With the Mets acquiring little in the way major league talent this offseason, Sandy Alderson making no promises they’ll acquire any more during what’s left of it and the scheduling of something as ostensibly upbeat as Banner Day/Night somehow managing to piss people off, this correspondent seeks something encouraging or at least intriguing to get him through these final weeks of winter Met malaise.
For that, there’s always Daniel Murphy.
Ah, Murph. Sort of like “Ah, Bach” on M*A*S*H, it doesn’t mean anything, but it sounds like it might. That’s been Daniel Murphy for going on five years now — which in itself is encouraging or at least intriguing.
Daniel Murphy seems almost permanently planted onto our baseball landscape. In an age when players who aren’t David Wright don’t exactly endure on the Mets depth chart, Murphy could practically be said to engender blue-and-orange longevity. How long has Daniel Murphy been a Met?
So long that only Wright and Johan Santana are current Mets who’ve been Mets longer.
So long that he played a significant role on a Met playoff contender.
So long that Daniel Murphy has succeeded, has failed, has persevered and has succeeded again.
But not so long that we’re absolutely sure what Daniel Murphy will be when his final story is told.
In a sense, Daniel Murphy is a throwback, a ’10s version, loosely speaking, of Wayne Garrett: a guy who came up to the Mets as a kid, was in and out of their primary plans, had his ups and downs at different positions, and then — when you were likely thinking about something or somebody else — had suddenly been here forever. Garrett, the only semi-regular third baseman of extended tenure the club could claim across its first two decades, was a Met from 1969 to 1976 and still sits fifteenth on the all-time Mets games-played list with 883 (three more than Keith Hernandez, 44 ahead of Carlos Beltran).
Murphy, despite missing all of 2010 and the last two months of 2011, cracked the Top 50 last year, having now played in 469 games as a Met, or one more than Carlos Delgado and Cliff Floyd. With another healthy year as the regular second baseman, he’s likely to pass Joel Youngblood, Gary Carter and Lenny Dykstra in 2013 and reach No. 35 on the list. Not that there’s any inherent magic in those numbers, but it is an indicator that amid multiple roster reconstructions and a lingering air of clueless mayhem, Murph has truly hung in here as a Met.
It leads me to hope he’ll be around when the Mets turn the same corner they seemed far beyond when he arrived. When Murph made his debut on August 2, 2008, they were fighting the Phillies for first place. Daniel’s blazing bow (.404 after 18 games) was one of the reasons they pushed their way into a division lead within a couple of weeks. The Mets’ reliance on a rookie uncomfortably manning left field — two, counting the starts allotted Nick Evans — may also have been one of the reasons they slipped out of that lead and into a Wild Card dogfight they couldn’t win. There were lots of reasons for that, actually.
Still, Daniel Murphy was a pennant-race Met and a Shea Stadium Met. There aren’t many of those left: him, Wright and Santana plus September ’08 coffee-sippers Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell. If the Mets had made that postseason, lefthanded Murph would’ve been the starting left fielder in Games One and Two of the NLDS at Wrigley Field against righties Ryan Dempster and Victor Zambrano. He might’ve sat in Game Three at Shea against Rich Harden, but who knows? The Mets didn’t beat out the Brewers, didn’t play the Cubs and have not since gotten within wishing distance of postseason play. Yet when I got to gaggle around Murph at the Mets’ holiday party in December 2011 and heard him tell one of my fellow bloggers that “there’s no better place to win than in New York City,” I knew he was talking not from cliché or watching other teams win on TV. For nearly two months, Daniel Murphy was a part of winning — or almost winning — in New York City, and as long as we were close enough to dream, there was indeed no better place.
I think it’s that recollection of rookie Daniel Murphy participating in late-season drama and rehabbing Daniel Murphy implying he remembered what it was like that made me a little sad the other day when I read his remarks on the current state of Met affairs. Murph was the latest in a line of Mets to visit areas hard-hit by Superstorm Sandy this winter — Far Rockaway, on Wednesday — and was asked, after doing his good deed, what he thought of what his team has done and hasn’t done this offseason.
