Tom MurphyJune 20, 2011
I saw the Brewers play the other day, back in the American League where they belong. The day I saw them, they were apparently so excited to have a designated hitter again they batted him leadoff, and he promptly launched a home run over the Green Monster. One pitch later, the next batter homered, too. I had barely pretzeled myself down into my seat. It was disorienting yet somehow vaguley familiar. For a moment it seemed like an old-fashioned American League Brewers rout might ensue. The Brewers came into focus for me in the late 1970s with the rise of the core that would become known, in their 1982 pennant-winning year, as Harvey’s Wallbangers, after the team’s tobacco-leaking manager, Harvey Kuenn, and the team’s ability to send batted balls hurtling toward, through, and over outfield barriers. Gorman Thomas, Sixto Lezcano, Ben Oglivie, Ted Simmons, Cecil Cooper, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount. A team like that tends to imprint itself pretty vividly on the mind, and it’s still the team I think of when I hear the words “Milwaukee Brewers.” The Brewers this year look pretty good, but I guess I’ll only ever really relate to that one Brewers era from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, and everything else before and after will pale in comparison.
Tom Murphy is from the shadowy Brewers years just before their golden era. They were neither here nor there. He was pretty decent, especially in the year just before this card came out, when he posted a 1.90 ERA out of the bullpen, but who remembers? I can barely keep my focus on him even while I’m staring at his card. Most of the time, my mind wanders.
According to baseball-reference.com, Tom Murphy is among 41 major league Murphys. The first Murphy surfaced in 1884, and that season boasted no less than five Murphys. There was Cornelius B. Murphy, known more commonly as Con Murphy or by his seemingly mutually exclusive nicknames “Monk” and “Razzle Dazzle”; John Murphy, who split time in 1884 between two short-lived teams in the Union Association, Altoona Mountain City and the Wilmington Quicksteps; Tony Murphy, who appeared in one game with the New York Metropolitans, champions of the American Association; Gentle Willie Murphy of the Cleveland Blues and Washington Nationals; and a player known in the baseball record books only as Murphy.
The Murphy who is listed only as Murphy played one major league game, on August 16, 1884. That day, for the Boston Reds, Murphy had four plate appearances and reached base once, by a walk. At catcher, he made 2 errors, perhaps prompting a switch to left field, where no balls were hit his way. He might be my favorite character in my favorite narrative, the one I first started to study back in 1975 through the Neft and Cohen Baseball Encyclopedia. That first baseball encyclopedia in my life didn’t actually venture in detail back far enough to include Murphy in its story of the game. It wasn’t until my twenties that I discovered Murphy. I was sharing an apartment with my brother, who got his hands on a copy of the MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia, which included the name of everyone who ever made it into a major league game. I was leafing through it one day, losing myself in the vast story I’d been exploring since 1975. The story never exhausts itself. New mysteries are always opening. I was surely a little bored, flipping through the pages, and I came upon Murphy. He was anyone and no one. In a few hours I’d go to my job on the evening shift at a liquor store. It was one of those nameless days. The short entry for Murphy made me happy. After the discovery, I got on with my day: shower, subway ride, ring up some liquor sales, lock the gates, subway ride home. I wanted to be a writer, and the idea I had for my life at that time was that before each day at the liquor store I’d work diligently in the service of that dream. Some days took the shape of that intention, but more often I sat around in my underwear eating toast and engaging in what most people would classify as wasting time. But is it a complete waste of time if on one of those days you discover Murphy? I got this feeling every once in a while back then, sometimes when I thought I was in love, sometimes when a particular song had a hold on me, that there was something so beautiful in the world that it made me want to yelp out loud, an illiterate Whitman yawp I guess, this desire to sing crowding out all the words I might ever be able to say. Murphy was here.