PHOENIX — Pat Murphy came “home” this week, if not a triumphant return certainly firmly on his feet as interim manager of the San Diego Padres.
Murphy still lives in Tempe in the same house he had during 15 years as coach at Arizona State. He led the Sun Devils to the College World Series four times before being forced out amid an NCAA probe of improprieties in his program.
He said at the time he was being made a fall guy for the violations, which included improper telephone calls to recruits.
Before the Padres’ game Friday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Murphy hugged, shook hands or fist-bumped reporters he knew from his Arizona State days, asking them about their children.
“This has been my home for 20 years,” he said. “All of you guys being around, whether you were writing what a knucklehead I was or whether you were whatever, supportive. It’s just great to build the relationships. I’m in a real grateful time, real grateful.”
While Murphy said he wants to dwell on the present, he said he was “crushed” by the ugly end of his time at Arizona State.
“I learned so much going through that,” he said. “You think you’re mature, you think you’ve got it, then going through that experience, it cut me down to my core and made me focus and do things I didn’t have to do before. My son and my daughter got me through it, in terms of, ‘I’ve got to be stronger for them,’ what example I was being for them.”
Murphy, who coached at Notre Dame for seven seasons before going to Arizona State, re-started his career in professional baseball.
The Padres hired him in 2010 as special assistant of baseball operations. He managed San Diego’s Class A affiliate in Eugene, Oregon, for two seasons before being promoted in 2013 to manage Triple-A Tucson, a franchise that moved to El Paso in 2014. He was with El Paso when he was tabbed as Padres interim manager after Bud Black was fired on Monday.
Murphy got his first major league win when the Padres beat the A’s in Oakland 3-1 on Thursday night. He slept in his own bed in Tempe when the team got to Arizona, then came to Chase Field with his 14-yer-old son, Kai.
“It’s a beautiful moment,” he said. “You can say the word surreal — I don’t know if I can define that. It’s been wonderful. I’m just very grateful. I’m filled with gratefulness.”
While in El Paso, Murphy got word that his friend Craig Counsell wanted him to join the coaching staff in Milwaukee. The Padres balked.
“Man, I pull for him and it would have been a beautiful thing to be a part of that and try to do whatever,” Murphy said. “I just went back to El Paso and was trying to get better there and then this call came. It’s kind of a tough time under these circumstances because Buddy was tremendous to me. This guy will be a friend for life.”
He offered an example.
“To tell you how class Buddy is, he texted me after last night’s game,” Murphy said. “It makes your hair stand up. At times like this, to go through what he went through, and then text the interim manager — he’s a class guy. I hope I can have those qualities.”
He must win over players who were loyal to Black.
“I think it hit the guys in the clubhouse pretty hard,” outfielder Justin Upton said, “knowing we were the reason Buddy lost his job. We just didn’t play well enough. We’ve got to pick ourselves up and go from here.”
Murphy is taking an easygoing approach.
“I’m trying to not come at them real hard,” he said. “I’m trying to be real genuine with them and let them know that I’m going to address everything. We’ve got to get into like a higher level of competition, how to compete even better, how to give to your teammates, how important giving is. It sounds funny, but it’s real.”