You get the sense that Daniel Murphy has never been picked first for anything in his life — and that it’s never deterred him a bit.
Murphy is the Mets’ second baseman because he was blocked at third, couldn’t play left and wasn’t suited for first. Also, a plethora of would-be second basemen had to fall away. Ruben Tejada had to scoot to short when retaining Jose Reyes proved beyond the Mets’ means. Justin Turner didn’t hit enough to play daily. Luis Castillo expended every last iota of his goodwill. Brad Emaus faded from the picture faster than Marty McFly’s siblings. Jordany Valdespin was too literal in telling his manager what he really thought of him. And Wilmer Flores…well, who the hell remembers why Wilmer Flores didn’t get a legitimate shot? It wasn’t because Daniel Murphy was considered too sacred a cow to be replaced.
On the contrary, the Mets seem to view Murph as highly disposable meat. They still might dispose of him, or at least sell high. In an industry where one of the best starting pitchers around can be shipped from a non-contender in one league to a contender in the other two days before he is going to be named to an All-Star team, nobody’s status is that sacred. Murphy might yet join David Cone, Bobby Bonilla, Rick Reed, Armando Benitez and Carlos Beltran in the ranks of Mets who were traded away in the same season they were All-Stars. Or he could find himself in another uniform the season after he was a Met All-Star, same as happened to R.A. Dickey, to name the most recent example.
But most importantly, in the here and now, Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets is a National League All-Star. It may be the first Met thing to happen all year that has elicited unabashedly good feelings.
Murph, the Mets’ 13th-round selection in the 2006 amateur draft, wasn’t picked first in this process, either. He wasn’t voted in by the fans ahead of Chase Utley and he wasn’t a players’ choice ahead of Dee Gordon. Had Jon Niese’s luck held up or David Wright maintained enough Face Of MLB juice to outlast Aramis Ramirez, Murphy would probably be enjoying his traditional four-day July vacation. The 39-49 Mets (buoyed to victory Sunday, appropriately enough, by second-line options Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Anthony Recker) haven’t plunged ten below .500 in spite of a fistful of dazzling individual performances. It’s been a team effort to get them to be this bad for this long. They deserved having no more than their one mandatory representative flown to Minneapolis for the ritualistic tipping of their hideously conceived cap.
In 1965, when the schedule didn’t randomly throw American Leaguers against National Leaguers as a matter of course and this stuff was a far bigger deal, Ed Kranepool represented the last-place Mets as their sole All-Star, also in Minnesota. At the break 49 years ago, Krane, 20 and still considered hot future stuff, had almost the exact same numbers Murph packs today: 7 HR, 37 RBI, .287 BA. Eddie was the best of a bad Met lot (en route to a second half that was one long slide down the statistical pole). His presence on the same bench as Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Billy Williams and Ron Santo likely didn’t look any less absurd then than it does now, but for the rest of his days, he was All-Star Ed Kranepool.
By the delightfully inclusive rules of baseball, somebody had to carry the Mets banner in 1965, just as somebody has to carry it in 2014. All-Star For The Rest Of His Days Daniel Murphy deserves the honor more than other Met of the moment. His topline numbers suggest Kranepoolian tokenism was all that merited any Met earning an invite to the All-Star soirée, but when Mike Matheny scanned the possibilities, he saw, embedded in Murph’s reasonably impressive .294 average and relatively modest 7 home runs and 35 runs batted in, a very hefty bag of base hits. Daniel’s 106 are currently tied for second-most in the N.L. Sabermetrically spectacular Murph isn’t, but a whole lot of hits are a whole lot of hits.
That’s his core competency, and it’s a fine one to have (he’s quietly accumulated more hits than all but 15 players in Met history). The rest of Murph’s game? Well, when it comes to fundies, let’s just say that fun dies a little bit with every wrong base thrown to or run toward. He’s not out there for his glove, either, yet he is out there with his glove every blessed day, not exactly giving Bill Mazeroski a run for his money, but not giving away ballgames as long as Tim Teufel shifts him correctly.
Hardly anybody would think to pick our Daniel Murphy first, but he does eventually get himself picked. This time around his pickage came partly out of Metsian circumstances but mostly, I’d like to believe, because Daniel Murphy is the kind of person who makes people predisposed to pass him over give him a second look and then make them pick him.
He showed up unheralded on the Mets in August of 2008 amid the franchise’s last pennant race and he insinuated himself into the club’s plans by hitting .467 in his first 30 major league at-bats and .313 in two months’ worth of action. The Mets realized they had to find him a place.
Then they grew determined to find somebody else to take his place, yet they never could. The 23-year-old rookie who split Shea’s final weeks in left field with Nick Evans because neither Moises Alou nor Fernando Tatis could stay healthy turned 24 and untenable at that position within eight months of his big league debut. No matter. He went to first when Carlos Delgado became the initial casualty of 2009’s injury barrage and responded by leading the team in home runs. Granted, there were only 12 home runs in that total, but you didn’t see anybody else hitting them out of brand spankin’ new Citi Field.
Still, Murphy wasn’t slated to play first on a permanent basis, so back he went to the minors to learn to play second in 2010…where he was promptly waylaid by a cheap slide and disappeared from our sights. He returned to Spring Training in 2011, playing second fiddle at second base to Rule 5’er Emaus before the Mets cut their losses. Soon, though, Ike Davis fell to the Coors Field grass in May and, voilà, Murph was a first baseman again. Until he was a third baseman in Wright’s absence. Until it was back to second where he absorbed another nasty slide and his year was done.
But Murphy wasn’t. He got a whole season to prove himself in the middle of the infield in 2012 and he didn’t prove he wasn’t a second baseman, so they kept him there in 2013 and he was almost never out of the lineup. Except for the unpardonable crime of jetting home for the birth of his son, he hasn’t missed a moment in 2014, either. He’s been to the White House and now he’s going to the All-Star Game.
Homegrown. Underestimated. Easy enough to overlook. Hard to confidently slot. Yet constant as hell and did we mention he hits too much to ignore? From these imperfect Mets, Daniel Murphy is the perfect choice to carry our banner onto midsummer’s starriest stage.