Dale Murphy is my favorite baseball player of all-time. It all started when, as a 9-year old, my family relocated from a home in the country with only a few television channels and moved to Montevideo, Minnesota, in early 1982 just prior to the start of the baseball season. In town we had cable television and I was able to watch the Atlanta Braves on TBS with as much regularity as possible for a young boy who also liked to be outside playing ball or something else under the sun.
That season the Braves started 13-0. Hooked as a fan, Dale Murphy immediately became my favorite player. I did not become a fan simply because he was a great player, but enjoyed reports how he didn’t smoke, abuse drugs, go out drinking and carousing women as a married man, and was a person of faith. He was a good role model for young Americans and I took to this as a youngster.
I remember writing a fan letter to Murphy that season and him sending a letter back along with a signed 4×6 black and white photo. I still have it to this day.
Although the Braves of the mid-to-late 1980s were not very good, they remained my favorite team and Murphy my favorite player. He did not have line-up protection and didn’t hit with runners on base like many stars but still managed to overcome these obstacles to be among the league leaders in home runs, RBI, and runs scored year after year.
If one looks at the 1980s, you can legitimately say Dale Murphy was its best player. If you disagree, that’s fine, but you cannot deny that he would have been on an extremely short list of the most dominant players.
In addition to Murphy being arguably the greatest individual baseball player on the planet in this decade, he was also the poster boy and face of Major League Baseball during this time thanks to Ted Turner and TBS showing most Atlanta Braves games on cable television. The Braves were known as “America’s Team” throughout the nation in an era when people didn’t often see teams from other markets on a regular basis. Nobody served as a better face of the game than Dale Murphy.
In the 1980s, only Mike Schmidt hit more home runs, only Eddie Murray had more RBI, and nobody had more total bases. In addition to being one of the great power hitting and run producing players of the ten-year span, he was also a star defensively, evident by his five Gold Glove awards.
Dale Murphy started the 1980s by hitting 33 home runs, which was good for third in the National League.
Although he only clubbed 13 round trippers in 1981, one has to remember it was during the strike shortened season. It was still good enough to finish top ten in the league.
In 1982 he won the NL MVP. During that season, Hank Aaron was quoted as saying, “I’d say he is probably the best all-around player in either league.” Hammerin’ Hank is most definitely a credible source of information concerning the greatness of a player.
His best year, and another NL MVP trophy, was 1983 when he hit .302, with 36 HRs, 121 RBI, and scored 131 runs. He stole 30 bases while only being caught four times. He became only the third player in the history of Major League Baseball to have a .300/30/30 season. In addition to his offensive domination, he won his second of five consecutive Gold Glove awards.
Nobody can doubt that at this point in his career he was the best all-around player in the game. Even the great Nolan Ryan stated during Murphy’s glory years, “I can’t imagine Joe DiMaggio was a better all-around player than Dale Murphy.” While we all know Murphy didn’t end up having the long-term career of DiMaggio, this quote reminds us just how dominant he was in his prime.
He would continue a decade of dominance by leading the National League in home runs in 1984 and 1985. In fact, in ’85 he was voted “most feared hitter” in the National League by opposing pitchers in a survey conducted by the Sporting News.
A rival pitching coach, Billy Connors of the Chicago Cubs, even complimented Murphy by saying, “He’s the best I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Willie Mays.” Connors added, “I’ve seen Murphy win games every way there is, a base hit in the ninth, a home run, a great catch, beating the throw to first on a double play. I’ve never seen anything like him before in my life.”
In 1986 Murphy played in “only” 160 games. That broke a streak of four consecutive seasons playing in every game, including 740 in a row, which is good for 12th on the all-time list.
One of my favorite and most appropriate memories of Murphy from this season was when he cut his hand during a game colliding against the outfield wall. He received nine stitches for his efforts. He was supposed to miss about a week, ending his streak at 676 consecutive games. The next night, Murphy entered the game as a pinch-hitter and hit a home run off of Dwight Gooden, as the New York Mets ace lost his bid for a shutout. As was typical of Murphy and the Braves during this time, he provided the only offense of the evening in an 8-1 loss.
The last great season of Murphy’s career was 1987 when he hit a career high 44 round trippers. At one point during the year, Murphy reached base in 74 consecutive games, which is good for third all-time.
Although Murphy would hit a respectable 44 homers and drive in 161 runs during the final two years of the decade, his career began to deteriorate by his lofty standards. By the time he retired, you can say that he hung on too long to try to get to his 400th home run (he finished with 398), which used to be a “shoe-in” for the Hall of Fame and his career batting average took a dive.
Murphy was able to achieve undeniable greatness during this decade despite playing on mostly terrible teams. Aside from 1982 and 1983 the Braves finished well below the MLB average in terms of runs scored per game every single season. In fact, three different times during the decade they finished second-to-last in terms of runs scored in all of baseball. In spite of having the deck stacked against him, he still put up impressive numbers that are worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Hall of Fame Comparisons
Some people say that Murphy’s career batting average of .265 isn’t worthy of a Hall of Famer. However, one of the greatest power hitters the game has ever known, Harmon Killebrew, only had a career batting average of .256.
In no way am I saying “The Killer” isn’t a Hall of Famer. He is and it’s not close. If they had a Hall of Fame for all the best players in Cooperstown, Killebrew would be in that Hall of Fame, whereas Murphy obviously would not. My argument is simply saying that being a .265 career hitter shouldn’t exclude one from the Hall of Fame and I know for a fact the Killebrew fans would agree.
If a .265 career batting average was going to prevent players from the Hall of Fame, then how did greats that I also grew up watching such as Gary Carter and Ozzie Smith get in? Each of them had lifetime .262 averages, three points under what Murphy had.
Again, I saw Carter and Smith play and agree that they are Hall of Famers. What I am saying is that Murphy is almost as deserving as each of them. Murphy had more homers and RBI than Carter (both players were first-round picks at catcher) and while he wasn’t the dominant defensive wizard that Smith was at shortstop, he made up for it in other ways, too. I realize that catcher and shortstop are important positions, they had longer careers and more All Star appearances, but Murphy is up there with them, or close to it, in terms of being enshrined in upstate New York.
