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matt murton hanshin“Hey you remember [insert name]? What the hell ever happened to him?”

We’ve all asked it. I’m sure I can’t be alone. Sports are fun like that. When you’re a fan of any team, there are always those players who sometimes just… fade away. It’s like in The Sandlot when Babe Ruth fades away in Benny’s bedroom after saying, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Alright, it’s really nothing like Babe Ruth or The Sandlot. But visually it’s totally like that scene. (Also, if you haven’t seen that movie, please leave work now. Then go to your local Blockbuster or video store, pick up the VHS copy, and go home to pop that bad boy in. You’re behind).

That question of  “whatever happened to…” is so much fun in sports. Sometimes it’s a prospect that never panned out. Other times, too much time passes and local legends just become part of a stat sheet somewhere. It could be the the backup forward for the Bulls 2004 team (Andres Nocioni). Or maybe it’s the best name for an athlete ever (Major Applewhite). Or maybe it’s that Bears QB that I saw at Walt Disney World that one time (Jim Miller). There are thousands of them. The Cubs have, no doubt, had their fair share.

Over the course of the season, I’ll be profiling all your favorite Cubs “greats” that you forgot about (feel free to tweet your own suggestions here). Let’s begin.

Matt Murton

I feel like I’m kind of coming out of the gates strong with this one. This red-haired Cubs great is a perfect example of, “Man, whatever happened to him?” And, boy, is his story interesting.

Murton was actually drafted in the first round of the amateur draft by the Red Sox in 2003. He scooted (yes, scooted) around their minor league affiliates throughout most of that year. With the 2004 trade deadline looming, Murton ended up being traded to Chicago in the same deal that brought over none other than … NOOOMAAAH (Nomar Garciapara for the laymen) right at the trade deadline. Side note: remember when Nomar was traded to Chicago from Boston and then Boston won their first World Series in 86 years? Ouch town, population: Nomar. Or population: Cubs. Either way you spin it, it sucks. (The 2004 Red Sox team ended up voting to give Garciapara a ring anyway. It’s actually a cool story.)

Murton made his way around the Cubs minor league system before finally breaking into the bigs in 2005 and appeared in 51 games. He landed a starting role on the major league squad in 2006, and ended up hitting .297/.365/.444 that year in 144 games, while posting a 3.1 WAR. Not bad. He even inspired one of the best old guard (now retired) Cubs blogs, Thunder Matt’s Saloon.

2007 was not a great year for Murton, however. The Cubs signed outfielders Cliff Floyd and Alfonso Soriano, which pushed Murton back to the bench. Through the 2007 and 2008 season, things got even worse. The ’07 season saw him being optioned to AAA before being called up again in July. And, in his last two seasons in a Cubs uniform, Murton only played in 122 games combined.

Murton’s time in Chicago ended in 2008 when he was traded to the Oakland A’s along with some possible “Where are they now” candidates. The trade sent Murton along with Josh Donaldson (everyone knows where he is (punches wall)), Sean Gallagher, and Eric Patterson. (In return, by the way, the Cubs received my arch-rival Chad Gaudin and oft-injured starting pitcher, Rich Harden.)

Oakland wasn’t much better for Murton, as he only appeared in 9 games before being traded to the Rockies in 2009. His time in Colorado ended up being his last in MLB as he was released by the Rockies at the end of the 2009 season after appearing in only 29 games.

Guess that’s it, huh? He probably went back to Georgia and did woodworking or something while coaching high school baseball, right?

Not really.

After leaving MLB, his contract was eventually sold to the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. Oh, and by the way, he’s killing it there. In his first season with the Japanese ball club in 2010, Matt Murton actually broke Ichiro’s (yes, that Ichiro) record of 210 single season hits, with 214 of his own. He ended that year with a .349 BA, 91 RBIs, and 17 HR.

Seriously?

I don’t care if it’s not MLB. That’s awesome. One of the greatest hitters in Japanese (and US) baseball history had his record broken by none other than Matt Murton: MLB Journeyman.

While he hasn’t had a season like that since his breakout year, Murton has made himself into a star in the Japanese league. This past off-season he considered making a “comeback” to the MLB but instead decided to stay for another year and will be earning $3.5 million in 2014 (if my calculations are correct, his combined earnings in MLB from 2005-2009 were roughly $2.3 million). Get paid, man. Get paid.

Murton was never bad in MLB. He really was just a victim of circumstance. FanGraphs wrote an article about his situation back in 2010 during his breakout season in Japan. You should read it, even if it’s “dated.”

I don’t think anyone should feel sorry for him though.

“Where is he now” status: Gettin’ paid in Japan.

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