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Daniel Murphy, Mets postseason icon, is retiring from baseball

Sports

Daniel Murphy treated image

On August 2, 2008, Daniel Murphy reported to a big league clubhouse for the first time. It was six hours before game time. He put on his batting gloves and waited his turn to hit in the cage.

He must have looked especially alert and nervous when Pedro Martinez walked into the room, took one look at him and said, “Well, you look ready to go.”

“Yes, Pedro Martinez,” Murphy thought, more than a little terrified. “I’m ready to go.”

A few hours later, catcher Brian Schneider saw Murphy struggling to eat a plate of food.

“You okay?” Schneider said, handing Murphy a Pepto-Bismol and glass of water.

That night, Murphy got his first base hit. On September 26, 2020, he singled to right field for his 1,572nd and last.

Murphy — a three-time All Star, historic postseason performer and riveting figure on and off the field — is retiring from his playing career.

“This is a beautiful game, and I really just feel humbled and blessed that it let me jump on the ride for a little bit,” Murphy, 35, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “It’s beautiful. It can teach you about so many things. And all I can say is, thank you.”

Told of this news, David Wright sent this text message almost immediately:

“Murph was one of my all-time favorite teammates and a great friend. I could sit and listen to him talk about hitting for hours, which I often did while playing cards after games. He worked tirelessly to perfect his craft and was selfless on the diamond. His postseason heroics in 2015 were one of the most impressive things I have ever witnessed on a baseball field. Congratulations to Daniel, Tori and the entire Murphy gang on a tremendous career.”

Wright’s comments — and the fact that he dropped what he was doing to make sure they were included in this story — speak to the deep and enduring connection that many Mets of their era continue to feel towards one another.

“The Mets were all I knew for a decade, and I loved it,” Murphy says. “The relationships that I and my family built — David laughs at me, but I still sing David’s praises when I talk to younger players.

“These relationships we built — Jacob (deGrom) and I. I came up with Lucas Duda. All these guys on the 2015 team. We all grew up together. We did life together for years, even through the minor leagues. Jeurys Familia and (Juan) Lagares and (Ruben) Tejada and (Wilmer) Flores. I went to my first instructional league in 2006, and they were all there.”

There was a small but profound moment on the infield in 2020 when Murphy, with the Colorado Rockies saw Flores, now playing for the San Francisco Giants. “Flo, it’s really good to see you man,” Murphy said. “We’ve known each other for like 15 years.”

Murphy never guessed he would endure for that long. As with so many other players in this hyper-competitive industry, he fought self-doubt every day. It wasn’t until 2011 that he even accepted that he belonged in the big leagues.

“The anxiety and getting nervous, that never really went away [for me],” Murphy says. “My son gets nervous at things, and I try to do a little studying on it. I don’t think we get less scared. I think the more we do it we get braver. So I don’t think I got less afraid in my career. I think the more times you do it you’re like ‘OK, you are nervous, and they are good. You want to perform well. And it’s tough but you’re brave enough to do it. You did it yesterday, you’ll do it today.’”

Firmly established by 2015, Murphy went on the tear that will forever define his career, and ensure passionate ovations at Citi Field for the rest of his life. Make no mistake: Murphy earned a place in the pantheon of great Mets.

Movement toward that end began in earnest on August 2 of that year, in a Sunday night game against Washington. Murphy had been working on his swing mechanics with hitting coaches Kevin Long and Pat Roessler, and put some of the changes into practice in hitting a home run.

“That home run was the beginning of where Kevin was like, ‘I think you should crowd the plate and swing kind of as hard as you can and try to hit the ball over the fence to right center field,’” Murphy says.

He carried it into the postseason, and set a record by homering in six consecutive games. In a National League Championship Series sweep of the Chicago Cubs, he batted .529 and was named MVP.

Asked what it was like to visit a zone that sublime, Murphy paused for a moment. It wasn’t an experience that lent itself to words.

“There was something, I think about going five games [in the division series] then straight into the Cubs series that didn’t give me a chance to take stock on what it was we were embarking on,” he says. “And so there was something to that that just allowed us to go out and express ourselves with our baseball.”

He adds, understandably, “It was freaking awesome.”

Murphy cooled off in the World Series loss to Kansas City, though that seems almost an afterthought in light of his efforts to deliver the Mets to that moment.