There have been a couple of head scratchers in recent years such as Jim Rice. I don’t mean to disrespect his induction, I just simply believe that Murphy is every bit his equal.
Rice and Murphy were different players with strengths and weaknesses but when you look at their careers, I don’t see a difference, as both are Hall of Famers, except it’s just that one of them has been inducted.
Rice clearly had the better batting average (.298-265), more RBI (1,451-1,266), edged Murphy in runs scored (1,249-1,197) and played in eight All Star Games versus seven for Murphy.
Murphy edges Rice in home runs (398-382), handily had more speed in terms of stolen bases (161-58), won two MVPs over Rice’s one, and won four Silver Slugger awards to the two of Rice.
Where Murphy made up the difference was being a great defensive player for a number of years in comparison to Rice, who was never Gold Glove caliber. I remember watching Rice when I was a kid and not being impressed with him as an outfielder, whereas I remember Murphy making diving catches, throwing lasers from the outfield, and winning awards for his defensive prowess.
Defense must count for something or Ozzie Smith and his .262 career batting average and total of 28 home runs in a 19 year career wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, right?
One area where the stat geeks failed in their comprehension of understanding basic facts centers around some career numbers of Rice and Murphy. Normally, more home runs (Murphy bests Rice) usually equates to more RBI (Rice bests Murphy) over a career, especially since both men spent the better part of their careers in the heart of the order for their respective teams and had an almost identical number of plate appearances. However, whereas Murphy had 16 more homers than Rice in his career, Rice had 185 more RBI. Why is this and why is Murphy being unfairly punished for playing on bad teams?
The best offensive partner Murphy ever had was Bob Horner. Horner only managed to play in one All Star Game (1982) during a 10-year career that ended in 1988. If you’re ready for some news that will blow your mind away with respect to “talent” that Murphy played with, here you go – Murphy only ever had a teammate hit over .300 three times during the 1980s. Horner hit .303 in 1983, Dion James hit .314 in 1987, and Lonnie Smith hit .315 in 1989. That’s it.
Rice was lucky enough to be in a line-up with a .300+ hitter 20 different times in that same decade, including the years where Wade Boggs was an on-base machine and putting up atronomical averages year in and year out. For example, starting in 1982, Boggs would lead the AL in on-base percentage six times, never failing to get on at a clip of at least .406 and topped out at .476 in 1988. His worst batting average of the decade was .325 in 1984 and hit at least .357 five times. Even without Boggs, Rice still would have played with others who nine times hit over .300 in comparison to the three Murphy played with during this decade.
Aside from Horner, who did so four times, Murphy only ever had one teammate hit over 21 homers in a single season. Ozzie Virgil knocked 27 out of the park in 1987. Rice played with teammates who matched or exceeded that feat 17 times. Lastly, aside from Horner who had 97 RBI in 1982, Murphy never played with a teammate who could muster even 90 RBI in any given season in the 1980s. Rice played with someone who also did this 17 different times.
Essentially, while Murphy was putting up astronomical numbers during the decade, he was almost doing it by himself. Meanwhile, in Boston, Rice put up lesser numbers than Murphy during that decade while playing on a team that three times led all of baseball in runs scored (1981, 1988, 1989) and its worst season (1983) saw the Red Sox “only” finish eighth overall in baseball in terms of runs scored (the best the Braves ever finished was 7th).
Murphy spent an entire decade with teammates who could not hit for average or power.
As the times and game have changed, front offices put much more stock on the “Moneyball” approach where they care about batters taking pitches to work pitchers (espectially the starters) and on-base-percentage. Batting average isn’t as big of a deal anymore and managers have adjusted their line-ups accordingly. While Rice clearly bests Murphy in career batting average, as already stated, Rice barely finishes ahead of Murphy in OBP. Rice finished at .352 and Murphy at .346.
Some BBWAA writers have said Murphy “struck out too much” to be a Hall of Famer. However, I’m pretty sure I’d rather strike out more (Murphy had a little over 300 more Ks than Rice in his career) than hit into over 100 more double plays like Rice did over Murphy during a career.
Murphy also walked (i.e. worked the pitcher more for his teammates) over 200 times more in his career than Rice. Remember, both players ended their careers with similar official plate appearances so it’s not like these numbers are being totally taken out of context. However, Rice was a great hitter, in the mid/later-Seventies when Murphy was a struggling catcher (although some catchers like Ray Schalk have been inducted with less than stellar offensive numbers because of the position they played) . I’m sure the writers don’t care about taking more pitches, walking, or OBP, but they would if their jobs depended on it.
Some people say you can’t make chicken salad without any chicken. Rice had chicken (insert Wade Boggs joke), meaning he played with some great offensive players and he made chicken salad, which equates to putting up Hall of Fame offensive statistics.
Murphy overcame the odds and most definitely made chicken salad (i.e. great offensive numbers) even though he didn’t have any chicken (i.e. lack of surrounding talent). When you factor common sense into “facts” and “statistics,” it makes you realize just how worthy of the Hall of Fame Murphy is in comparison to Rice.
Sluggers of the 1980s vs. the Steroids Era “Stars”
I have heard the argument there are other players whose statistics are more impressive than Murphy who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. For example, a great player like Fred McGriff had a lifetime batting average of .284 and 493 home runs. Although the “Crime Dog” had an impressive career, he was never gifted defensively, nor was he ever a regular All Star. He only appeared in the mid-summer classic five times in a 19 year career.
In my opinion, the era in which both played is the biggest factor. Murphy starred in an era when hitting 30+ home runs would rank one among the league leaders year after year. While the first good season of McGriff’s career was 1988, the era in which he spent most of his career has been called in question due to the effects of steroids and legitimacy of the statistics of that next decade which continued into the next century.
When Murphy was one of the dominant offensive players in the 1980s, there were 60 different players who hit 30+ home runs at least once during this decade. These numbers exploded by the mid-1990s and, in fact, between 2000-2001 it was done by 63 different hitters in only that two year period, which is more than everyone in 1980s combined.
In the 1980s, there was only 13 times where a player hit or exceeded 40 home runs. This number jumps to 69 different times this happened in the 1990s. It’s even crazier to think in 2000 alone that more players hit over 40 homers than was done by everyone in the 1980s.
