickled a few feet from Carlos Ruiz. We’ve seen poor slides. We’ve seen tepid production that hasn’t been close to the taste we received last year, before the league got a look at him.

It’s just bad, dumbass baseball out of Daniel Murphy, just as it’s been from most of the Mets for inconceivable spans of 2009. Usually, however, there’s some redeeming feature justifying the presence of certain of his teammates in this expectation-lowered annum. For example, I wanted Castillo released the night of The Popup, but (despite laughing my fool head off at sympathetic rhetorical questions like, “Where would the Mets be without Luis Castillo?”) he has hit to the best of his Luis Castillo abilities. Jeff Francoeur is a half-assed defender and has no sense of the strike zone, but he hits a ball out of a park now and then, throws like Roy Hobbs and — cliché alert! — plays hard, even when hurt. Angel Pagan has revealed his dumbass tendencies in spades, but we’ve also seen his speed, his power and how they manifest themselves into triples, which is no small consideration at Citi Field.

What the hell do we have in Daniel Murphy? A power-free first baseman who doesn’t hit for average, doesn’t get on all that much and has no expertise at or feel for his position. But he did have a nice August in 2008 and people do enjoy wearing shirts that say MURPHY 28.

I don’t particularly want Carlos Delgado to return, not even for incentives — though I wonder what ever happened to, “You’ll be compensated at no less than $400,000 to play baseball with meal money kicked in, there’s your incentive.” He’ll be close to 38 on Opening Day 2010; he’ll be, save for a minor miracle, inactive since May 10, 2009; and, if memory serves, he’ll still have the kind of seniority and sway that is alleged to have held David Wright back from assuming his presumably predestined informal team captaincy (not that that sort of thing isn’t vastly overrated, but all reports indicate Delgado has never exerted the “positive influence in the clubhouse” that was supposed to be his value added). Delgado’s not a long-term answer and I kind of doubt he’s a short-term answer.

But what evidence is there that Murphy is suitable where Delgado isn’t? His youth and fading good first impression notwithstanding, I wouldn’t hesitate to shop him if anybody else sees something in him. After a year like this, there aren’t many Mets of whom I wouldn’t let it be known around baseball that we’ll listen to any reasonable offer. The only major leaguer this organization has developed in the past five seasons with an MLB tenure longer than Murphy’s is Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey has been, save for his own two good months in 2008, a vast disappointment, to put it mildly. Somebody wants to talk to somebody about trading for Mike Pelfrey, I wouldn’t hang up the phone either. But at least Pelfrey has shown recurring flashes of what he is thought to be. He’s not a “No. 2″ starter right now. He’s barely a No. 5, to use that sickening term. He’s backpedaled behind Nelson Figueroa, for cryin’ out loud. But there’s something there with Pelfrey. It would take a lot to make me consider letting him go with his 26th birthday yet to come.

I don’t see anything there with Murphy. He has none of the so-called five tools in abundance and that sixth tool that one would think comes free with every player — baseball sense — is completely lacking. Whoever develops Mets prospects, whoever coaches them, whoever manages them once they reach the majors and whoever oversees the entire baseball operation share some fault for Daniel Murphy coming here ill-equipped for the long season’s haul, but how do we not hold Daniel Murphy accountable for forever playing dumbass baseball?

Is there really a good player underneath all this bad play? Will he, as Ron Swoboda once did, persevere past his youthful indiscretions and reward us with some great and memorable moment in a better year than this, thus practically erasing public recollection that his early career was marked by chronic boneheadedness that overwhelmed his good first impression? Is replacing Daniel Murphy with an actual player whose craft is first base going to be prohibitive because we’re always going to run up against the Madoff factor?

And if the Mets are so dumb, how come I’m still watching them?

(FYI: Philly’s win over the Nats cut our 4th place magic number to 5, but after this latest Turner Field debacle, who can enjoy even that much out of life?)

17 comments to Dumb and Dumber

  • Anonymous

    Greg – I'm expecting more from you here (and from KRod too, who apparently threw young Daniel under the bus for the play). Lest we forget this entire is a wash, for one – but the fact that, you know, KRod is paid to basically get three outs and he can't even do that. I don't even think Frankie threw Castillo under the bus for that play that you mentioned above…against the Yanks…where we both wanted him on the truck out of Flushing. Now, riddle me this Batman. Would DELGADO dive? Would Delgado have made that play? I know it's completely rhetorical, but from the sounds of it to me (and granted, I didn't watch the game), it's a telltale Delgado loafing play. Again, maybe if Delgado was not hurt this season, we'd have competed. But this whole throwing Daniel Murphy under the bus, who has played his tushy off this entire season when there was NOTHING to play for, is ridiculous. Please stop, or I will start calling you Frankie. Love, The Coop

  • Anonymous

    Can I be the reverse of your typical WFAN caller?
    If Daniel Murphy's last name was Martinez, the calls for his head would have been loud and clear for months. Every comment on Metsblog would be advocating for his immediate release today.