“Leading into the World Series, I do think back on how much those days gave us the chance to look back like, ‘Whoa, this is a big deal what we’re doing,’” he says. “As opposed to the thinking that you lose your timing [with a longer layoff between series] — I don’t know that it’s necessarily that. You just start better understanding the magnitude of what’s going on in front of you.

“I started noticing things in the World Series I hadn’t noticed up until then. Cameras in places and stuff like that. I could feel it. The Royals, because they had been there before, maybe were a bit more experienced.

“It’s an interesting parallel to my career. Nobody knew what to do with me. I would get some base hits and then I’d run the bases like I was invisible. I would do something pretty good on defense — and then I would do something where you might say, ‘I don’t think he has ever taken a ground ball his entire life.’ And so here you have this run of two weeks, and then the World Series and you’re like, which guy is this?”

The 2015 season also included the most notable off-field moment of Murphy’s career. In spring training, when MLB’s ambassador of inclusion Billy Bean visited the Mets, Murphy said that he “disagreed” with Bean’s LGBTQ “lifestyle.”

If you’ll indulge a personal note on this: When those comments hit the news cycle, I was briefly back in New York. Asked to write a column about Murphy, I texted to ask if he wanted to discuss or clarify.

He called, and spoke on the record for roughly 30 minutes. We strongly disagreed at the beginning of the conversation, and did not bridge the gap at the end. But Murphy’s willingness to engage civilly enabled a column that dug into that divide. Looking back on it five years later, in a time of intense polarization, that seems especially valuable.

The same compliment applies to Bean’s response to Murphy. In a 2015 column for MLB.com he wrote, “I appreciate that Daniel spoke his truth.” The two later spoke and developed a friendship.

On Friday, I asked Murphy to reflect on the episode.

“Billy, in a situation that he could have elevated, he calmed in a very gracious manner,” Murphy says. “From that we got to have some conversations that we really enjoyed. That was probably my biggest takeaway, that two people with different views, we could come and have reasonable dialogue. That’s a good thing.

“There are things that Billy knows, and that I would like to learn. That’s what I remember: His grace under pressure, and the opportunity for reasonable dialogue amongst two people … if I can approach a conversation and assume that the person I’m speaking with knows something I don’t, then in each conversation I have the opportunity to learn something. I would say I don’t always do that, and I’m striving to.”

After that eventful 2015 season, Murphy became a free agent. The Mets did not pursue him, and he signed with the Washington Nationals. There — and to a lesser extent in later stops with the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies — he tormented his old team, batting .355 with 10 home runs against the Mets.

“I loved all of those guys, but for the three hours [of the game] you’re like, ‘I’m going to really focus up, just a tick more right here,’” he says. “I just think senses are heightened against your former team.”

In recent seasons, Murphy could sense his post-Mets career winding down.

“Have you seen my numbers these last few years?” he says. “I wouldn’t say I was a major league player.”

He also experienced an awakening of sorts during the quarantine period last year.

“There was something that happened over the lockdown,” he says of the time spent with his wife, Tori, and children Noah, now six years old, Quinn, five, and Drew, three.

“I had a blind spot revealed to me,” Murphy says. “I didn’t fully comprehend the trade-off that was being made each time I was separated from my family. I didn’t know this was what I was missing. I had a thought: You could identify what you were giving up [by retiring], but now you can identify what you’re getting.”

Now Murphy is taking classes to finish his bachelor’s degree and otherwise spending as much time as possible with his family. Among other advantages, this allows Tori more time and energy to pursue her own work at Prom Series, the nonprofit she founded that provides experiences for orphans and foster children.

By the time last season ended, Murphy knew he was done.

“I think I ran like a four-five on a two-hopper to the first baseman down the line, and I hit the bag and I was like, ‘Yeah. That’s it. That was pretty fun. That was a fun ride.’”

Does he consider his career a success?

“Yes,” Murphy says. “Full stop, yes. The numbers are cool, because it’s a really hard league and I never thought I would get one hit, let alone 1,500.”

“I was looking back at the career and I was kind of like, ‘What are my takeaways from it?’ The way I look at it — I look at my wife and our children and I think, it wasn’t the greatest career, but it was ours.

“It was ours. It was messy. There were beautiful moments. There were lows, there were highs, but I felt like as a family we tried to honor each other, honor those around us, honor Jesus — failing miserably multitudes of times. But it was ours.”