Nobody in the 1980s hit 50 home runs in a season but it was done 12 times during the next decade, including the “magical” year of 1998 where Mark McGwire mashed 70 and Sammy Sosa slammed 66 of them.
If you look at the 1990s, steroids led to inflated stats that became common. When Murphy retired early in 1993 he was 27th on the all-time home run list. After the many of the frauds and cheaters had their way unchecked with drugs for over a decade you’ll see that he now ranks 58th all-time. I will certainly concede there are always going to be great hitters in every era and records will be threatened and broken. It’s natural to know he wouldn’t remain in the top 30 for a long time.
However, we can conclude that it seems suspicious he could rank 27th for over the first hundred years of baseball but then “all of a sudden” drop to 58th place in just over two decades after his retirement.
By mid-decade of the 1990s the juice was running rampant. While there was a total of 107 times that someone hit 30+ home runs in the 1980s, it was done 362 times from the steroid “glory days” from 1996-2005. These juiced up (literally) statistics are absurd and have clearly overshadowed the real achievements of the legitimately great players of prior decades who didn’t play in a time period where everyone was privy to inflated stats.
For example, when Murphy was voted the “most feared” hitter in the National League in 1985, it wasn’t one of his MVP seasons, but he did hit .300 with 37 homers. However, if you look ahead at the frauds and cheaters, you’ll see that guys from just over that very decade later in 1996 like Geronimo Berroa hit .290 with 36 homers and there’s no way pitchers from that era would have ever considered Berroa one of the “most feared” hitters in their league, even though he had close to similar stats that Murphy did just over a decade prior. In fact, in 1996 those numbers weren’t even good enough to garner a single MVP vote. In addition, a guy like Jim Thome had more runs, HRs, RBI, and better batting average than Murphy did in ’85, yet all he was able to achieve in MVP voting that year was a measly 15th place.
Pitchers were more worried about the likes of Juan Gonzalez, mentioned in the Mitchell Report, who was hitting .314 with 47 homers. Or Brady Anderson who was jacking 50 bombs while maintaining a .297 average. I’ll admit that these are AL players and that league, with the designated hitter, usually have players with better offensive numbers (another advantage Rice had over Murphy from an earlier analysis).
Lets focus on the NL and its MVP, Ken Caminiti, an admitted steroids user who has since passed away due to his use of illegal substances. He hit .326 with 40 homers that year. To be clear, in no way is this meant to be an insensitive jab at Caminiti. It’s simply stating what happened with this generation of players when most of them were clearly cheating to gain a competitive edge. In fact, while Caminiti was the MVP, there were other guys in the NL who put up better numbers such as Andres Gallaraga (.304/47) and Ellis Burks (.344/40) in the rarified air of Colorado and their teammate, Dante Bichette, had better overall numbers than Murphy did in ’85 but all he could muster was 20th place in NL MVP voting that year.
Getting back to the original argument, in no way am I saying that a player specifically such as McGriff isn’t Hall of Fame worthy or is linked to steroids (or Berroa) but I am saying that the era in which he played should be viewed with more skepticism for good reason, which is unfortunate for the players who refrained from cheating while it seemed everyone else was doing it.
Regardless, Murphy dominated his decade in a way that players the next decade who had similar numbers did not and this should be taken into consideration if one wants to effectively and critically analyze who, indeed, the best players were in the history of this game and deserving of Hall of Fame membership.
Putting It Into Perspective
Aside from running these baseball tours in the summer, I am also a high school social studies teacher during the school year. Lets say that one year I give a final test and the students are pretty spread out in terms of the grades they will earn. Going into the test I know who has worked the hardest throughout the year and who have consistently been the best test takers. There probably won’t be too many surprises when I grade the tests.
Now lets say that I give this same test in future years. On one hand, I would hope that my teaching will have improved each year to better get through to all of my students. However, lets say that I never collect these finals back from the students and continually give the same test in future years and the results drastically improve.
What would I think? Would I pat myself on the back and pretend that I have become an expert teacher? Or would I wonder why the finals have gotten so much better when the students, throughout a school year of observation, seemed similar to my original students and their abilities, yet scored so much higher with all things being equal?
Or how would I respond if there were whispers about current students having copies of those final tests, perhaps from their older siblings who were once in class? Would I pretend nothing was wrong, even if I saw students peaking at cheat sheets, and bury my head in the sand like Major League Baseball and the Players Union did when there were rampant rumors of steroids being used by many of its players? Or would I take away the cheat sheet(s) and investigate if there was further fraud and change the questions on the tests from year to year?
What would I do if an employer called and said that they have two finalists for a job and they have found out that both were once students in my class and wanted to know exactly what I thought of each?
Candidate 1: This person was in my original class. He/she was clearly one of the better workers throughout the year and received one of the highest scores on the final. Although their final grade was not “100%,” I would have nothing but glowing things to say about them.
Candidate 2: This person was a few years younger. He/she wasn’t one of the best workers in their class (ability level on par with the original class) but weren’t bad either. However, this person received a perfect score on their final test, as did a majority of their entire class, although you had every reason to believe they had cheated.
The BBWAA clearly would decline both candidates. They would say that Candidate 1 (Dale Murphy) wasn’t good enough because he didn’t get as good of a final score as one of the cheaters so they would cancel the search and post the job opening again.
Actions speak louder than words and by the BBWAA clearly allowing the inflated power numbers, most induced by steroids, to allow their opinion of Murphy to be that of the 58th ranked home run hitter of all-time, instead of closer to the 27th ranked home run hitter as was the case when he retired I think is a major malfunction in their “logic.” And, yes, I have read some who have written they wouldn’t vote for Murphy, in part, because of how far he ranks down on the all-time list currently.
Also, when Murphy first became eligible, it came at a time when the power numbers in his prime were no longer impressive because of what guys like McGwire and Sosa were doing to rewrite the record book. In fact, the first time Murphy was on the ballott (1999), MLB was coming off a year in which 10 players matched or exceeded his season high in homers in that previous season alone to help make his accomplishments look less than they were in his quest for Hall of Fame addmittance. If you look at that list, I’d be willing to bet that most of them were juicers, too (McGwire 70, Sosa 66, Griffey 56, Vaughn 50, Belle 49, Canseco 46, V. Castilla 46, J. Gonzalez 45, M. Ramirez 45, Galarraga 44).
