Picture Block

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Getting Traded to the Phillies--The Rest of the Story

I get a lot of questions about getting traded to Philadelphia in 1990, sometimes from Braves fans who tell me they were upset with the Braves just trading me away like that. Although I really appreciate the sentiment, I’ve always felt like I should kind of clarify exactly what happened. So, without getting into too many details, here’s how it went.

It was the summer of 1990, and things weren’t going that well. The previous two years (1988, 1989) hadn’t been that great either, honestly. The team was struggling, I was struggling. I saw some potential in a few of our young pitchers (like John Smoltz and Tom Glavine), but other than that I didn’t have much of a sense for where the Braves were heading. I talked to Nancy a lot about how frustrated I was and started to realize it might be time for me to move on. There had been trade rumors off and on through the mid-80’s (and even up through ’88 or so—the Mets were one team that always seemed to be mentioned) but I never paid much attention to them because, quite honestly, I could never see myself leaving the Braves. But by the end of the decade, that had changed. I started feeling kind of excited at the prospects of going to a new team. I wondered whether a change of scenery would rejuvenate me, and my career. At the same time, I was aware of what can happen when a long-time player has some success with one team and sticks around longer than he should: production eventually falls off and the team is left with the uncomfortable task of figuring out whether to renew his contract (even though his best years may well be behind him) or release him (usually against popular opinion.) The Braves had done so much for me through the years that I just didn’t want to put them in that position. And it can be equally awkward for the player himself, not knowing whether he can contribute enough to make it really worth keeping him. I sure didn’t want to wait around to find out what that felt like, so I decided it was time to get the ball rolling.

So I went in and talked to Bobby Cox that August. I told him that, with free agency coming up in a few months, I was thinking it might be time for me to move on. More specifically, I told him I was planning to leave as a free agent that winter but that if they wanted to try to trade me immediately I'd consider it (I had the right to either accept or reject any proposed trade since I'd been in the league for awhile with the same team.) I wanted the Braves to explore the possibility of getting something out of the situation, instead of me just leaving them as a free agent.

Soon after this discussion with Bobby, my agent called and told me the Phillies were interested. They had made a trade offer the Braves were willing to accept, and they would renew my contract with an additional two years guaranteed. Nancy and I knew it wouldn’t be easy to transition our eight children to a new city, but going to Philadelphia looked like a great option for us. Not only were the Phillies headed in a strong direction (in just three years, they would go to the World Series, in fact), but accepting a trade would also make it possible for me to avoid all the uncertainty of the free-agent process. So, with that, I accepted the trade.

The basic point I want to make here is that I actually initiated the trade—not the Braves. I hope this clarifies the issue for some folks who, occasionally even today, tell me they’re upset with Bobby and/or with the Braves for sending me to Philadelphia. What most people don’t know is that, even without the trade, I would have become a free-agent that winter and ended up somewhere besides Atlanta. It definitely wasn’t easy to make the move to the Phillies and the fact that the Braves went to the World Series the next year didn’t make it any easier. Still, I was glad I did it. It was time. I had a great experience with the Phillies. And as demanding as the Philadelphia fans could sometimes be, I really enjoyed playing for them and wish I could have performed better. My family and I were always treated well by the Phillies organization and we’ll always appreciate the friendships we made while we were there.

On a side note, I can’t tell you how weird it was to put on a new uniform after so many years wearing Braves blue. I’ll never forget stepping into the batter’s box for the first time at Veteran’s Stadium. I started getting into my stance, and then looked down to tap the plate to find RED shoes and RED stirrups staring back at me. Those new colors definitely took some getting used to.

I can’t leave this subject without saying one more thing. No matter where the years have taken Nancy and I and our kids, no matter how much we have enjoyed other places we have lived and the people we have known, there’s no two ways about it: Atlanta will always feel like home and I’ll always be a Brave.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beatco Playlist--And Some New Songs You're Going to Love

Several people have asked me to post the entire Beatco playlist (see Murph Listens to What? post)...so here it is:

Come Together (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Kamera (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Something (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Radio Cure (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Oh! Darling (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
War On War (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Octopus’s Garden (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Jesus, Etc. (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Ashes of American Flags (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Here Comes the Sun (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Heavy Metal Drummer (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Because (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
I’m the Man Who Loves You (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Pot Kettle Black (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
You Never Give Me Your Money (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Poor Places (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Sun King (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Reservations (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Mean Mr. Mustard (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Impossible Germany (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Polythene Pam (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
You Are My Face (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Golden Slumbers (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Hate It Here (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Carry That Weight (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
On and On and On (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
The End (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Let’s Not Get Carried Away (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Her Majesty (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
What Light (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Getting Better (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—The Beatles)
Shake It Off (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Strawberry Fields Forever (Magical Mystery Tour—The Beatles)
She’s a Jar (Summerteeth—Wilco)
I’ll Fight (Wilco The Album—Wilco)

