Murphy’s comeback ahead of schedule
Goldeyes’ star and American Association MVP broke leg in first playoff game
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Max Murphy still replays the night of Sept. 7 over in his head.
An hour after the 30-year-old was honoured as the Winnipeg Goldeyes’ most valuable player, his season came to a jarring halt at home plate in front of a stunned crowd at Shaw Park.
The Fish were playing in the club’s first post-season game since 2017. Murphy, also named league MVP (the fourth player to be so honoured in franchise history), was fresh off the best year of his career, playing in all 100 regular season games while leading the league in home runs (31) and RBI (97) and boasting a remarkable .308 batting average. He even toed the rubber for six innings in mop-up duty, striking out seven batters.
Indeed, life was good in Manitoba’s capital.
The Robbinsdale, Minn., product carried his success into Game 1 of the West Division semifinal against the top-seeded Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, punching each of his first two at-bats to right field for doubles, driving in one run.
Two batters later, RedHawks pitcher Kevin McGovern fielded a hopping comebacker and sent an errant throw to home plate, where Murphy was sprinting. Catcher Christian Correa stretched to save the wild throw, blocking the dish with his armoured right leg.
In a flash, Murphy and Correa violently collided, sending the 5-11 195-pound baserunner airborne before landing head-first in the dirt. Murphy recalled feeling a tingling sensation after rolling over. Suspecting his leg might be broken, he felt it for himself and then promptly waved to the dugout for help.
“I remember everything,” said Murphy, who returned to Winnipeg this weekend to help with the Goldeyes Winter Skills Camp at Home Run Sports.
“Not to call a guy out but I don’t know what he thought was going to happen. It was a bad throw (by the pitcher) and he was never going to catch that. And even if he did, was he going to dive back and tag me? I just remember feeling, ‘I have never been hit that hard.’”
Murphy was awarded the run but lay writhing in pain for nearly 20 minutes before being rushed to Concordia Hospital. He had broken the tibia and fibula in his left leg, leaving nothing to hold his foot to his knee.
He underwent surgery the next day and returned home.
The Goldeyes won the game 6-3 on the back of two runs accounted for by Murphy. Without their fearless leader, the club accumulated just six runs over the next two games, losing the series 2-1 to the RedHawks, who went on to win the American Association championship.
Murphy said it was easy to dwell on his injury while the Goldeyes went to Fargo, but that it became easier to focus on his recovery once Winnipeg was eliminated from the playoffs.
“It was definitely disappointing but it was weird,” he said. “I definitely didn’t like watching the other playoff games. But it’s also kind of like a new challenge, something to work through. I’ve never had anything close to this, where it’s a long-term body goal that I have to fix something.”
Outside of the expected bumps and bruises that pile up through the rigours of a season, Murphy’s only other injury in his nine-year professional career came in 2016 when he tore his hamstring. That injury set him back just six weeks, however.
Goldeyes’ hitting coach Amos Ramon was manning first base when the collision occurred.
“I was more concerned about his neck,” Ramon said. “The way he landed, I thought it was his neck. I thought he broke it because I saw his head go sideways.”
“Max is a really tough guy. If you’ve been around Max, nothing fazes him. When you see a guy like him not be able to get up, we knew something severe was wrong. That’s never a good deal for any of our guys, let alone the MVP of the league.”
Ramon referred to Murphy as “quiet” and “as even-keeled as they come,” adding the right-fielder was his pick to hit a hot streak in the post-season and eventually add a playoff- MVP trophy to his display. His perfect start to the post-season would suggest he may have been well on his way.
“It was very hard. It was hard for a lot of guys because Max is well-beloved in the clubhouse and Max is one our of leaders, if not the leader for our team. To see him go down like that, it was devastating at the moment,” Ramon said.
“We call him Wild Murph for a reason. The guy lives on the land. He’s one of the strongest guys I’ve ever met. Max is going to do everything in his power to come back stronger. He’s a competitor and a great guy, and if he does come back and wants to keep playing, we’d love to have him.”
A little more than three months later, Murphy is walking without a limp. Typically a nine-month recovery, he said he is ahead of schedule and anticipates playing on opening day next season, wherever he’s playing.
While the Goldeyes continue their efforts to reel in a new manager, Murphy, among others, awaits their fate with the club.
“I plan to play as long as I’m healthy, which at this point, I’m feeling good. I can hit and I can throw — I’ve done both of those a little bit. We’ve got four months so I think I should be good,” Murphy said.
“I think it will be emotional early in the season if I come back and I’m able to do the things I was able to do at the end of last year.”
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.