Sept. 20, 2000
By Dan Bickley, Arizona Republic
SYDNEY -- In his own country, Pat Murphy is both revered and reviled.
The Arizona State baseball coach is skilled at managing games and making enemies, building programs and stepping on toes, motivating his players and sticking his foot in his mouth.
But in the Netherlands, he is nothing short of a miracle worker.
Murphy's unheralded Dutch team stunned powerful Cuba, 4-2, on Wednesday in Australia, handing the defending champions their first loss in Olympic history. And as he stood in a tunnel leading to the baseball field, giddy Dutch fans held the national flag high, cheering for their part-time manager.
"I think it's great for the country," Murphy said. "For a long time, the Dutch haven't gotten any respect in baseball. That's about to change. I'm proud to be part of it."
Murphy is just a mercenary in these Olympics, a man hired to do a job for another country. But he's already made a significant mark on the Summer Games.
The Netherlands upset Australia in the opening round of the tournament. After losses to Japan and the United States, they rebounded to stymie a Cuban team that hadn't lost in 21 previous Olympic games. And now Murphy's bunch is on the verge of reaching the medal round for the first time ever.
"I told them before the game that they had to start believing, because this is how history comes true," Murphy said. "Today, we believed."
This is all a surreal experience for Murphy, who has compiled a 232-123 record in his six years at ASU. He feels completely at ease, unburdened by the pressures of tending his own program. He feels his mind wandering to other priorities back home. Baseball seems less important, leading Murphy down a very strange path:
"Because this is not my own program, I'm not as nutty about it," Murphy said. "I'm more relaxed than I've ever been. And I'm probably doing a better job."
So the madman is becoming a mature, mellow manager?
"You grow up," Murphy said.
Something has happened to Murphy since the college season ended, and we'll start with Kai Joseph, his first child, born on Aug. 26.
Murphy wouldn't be the first to be positively affected by fatherhood, but it would certainly explain a change in perspective.
"I'm really worried about screwing up," Murphy said. "I call home all the time. My phone bill last month was $1,600. I hear the faintest cry in the background and I'm all over my wife."
Of course, if you're looking for the politically correct, Murphy is not your guy. He's still young, still cocky, still speaks his mind. And he's still successful, a lightning rod for controversy inside the coaching ranks.
In a warm-up game on Australia's Gold Coast, the Dutch upset Team USA, 4-3. That night, USA Coach Tommy Lasorda put in his reserves after the fifth inning. Murphy, meanwhile, brought in his center fielder/best player (Rikkert Faneyte) to pitch the final inning.
Lasorda took immediate offense, reacting as if Murphy were just a punk trying to show up a legend.
Later, Lasorda was asked if he liked Pat Murphy.
"I know him," Lasorda said with a steely glare. "I know him."
Nevertheless, it's better to be honest and disliked than a phony, which is the very definition of Lasorda.
"As you know, I've never been any good at politics, whether it's because of immaturity or stupidity," Murphy said. "And I don't have any politics going on now. I'm not trying to position myself for a better job. So these guys can believe what I say."
Against the Cubans, Murphy employed the same strategy. With Cuba mounting a rally in the ninth inning, he again called on his center fielder to close the game. Afterward, Faneyte was asked if Murphy has played a part in the Netherlands' surprise showing.
"Definitely," Faneyte said. "Because of his energy."
There are some distinct advantages to coaching a baseball team from the Netherlands. Like the media, for instance.
"I can't read what they write," Murphy said. "It's perfect. It's just like my in-laws. They don't speak English. It's great."
If Murphy could read Dutch, he'd probably love to be back in the Netherlands today. Surely, he'd find the newspapers enjoyable.
Reposted with permission www.arizonarepublic.com