"Dale Murphy: Before The MVP Years"

By Jeff Henderson

Doubts and uncertainties. Those two enemies invade an athlete's mind during some point in his career. How that athlete deals with his own self doubts can be the fine line between success and failure.

The doubts eat away at his confidence and eventually destroy a promising career. On the other hand, they could cause him to work harder in an effort to disprove those nagging doubts.

One such athlete who faced that unenviable conflict was the Braves' own Dale Murphy.

By now, almost every baseball fan is familiar with the two-time National League MVP. After seven All-Star appearances and five Gold Gloves, Murphy has more than made his niche among baseball's stars.

Yet, there was a time in 1977 in which some thought Dale Murphy would never make it to the big leagues. A time when whispers of doubt almost crippled a now brilliant career.

It is the spring of 1977 and a fresh-faced kid is behind the plate. He's a strapping young man with an aw-shucks friendliness about him. Ever since the Braves drafted Dale Murphy out of Woodrow Wilson High School in Portland, Oregon the scouts raved about him.

This kid just couldn't miss, some said. The arm, the strength, and the work habits all added up to a future Hall of Famer. All he needed was a little time to mature and the Braves would have quite a gem on their hands.

So there he was taking his new position as the Braves' catcher. The position was practically given to him in the hopes of putting his well-publicized talents on display. This was the start of something big Braves coaches hoped.

Somewhere in the midst of all this hope and high expectation, things fell apart. For some unexplained reason, Murphy can not throw the ball to second with any consistency. The ball either flies into centerfield or pegs the pitcher in the back. He throws it everywhere except to the second baseman.

"At least no one will ever steal center field on you," Murphy's father told him.

But soon it's not so amusing.

Murphy is examined thoroughly for any physical ailment that might be hampering his performance. Nothing is found. Soon the answer becomes painfully clear.

He is sent down to the minors at the end of spring training and some wonder whether he will ever recover. At the tender age of 21, Murphy begins to wonder if his career is over before it even got started.

"There was a time when I didn't think I would be able to stay in the minors, much less the majors," Murphy said. "I couldn't throw and it was very frustrating. I had all this God-given talent, but all of a sudden I couldn't play."

Instead of letting those doubts eat away at his confidence, Murphy makes the most of his stay in the minors, leading the league in RBI. Despite that glimpse of potential, the doubts and uncertainties still linger in the minds of some.

The next season Murphy moves to first base and though he ends up leading the league in first base errors with 20, Dale leads the team in home runs with 23.

Soon the talent that had only been talked about starts to take shape. And then on March 12, 1980 Manager Bobby Cox sends Murphy to left field.

Two years later, he is named the league's MVP and the doubts are forever erased.

"You just have to go out and do the best you can do," Murphy said. "It got very frustrating at times but fortunately things worked out."

Though some now say that the biggest move in Murphy's career was to the outfield, that could be debated.

His biggest battle was against his own doubts. Though many have buckled under that kind of pressure in the past, Dale Murphy simply packed his bags and went to Richmond determined to prove those doubts were unfounded.

Ten years and over 200 home runs later, those doubts have been laid to rest. As Dale's close friend Bruce Benedict says, "You have to do your best and see what happens."

That's exactly what Dale Murphy did.

And because of it, he is on his way to the Hall of Fame. It's a far cry from the doubts and uncertainties of a wild-armed catcher.

"I think they put me in center field because it's as far away from home plate as possible," Murphy jokes.

Whatever the reason, Braves fans are glad he didn't throw his career away.

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