It’s not personal, we say, because that would be petty, but any player that has been traded or simply moved on, enjoys putting a foot in their former team.
If they have pride.
This is a game of brothers that just like when I went toe to toe with my brother in my parent’s driveway in a game of Wiffle ball, we played to win. I suppose you could have a big brother that lets little brother (me) win, but I am thankful my brother beat me up and down until I knew that when I won, it was earned.
Daniel Murphy has steadily destroyed the Mets ever since they let him go into free agency. This was after one of the most epic post-seasons (2015) known to a position player where he homered off of the best pitchers in baseball with regularity. It took me an entire career to homer off of two eventual Hall of Famers in Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine, while Murphy took the top three Cy Young candidates at the time deep, and did it in a matter of weeks.
Any player taking pause of such an accomplishment would have followed my suggestion. Have a T-shirt made which on the front said: “I Homered Off Of….” And the back, the list of pitchers, in this case, Arrieta, Lester, Greinke, Kershaw (x2).
And then retire. There is no taller individual mountain peak to reach.
But I digress.
Murphy has terrorized his old team, the Mets (.392/.452/.715/1.167 with 11 HRs in 158 Abs), but this is not unusual for a former player to get back at his former team. You would think your old team would have all of your weaknesses down to a science. The slider down and away, the chasing of the ball up in the zone, the twitch of the glove which means he is going to throw a curveball. But it gets neutralized by one factor.
I know, we don’t want to admit it because this is not that serious, but you have to find whatever motivational tool to raise your game. Being traded for a box of baseballs is one of those tools. Even when you elected to move on by free agency, you have to showcase what they are missing or at least prove your betting on yourself was based on some sort of truth. Real or imagined, you may come up with something the organization could have done differently. Yes, this game has egos.
The Cubs were that team for me. Yes, I am coming clean, here. But on Dec. 23, 1997, I received a call from GM Ed Lynch telling me he was trading me to the Phillies. On paper, this was a gift. Any time a team decides you are not quite starting material or need a pitcher over you, and send you to a place that thinks you are starting material and needs you, that is advancement, so embrace it. But that was difficult in my case, because the Cubs were the team that drafted me. My first professional home. Naively I thought about loyalty through the mythology of my childhood where players stayed with their teams (now I understand more about why, after learning more about baseball’s labor history.)
And that home means a lot because it was often where a player first grows up in the game. The sleepwalking roommate in my first spring training, the early work under the intensity of Jimmy Piersall, the MRIs, the walking to Fitch Park in the cold and returning midday in the Arizona sun, the zinc oxide for your chapped lips. And that was just in my first camp.
The years toiling in the minor leagues, connecting flights in middle seats, and being Frogger crossing a highway to get food in Nashville. Or maybe it was a bus driver dozing off in the middle of Alabama while players slept in luggage racks, or the day we pulled into Oklahoma just a couple of days after the Oklahoma City bombing. The experience had its many joys, but you get constant reminders that baseball does not exempt you from life.
All of this for me, was as a Chicago Cub. My one and only pro team during those years and despite all of the challenges, I had finally achieved the dream and made it in 1996. This also in spite of my Triple-A manager who when I got called up for the first time, told me of all the ways I will be sent back down. The joke about what he thought of me was when Frank Viola hit me in the head during a Triple-A game, the helmet flew off of my head. Then my manager ran from third base to see if the helmet was cracked.
But even so, I learned from him about perseverance, about belief in self, and not letting anyone stand in the way. Then someone like my manager in Puerto Rico, Tom Gamboa came into my life and gave me a shot which literally changed my life, let alone my career. An MVP trophy and championship later, I would fight through a ton of Cubs outfielders to finally get a shot in 1996. I had made it. My organization will now love me unconditionally. Then came the phone call. How can they trade me now?
This revenge I write about can be out of love, like two brothers fighting it out, only to break bread later that night. Your best can come out in a whole host of ways, but I was hurt by that trade, especially since I lost my grandfather the day before. The same grandfather who would ask me until his dying breath.
“You still hittin’ that ball?”
In my years after that trade to the Phillies, I would do well against the Cubs (hit .342), that extra layer of focus which all players wish they could tap on every single pitch of every single year. Impossible to maintain since it is quite exhausting. My ultimate revenge finally came when I got my 200th hit of the 1999 season against the Cubs leading to a curtain call in Philadelphia on a homerun. Admittedly, that was sweet.
But as I grew up in the game as a veteran, I learned to see things a little differently. My father got sick and passed, I started to help younger players and advice starts to pour out of my mouth. I learned to see my detractors as important to my life and growth, even those that were flat out against me. I learned that organizations can love you as a person and still believe the best thing for their future is for you to move on. I have learned that sometimes, the hard change leads to better opportunity. I have learned that leaving the nest of the familiar can be for the best and that respecting the importance of what you learned from that nest is part of what makes you better. I learned of my weaknesses and imperfections to be able to see why I didn’t always fit in everyone’s plan. I learned that in time, you could get another chance to reunite in the future. (See 2003)
Daniel Murphy and many other players, if they receive the gift of time in this game, will go through this set of emotions. Moving between this limbo space of being trash and treasure as age catches up to you. The insecurity around it can be an amazing motivator and eat you alive.
The Cubs have always and will always be part of my family, even the loudmouth uncles and combative aunts that may have come along. In the end, I wanted to do well as a competitor, out of respect for the game and team, out of my history and family, but also to make sure, I both endorse their initial faith in me, and let them re-think why they may have lost it.
I suppose not every player does well against their former team, but trust me…
they want to.
NBC Sports Chicago is on Apple News. Follow us!