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40 in 25: Tom Murphy

“Why are you here? How do you fit in? What’s it all about?” - David Attenborough on Tom Murphy, maybe 

Seattle Mariners v Baltimore Orioles Game 1 Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The interior of the Lazy L Saloon is dark, save for the slashes of light filtering in between slats of the boarded up windows. Dust hovers in the air of those beams and coats overturned chairs that sit atop empty tables. The once-polished wood bar lists toward the door, victimized by the floorboards that have given up all pretense of uniformity. A breeze floats through a broken window on the left like a sigh, lifting the sun-curled edges of the poster hanging behind the bar.

It’s not unusual for players to be more or less absent from our view until the start of spring training. Kyle Seager was the king of this. The season would end, he’d disappear into the woods of North Carolina with his tow-headed crew (Crue, heh) and then suddenly reappear at third base in Peoria. Heck, Seager simply disappeared any time he stepped off of a baseball diamond.

Murphy is similar, with the unique internet footprint that comes from being a professional baseball player: Requisite player pages, a slim Wikipedia, hometown-kid-makes-good piece in his local paper after he made his debut and an assortment of articles much like this, pondering his baseball playing abilities. It’s a more substantial online legacy than almost anyone else from West Monroe, New York, a village of under 5,000 in the lower corner of Oswego County.

Having spent a few years in an even smaller village an hour or two south of Constantia, the neighboring hamlet Murphy now calls home, it’s easy to picture the catcher’s impact in the community. His name and pubescent face enshrined in a glass box in the halls of Paul V. Moore High School; the odd Mariners shirsey at Buckingham Market, donned by one of his relatives; the parade of kids who venture out to his house on Halloween, hoping for big league-worthy treats. Murphy’s parents own an automotive repair shop in town, and I can imagine the Rockies and Mariners paraphernalia haphazardly stuck behind the desk in the small waiting room area.

This is, to me, the fun of these 40 in 40 - or 40 in 25 - series; they force you to confront the humanity of these men we watch gallivant ‘round a field 162 days of the year. Unless a player is a new acquisition, chances are there’s little new to report on any given player - particularly the roster regulars. Another lamentation about how the Mariners have somehow once again found themselves with nothing but a wild array of question marks at catcher adds little to this space. Sure we can rehash how Murphy’s 2021 was a disappointing performance after a breakout 2019, punctuated by a 20th-highest K-rate in baseball (min. 300 PAs) and an anemic 87 wRC+, but there’s not much more to be said for a journeyman catcher whose 2019 season may have been a complete anomaly. If I knew how to bring him back to his halcyon levels of productivity, I probably wouldn’t be typing this one-handed on the floor of a crummy rental house at 11 p.m. while I shovel chocolate chips into my mouth with the other hand.

It’s been a difficult few years to find goodness in things, and baseball in particular has seemed to almost actively try to push its fans away. But for all that I find myself grappling with a return to fandom and the state of this franchise, there is a unique beauty in these individual journeys of triumph, however long the glory may last.