Rob had been a solid Reds player up to this point, identified with the team in most card sets, even making some team leaders cards after an amazing 1987 rookie campaign in which he threw a 0.72 ERA in 50.1 IP as a reliever. Of course, he was already 27, so that was kind of his peak, but he had a 2.56 ERA to go with 209 strikeouts in 230 IP for the years he had with the Reds.
On 12/13/88, the Reds dealt Murphy and Nick Esasky (who will be featured in the 1990 project) to the Red Sox for Todd Benzinger, Jeff Sellers, and Luis Vaszquez. Apparently, this was a consolation trade for the Red Sox, who had tried to send Mike Greenwell to the Mets in exchange for Ron Darling. The Reds seemed to be reluctant to deal Murphy, but he was a key part of getting rid of Esasky, who had gotten into Pete Rose’s doghouse. Murphy, however, seemed to be happy about getting out from under John Franco’s shadow, as he had been Franco’s setup man.
Murphy would not, however, be a closer in Boston; he was slotted into the same setup role as in Cincinnati. But it didn’t matter. He had a 2.74 ERA in 1989 with the Red Sox, striking out 107 in 105 IP. A 151 ERA+. He won the Red Sox Fireman of the Year and set a Red Sox record for 74 appearances by a left-handed pitcher. One hell of a year for a middle reliever, in other words.
The manufacturers sure jumped on him changing teams, though; he was one of the guys was standard for the traded sets that year, as you can see, and I was completely nonplussed. Come on, he was a setup guy, and for a 13-year-old, a middle reliever means almost nothing. There were lots of Red Sox prospects that I felt would have made better candidates at the time, but now that I see Murphy’s career in retrospect, I understand. Yeah, he was a middle reliever, but he was an amazing setup man. Relievers are overvalued these days, but given the state of relief back then, Murphy was probably pretty undervalued.
Unfortunately, Murphy’s 1989 success would be short-lived; 1990 would be an absolute disaster. He had a 6.32 ERA, his HR/9 ballooned from .6/9IP to 1.6/9IP, and his BB/9 skyrocketed, too. I can only surmise that it was a bout of bad luck OR his velocity was falling off, as he still struck out 54 in 47 IP and would rebound for the next few years. The Red Sox had had enough, though, and gave up on him in 1991, trading him to the Mariners for Mike Gardiner. He rebounded nicely in Seattle in 1991, his HR/9 dropping back down to a 0.8 rate, he had a 3.00 ERA, but I guess the problem was his velocity dropping off, as his strikeout rate sustained its drop and would do so for the rest of his career. Makes sense for a flame-throwing reliever, honestly.
His career would last until 1995. From 1992 to 1995, he went 13-13 with a 4.90 ERA, 3 saves, 115 K in 174.2 IP, and had a 1.391 WHIP, good for a 79 ERA+. According to Wikipedia, though, his post-baseball career has been pretty interesting:
A horse racing and thoroughbred training expert, Murphy has devised his own method for handicapping and breeding. Rob’s company, M375 Thoroughbreds, Inc., has bred, raised, and raced such successful horses as Platinum Tiara, Swing and Miss, Diamond Studs, Strike Three, and Golden Spikes.
Good for him! Always good to hear players making a life for themselves after the game.