A word to the wise.
The Braves' seven-time All-Star is heralded by millions as baseball's ultimate gentleman. And rightfully so. But off the playing field, there are times when Dale Murphy takes on an alter ego.
He'll come after you like Mike Tyson, attacking with combinations from all directions. Murphy will probe for your weakness, and when he finds it, he'll unleash a brutal assault that will render you defenseless. And along the way, he may try to take your leading lady, too.
Fortunately, Dale Murphy restricts this aggressive behavior to the chessboard, where the pain for victims such as Paul Runge and Ed Olwine is essentially mental and not physical. Murphy defeated all challengers in the clubhouse except one in 1987, and showed potential that he could become the first major league All-Star to become a chess grandmaster.
"Baseball and chess are the two greatest games in the world," insisted Murphy. "The strategy in both games is similar in a way. You never really hear about coaches in other sports maneuvering their players like chess pieces, but in baseball, that's how a manager often describes his job."
When Murphy wasn't knocking off rival kings in 1987, he was knocking out opposing pitchers with homers in Atlanta and throughout the league. After being named team captain in spring training, he went on to lead the Braves in 13 offensive categories. His 44 homers, a career high, were the most for a Brave since Henry Aaron swatted 47 in 1971. His 310 career homers placed him eighth among active major leaguers. He has now totaled more homers in the past five years than any other player in the majors, edging Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt, 182 to 181.
Murphy's 44 homers in '87 trailed only one player in the National League, Andre Dawson, who hit 49 for the Cubs. The two-time MVP also led the majors in intentional walks (29), finished third in the NL in walks (115), fourth with a .580 slugging percentage, fifth with 115 runs scored and tied for fifth with 105 RBI.
Last season also saw Murphy attain several milestones within just a 16-day span: career hit No. 1,500 on Aug. 5; career RBI No. 900 on Aug. 20; and career homer No. 300 on Aug. 21. And to top everything off, Sports Illustrated named Murphy as one of its eight "Athletes of the Year."
So what did Murphy think of his season in '87?
"It was all right, but I didn't hit very well with runners in scoring position."
During the Braves winter caravan, Murphy discussed his decision to remain with the Braves through the 1990 season instead of testing the free-agent waters.
"I gave it some thought," said Murphy, "and I analyzed why guys seemed to leave their teams. Besides the money, these players just didn't seem happy where they were. That wasn't the case with me. I've always enjoyed playing in Atlanta, even though the last few years have been tough ones for us."
Murphy said he had a positive outlook on the Braves' youth movement and believes the team's turnaround could be completed sooner than skeptics think.
"I think we're not going to be favorites this year, but you just never know what is going to happen. I feel comfortable with the way we're headed. Since there isn't a powerhouse in our division, I think we can contend for the NL West title--if not this year, then in the immediate future."
Spring training couldn't arrive fast enough, said Murphy, who wanted to take a first-hand look at the organization's collection of prized pitchers.
"With all these young arms coming up anything is possible. Like everyone else, I think Bobby Cox has done an outstanding job stockpiling young pitchers," he said, "When I came up all they told me was 'get in there and we'll invest the time in you.' Unless a team is bringing in free agents every year, there comes a point when just about every team has to invest some time in their kids."
"I only hit .226, but the key was that they remained patient with me," added Murphy. "If our younger guys are handled the same way the Braves brought me up, then they shouldn't feel any pressure."
If the Braves move in the right direction this season as successfully as their All-Star chess player, then the defending division champion Giants better heed this advice--that is, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." There is little doubt that Dale Murphy will remain solid across the board, and his team should follow.