20 Oct Max Muncy: The 2018 Dodgers’ Cinderella Story
By: Kylie Sparks
Max Muncy thought March 31, 2017 was the last day of his pro-baseball career. After a couple of seasons with the Oakland Athletics as a fifth-round draft pick while playing college ball at Baylor University, he was released at the end of Spring Training and wasn’t sure if he would ever get back to baseball. Maybe he’d go back to Baylor and go to business school. Maybe he’d play somewhere else or go into the independent league. But as far as he knew, his MLB days were over.
On October 8, 2018, Max, along with the rest of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was headed to the National League Championship Series after beating the Atlanta Braves 3 games to 1 in the NLDS.
Oh, how a year and a half can change everything.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are known for finding and cultivating young prospects. After acquiring Double-A Tulsa from the Colorado Rockies and Triple-A Oklahoma City from the Houston Astros in 2016 and 2015, respectively, the Dodgers’ farm system has only gotten better from its days with Chattanooga and Albuquerque, discovering some of the MLB’s next generation of all-stars, including Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Ross Stripling, and Walker Buehler.
Muncy, after getting cut from the A’s, was still practicing with his dad on the Keller High School ball field in Keller, Texas every day. While weighing his options, he received a phone call from Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi, who remembered Max from the A’s. Zaidi thought the Dodgers farm system would be a great place for Max to improve his skills, tweak his swing, and get back into play; he was a good ballplayer with great work ethic and incredible hand-eye coordination, why not give him another shot? He signed with the Dodgers April 28, 2017 and was sent to Oklahoma City, where his swing mechanics drastically improved and he went from batting .195 over two seasons with the A’s to .309 with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs in one season with OKC.
The news of Corey Seager needing Tommy John Surgery was enough to make Dodger fans cry; the Dodgers were having a tough beginning of the 2018 season after losing the World Series to the Astros in 2017, and now the 2016 Rookie of the Year was going to be out for the entire season. Although Chris Taylor was an outfielder specialist and moved into Corey’s spot at Short Stop post-surgery-announcement, the Dodgers were still missing an infielder after Justin Turner broke his wrist in Spring Training and missed eight weeks of play and were trying to play catch-up defensively, and their super utilities were having a rough time as well. Kiké Hernandez was having a slow start to the season and moved outfield, Austin Barnes was bouncing back and forth between catching and infield, Kyle Farmer had been racking up frequent flyer miles between LA and OKC but wasn’t getting the hits, and Cody Bellinger was barely ticking on the home run meter after a stellar Rookie of the Year season. The 2017 World Series runners-up were miles away from breaking .500 and postseason prospects were looking bleak. One by one, Dodger players began to drop like flies with injuries, and when Logan Forsythe was the latest on the 10-Day DL with shoulder inflammation, they had to call up their reliable farm team in OKC to see who would get the chance to dance.
April 17, 2018, Max Muncy got the phone call. His contract was selected and he made his debut on April 18th with a home run. Not since Farmer’s MLB Debut the previous season with a walk-off double in extras against the San Francisco Giants was a debut so electric. Dodgers fans took notice, going from “who?” to “Is he home run teen wolf?” to “We love our teen wolf son.” He kept making contact and made some clutch plays on defense. He started in outfield and soon moved infield, covering first for Bellinger (with stops at second and third along the way). Max was just trucking along gaining momentum and raising his OPS and slugging percentage along the way.
Not surprisingly after a home run debut, Max became the Dodgers HR and RBI king before the All-Star Break. His impact began to be felt even in the stadium atmosphere; between Organist Dieter Ruehle and the Dodgers media booth, someone got the idea to play “Brass Monkey” by the Beastie Boys every time Max homered or had a clutch base hit (and on plays like the around-the-horn bottom of the 9th win before the All-Star Break between the Dodgers and the Angels). The fans immediately began singing “MAX MUNCY! THAT FUNKY MUNCY!” the first time the opening chorus of “Brass Monkey” played. Dodger fans had embraced the new kid in town. While he didn’t win the All Star Final Vote, Max was invited to the Home Run Derby, where he made it to the semi-finals and crushed a very respectable 29 HR before losing to eventual winner Bryce Harper. His laid-back approach to the Home Run Derby was noticed when in an interview, he mentioned why he picked Turner Ward, the Dodgers hitting coach, as his pitcher for the HR Derby; “Turner was already going to be there anyway and I know I can hit home runs off of him.”
So, a year and a half ago Max Muncy thought his baseball days were over. Turns out, with a little elbow grease and a little magic, he’s just getting started and experiencing what it’s like to be a star in the highs and lows of a 162-game season. While he had a magnificent first half of the season before the All-Star break, Max struggled to find his groove in the second half. Before the break, he had 22 HR and 44 RBI and was slashing .271 while leading the NL in AB per HR and had the highest BB of any current Dodger. After the All-Star Break, Dodger fans realized that Funky Muncy is in fact a mortal being. While he was still leading the Dodgers in homers and walks, his stats in August added only four HR and 8 RBI, and his numbers fell drastically and he slipped in the standings, having the fifth highest batting average in the Clubhouse behind Justin Turner, Matt Kemp, Manny Machado (who was acquired before the All-Star Break), and Yasiel Puig. Many feared that Max fell to the rumored “Home Run Derby slump”…but he fought his way back.
September baseball is where everything changes, and in one of the most competitive divisions, Max helped the Dodgers clinch the NL West for the 6th year in a row in a rare year where the Dodgers (along with the Brewers, Cubs, and Rockies) had to play a tie-breaker game to go to game 163. Max’s final stats before the postseason were astronomical considering he didn’t even play a full season: his ended the season batting .263, with 35 HR, 79 RBI, 79 walks and a .963 OPS. He finished first in the NL on ABs per homer, with 11.3, and was 5th in HRs and slugging percentage. That Funky Muncy continues to shine in the postseason, where in four games of the NLDS, he hit two home runs and his OPS was a phenomenal 1.198, fourth across the NL. He was named the Dodgers’ nominee for the Hank Aaron Award for his contributions, even though he didn’t even play the full season.
Although he doesn’t qualify for Rookie of the Year, Max Muncy’s Cinderella story has been one of the most talked-about this season. With the NLCS and perhaps the World Series on the horizon, if Max can continue his season of witchcraft in one of the spookiest months of sports, the name on everyone’s lips will be Maxwell Steven Muncy.