Monday, November 08, 2010

Keeper of Giants' Bats and of Team's History

Michael Maloney/San Francisco Chronicle
The Giants' equipment manager, Mike Murphy,
with the first pitch of the 2008 home opener.

New York Times; November 3, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — He has cleaned Willie Mays’s spikes, ordered bats for Barry Bonds, rubbed baseballs for Juan Marichal, and this week had Champagne poured on him by Matt Cain. If anyone embodies the 52-year endurance test the San Francisco Giants underwent to reach baseball’s summit, it is Mike Murphy.

Murph, as he is called, has been with the club since its first season in the Bay Area in 1958, first as a bat boy, later as a visiting clubhouse attendant and finally, from 1980 on, as the equipment manager. No one else can match his longevity, which is why the Giants owner Bill Neukom handed Murphy the World Series trophy in the hallway of The Ballpark in Arlington last Monday night and gave him the privilege of taking it to the crazed players waiting in the center of the clubhouse.

But as Cain, Tim Lincecum and the Series most valuable player, Edgar Renteria, danced and partied, Murphy retreated to a side hallway and thought about the young player he met on his first day on the job in 1958, the man he would come to embrace as a close friend for as many years and days as there has been a San Francisco Giants baseball team.

“I’m thinking about Willie Mays,” Murphy said through tears. “I met Willie that first day and we bonded for over 50 years now, and he calls me and I call him. In fact, I’m going to call him right now if I can find my phone. I’m going to tell him, ‘Willie, I’m on top of the world, just like you.’ ”

While some fans, and maybe even some former players, have witnessed every season of the San Francisco Giants’ history, no one has seen more of it than Murphy — not Willie McCovey, not even Mays.

No one has been through more of the heartbreak from a field-level perspective, from the Game 7 losses in the 1962 and 2002 World Series to the earthquake that turned the 1989 Series upside down. Murphy, 68, was here when the Giants lost 100 games in 1985, and for seven seasons, including 2008, when they lost 90 or more.

“I was here in the bad times,” said Murphy, who is a grandfather and lives in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco. “I wasn’t sure this would ever happen. Maybe someday in the future. I guess the future is now.”

A native of San Francisco, Murphy was a high school bat boy for the Class AAA San Francisco Seals from 1954-57. His life changed in 1958, when major league baseball arrived in the form of the Giants, who had migrated west from Manhattan and played for two seasons at Seals Stadium before moving into Candlestick Park in 1960.

“I was working with the Seals and we won the pennant that year,” Murphy said, “and the Giants came in and the next thing you know I was there. Imagine that.”

On his first day on the job with the Giants, Murphy met arguably the game’s greatest player in Mays. But there was also Marichal, McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou and, years later, Bonds. With so much talent on the Giants over the decades, there were any number of seasons when Murphy, like so many fans in San Francisco, had hope.

But in the end none of those stars could do what this team of retreads and great young pitchers did. And when San Francisco finally won, Murphy was as much a part of it as anyone.

Bonds, in a congratulatory note to the team on his Web site, made particular mention of Murphy, and General Manager Brian Sabean said he was almost brought to tears thinking of him.

“When I saw him on the field afterward, I got teary-eyed,” Sabean said in the jubilant clubhouse. “Murph is as important to this organization as anyone. He makes all the players feel so comfortable in a family way, and that should not be overlooked.”

A few minutes later, Murphy had made his phone call to Mays. Asked how Mays sounded, Murphy smiled and said, “Very happy.”

Then he turned to a clubhouse attendant and pointed to some bags. There was equipment to be loaded onto a truck. Still drenched from the champagne, Murphy was back at work.

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