As I have said, Murphy wouldn’t have remained a top 27 home run hitter of all-time because it was inevitable that he would have been passed by names such as Pujols, Griffey, and the Big Hurt, among others. However, I do have a problem with plenty of names above him too, such as a proven steroid users like Jason Giambi and Jose Canseco, to name a few.
When I ultimately look at who passed Murphy into 58th place on the all-time home run list it is sickening because I firmly believe that Murphy would still be easily within the top 50, and possibly top 40, in the history of the game if it wasn’t for the cheaters. I also firmly believe that if the BBWAA comprehended this better that they may have been willing to give Murphy more support.
We can also use a different baseball analogy by pretending that you pitch for an American League team that has a small park, your defense isn’t very good (especially having players with limited range behind you) and you play in a division with baseball’s best offenses. I bet you cringe at that thought because you know your ERA isn’t going to be as good as it could be.
Taking another approach, lets say you play in a big National League stadium and have a great defense, especially up the middle. You salavate at that thought, knowing that your ERA is going to be much, much lower. This will obviously make you look better on paper than you are, whereas the previous scenario in the American League would make your ERA look much worse.
Is this rocket science? Is it really that hard for some people who are supposedly smart to figure out? Is there any wonder why the greats of the 1980s put up offensive numbers less than the cheaters from the following decade(s)? The ability to critically think is so important for anyone in life and by denying arguably the greatest player of the 1980s Hall of Fame membership is pure lunacy.
Lets take a legitimate Hall of Fame player who was also great in the 1980s such as George Brett. He hit 198 home runs that decade. It’s obvious that if he would have had the foresight to juice himself up like guys such as Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and of course the finger pointing Rafael Palmero would later do, in addition to countless others, he would have probably been named the All Century starting third baseman over Mike Schmidt, who also starred in the same era (in addition to Brooks Robinson).
Instead, Brett is going to be forever considered just a notch below Schmidt in terms of being the greatest player in the history of baseball at that position. However, Brett can look himself in the mirror every day for the rest of his life and have one thing the cheaters don’t – Pride.
I’d much rather be Brett, in terms having almost been the greatest player ever at his position than an obvious cheater in the court of public opinion like Barry Bonds. When Bonds looks at himself in the mirror each morning, I don’t know how he could see the All-Time Home Run King, without thinking of Hank Aaron. In fact, I think it would feel demoralizing to look at yourself and see someone who was living a lie such as the cheaters of the 1990s and into the new millennium. Thanks to the new and harsher rules being implemented by MLB, you don’t see the impressive offensive output like you used to. It had been getting more along the lines of the 1980s, although the 2017 season proved that MLB is possibly now juicing the balls since they aren’t allowing the players to be juiced.
I Can Relate to Andruw Jones
An Andruw Jones quote from when Bonds was about to break Aaron’s record: “There’s a lot of people that take steroids and they don’t hit 755 home runs.”
You’re right, Andruw, there were a lot of people who took steroids. You clearly admitted this and if anyone would know – it would be an MLB player “in the know” such as yourself.
You’re also right that nobody else broke Aaron’s record, but you cannot deny that steroids played an integral part in players hitting more than they should have and it’s clearly why so many more were hit in the 1990s and well into the new century, just as there’s no way you’d have 36 more home runs in your career over Murphy if he had taken steroids the way your generation of players did.
I used to play a lot of softball during the summer months when I was in my twenties. There was a year in the late-1990s when Mikken released a brand new bat that was incredible. It was later banned. It was unreal how the ball jumped from the bat. I went from a so-so average hitter with occassional power to someone who had a lot more pop and hit home runs on a regular basis. I remember one time hitting a fly ball to the left fielder that he should have taken a few steps in and caught, except with this bat it ended up going over the fence. As you can imagine, the players who already hit for power now all-of-a-sudden were hitting even more homers.
I had a little bit of power but now I was hitting more than I otherwise would have if I didn’t have this bat and the real power hitters were hitting even more and they were traveling much further, just as Bonds was a good power hitter before and then took it to an unheard of level after he started doing what he did at an age when skills are naturally in decline, not drastically improving.
Jones said that “a lot of people” took steroids, just as almost everyone started using this Mikken bat when we played softball. Why? Because it was easier to get hits, hit for more power, and who would not use it when we’d be at a clear disadvantage if we were playing a team that was using that bat? As Jones clearly insinuates, you’d be a fool not to take steroids if everyone else was, just our softball team would have been fools not to use that bat if we were playing against teams that used it, too. While steroids affected the body and using a different bat does not, the fact of the matter is that this is a comparable matter because it allows one a competitive edge in either case. If others do it, you are going to as well.
I’m not going to sit here and preach about how I never would have taken any PEDs if I were an MLB player in the 1990s and into the new century. To be truthful, I would have probably felt the pressure to keep up with the Jones’ as well. If we’re being honest with ourselves, doesn’t this make a man with the character and integrity of a Dale Murphy even all the more impressive?
Steroids don’t make you a great power hitter, but if you’ve got some pop in your bat it’s going to certainly make you hit more than you otherwise would have hit, in addition to healing player bodies better/quicker so they are at max performance day in and day out. This is cannot be argued.
Statistics are Important but they Can and Do Lie
One of my favorite websites is Baseball-Reference.com. If you’re looking for player or team statistics, this is the place to go. It’s fun to go back through the years and see various individual numbers put up by players and teams. However, as we have seen, numbers can only tell part of the story.
While Jones was a good player in his prime, he was never considered the best player in the game. Murphy was considered the best or among the best for a majority of a decade. Jones may have had 36 more home runs on paper than Murphy, but anyone who watched the Braves for a long period of time knows Murphy was the better power hitter and better player.
When Murphy only ever played with three players who hit over .300 in the 1980s, as previously mentioned, Jones was lucky enough during his 11-year stint with the club to play with someone who did that 25 times. Likewise, whereas Murphy only played with someone who five times hit at least 21 homers; Jones had a teammate do this 26 times; Murphy only ever had one teammate hit over 90 RBI in the 1980s; Jones had a teammate reach this number 22 times. Murphy played on one division winning team in 1982 and virtually played on a terrible team for a majority of the rest of the decade. Jones was part of nine division championships in his 11-year tenure with the Braves.
