Head football coach Dwayne Murphy gravely ponders game film in the boys' gymnasium at California High School, in the San Francisco suburb of San Ramon. Head baseball coach Mike Davis watches his colleague with both admiration and amusement. Davis, effervescent and boyish, enjoys nothing more than needling his more contemplative friend about everything from his age (Murphy is 39, Davis 35) to his weight (Murphy, still trim, is about 10 pounds heavier than Davis).
"What's that formation you're running there?" Davis inquires.
"The wing T," says Murphy, eyes still fixed on the screen.
"The what?" Davis howls with laughter. "Man, don't you know that we're in the '90s?"
"I said wing T, not wing tips," Murphy says, hand clapped to his forehead in exasperation. He looks about the room in apparent despair. "This man knows nothing at all about football."
The locker room banter has a familiar ring to it. So, you might say, do the names Dwayne Murphy and Mike Davis. And well they should, because the two coaches were teammates for eight years with the Oakland Athletics. Murphy in his prime was among baseball's premier centerfielders, a six-time Gold Glove winner in the '80s, a lefthanded power hitter who, in '84, hit 33 homers and drove in 88 runs. Davis's career in the outfield was neither as long nor as successful as Murphy's. Davis had his moments, though. In 1985, for example, he hit .287, with 34 doubles, 24 homers and 92 runs scored. But chances are he'll best be remembered not as an Athletic but as a Dodger. In the first game of the '88 World Series, he walked ahead of Kirk Gibson's dramatic game-winning ninth-inning homer off the A's Dennis Eckersley.
So what in the name of Tony La Russa are these two former big leaguers doing on a suburban high school coaching staff? And what is one of them doing coaching football?
Actually, they may have reached their current positions by bumping into each other, literally, seven years ago. On April 22, 1987, the A's were playing the California Angels in Anaheim. Murphy was, as usual, in center, Davis in rightfield, with Gary Pettis at bat. Pettis, who grew up in the Bay Area, and Davis were friends, or at least friendly enemies, with an unspoken wager between them: Any ball one hit, the other would catch. Pettis was a brilliant outfielder, but Davis had a clear-cut advantage over him at the plate, since Pettis was a lifetime .236 hitter.
Davis, who liked to play hunches in the outfield, was shading Pettis toward the line on this particular at bat, despite Murphy's efforts to move him more to right center. And when Pettis did indeed hit a ball to right center, both Murphy and Davis raced in pursuit of it. "I was going full speed," recalls Davis, "and I couldn't call for the ball because I didn't know for sure if I could catch it." He did get a glove on it, though, at the precise moment that Murphy collided with him. Pettis sped around the bases with an inside-the-park home run as the two Oakland outfielders lay motionless on the turf. Davis was knocked unconscious—"I thought he was dead," says Murphy—and Murphy's right knee, which Davis's head had hit, was all but ruined. Both were hospitalized. Davis missed more than a week of play, Murphy half the season.
Murphy's career was pretty much ended by the accident. He played a total of 147 games the next two seasons, in Detroit and Philadelphia, then went to Japan in 1990 for part of one season with the Yakult Swallows before he called it quits. He has had four operations on his knee.