Before 2013, Donnie Murphy had been almost the definition of “journeyman ballplayer.” Selected in the fifth round in 2002 by the Royals, he had played in their organization and also for the Athletics, Orioles, Marlins and Brewers, and his big-league totals scattered from 2004-12 were .205/.270/.373 in 244 games. He’d had about one full season’s worth of plate appearances in those games (640) and hit 18 home runs, but also struck out 178 times.
The Brewers released him at the end of spring training in 2013 and the Cubs signed him to a minor-league deal. He had just turned 30. He seemed nothing more than “a guy” who would play at Triple-A Iowa until and unless the Cubs needed an injury replacement.
In August, he got the call when Luis Valbuena was injured.
And he started to hit, and hit, and hit. From his Cubs debut August 4 through August 22, he hit at near-MVP level production. He played 16 games in that span and hit .328/.381/.810 (19-for-58) with four doubles and eight home runs. There was absolutely nothing in his previous performance, minor OR major league, that could have predicted anything of the sort.
One of the eight home runs won a game for the Cubs. They were tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth at Philadelphia with two runners on and two out when Murphy came to bat [VIDEO].
Not only did Murphy’s three-run blast win the game, it was his second homer of the night. He wound up having another two-homer game during that 16-game stretch, August 19 against the Nationals at Wrigley Field.
Apart from Murphy’s big game in Philadelphia, the Cubs didn’t do very well during his hot streak. They went 4-12, so the pair of two-homer games helped account for exactly half the Cubs’ wins over that span.
Whatever got into Murphy for those 16 games vanished as quickly as it had arrived. For the rest of the 2013 season he hit .209/.208/.352 (19-for-91) with three home runs and 32 strikeouts, a lot closer to his previous performance. He was put on waivers near the end of spring training 2014 and claimed by the Rangers. He played 45 games for them in 2014 and hit .196/.268/.330 (22-for-112), though he had one last two-homer game for them against the A’s on June 16. He later played in the minors for three more organizations (Reds, Braves, Brewers) through the end of 2015, then retired.
But man, that 16-game stretch made him look like a superstar.
Fun fact: Donnie Murphy is only nine months older than Jon Lester.