Years of hard work lead Murphy to All-Star Game
Second baseman's effort to improve glove work recognized on national stage
MINNEAPOLIS -- The mornings were long. This was back in the spring of 2012, back when Daniel Murphy would spend hours upon hours on the infield dirt of the Mets' complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., eschewing extra batting practice for a chance to polish his defense.
To help, the Mets called on anyone with a middle infielder's glove. Then-teammates Ronny Cedeno, Ruben Tejada and Justin Turner joined more than a half-dozen coaches in a process that Tim Teufel, the project's architect, called "rough … very rough." They practiced double plays until Murphy's knees wobbled, then did it again. And again. And again. And still Murphy struggled.
"Quite frankly, I had my doubts," third baseman David Wright recalled. "I saw him fumble a lot of double-play balls. I saw him fumble a lot of routine second-base-type stuff. But to see the work that he put in every day made me more and more comfortable with him as a second baseman. This guy was out there for almost a painful amount of time trying to get better."
Murphy did improve, of course, which is why he sat behind a black podium Monday, cameras snapping as he discussed his transformation from fringe Major Leaguer into card-carrying All-Star. National League manager Mike Matheny invited Murphy here for his hitting ability, unquestionably. All-Star teammate Chase Utley called him "a professional hitter." But without an adequate glove to support those skills, Murphy never would have qualified for this stage, this podium, these cameras, these questions.
"I'm soaking it in," Murphy said, "really trying to take a step back and relax, enjoy it as much as I can."
Crediting hard work for his ascension here may seem cliché, but Murphy relied on it more than most, never boasting the natural defensive abilities of the best of his peers. He understood that, too; this is the same man who, when asked at his college orientation what position he played, infamously answered by saying he batted third.
So it did take a few extra calluses, a few extra soaks in the cold tub for him to reach this point. Murphy was never going to play his natural position of third base, where Wright held the keys. The Mets tried him in the outfield with disastrous results. They took a look at him at first base but knew his bat was not powerful enough for the position. So in many ways, the Mets' mad experiment at second base represented Murphy's last chance to stick as an everyday big leaguer.
"We went from hitting for maybe an hour and a half and then taking some ground balls at the end to, 'All right, let's hit for a little bit, but I need you to hit me some ground balls,'" said Murphy's brother and offseason training partner, Jonathan, an outfielder in the Twins' system. "We spent a lot more time on the infield dirt than we had in offseasons past, that's for sure."
As he grappled with the intricacies of the position, a pair of torn knee ligaments -- both the products of plays around the second-base bag, though Murphy swears inexperience had nothing to do with them -- temporarily derailed his career. He came back from those injuries tentative and awkward; "Oh, Murph" was the common Twitter lament of the time, whenever he bungled another routine play. Dispirited by the team's losing play at the time, Mets fans had found their punching bag.
"Most guys would be just, so, defeated," Wright said, lingering on that last word. "To put the work in to make the organization feel comfortable enough that they'll let you go out and play second base every day, then to actually do well there, it's just a testament to his work ethic and the desire that he has."
Murphy has also, more subtly, transformed his offensive game at the organization's request. Understanding he could not survive in the Majors as a singles hitter, Murphy refined his swing two winters ago and responded with a career-high 13 homers. Last winter, after general manager Sandy Alderson publicly criticized his unwillingness to take a walk, Murphy supplemented his power gains with the most patient half-season of his career.
Coming to the Major Leagues a flawed player, Murphy has since worked, systematically, to plug those holes one at a time.
Now he is on the national stage, his journey from awkward to All-Star complete.