Murphy finished in the top 10 in home runs nine out of 10 years in the 1980s. Jones, meanwhile, finished in the top 10 three times in his entire career. If that’s not good enough for you to think about – Murphy finished in the top four in the NL in HRs seven times and Jones only ever did it once and yet the “final numbers” of their careers indicate that Jones is the better power hitter when they played almost the same number of years.
Also, Murphy consistently hit a higher percentage of his teams homers than did Jones. For example, Murphy hit 36 home runs in 1984 and Jones hit the same number of bombs in 2000. Murphy accounted for 32 percent of the Braves homers in ’84, while Jones only accounted for 15% in 2000. It should be crystal clear that Murphy and his power numbers, taken into proper context, were more impressive in comparison to pretty much every player in Major League Baseball who hit 36 home runs for their team in the following decades.
On one hand, Jones shouldn’t be punished because he played on a great team. On the other hand, anyone who has ever played baseball knows that if you hit in a good line-up that you will have more runners on base (RBI opportunities) and you won’t have to feel like you have to carry the team. Jones had the luxury of playing on great teams and hitting in good line-ups, whereas Murphy essentially had to do it alone (which leads to expanding the strike zone). When one has to press because there is no line-up protection (and make an out more times than not), that affects your game negatively (i.e. frustration and less confidence the next at-bat). Some of these obstacles that Murphy had to overcome cannot be translated into a statistic on Baseball-Reference.com and that’s why I don’t believe in every stat I ever see, although I do see value in most stats.
The reason for all the Andruw Jones talk is because on Baseball-Reference.com one of the players most comparable to Dale Murphy on paper in history is Jones. However, when we take all of the intangibles into consideration, it is clear that Murphy was far superior to Jones in virtually every aspect of the game except for excellence in center field for a longer period of time.
To be clear, I was a Braves fan in the Eighties of a huge fan of the team in the Nineties. I loved Andrew Jones and cheered hard for him and, to his credit, he is the greatest defensive center fielder I have seen. Perhaps he is a Hall of Famer? If you can have guys like Ozzie Smith and Bill Mazeroski in the Hall of Fame (poor hitters but great defensively up the middle) then there’s a place for Jones. I just don’t believe he is a Hall of Famer to the extent Murphy is. That’s all.
Jones played in an era that brought shame to America’s Pastime and it’s not his fault that he played in an era with convicted players in the court of public opinion such as Bonds, Clemens, Palmero, etc. When Murphy retired, the 400 home run mark pretty much meant you’d be in the Hall of Fame. By the time Jones retired, his generation of hitters made a mockery of what used to be a special career number, although Murphy finished two long balls short of that formerly prestigious milestone.
My biggest problem with Jones and players like him is that “almost everyone” knew that “almost everyone” was on the juice during this era, yet nobody admits to it. Everyone wants to protect themselves and their legacy, while acknowledging “almost everyone else was doing it.” Yet if you ask “everyone else,” they will say the same thing: they didn’t take steroids but “almost everyone else” did. Jones may or may not be caught in the crossfire. Regardless, I will say this, no amount of steroids will make a bad defensive centerfield into a great one. Jones was great, I just don’t believe he was nearly as great as Murphy when everything is properly factored into the equation.
Murphy played the game the right way and did it within the rules on and off the field. It’s time to prove that you can be a winner without cheating. It’s a message that adults try to instill in the youth of America all the time, yet many fail to practice what they preach.
Character Counts, Doesn’t It?
One of the “requirements” for admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame concerns the character of a player. If Murphy is just on the border of the Hall of Fame or slightly below for making it, than him being one of the all-time great people of the game should tip the scales in his favor.
If there is an award given to someone with respect to their character you can bet Murphy has been honored for it, such as as being the 1985 winner of the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award. This award is given to a player who best exhibits the character and integrity of Lou Gehrig on and off the field.
In 1987 he was one of Sports Illustrated’s Sportmen of the Year. It was awarded to Murphy because he embodied the necessary “spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.”
The next year, 1988, he was honored with the Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award. This is given to the person who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team.”
In 1991 he was the recipient of the Bart Giamatti Award which is given to the player who demonstrates “oustanding community service” and in 1995 he was the inducted into The World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.
Not only was Murphy a great player on the field, but he was an even better person off of it who represents the game of baseball better than most players in the history of any sport.
When Pete Rose has more hits than every Major League player in the of baseball and isn’t in the Hall of Fame, I think that’s a black eye on Cooperstown, too. Sure, Rose was a liar and broke rules among other things, but that does not mean all those hits never happened and that he wasn’t great on the field. I realize he’s been banned and flaws in his character based on his actions of betting on baseball is the reason why he’s not getting into the Hall of Fame anytime soon.
Again, speaking of character, what about the juicers who didn’t get inducted? Mark McGwire, for example, hit 583 career home runs, which is 10 more than Killebrew. Looking at the numbers, that pretty much looks like a Hall of Fame performer. However, we all know about the unfair help he had in getting those homers and that is why he is not getting into the Hall of Fame anytime soon. He’s not the only one either.
If we look at the official rules for voting on the MLB website, it clearly states, “Voting will continue to be based upon the individual’s record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the game of Baseball.”
Ability = Dale Murphy was perhaps the greatest baseball player of the 1980s.
Integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contribution to the game of baseball = What major award hasn’t he won in baseball with respect to these topics? I can’t think of one. Can you?
It’s pretty well known in baseball circles that the players certainly have a good time off the field and “get around” with their fair share of women, regardless if they are married, in addition to other antics of which some aren’t legal. While most professional athletes enjoy their extra-curricular activities, Murphy was a committed family man of faith who doesn’t drink, smoke or even swear. How many supposed “good guys” in the world can make the claim they don’t even swear for crying out loud? He may not be a perfect human, none of us are, but he’s lived his life in a more perfect way than pretty much every other player in the Hall of Fame.
While some players are given photo shoots carefully crafted by a public relations department and are portrayed fondly to the average fan, you get a very different view of many behind the scenes, such as an Andruw Jones and his strip club exploits or being arrested for domestic abuse. Instead of doing things behind the scenes that doesn’t make the world a better place, let alone for “contributions for the game of baseball,” Murphy goes out and starts a non-profit organization like “I Won’t Cheat,” to try to make a difference, in addition to all the countless ways he helped others during his playing days.
