Esposito: The Return of the Murphy Monster

“It’s alive. Alive! ALIVE!”

Yes, it appears the Mets created a monster last year, when Mets batting coach Kevin Long worked with Daniel Murphy and tweaked his batting approach, moving him closer to the plate, lowering his stance a little, and getting him to pull more to right. The results were manifested beneficially for all Metdom in the playoffs, turning the Murphy Monster into a home run machine, with seven home runs in the NLDS and NLCS, propelling the club into the World Series.

Murphy batted .333 in the NLDS (7-21), and a stunning .529 in the NLCS (9-17). He was neutralized in the World Series (3-20, .150), and looking back, that may have been one of the keys as the Royals bested the Mets in five games.

And now the monster returns to Citi Field for the first time since that fateful Fall Classic, leading all of baseball with a .400 average, five home runs and 23 runs batted in for the Washington Nationals, his new team of allegiance. Despite a lukewarm qualifying offer which was rejected by Murphy, there was a time this winter when Murphy was without a team or an offer, until the Nats gave him a three-year $37.5 million deal.

Those pesky Nats and their fans are smiling now, as Murphy has been all as advertised and then some. Murphy is also leading the majors with 19 multi-hit games, 56 hits overall, and has had at least two hits in more than half of the 37 games he’s played coming into this rivalry series.

Washington’s new second baseman also ranks fourth amongst MLB hitters in OPS (1.062), sixth in Slugging percentage (.629), seventh in doubles (13), and seventh in on-base percentage (.433).

Whew! What a monster!

Murph’s return was well-received by the fans. Prior to the game the club ran a brief highlights reel on the scoreboard. You could see Murphy watching the video from the left field baseline, and after a warm crowd reaction, he doffed his cap and raised his in gratitude.

For his first at-bat in the top of the second, the fans gave him a healthy standing O. He was booed for his second at-bat.

It remains to be seen if the Murphy Monster comes back to haunt his former club on a regular basis. His first official at-bat against his former mates resulted in a popup to third against Noah Syndergaard.

Pre-game, Murphy admitted he keeps in touch with his Mets buddies by text. “Only the messages are different now.” He sent a text to Stephen Matz saying he was glad his medical tests came back clean. He also planned on visiting the deGrom family on Wednesday to see Jacob’s baby son.

Over the years, Mets fans have seen more than a handful of baby Mets leave the nest and then come back to torture their old homestead.

Murphy was born a Met, drafted by the organization in 2006, and a product of the farm system, with stops in Port St. Lucie, Kingsport, Brooklyn, Binghamton, New Orleans, and was called up in 2008.

One of the first young Mets to enjoy a successful career after he left New York was Jim Hickman. Remember him?

Hickman came to the Mets in the original Expansion Draft in October of 1961, a $50,000 selection out of the St. Louis Cardinals organization. So, technically, he wasn’t “born” a Met, but he made his major league debut with the Metsies – as Casey used to call them – on April 14, 1962.

Hickman enjoyed a solid Mets career between ’62-’65. He batted .241 overall, and averaged 12 homers and a little over 40 RBIs per season, with a .306 OBS. A good outfielder, Hickman was one of the “clutch” Mets in those early days. He was the first met to hit three home runs in a game, ironically against St. Louis (Sept. 3, 1965).

After the ’66 season, Hickman, along with first homegrown All Star Ron Hunt, was traded to the Dodgers for former batting champ Tommy Davis and pitching prospect Derrell Griffith. Although Davis was still a good hitter, and led the ’66 Mets in batting average (.302), that’s a trade that was beneficial and bothersome for Mets fans.

Davis was dispatched after the season to the White Sox for two integral members of what became the Miracle Mets of 1969, Tommie Agee and Al Weis, so that was good. Davis played another decade in the majors for a bunch of teams and was a pro hitter at every stop.

Hickman played another eight seasons, and by 1970 was an All-Star. Ironically, he lasted only one season as a Dodger, and had those Californians scratching their heads after Hickman batted just .163 in 65 games, with zero home runs and a measly ten RBIs in spot duty.

In April of ’68, Hickman was traded to the Cubs, where he played the bulk of the balance of his career. Ironically, he was on the ’69 Cubbies that were frustrated by the Miracle Mets.

But here’s what this history lesson is leading toward. In 1970, Hickman batted .315, with 32 homers and 115 RBIs (.419 OBP, .582 SLG). Welcome to the All-Star Game, Mr. Hickman. This from a guy who batted .229 for the Mets in 1963 in 146 games, albeit with 17 homers and 51 RBIs.

In his post-Mets career, Hickman didn’t hurt the Mets too badly. In 85 games against New York, the Tennessee native batted just .233, with nine home runs and 35 runs batted in.

Hunt was a Met who came back to torture his first club a few times.
He famously set the record for being hit by a pitch, 243 plunks for his career (1963-74). And he hit .303 in 105 games against the Mets after being traded, the highest batting average he had against any team.

You might have thought Darryl Strawberry came back to haunt his former mates a bunch of times. He did hit a home run in his first game against the Mets (May 7, 1991), but overall, would you believe Straw played in just 18 games versus New York after his free agent signing with Los Angeles. He was on the DL a few times when they played, and later was an AL hitter with the Yankees, so the reunions didn’t occur too often. In those 18 games, Straw batted just .233, with four homers and 12 RBIs.

Kevin Mitchell played just one full season for the Mets in the magical year of 1986. He had a seven game stint in ’84, and even his ’86 season was spent partially on the bench. He was traded after the World Championship year to San Diego, where he played just one year, and then it was on to San Francisco, where he really blossomed.

“World,” as he was known to his mates, was one who truly got away. He was league MVP in 1989 for the Giants (.291, 47 HRs, 125 RBIs). And in the 11 years after his days as a Met, he plagued New York with a .295 avg. in 70 games, 18 homers, and 46 RBIs.

Jeff Kent was another young player who “came of age” as a Met (his second club), but became an All-Star after he was traded, and some say he now belongs in the Hall of Fame. Kent played another 12 ½ years after his Mets days, and in 80 games against the Mets, he batted .282, with 14 homers and 40 RBIs, .502 SLG.

Call us in three years to see if the Murphy Monster comes back to haunt or is tamed by New York pitching when his Nationals contract is done.

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