I digress today to a sports topic: the retirement last week of Daniel Murphy.
Most baseball fans know Daniel Murphy from his spectacular 2015 post-season performance, when his seven home runs, including a record six in six consecutive games, propelled the New York Mets into the World Series.
But I was a huge Daniel Murphy fan long before that; and remained one, even after the Mets made no serious effort to re-sign him as a free agent, and he became a Met killer extraordinaire—and one of the best hitters in baseball—for the division rival Washington Nationals.
I loved Murph’s hitting skills. For years, he and David Wright seemed the Mets’ only reliable hitters—and as Wright’s later years were beset with injuries, Murphy emerged as the team’s most consistent clutch hitter.
I also liked his hustle, hard work, and team-first attitude; and his devout Christianity, devotion to his family, and humility—a refreshing change from the me-first, ego driven personas of far too many modern-day professional athletes.
To me, the 2015 post-season heroics that defined Daniel Murphy as a ballplayer were not the home run streak, but his overall performance in the deciding fifth game against the Dodgers in the first playoff round.
He gave the Mets a 1-0 lead with an RBI double in the first inning; after singling in the fourth and jogging to second on a walk to Lucas Duda, he alertly took off and stole third base when the Dodgers’ shift against Duda left no one covering third. That enabled him to score on Travis d’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly, tying the game at 2-2. Two innings later, Murphy homered to break the tie, and the Mets won by that 3-2 final score.
So it wasn’t just the home runs. It was the awareness and situational play that always characterized Murphy’s game: a run-scoring opposite field double; a single and then heads-up baserunning setting himself up to score the tying run; then a home run to win the game.
As a Christian ballplayer, Murphy was never preachy, but he didn’t hesitate to publicly express how his faith served him in key situations. Once, after Yankee centerfielder Brett Gardner had robbed him of a three-run homer with a spectacular leaping catch, the post-game TV interviewer asked him about it.
Murphy—who had been caught on camera slamming his helmet to the ground after Gardner’s catch—replied that he did “a lot of praying” for help in overcoming his frustration. Two innings later, he delivered a two-out, RBI single that won the game for the Mets.
After that Dodger playoff game, the post-game interviewer remarked that Murphy seemed unaffected by the tension surrounding that elimination game.
“That was the Holy Spirit,” he replied, “that was Jesus” helping him stay calm.
His humility, so obviously a product of his faith, was also displayed in that interview, as he passed credit to Lucas Duda for drawing the walk that made his heads-up baserunning play possible.
Another time, Dillon Gee had pitched a great game, but the Mets trailed, 1-0—until Murphy belted a three-run homer in the top of the ninth, then made a brilliant, diving defensive play to help the Mets secure the victory.
Afterward, the TV interviewer asked Murphy what he wanted to talk about first, his home run or his defensive play.
“I’d like to talk about Dillon Gee,” Murphy answered—deflecting credit, as he always did, from himself to his teammates.
His devotion to his family—his wife and three little children—was evident in his retirement announcement. He explained that Major League Baseball’s COVID lockdown last spring had revealed “a blind spot” to him. “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.”
Sadly, in today’s world one cannot be devoted to family and faith without being vilified for it. So even a fun tribute to a sports hero cannot avoid our great moral and cultural divide.
In 2014, Murphy was ripped by Mike Francesa and other sports talk show hosts for missing Opening Day and the next game to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.
“What are you going to do?” Francesa snarked. “I mean you are going to sit there and look at your wife in a hospital bed for two days?”
Murphy gracefully defended his decision, and was subsequently invited to address a White House gathering on working parents.
Then there was his encounter with Billy Bean, MLB’s gay ambassador of diversity. After Bean visited the Mets spring training camp in 2015, a website reporter contacted Murphy for his response, as a Christian, to Bean’s presentation.
“Maybe, as a Christian,” Murphy was quoted, “we haven’t been articulate enough in describing what our actual stance is on homosexuality. We love the people. We disagree [with] the lifestyle.”
He had touched the third rail. It is an article of faith among gay rights advocates that homosexuality is inborn, and therefore not a “lifestyle.” Because Murphy disagrees, he has been slandered as a “bigot,” “hater,” “homophobe”—even though Bean himself said he appreciated Murphy speaking “his truth,” and Murphy has praised Bean and expressed appreciation for the respectful conversations they have had since.
“That was probably my biggest takeaway,” Murphy said, “that two people with different views, we could come and have reasonable dialogue. That’s a good thing.” And journalist Andy Marino, who interviewed him at the time, praises “Murphy’s willingness to engage civilly. … Looking back on it five years later, in a time of intense polarization, that seems especially valuable.” Indeed.
I and many others will miss the excitement of watching Daniel Murphy play baseball. Let’s hope he will continue to promote—through his lived example and his gracious, humble public statements—the faith, family values, and human respect to which he has borne witness on and off the field.