I want to know why character counts in terms of not getting into the Hall of Fame but it clearly doesn’t count when taking a potential borderline guy like Murphy and it pushing him over the top? If I objectively looked at Murphy’s career numbers, I might say that he’s extremely close to being a Hall of Famer but he possibly needed one more really good season. However, if character, integrity, and sportsmanship are supposedly so important, then it should push Murphy over the top in terms of his admittance to the Baseball Hall of Fame with no questions asked.
This seems like a double standard with respect to character which, to me, questions the integrity and intellectual capacity of the very people who voted for the Hall of Fame if they are supposedly following all of the criteria for admittance. I only hope those voting this year critically think about this more than the writers originally did.
Exceptions to the Rule?
I have been a high school teacher for 15 years and have had the pleasure to have had many great kids come through our classroom doors. With that being said, after my first couple of years teaching, I no longer accept upperclass independent study students. The reason is because most students don’t always take it as seriously or try as hard if they aren’t constantly in a classroom or with a teacher. It’s a pass/fail credit so it’s not like there is an incentive to go “above and beyond” to get a good grade and much of the time it seems as if students waste their time and I believe they would be better served to actually be in a classroom earning a letter grade. It doesn’t make them bad kids by any stretch of the imagination, they are merely doing what many people in all walks of life do by doing what they need to do to get by without going that extra mile. It’s like getting a leisurly workout in on your own versus having a personal trainer push you to your limits.
A number of years ago I had a student named Tessa who asked about an independent study opportunity due to conflicts in her schedule. Instead of giving the same response year after year of it being my policy not to accept independent study students I said, “yes.” The reason was because she was 100% driven and trustworthy. I knew for a fact, based on her track record as a student and a person, that she wouldn’t let me down. She didn’t. She read every book and did every assignment with pride and maximum effort because she is an exception and not the norm.
I don’t buy into the notion that players should get extra “points” for being good people in relation to their Hall of Fame candidacy. Being a good person should be the norm, not the exception, and one shouldn’t be rewarded for doing something they should already be doing. The reason the character clause came into being was to prevent cheaters, such as any of the Black Sox, out of Cooperstown.
However, every once in awhile there comes someone who is an exception and, like Tessa, Dale Murphy is this type of exception based on his crystal clear track record of service to others with respect to what he gave to the game of baseball and how he lives life. A big reason Murphy has remained one of my two favorite athletes of all-time is because of his very nature as a human being.
On the surface, I don’t think an outfielder with a career .265 average with 398 home runs should necessarily be in the Hall of Fame, just as I don’t think a shorstop with a career batting average of .262 who averaged less than two homers and 50 RBI per season during a 19-year career should be in the Hall of Fame either. However, when taking all other factors into consideration, I believe it’s easy to understand why Dale Murphy should be in the Hall of Fame and why Ozzie Smith is already there.
Hall of Fame or Hall of Very, Very Good?
For the record, I would be 100% okay if the Hall of Fame would downsize and get rid of a bunch of players who aren’t fit to be with the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, Wagner, Young, Mathewson, Alexander, Koufax, and I could go on. There are plenty to remove such as George Kelly, Freddie Lindstrom, Jesse Haines, Red Schoendienst, Travis Jackson, Rube Marquard, and I could continue this list, too.
Which one is it? Is it the Hall of Fame with some obviously needing to be removed or is it the Hall of Very, Very Good? There is no middle ground.
If it’s purely the Hall of Fame, then cuts must be made and I will admit that Murphy should not make it into Cooperstown. In recent history, there’s no way an outfielder like Jim Rice deserves to be mentioned with the likes of Mays, Aaron, Cobb, or DiMaggio, just as there’s no way a pitcher like Bert Blyleven needs to be alongside Spahn, Maddux, Carlton, or Ryan.
If it can be agreed to that the Hall of Fame should only be for the likes of Musial, Bench, Hornsby, and Mantle, as stated, I am okay with that, but you cannot have a Hall of Fame with the likes of Rice, Blyleven, or recent inductees such as Ron Santo and Deacon White, and not have arguably the most dominant player from an entire decade of baseball like Dale Murphy was in the 1980s. Again, to be clear, Rice, Blyleven, and Santo were great players and I am not criticizing their specific inductions (I do question White). I am arguing that Murphy needs to be included since he was better than more than just a few players already in the Hall of Fame.
In no way am I trying to make a case that above-average players should be in the Hall of Fame if they were considered swell people. That would make a mockery of the Hall of Fame and none of us want that. However, we are talking about a two-time MVP and a player who has no peers when reflecting on an entire decade of baseball. That’s pure domination on the diamond and that’s what is demanded in Cooperstown.
It’s Easy to Forget
Jim Thorpe was widely considered the greatest athlete of the first half of last century. Most of the people who saw Thorpe perform knew that he was the best, such as the Associated Press poll conducted in 1950 where Thorpe finished first.
However, when groups of people in the future who never saw Thorpe play had a chance to vote at the end of the century, such as the SportsCentury series on ESPN, the list somehow changed and both Babe Ruth and Jesse Owens leaped over Thorpe based on the opinions of people who mostly never saw any of those athletes.
How can athletes get better or worse when they never play again? It’s the same today with people who don’t remember the 1980s. Those who lived through that decade clearly remember that if Murphy wasn’t the best, he was close to it, yet we get people who either forget how dominant he was (in part thanks to the cheaters and the stats they put up in the period right after he retired) or people who never saw him play and foolishly judge his career by strictly the numbers.
Meeting Dale Murphy
I already wrote about my first Murphy autograph, but the second one is my favorite.
My son, Luke, was born on Saturday, July 23, 2011. I was in New York headed for Cooperstown on one of our baseball tours and we were going to see the Induction the next day. Obviously, I missed my little guys’ birth. Running a tour bus from Minnesota, many of our people were excited to see Bert Blyleven enshrined and when you’re leading a group of 54 paying customers you cannot simply take off for a few extra days. I was wishing the trip was almost over (even though it had just begun) because I wanted to be with my wife, small daughter, and new baby boy.
