As the bench coach of the Milwaukee Brewers, Pat Murphy saw plenty of the National League Central rival and world champion Cubs last season.
So Cubs fans who attended last Thursday’s Old Timers Baseball Association of Will County banquet at the Clarion Hotel, where Murphy was the guest speaker, naturally asked his thoughts on their team.
“[Kyle] Hendricks was very underrated,” he said. “I wish we could get him on our team. We stole seven bases against [Jon] Lester in two innings and we lost. He competes.
“The Padres gave up on [Anthony] Rizzo, which was ridiculous. He is a special guy and a great defender, which is underrated. [Javy] Baez, I can’t stand him, but he’s really good.
“David Ross is special. I’d pay him $10 million right now to come out of retirement and play with the Brewers. [Kris] Bryant is one of the best players in the game. [Kyle] Schwarber is impressive. He just looks like he grew up in Joliet [which he didn’t]. John Jay is the ultimate pickup for them this offseason. He is a team guy.”
Earlier, Murphy mentioned the Brewers playing the Cubs 19 times.
“We got used to them,” he said. “When the Cubs played in Milwaukee, there were more Cubs fans than Brewers fans there, which was pretty annoying.
“They were really good. But look up the video of Rob [Scahill], the job he did against them. You may want to get his autograph.”
Scahill, a Willowbrook graduate and a relief pitcher with the Brewers, attended the banquet.
THE COLLEGE GAME
Murphy admitted to not knowing much about the White Sox, but he does have experience with their new manager.
“I’ve worked with Ricky Renteria,” he said. “He is one of the greatest baseball men you will ever see. The White Sox will love having him.”
Murphy sat at the head table next to longtime American League umpire Bill Haller, the Lockport native who on Sunday was inducted into the Pitch & Hit Club of Chicago Hall of Fame.
“This is the most time I ever spent next to an umpire,” Murphy said. “Mr. Haller told me some stories that I won’t share with you.”
Murphy’s background includes coaching Notre Dame (1988-94) and Arizona State (1995-2009), accumulating a 629-284-1 college record, before moving into the professional ranks. He was in the San Diego Padres’ organization from 2010 through 2015, the highlight serving as the Padres’ manager the last half of the 2015 season.
During his stints at Notre Dame and Arizona State, Murphy coached several Joliet area products. When he said Schwarber looks like he grew up in Joliet, he was complimenting our own.
“I look at the support in this room, and I see how players I coached like Jeff Duncan, Johnny Ruettiger, Mark Sopko, Chris Michalak and Pat Pesavento were the type of players they were,” Murphy said. “It’s their toughness. The guys in this area play the game the right way.”
Murphy recalled breaking into college coaching at Notre Dame.
“I was 27 years old when I got the Notre Dame job in 1987,” he said. “I had two scholarships. Notre Dame hadn’t beaten a Big Ten team in 20 years. That’s where they were.
“The first day I’m at the Athletic and Convocation Center. My office is what seemed like a few miles on the other side of the campus. That’s how big baseball was. I got a card from Notre Dame football – congratulations and best wishes from Coach [Lou] Holtz and staff.
“So I’m in the bathroom, doing what guys do there, and who walks in but Lou Holtz. I’m feeling pretty good – I’m there doing my thing with Lou Holtz. He tells me we got this wide receiver/flanker guy named Tim Brown that we are going to get the ball to.
“Then when we’re finished and leaving the bathroom, he says to me, ‘So, son, how are your courses going here?’ ”
ON TO ARIZONA STATE
He forever will cherish the seven years he spent at Notre Dame.
“I made $7,000 my first year at Notre Dame,” he said. “I got the first check, and I looked at it and said, ‘What’s this for, three days?’ And the guy says, ‘No, a month.’
“When I left Notre Dame, we had four scholarships and three years in a row we had been within a game of the College World Series. Notre Dame did more for me in seven years than anything.”
On to the legendary program at Arizona State, where Murphy coached numerous future major leaguers.
“Everyone gives me credit for Dustin Pedroia,” he said. “He was 5-6, 145 pounds, wearing a white T-shirt, when I met him, and he says, ‘Hey coach, I’m going to be your next shortstop.’ He’s a kid who gets on the field, and something special happens.”
The St. Joe’s Blue 10-year-old travel team was honored as the Old Timers’ Youth Baseball Team of the Year. Following the Pedroia story, Murphy looked toward them and said, “These young kids here tonight have no idea yet what they can do.”
Murphy said Pedroia was among six players he had at Arizona State who were not drafted out of high school, yet played in at least one Major League All-Star Game. Pedroia, Jason Kipnis, Kole Calhoun, Andre Ethier, Mike Leake and current Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who hired Murphy in October of 2015 to be his bench coach, were among them.
“Kole Calhoun wasn’t drafted after his junior year at Arizona State, either,” Murphy said. “Nobody wanted him. But he can hit. Have you ever met a left-handed hitter with short arms and red hair who can’t hit?”
Murphy mentioned meeting Kipnis, a Glenbrook North graduate, at Arizona State.
“Jason Kipnis was out of baseball,” he said. “Kentucky had kicked him out. He came to Arizona State looking to play. I told him, ‘I’ll give you a books scholarship,’ which is like a dollar because most classes are online. He tore it up for us.”
One of the toughest losses in Murphy’s amateur career came when Arizona State lost to Texas in the game to go to the College World Series in 2009.
“We had gone ahead 3-2 in the top of the 11th, and they hit two homers in the bottom of the 11th off [Mitchell] Lambson. I went straight to Lambson and told him, ‘This is going to make you tougher.’ And now, nine years later, he will be in spring training with the Brewers.”
It is interesting how baseball gods work sometime.
Next, Murphy will review some of his experiences in professional baseball.
• Dick Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.