If you like Wilco, you must like great music...so here's some more great music by my son, Chad. He records under the name "Markarians": (PS...you're going to love it!)
For a free download of his latest album: http://markarians.bandcamp.com/album/ten-means-heaven
Music video for "Rip Through Sunsets": http://vimeo.com/26542032
Music video for "Strangers II": http://vimeo.com/25932177
Take a second to "like" Markarians on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/markarianstheband

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Niekro and Matthews: Major-League Mentors

Who did you look up to in the early days of your career?

Early on in my career I was lucky to rub shoulders with a number of great players, but there were two guys, in particular, that really had a lasting impact on me: Phil Niekro and Gary Matthews, or “Knucksie” and “Sweet,” as we called them, respectively. In Phil’s case, one thing I admired was how he managed his career, namely, his contract negotiations, which were always done professionally, avoiding any conflict. On the field, he was a great example to us young guys (me, Bob Horner, Glen Hubbard, etc.) of how to play hard and endure to the end. For instance, I saw him pitch a bunch of times when he wasn’t feeling 100%. He may have had a sore back or arm, but he’d get out there anyway and give it his all. He also hated getting pulled from games. Contrary to many pitchers in the game today (which fact is partly due to the rise of the middle-reliever), Knucksie expected to pitch all nine innings every time he got on the mound. A couple of years ago, in fact, he told me that he genuinely felt like he had failed the team every time he didn’t pitch a complete game. Another thing about Knucksie was that he could hit. He took his hitting very seriously, and he was always on the lookout for ways to help the team win. In short, Knucksie was a true gamer. And, watching his example, I decided that’s how I wanted to be known, too—-as someone who’d put the game and their team ahead of himself.

A few posts ago I mentioned going to a Giants/Phillies game the night before my pre-draft workout in Philadelphia back in 1974. If I remember right, Gary Matthews was a young player on the Giants at the time. And like Knuckise, Gary was a true player’s player. His effort and enthusiasm on the field really set him apart, in my eyes, from so many other guys. Every time Gary would put the ball in play, you just knew he wasn’t going to be satisfied with a single. He’d often knock his helmet off running to first so he could at least try for second base (in fact, he’d hit with his baseball cap folded up in his back pocket, a habit I think came from his early career when it was typical to run without a helmet). Gary was aggressive, always talking and motivating everyone, and he’d push us young guys to be better. We all really looked up to him. I can remember, for instance, when I heard we’d traded Gary to the Phillies in the spring of 1979. I was taking batting practice in spring training, and I hurried in to John Mullen’s (the general manager) office and asked him if it was true that we traded Gary. I remember first stopping in the clubhouse, to grab a Gatorade or something, all the while debating in my mind whether it was appropriate for me to go express my disappointment to the GM! It was the first time I’d ever gone in to management to voice my opinion on one of their decisions. That’s how much I admired Gary. In a way, trading Gary was a compliment to the younger players—the Braves obviously felt we’d be strong enough offensively that we could trade him to get some pitching. Still, we missed his energy on the Braves, and he went on to great things with the Phillies and Cubs, where he was given the nickname “Sarge” for saluting the bleacher bums out in left field before every game. I was very fortunate to have had him and Knucksie showing me the way during the critical early stages of my career. I’ll never forget their examples.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Memories of 1980 (and why MLB has the best all-star game...)

My first all-star game was in 1980 at Dodger Stadium. It was my first year playing centerfield, so making the all-star team really confirmed for me that I’d found a home in the outfield. It was such a thrill to be out there with so many great players, many of whom I’d been watching on TV as a high school kid not that long before. Johnny Bench, for example, was the starting catcher for the National League that year, making his 13th all-star game appearance. Steve Garvey was making his 7th appearance, and Pete Rose, his 14th. J.R. Richard was our starting pitcher, and before the game I remember thinking the AL guys had absolutely no chance of hitting him (not only was J.R. one of the toughest pitchers around, but the game started at 5 p.m., which meant the shadows would make seeing the ball even more difficult than usual). And I was right: J.R. got through the first three innings pretty easily, if I remember right. Ken Griffey hit a home run and was named MVP—little did I know I’d be playing with him on the Braves a few years later.

I was lucky to get in the game that year, which doesn’t always happen for everyone (I remember that Jose Cruz, for example, didn’t get in the 1980 game). I played centerfield for a couple of innings and also got to hit against Goose Gossage. Well, I say “hit,” but I think I just tapped a little dribbler off the end of the bat, right back to the mound. (I did hit a pretty long foul ball right before that, though).