At the start of every tour, we do introductions and we say some baseball related things. One of the things I talked about a few days prior was my favorite player of all time so the customers knew about my being a fan of “Murph.”
Anyway, there was a nice couple from Milwaukee who came up to me that next morning in Cooperstown and asked if I had seen that Murphy was signing autographs. I had not. They pointed the way for me to go and I found it.
There was a little shop selling autograph tickets and I bought one and went around to the back of the venue and then I saw him! I was no longer a 38-year old husband and father of two, I was a shaky-kneed kid who saw his boyhood hero.
There was nobody in line to sign at that time. I was all-of-a-sudden nervous but told him that I really didn’t want or need his autograph (even though a ticket was purchased for admittance) and that I simply wanted to meet him and shake his hand and thanked him for the autograph he had sent (free of charge) about 30 years prior.
I explained that my son had been born the day before and it was going to be over another week before I would be able to meet him and that although nothing could ever replace missing his birth that this was about as close as I could get – meeting my boyhood hero. He smiled and we chatted for a while and he was exactly the way people always talk about him being, which is a person of great genuine character and integrity.
Sometimes people meet their heroes and these people turn out to be jerks. Not here. Dale Murphy was everything I had ever expected from him and more (and I had high expectations).
I knew I didn’t want to be one of “those guys” who stayed around too long so I was about to leave and he kindly took the 8×10 that I had purchased with the autograph ticket and signed my photo (with a personal message that I had not paid for or expected) and asked if I wanted a picture.
After saying that I didn’t have a camera handy, he pulled out his phone and had someone nearby take a shot of us together. He then asked for my e-mail address and personally sent that photo to me along with a “nice to meet you” message. This was above and beyond any of my wildest expectations and this simply confirms, to me, every good story you hear about Murphy.
The Final Word
Baseball has gotten a black eye in more than one way since Murphy retired early in the 1993 season and it needs more ambassadors and role models like him. He is a Hall of Fame person off the field and, more importantly for membership in Cooperstown, he was a Hall of Fame player on it and arguably the greatest individual baseball player of the entire 1980s. You would think the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown would welcome a qualified player and person like this with open arms.
If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media such as facebook, twitter, etc. Lets get our agrument out there for Murph. Thank you.
What former teammates, coaches, and others in the organization have said about Dale Murphy:
“You can put him in a class with a Mays and an Aaron because he can beat you with his glove and he can beat you with a home run.” Joe Torre
“People keep looking for words to describe him. Well, there aren’t enough good words or words good enough.” Phil Niekro
“Just look at him over there. Doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t take greenies, nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, hits the hell out of the ball, hustles like crazy, plays a great centerfield and isn’t trying to get anything from anybody… Doesn’t he just make you sick?” Terry Forster
“Dale may be the only guy I know who could call 24 guys in one locker room a good friend.” Don Sutton
“He’s one of the greatest players in the game on the field and one of the greatest people I’ve ever known off it.” Chuck Tanner
“Do they have something above MVP?” Russ Nixon
“Having Dale means having a chance to win.” Rick Mahler
“It would be a different team without him. I don’t think there would be too many people watching us play.” Zane Smith
“The guys respect him. He’s more than Most Valuable Player – he’s the Most Valuable Person.” Jerry Royster
“The guys love Murph.” Glenn Hubbard
“If you’re a coach, you want him as a player. If you’re a father, you want him as a son. If you’re a woman, you want him as a husband. If you’re a kid, you want him as a father. What else can you say about the guy?” Joe Torre
“I’ve never known anyone like him. God only makes one like Dale every 50 years.” Chuck Tanner
What opponents have said about Dale Murphy:
“I don’t challenge Murphy, even if he’s 0 for 20. Not him, not ever.” Mario Soto
“If you can’t be impressed by Murph, you can’t be impressed. What really impresses me is how he started out as a catcher a few years back and ends up in center field with a Gold Glove. You’ve got to appreciate that kind of talent.” Andre Dawson
“The only way to stop him is to throw him balls. Throw away, away, away. Even then he might hurt you.” LaMarr Hoyt
“He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever pitched to.” Nolan Ryan
“There’s no doubt he’s a great hitter who will get his home runs and RBIs, but the best thing about him is he also plays a great center field. In this age of specialization, when you get some guys who can steal, some who can hit, and some who can field, it’s nice to see a guy who can play all the facets.” Ron Darling
“These days, anytime one of my pitchers keeps Murphy in the ball park, I pat ’em on the fanny.” Pete Rose
Memories of Murph from his fans on our “Dale Murphy for Hall of Fame” page on facebook:
I was fortunate enough to meet Dale Murphy in 1982. He took the time to sign autographs for those who were there. What made the memory special was that I was with my late brother and my Mom at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. There was a guy that actually had to pull Murphy down in the dugout to head towards the clubhouse because he wanted every kid to have an autograph. That’s why I looked up to him growing up and wore the number three. James Jones
Dale Murphy has been and will always be my favorite player. Sure I have those that I watch with much excitement. None of which will compare to my younger years of watching the “Murph” step up to the plate with his big #3 on his back. Swinging his back over the plate around knee level. The whole time I was holding my breathe waiting for him to smack another over the fence. It was Murphy who ignited my passion for the game and still burns to this day. A real class act on and off the field. Charlie Elrod
I remember when the Mad Hungarian (Al Hrabosky) hit Dave Parker (The Cobra) of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Parker charged the mound only to be bear hugged from behind by Dale Murphy and toted to first base kicking an screaming. Nobody realized how big and powerful Murph really was until right then! Larry Cantley
When I was a kid I idolized Murphy and he is still my all-time favorite player. We always traveled to Atlanta a couple of times a year to see the Braves play. I got to meet Murphy in the late 80’s while we were at a game. I was hanging out by the dugout trying to get autographs and met a season ticket holder who had seats right beside the dugout and was on a first name basis with many of the players. When she found out Murphy was my favorite player, she called him over and introduced me to him. He signed a ball for me and passed it around the dugout and many other players signed it as well. During the third inning, she left the game and gave me her seat by the dugout. Murph interacted with me throughout the rest of the game and would chide the other players for using bad language because I was sitting right there. I will always cherish that memory. What a role model he was. Today’s youth could sure use more guys like Dale Murphy to look up to. Bobby Powell