    I realize that's an excessive view but not entirely untrue. I realize people like Daniel Murphy because he is homegrown talent and we don't have a lot of it. He just also happens to be cute, white, and Irish, which gets a lot of play in this town, and that's not his fault. But the organization, in typical ham-handedness, seized on it with desperation borne out of a need to sell as many green tshirts as possible.

  • Anonymous

    He's Mike Jacobs that they didn't trade when there was some value (for Carlos Delgado, of all people).
    He makes Matt Franco look like a baseball genius.
    He's Bruce Boisclair, getting hundred of at-bats for the Mets while worthy of the bench or minors with any other team.
    He's Mike Vail with the tantalizing September one year and the rock hard reality of suckitude the next.
    In short, he's born to be a Met

  • Anonymous

    I guess Two Boots Night should have been Wednesday instead of Tuesday…

  • Anonymous

    We've actually had this discussion Caryn, and I respectfully disagree with the whole if Daniel Murphy were Martinez argument. Maybe not all of it, but definitely more than 50% of it. You have it right that he's home-grown, cute (blech, but I understand why people think he's is) and Irish in a heavy Irish fan base – but he plays hard and wears his heart on his sleeve. He seems to care about what others think and he is genuinely upset when he feels he's let his team down. This is refreshing to me since the last two seasons, we've seen people say they've become complacent or bored in a pennant race, that they are disappointed and not devastated among others giving us the impression that they collect a paycheck and that's it. Daniel Murphy, warts and all, seems to genuinely eat, breathe and sleep baseball. And well, Martinez or Murphy, fans do tend to gravitate towards that.

  • Anonymous

    Hitting we know is contagious, so apparently is boneheaded baseball. You are very right in one thing: Murphy has played the most and therefore made the most mistakes, because every single Met has made a bunch this year. (Delgado dropped popup in Atl, Beltran not sliding at home, Reyes baserunning, Wright's strikeouts, Castillo, Pagan, Church et al.)
    Give the kid a break, he's battling and he should be our starting 1B next year. Yes, he should be because we have too many holes and not enough money, and as much as we would like to try for the 20th unsuccessful time to plug holes with expensive free agents, we can't. The long term, sustainable model for organizational health is to have young, cheap players under your control. We won't win in '10 anyway- every one of our 'stars' has major question marks going in to next year-so let's temper our expectations and go St. Louis style and support our players in this dismal season and hope for the best. If he fails next year so be it, but I wont judge anyone solely on what they have done this year.

  • Anonymous

    Daniel Murphy, warts and all, seems to genuinely eat, breathe and sleep baseball.
    That's great, and I don't disagree, but I think the point is that it would be nice if there was evidence that he's better than what he's shown at playing baseball.

  • Anonymous

    Mikeski, I don't disagree with you here. However, this season I think is a total misrepresentation for anyone on the team, really. Luis Castillo looks like a mini-Roy Hobbs this year because everyone on the team is decimated. He is a complimentary player with some defense at 2B – he would just be a great part to an otherwise well-oiled machine if the rest of the team was available. David Wright – oy. All I can say is, I hope with more protection in the lineup next season, he'll start to drive in more runs. Krod who was supposedly bullet proof hardly gets an save opportunities and therefore languishes in the 'pen. Point being – to judge Daniel Murphy simply on this season is unfair. While I think he's a solid player, young, cheap, homegrown, etc, a lot of unfair criticism is thrown his way because he was thrust into a position where he had to play every day and start in positions that he'd never started in before. Believe me – I am not Daniel Murphy apologist, but I am a little sickened by some of the vitriol spewed because he hasn't saved the team nor buried it. (not you Mikeski – just others in the blogosphere)

  • Anonymous

    I don't understand why Nick Evans never gets a start at 1b, or even in LF. Even if the Mets have no intention of keeping him, wouldn't it make sense to see what he can do (without the pressure of trying to win a division) in order to showcase him for a potential trade? It seems clear that whoever is at 1B in 2010 will be merely keeping the base warm for Ike Davis.