One thing I’ll never forget about that day was a brief encounter I had with Pete Rose in the tunnel between the dugout and the locker room. As I was walking back he stopped me and said, “Hey congratulations on making the All-Star team, Murph.” Then he continued: “Remember, though, don’t do anything any different out there tonight than you would during the regular season.” Right then I had this image of Pete running over Ray Fosse to win the 1970 All-Star game, and I knew without a doubt that he meant what he said. It was a perfect example of Pete’s attitude toward the game.

This leads me to one of the reasons why I think Major League Baseball has the best all-star game in professional sports. Baseball all-stars (on average) really want to do well in the game. In my experience, I never really got the feeling that there was anyone out there that didn’t want to win. I was fortunate to be on a lot of winning NL teams, but when we lost it was tough to take. In the 1983 game at Old Comiskey Park, for example, we got pounded by the American League, and it wasn’t easily forgotten by any of us, believe me.

There’s another reason, I think, why the MLB All-Star game has an edge on other sports. Given the nature of the game of baseball, players almost have to treat it like regular season game. Unlike many other team sports, baseball’s a game of one-on-one episodic play wherein the course of a game can drastically change every single time the ball’s in play. As a player, then, you can’t ever just not play defense. Pitchers aren’t ever going to throw half-speed nor will shortstops ever just not dive for a close ball. You could slack off, of course, but not without it being totally obvious that you’re phoning it in. In football, though, I’d argue it’s much easier to blend in if you’re not giving 100% on defense, as we’ve seen in the Pro Bowl. In the NBA All-Star Game, it’s even something of a norm to play as little defense as possible. To be fair, I don’t really blame NFL players for not playing full-speed defense in the Pro-Bowl—they go through so much pain and injury in the regular season already that they’re bound to slow down a little bit in an exhibition game. In fact, in my opinion the Pro Bowl should go the way of the dodo. Why not hold some sort of big awards banquet or golf/bowling exhibition with NFL players instead? I’d bet fans would really enjoy this sort of televised event, and I’d suspect players would welcome the change.

Baseball is fortunate to have a system of norms and rules that keep defenders on their toes, and the MLB All-Star Game is all the better for it, both for fans and players alike.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Brian McCann--Doing It the Right Way

As many of you know, Brian McCann will be the starting catcher for the National League All-Star team this year. One thing you can say about Brian is that he was born to be a baseball player. He’s a gamer, that’s for sure. He’s a clutch hitter, he can win the game with his defense and he works great with his pitchers. Braves nation has been fortunate to be a part of Brian’s career so far. He’s a great player. This will be his sixth All-Star Game in his young career. Amazing. You think it’s easy to root for him now? Here’s a quick story that will make you want to pull for him even more.

Back around Brian’s first year in the league, the Braves were moving to new television network, and they asked Phil Niekro, me, Sid Bream and some other old players to do a few promotional spots with some current players (a cross-generational effort, in a sense :). Phil and I teamed up with Brian for one of the commercials.

There were two parts to the commercial. In the first spot, Knucksie turned to me and said, with a chuckle, “You know, Murph, back when I played it took a real man to throw a knuckleball,” to which I jokingly replied, “And a better man to hit one!” That was it—a ten-second little funny back-and-forth. For the next spot, Brian and I switched places. Phil said, “You know, Brian, back when I played, it took a real man to hit a knuckleball,” and then Brian said, “And a better man to catch one!” Everyone had a good time with it—or so we thought.

After the shoot Brian and I were sitting there talking, and he was clearly concerned about something. As he was taking off his shinguards (he’d been in catcher’s gear for the shoot) he looked over and said, “Nah, I can’t say that.” I said, “What do you mean?” Brian said, “I can’t say what I just said—"a better man” than Phil Niekro? I can’t say that. I mean, it’s Knucksie, and I’m just a rookie. How can I honestly say that? I’m not a better man than Phil.” I tried to tell Brian that it was just a joke, but he was unmoved. He'd grown up watching Phil and had such respect for him that he just wasn’t comfortable with it.

So I went over to Phil and told him that Brian didn’t want to say what he said, and that he wanted to redo the spot. “Wait, he doesn’t want to say what?” Phil asked, a bit puzzled. I explained and then we went over to the producer and told him to not start packing up yet, since they were going to need to shoot a different version of the second spot. After we explained a little bit more they ended up reshooting the commercial.

I learned a lot about Brian that day. He's got character, simply put. He’s a humble guy who appreciates the chance he has to play baseball and to represent the Braves organization. It's clear that not only does he want to be a successful player, but he wants to do it the right way. As a baseball fan what more could you ask for?