He made Fulton County Stadium and some terrible teams enjoyable. Even if he never makes the HOF, he was and is a Hall of Famer in life and to me. Bobby Patterson
The night Murphy had his number retired by the Braves I drove down from Lincolnton, NC, drove to his home, knocked on his door, and he spent 10 minutes just talking with a 18 year old kid like he had nothing better to do. He must have had a million people pulling him a million different ways that day before the game but he took his time to spend with a fan. He is a good man and I miss having someone like him in professional sports these days. Thank you Murphy for the person you are. May God bless you. Matthew Ervin
One of the greatest Braves ever and also an even better human being! Bob Fogleman
Class act my hero when I was a boy. What a role model and a great ball player definitely should be in the Hall of Fame. Pearson Mcmahan
In all the years I have had a passion for the game, there is only one man I ever truly looked up to as a role model… that would be Dale Murphy. Everyone that ever played with, or ever watched you play, knows that you are the true definition of what the HALL should stand for. Cooperstown may not enshrine you, but you are a HALL of FAMER in all of our hearts. I sincerely THANK YOU for making me fall in love with baseball! Charlie Elrod
Dale was the cleanest and most honest ball player that ever played. And he loved all of his fans. Brian Montague
I’m originally from Richmond, Virginia and my dad worked for Phillip Morris and every year as a kid we looked forward to seeing The Big Club (Atlanta Braves ) come to Parker Field in their annual final spring training game against the Richmond Braves. I can remember being so excited to see some of the guys we would watch play in Richmond from previous years now playing with the big club and one year I guess Dale Murphy remembered us from the previous year said to my Dad and I that you all are doing a good job up here keep up the good work and it will pay off. The funny thing is four to five years later the Atlanta Braves went on a little winning streak (14 straight division titles). Michael Allen Cepin
I loved seeing him, Horner, and Benedict play ball. Talk about the Bad News Bears! Ivan Langley
No steroids, no drugs, just a hard working ball player. Many trophies to line his walls. But a man that anyone would want there kid to model themselves after! Rodney Brownfield
As a kid I had to wear number three. I wanted to be Dale Murphy. He was a good role model to look up to never used any steroids. I always wanted to meet him never got a chance. I did get to see him play two games but to not have him in the Hall of Fame is like having apple pie with no ice cream. Josh Linkous
Watched him trap a ball one time. Umpire called an out. Dale said no I trapped it. Integrity. Dwight Tilley
I grew up watching Dale on WTBS. He was and still is my baseball hero. It is hard to believe a man of his talent and character is still not in the Hall of Fame! I really don’t know what more a Hall of Fame voter could be looking for. Murph, thanks for the many great memories! Todd Martin
Dale Murphy was the best player in baseball from 1982-1987. 2 MVP’s and countless Gold Gloves and All-Star appearances. Member of the 30/30 club. He did all this in the dead ball era and before the steroid era. When Bob Horner went to Japan he never saw a decent pitch because teams would pitch around him and yet he still was among the leaders in HR’s. His batting average dipped cause he had to take chances at the plate cause if he didn’t the Braves had little to no shot of winning. Dale Murphy was my hero, as a little boy growing up in Mt.Holly,NC I watched hundreds of Braves games and watched and imitated everything Murphy did. He was a role model who always played the game the right way and carried himself off the field with class. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame as much as any player in the history of the game. Nolan Ryan says he was the best player on baseball during his hey day and Nolan doesn’t throw around compliments very easy. Rob Brendle
Dale Murphy was and always will be my favorite player. I grew up watching the Braves on the old superstation. Win or lose I always pulled for Murphy and the Bravos. If baseball can keep Pete Rose and Joe Jackson out of the Hall due to their character… Shouldn’t Dale Murphy be enshrined for his? Michael Kirk
I ALWAYS wore #3 also. Once, when my little league baseball shirt was given to me with my last name and the #8 on the back, I got some white out and made the #8 into the #3. The Murph always has been and always will be my favorite ball player! Greg Meza
Alex Jimenez remembers his “outfield diving catches” and being an “AWESOME guy.”
Mr . Atlanta Brave, my all-time favorite player. There are not many role models in sports these days but Dale Murphy was and is one for all-time and it’s time that is rewarded. Chris Burch
I grew up watching Murphy. He was my favorite. A great player and a great person also. The world needs more people like him it would be a much better place. Danny Woodard
A terrific ball player and man. He played the game clean and his accomplishments were done on a team where he had no supporting cast. There are ball players that juiced and played on teams where the team around him made it possible to get the numbers they got. So hellyes this man deserves his rightful place among the games greats. Clint Mills
Back in 1990 I met Dale Murphy at a Braves-Mets Game. He was coming out of dugout during pregame warmups and many, many fans were calling for him to come over to where we were. He came over when he heard me and a friend mention one of his old high school teachers. He talked with us and signed some autographs. Very nice and polite…will never forget that memory of my all-time favorite MLB player who should be in the HOF. Jeff White
He is why I wanted to be good at baseball. Along with my Dad, he was my first hero! Kevin Harwell
Being a die hard Reds fan since childhood, I always hated it when we played the Braves but Dale was a super nice guy. I met him with Nick Essasky at Riverfront Stadium when I was 12 and it made my day. Thanks Dale, for taking a few moments to cheer up a troubled and abused kid…your words of encouragement then still encourage me now. Steve Gallaway
As long as Dale Murphy was playing, I was watching the game. Exciting to watch on defense and at the plate. To me, he was the heart and soul of the Atlanta Braves. A great player that was a great ambassador of the game of baseball on and off the field. Mike Murphree
Dale Murphy was and is so great he does not need the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is Baseball and it’s Hall of Fame that needs him. Radford Dimmick
Dale Murphy Quotes:
“My heroes are people who are working hard and trying to make a good living for their families. My heroes are people who put their families first.”
“One of the more challenging things in life is not being the guy who does the cheating, but not saying anything about it and going along with it.”
“This is something I have wanted to do for a long time… Athletes have a huge impact on so many people. Occasionally, some of them need reminding how important their example is. Frankly, we are all tired of the profanity-laced interviews and the overall perception by some that they are above the law. It is time to step up and take seriously the chance we have to make a difference for good in the lives of others.”