Congratulations go out to Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy and his wife on the birth of their first child, Noah on Monday night. Murphy left the Mets and went to Florida to be there for… well, let's see here… ONE OF THE BIGGEST EVENTS THAT WILL EVER HAPPEN IN HIS LIFE. In doing so, Murphy invoked his right, under the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement, to a few days of paternity leave. The Mets were able to bring up Wilmer Flores to take Murphy's spot on the roster until Murphy returned to action on Thursday.
The Mets organization from GM Sandy Alderson to manager Terry Collins all made statements of support for Murphy. Murphy is hardly the first player to take paternity leave from his team. In fact, MLB Senior Counsel for Labor Relations Paul Mifsud has stated that about 20-25 players per year have been granted paternity leave since the program was instituted in 2011. Should be the end of a feel-good story.
But then, things got weird. New York radio station WFAN host Mike Francesca questioned Murphy's decision to take paternity leave. While Francesca did not object to the idea of Murphy being there for the birth, he wondered why Murphy would need extra time to stay with his wife (Francesca apparently—and errantly—believed that Murphy could take 10 days, when the CBA allows only for three). Francesca said (among other things),
What are you going to do? I mean you are going to sit there and look at your wife in a hospital bed for two days?…Your wife doesn’t need your help the first couple of days; you know that you’re not doing much the first couple days with the baby that was just born.
Then, former NFL quarterback, Boomer Esiason upped the ante, saying that Murphy and his wife should have arranged for a scheduled Cesarean section in advance of Opening Day so that Murphy would not miss any time. (Murphy's wife did undergo a C-Section, although apparently after going into labor naturally.)
I'm not a sports radio talk show host, so I don't have that level of expertise to draw from. But I was present for the birth of all three of my daughters, and there's a Ph.D. in child clinical psychology hanging above my desk, so I'll just have to make do with what I have here.
So, what was Daniel Murphy doing in the delivery (and recovery) room for those couple of days after the birth?
For one, he was helping his wife recover from emergency surgery. Murphy reported that his wife was "wiped" after the birth. The fact that the baby was born by Cesarean likely means that she had labored for a while (an exhausting task unto itself), that there was a scary moment when the attending doctor had to say "Look, we have to get the baby out," followed by the actual surgery. Blessedly, it seems that all went well. Research shows, however, that it doesn't just end there. Women who have an emergency C-section are at a greater risk of developing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, because… that's traumatic. Trauma reactions can happen even if everyone makes it through healthy. It's the moment of mortal terror that makes for trauma. A good way to not develop PTSD after a traumatic event is to have someone you trust there to help you process the event. In Mrs. Murphy's case, that person was probably Daniel Murphy.
For another, he was helping his son. Research has shown conclusively that there are big health benefits to babies if skin-to-skin contact is initiated right after birth. Daniel Murphy's wife might have needed post-surgical care, so Mr. Murphy would have been an ideal candidate to hold the baby close. In addition to helping his son out, Murphy would also have been bonding with his son. The skin-to-skin contact has effects on parents too. The body releases the hormone oxytocin, which encourages bonding behaviors between parents and children. In addition, there is evidence that fathers who witness the birth of their children are more attuned to their children's needs and are better attached to them in the months after birth.
Finally, Daniel Murphy just went through a major life event. A positive one, I sincerely hope, but a major event no less. I bet that some of what he was doing in that delivery and recovery room was processing his own thoughts about what just happened and about his new role as a dad. Suppose that Murphy had flown back to join the Mets right after the birth, as Mr. Francesca and Mr. Esiason suggest that he should have. It wouldn't have changed the fact that he was still coming to terms with the change in his own life. I somehow doubt that his mind would have been fully on curveballs and footwork around second base. Adjusting to a big event takes a couple of days, sometimes longer. If nothing else, Murphy celebrated his own 29th birthday on Tuesday, the day after his son was born. Maybe he gets a day off for that.
Yes, there's a drop off in performance from Murphy, who last year put up 2.2 WARP, to Wilmer Flores, who was below replacement level last year. Over the two games that Murphy missed, the amount of production lost was probably a rounding error. Take that and compare it to the effects that Murphy might have experienced had he not been there for the birth. Maybe he would have regretted his decision and spent some sleepless nights beating himself up for that decision. That could affected him for a good chunk of the remaining 160 games. By taking his time, I'd argue that Daniel Murphy probably did the best for himself and the Mets given the circumstances.
As for the comments of Mr. Francesca and Mr. Esiason, I'm not sure what bugged them the most about Daniel Murphy's decision. Was it that Murphy placed his family's needs above those of the team? Was it that he would dare take part in something so "un-manly" as childbirth and being a supportive husband and nurturing father? Was it that Daniel Murphy was guilty of being… gasp… a human being, rather than a play thing who is there for the entertainment and vicarious wish fulfillment of sports fans?
Baseball players, as a whole, are just a bunch of guys in funny outfits. To expect them to act like video game characters as their own lives unfold is to strip them of their humanity. Daniel Murphy wanted to be there for the birth of his son. If he had a job title other than "second baseman," that would not be seen as weird. And yes, by going to be with his wife for the birth of his son, I'm sure that he broke about 34 male pack mentality unwritten rules. It's the same rulebook that talks about playing through concussions and migraines, even though that's incredibly stupid. But Murphy is the member of two families, his own and the Mets', and family members are there for each other in times of need. (Haven't you seen Lilo and Stitch?) The Mets were there to cover for Murphy when he needed to take a couple days to handle something important, and Murphy was there for his wife and son when they needed him. I don't understand how that can be seen as anything less than completely honorable.