He spoke like a veteran, like someone with a proprietary as opposed to a mercenary interest in the long-term fortunes of his team, like someone who’s worked in the same place for quite a while. He found reasons for optimism, he put a good face on things that could’ve gone better, but then he said something that managed to remind me how long ago the last Met pennant race really was. Acknowledging the unsettled nature of the outfield — a pasture Murph wisely abandoned several seasons ago — he spoke up for one his new prospective teammates:
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about Collin Cowgill. I actually got a text message right after he [was traded to the Mets] from Andy Green, who used to be in our organization. He said that we’re going to love this guy — that he comes to play hard every day. He said he’ll really fit in well in the clubhouse. While it may not be big-league free-agent splashes that we’ve made so far, I think we’ve added some pieces that are definitely going to help us.”
I wouldn’t have expected Murph to mutter, “Collin Cowgill? Who the hell is that? Where the [bleep] is Justin Upton?” Nevertheless, that scouting report…“he comes to play hard every day”? Is that unusual? Having watched the Mets too closely for my own good this past August and September, sadly I know the answer. I can see why Murph would value having a teammate who plays hard every day, since he was one of the few Mets I was convinced continued to do so after 2012 went irretrievably south. But I always thought that sort of thing was a given.
And “he said he’ll really fit in well in the clubhouse”? I wonder what that’s code for. It put me in mind of Henry Hill’s explanation of how wise guys talk: “You’re gonna like this guy. He’s all right. He’s a good fella. He’s one of us. You understand?” In light of how the Mets have disintegrated second half after second half in this decade, they could use someone who doesn’t fit snugly within their milieu. Asking a projected platoon center fielder with 216 plate appearances under his belt to be an agent of change might be a bit much, but here’s hoping Collin Cowgill shakes things up more than he conforms to the established norm of his new surroundings. (As long as he doesn’t wear a t-shirt to the clubhouse, heaven forefend!)
What really got me, though, was Murph’s source for all things Cowgill. “I actually got a text message…from Andy Green, who used to be in our organization.”
Andy Green? The Met for four minutes (OK, games) in 2009? Murph’s still in touch with Andy Green? I couldn’t decide whether that was touching or strange. A person can forge a lifelong friendship from the briefest of encounters, but that’s people. These are ballplayers. Daniel Murphy is a Top 50 Games Played Met. Andy Green took a Citi Field tour and wandered onto the diamond against the Giants. They actually shook hands?
That impression, however, doesn’t take into account the big baseball fraternity and Spring Trainings and minor leagues. Murph and Green were together in the organization in 2010 even though neither played in the majors. Why shouldn’t they have gotten to know each other? Further, what the hell do I know about Andy Green besides how quickly he was here and gone? I didn’t know, for example, that since he and I crossed paths in 2009 (he was batting and I was ironically cheering him on at the tail end of a blowout loss from the top of Promenade) Andy Green has become a manager. Not of a Dick’s Sporting Goods, to borrow a line from Moneyball, but the Double-A Mobile BayBears, affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, for whom Green wasn’t playing much before coming to the Mets and playing hardly at all.
Mobile is Green’s new managerial assignment. Last year, his first as a skipper, he helmed the Missoula Osprey of the Pioneer League. Turns out that as Andy was passing through the Mets, he was realizing his real future was as a molder of young men — or something like that. “It was at that time when I was walking other teammates through pressure situations and game situations and talking about the game,” he told the Missoulian last summer, “that I began to really fall in love with the game and began to really want to coach after my playing days were done.”
So maybe there’s more than meets the eye to Daniel Murphy citing Andy Green’s endorsement of Collin Cowgill. Or maybe it’s just the way guys in the fraternity talk about other guys in the fraternity. Or, perhaps, Murphy’s climb back from outfield infamy and knee injury and evolution toward becoming a representative second baseman and doubles-producing machine had something to do with a little advice he got along the way from a washed-up utilityman who knew more about baseball than one would have guessed from examining his statistics.
The only things I can really glean until Cowgill proves a mighty contributor or a negligible addition to the 2013 Mets, is Daniel Murphy played on the 2009 Mets with Andy Green; 2009 was both pretty long ago and the beginning of the ongoing dismal epoch in which the Mets remain stuck until an 82nd win is secured; and Murph goes back even further than that — to another stadium and another era, one when Mets fans weren’t reduced to parsing quotes about spare outfielders because we were far too excited about our chances in the season ahead to dive headfirst into that kind of minutiae.