Jeff Murphy, a 19th-round pick out of the University of Nebraska, never made it past Double-A. Forced to retire early because of an Achilles injury, Murphy’s minor league career in the Cardinals organization lasted only five years, roughly 1,000 at bats.
Murphy, though, owns two World Series rings and a National League championship ring. Currently the Oklahoma City RedHawks bullpen catcher and catching coach, Murphy for 12 seasons worked under Tony LaRussa.
During his time with the Cardinals, they reached the playoffs eight times. St. Louis won the 2006 World Series versus Detroit and also won in 2011 when they twice were down to their final strike in Game 6 against Texas but rallied for an unforgettable 11-inning win that forced Game 7.
“You know you’ve reached the pinnacle when you see hard-nose, highly competitive players cry,” Murphy said.
Murphy, 43, is a baseball rarity. In addition to serving as the RedHawks bullpen catcher on homestands, something every major league team has on staff, Murphy also is an extra coach who mentors only catchers.
“Working in St. Louis with Yadier Molina and (manager) Mike Matheny he brings invaluable experience, two great catchers, which in turn is invaluable experience he passes along to your pitching staff,” said manager Tony DeFrancesco. “He’s an extra set of eyes.”
Murphy was out of baseball in 2012. Last season he served as the Astros catchers’ coach similar, to the role he had from in St. Louis from 2001-2011. This season he works with RedHawks catchers and makes trips to Houston’s other minor league affiliates when the RedHawks are on the road.
“He’s phenomenal, my mentor,” said RedHawks catcher Max Stassi. “He’s someone I can ask for help on anything. He’s been around some of the best in the game. I’m very fortunate to work with someone who has picked the brains of Yadier and Mike Matheny. He’s helped me tremendously.”
Murphy preaches visualization and being focused on every pitch.
“Nearly every one of these young kids coming out of high school or college nowadays, their coaches have been calling pitches for them,” Murphy said. “In the minor leagues, catchers call their own games.
“There’s a lot that goes into how a pitcher approaches each specific hitter. One of the big keys is being able to read your own pitchers.”
Because catchers are involved every pitch, learning the game is comparable to playing chess or solving a difficult math problem.
“It takes a lot of games to get really good at calling a game,” Murphy said. “A lot of it is retaining information and seeing things visually. You’re getting visual input from your pitcher and hitters. Maybe it’s how they swing on certain pitches or how they react. It might be something as simple as a flinch.”
Providing an example, Murphy described why a “show” pitch can be invaluable, preventing hitters from sitting on the fastball.
“Some pitchers have breaking balls but they’re not swing-and-miss breaking balls,” Murphy said. “That’s why you sometimes need to use that breaking pitch early in the count.”
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