  • Anonymous

    I don't understand this either. The Mets have had a bad enough season without shooting at their own feet. Where the hell is Evans?

  • Anonymous

    If the Mets had any money to spend this offseason, I would think Murphy's job would be in more danger.
    But anyone calling the guy a bad or even mediocre player at this point in this season is being pretty unfair to the guy. He showed a lot of potential last year, and then, as you noted, they had him train at second base in the Arizona Fall League, started him as a left fielder playing MLB games with hardly any experience in that position, and then, a third of the way into the season, moved him to first–a position that he had never played. And since he's one of the few players who has remained healthy, we've gotten to watch him learn each of these unfamiliar positions on the job, on live television during a horrible season. So, sometimes he's looked competent, sometimes he's looked pretty good, and sometimes he's looked awful.
    Normally, guys get to spend at least part of a season in the minors learning a new position away from the cameras, you know?
    And, in terms of his batting, he hit around .300 in April, he was horrible in May when he started screwing up in the outfield and got benched and then moved around, he came back in June and July when he got established at first, and he hit .298 in August.
    He's got as many doubles and triples as Wright, and almost as many home runs. I know that speaks more to Wright's somewhat disappointing season than it does to Murphy's all-star potential or even his job security. But seriously, he's had a rough season. Everyone has had a rough season. And, for all intents and purposes, this is his rookie season. Literally, if he had a couple fewer at-bats last year, this would officially be his rookie season.
    And whether its out of necessity, lack of depth, or mismanagement, this organization has had him learn three different defensive positions during that rookie season. Seriously, give the kid a break.

  • Anonymous

    This is hardly under the bus. This is maybe out to the bus stop. And not without a warm sweater.
    I'm guessing Delgado would have made more of an effort, however lame, than Murphy did on Anderson's ball if only because he knows how to play first. Delgado's a lousy first baseman, but he is a first baseman. At worst it should have been a single.
    I don't have a problem with teammates calling other teammates out. I don't have a problem with Manuel saying aloud what we're all thinking when one of his players makes a brutal, game-costing mistake. It would be great if they stopped giving each other group therapy and started demanding high-quality play out of each other. I'm guessing an entire season of stellar play behind him has gotten to Rodriguez, and if Murphy's muffs had come in June and Castillo's last night, he would have said that ball should have been caught regarding Luis.
    If K-Rod walks in the winning run between now and Oct. 4, Murphy is entitled to one “that pitch has to be a strike.”
    –Frankie

  • Anonymous

    I wanted to invoke Mike Vail, but I also wanted to get through one Daniel Murphy post without invoking Mike Vail. Thanks for filling in the gap.

  • Anonymous

    Seconded (thirded, actually). He was recalled August 25 and has had three starts. We don't know what we have in Evans, we don't know what we don't have in Evans. We may not find out in one September, but how do you simply avoid getting a sample?

  • Anonymous

    Feel free to throw this post in my face at least once a year for the next five years if Murphy develops instincts for the game and performs accordingly. If he's regularly matching Wright's extra-base power vis-a-vis pre-2009 Wright, I'll accept the told-ya-so like other players on other teams accept shaving cream pies.

  • Anonymous

    I just got this. BRILLIANT!

  • Anonymous

    I couldn't agree with this article more. As a life long Mets fan I want the team to succeed as much as anybody but one recurring issue I just can't understand is all the hype surrounding Daniel Murphy. I have watched him for the past two seasons and don't see anything more than a bench player out of him. The numbers truly don't lie.
    Fielding: He had 13… Count them, 13 errors in 2009 (granted 3 of those came in the outfield) most of which came at critical moments… That puts him among the very worst in all of baseball. The only two 1st basemen with more? Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols. Of course, the difference being Murphy doesn't exactly put up their numbers when it comes to hitting.
    Batting: Look at his shockingly pedestrian numbers:
    2009 New York Mets 155 AB: 508 R: 60 RBI: 63: OBP .313 SLG: .427 AVG: .266
    Out of all major league first baseball with over 500 plate appearances he is:
    19 out of 24 in batting average
    24 out of 25 in HR
    24 out of 25 in RBI's
    23 out of 25 in R
    24 out of 25 in OBP
    22 out of 25 in SLG
    24 out of 25 value added over replacement player
    Looking at that even I am shocked by just how truly mediocre he is. Why all the hype in keeping him at first? Bench players can easily get those numbers and be better in the field. I have no doubt that even an injured Carlos Delgado with a one year incentive laden contract would be a better option.