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I remember one page in particular that was highlighted in the top corner by the exclamation, "Hall of Famer." Not "Maybe" or "Potential" - just "Hall of Famer."
What was happened to Murph? When I was a kid, Murphy was the man. The Braves may have stunk - and man, did they stink - but Murphy was a superstar in the middle of the line-up, hitting home runs, winning Gold Gloves & MVPs and being the type of athlete that parents wanted their kids to admire.
My friends and I used to play Home Run Derby, and Murphy was always a popular pick. If you were #3, you got to do the pre-swing bat waggle down at your feet (just inviting that low-inside fastball that you would turn on into the Fulton County Stadium seats), then lift it high over your head with a slight cocking motion toward the over-matched pitcher. We all practiced his stance because we all wanted to be him - a Hall of Fame ballplayer.
So why isn't Murphy in the Hall? He isn't even close to being in the Hall. He isn't even in the conversation of being in the Hall. The list of Who's Out But Ought To Be In includes Goose Gossage, Andre Dawson, Jim Rice...but where is Murphy's name? Where is the outcry for #3?
First, let's make the case for Murphy:
- From 1981-1990 - led the majors in HRs and RBI
- 1982 & 1983 MVP (the only 2-time MVP other than Roger Maris who isn't in the Hall)
- 7 time All-Star *5 Gold Gloves
- 4 Silver Slugger awards *398 career HRs
- Led league in HRs twice *30/30 season in 1983
That resume doesn't get a sniff of the Hall?
Let's compare Murphy to Andre Dawson, who has the best chance of an offensive player of getting into Cooperstown in 2008. Dawson hit 438 HRs to Murphy's 398, but Murphy hit more than Dawson from 81-90 during both player's primes & Dawson played about 3 seasons longer than Murphy. Dawson also outhit Murphy (2774 to 2111), but Murphy's OBP of .346 is higher than Dawson's .323. Murphy won 2 MVPs; Dawson won only 1 (though he did win Rookie of the Year). Both hit in hitter-friendly parks (Wrigley for Dawson; the "Launching Pad" for Murphy). Both went to All-Star games on a consistent basis. Both won multiple Gold Gloves (Dawson had 8 to Murphy's 5). Both players also hit in the middle of lousy line-ups, so their numbers are hurt by years of seeing nothing to hit with no protection behind them.
Both are Hall of Famers.
What is shocking to me, even more so than Murphy not being in the Hall already, is how far away he is from ever getting there! Steve "He's not my Padre" Garvey? Alan Trammell? Dave Parker? Don Mattingly?
Murphy was always in a different class from these guys. They were nice players - Murphy was a superstar. He was the face of the Braves franchise. He was a pure slugger who could field his position. He was a Hall of Famer.
But he isn't.
Why not? The knocks on Murphy deserve consideration & debunking.
1) 398 HR - Murphy failed to reach the 400 milestone. Many voters and fans remember how he tried to hang on with the Colorado Rockies at the end to get it, despite having dramatically lost his bat speed. 400 does not sound like much today, when players are eclipsing 500, 600, 700..., but Murphy is 45th all-time and hit more dingers than Joe DiMaggio, Bobby Bonds, Johnny Bench, Orlando Cepeda, and Ozzie Smith - all Hall of Famers (joking about the Wizard).
2) Post-season - Murphy never won a championship, never won a pennant and only went to the playoffs with the Braves once (1982). He wasn't around for the magical 1991 season or any of the thirteen subsequent ones when the Braves were a playoff staple. Murphy's Braves were awful - post-season hopes were usually dashed by the All-Star Break if not Spring Training. No starting pitching, no bullpen, and no offense around Murphy on those teams. Not only did this hurt his numbers, but it also kept him from gaining recognition the way an Ozzie Smith, Kirby Puckett or even Steve Garvey got it. Murphy's numbers were compiled in lots and lots of meaningless Braves losses.
3) .265 batting average - Murphy was not a .300 hitter. He struck out often and could be icy cold at the plate - sometimes for entire seasons. His average, like all his numbers, is hurt by having no help in the line-up throughout much of his career. Murphy had Bob Horner & Gerald Perry hitting in his line-up; Jim Rice had Boggs & Yaz, Dawson had Raines & Sandberg, etc. Murphy's .265 is also higher than many Cooperstown residents, including Reggie Jackson (.262), Ozzie Smith (.262), Gary Carter (.260), Bill Mazoroski (.260) and Harmon Killebrew (.256).
4) Career decline - Murphy's was dramatic. He was a dominating player from 1982-1987, but after those six seasons, his production fell substantially. His batting average dipped toward Mendoza line levels, his RBI production slipped and his Hall of Fame luster started to wear off. There is no denying this decline. It was hard for me as a kid to watch Murphy struggle to catch up to inside fastballs he once crushed. In his defense, those were the worst of the worst Braves teams. After years of being pitched around, Murphy started swinging at bad balls and, combined with his deteriorating bat speed, his production suffered. He was terrible for the Phillies and worse for the Rockies.
Knowing what we now know about steriods and baseball, Murphy's decline deserves some reconsideration. There is no doubt Murphy was a clean player - he is one of the squeaky-cleanest players who have ever played the sport. A devout Mormon, Murphy was strict in his on and off the field behaviors. The same cannot be said for many of his contemporaries. 1988 saw the beginning of Murphy's decline - Jose Canseco was the AL MVP that season. Though the steriod boom would not explode until the 1990s (it becomes difficult to find an MVP from the decade who doesn't raise at least a little suspicion), there is no doubt it had leaked into the game during Murphy's final years. What if Murphy took some of the juice that was prevalent among his offensive contemporaries as well as the pitchers who were suddenly blowing it by him? What if he put up 400+ HRs, raised his career average and played another 3-5 years? Is he in the Hall then?
2008 is the year for Dale Murphy's Hall of Fame credentials to be re-examined. There are no Ripkens or Gwynns on the ballot in 2008 (though Tim Raines ought to get more consideration than he will...), so this is the best opportunity for Murphy's career to get new consideration. In an era clouded by scandal and steriods, Murphy's numbers are without question or controversy. Let's save our breaths debating the merits of Rose, McGwire and Palmerio and finally put a true Hall of Famer into Cooperstown where he belongs.