“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?)