"Dale Murphy's Class Act Moves to Philadelphia"

By Scott Miller

Once. Dale Murphy got angry on the baseball field. Really angry.

It was several years ago, and the Atlanta Braves were playing the Dodgers. Ken Howell was on the mound for Los Angeles, and the Braves needed a hit badly. Murphy was at the plate.

He struck out.

So Murphy returned to the dugout, and a water cooler happened to get in his way.

He kicked it.

Later that night, Murphy had a heart-to-heart talk with his wife. Murphy felt badly, and decided to make an effort to better control his emotions. He decided he didn't want to act that way anymore. He decided it was a bad example for the kids.

This is a guy who, after listening to heckler badger the umpires for a few innings one time, yelled to the guy, "Say whatever you want, but stop swearing!"

This is a guy who, after the infamous Atlanta-San Diego brawl in 1984, said, "How can I go home and tell my children I play baseball?"

Dale Murphy is the kind of man you'd like as your lodge brother. He would be the perfect next-door neighbor. You kids can stay out until eight tonight. What? You're going to be at the Murphys'? OK, be in by 10.

Of course, none of this is a secret. You know baseball, you know Murph. No more Mr. Nice Guys? Yeah, sure.

He was a superstar, a local hero, and he even wore red, white and blue.

And then the Atlanta Braves traded him.

The trade to Philadelphia came on August 3, although it seemed like it had been coming for a few years. Murphy's name cropped up in trade talk in each of the last couple winters. Atlanta dangled him in front of other organizations. They talked and bargained and teased. Their trade gun was cocked and loaded . . . but they never pulled the trigger.

Until a lonely day in the beginning of August.

Murphy's statistics were down, and the team was worse. Murphy hasn't even approached his standard eye-popping offensive statistics since 1987. The Braves haven't approached a pennant race in nearly a decade.

The Braves were in Houston when the unthinkable happened. The team left Atlanta with Murphy. It returned without him.

First, fans in Atlanta spent a little time trying to wipe the disbelief out of their eyes. Was it really possible? The Braves actually did it?

Then, initial surprise gave way to anger. Atlanta general manager Bobby Cox turned into the town villain.

"We've got our fans so mad right now that I'm surprised you don't see snipers in the stands," an Atlanta starting position player said when the team returned to Atlanta. "Of course, if someone came with a rifle I'm sure you could spot him since we got about 300 angry fans showing up."

The two Atlanta metropolitan newspapers were flooded with angry letters to the editor. Fans promised they would not attend another Braves game.

This for a guy who was batting .232 at the time with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs. But he had played his entire 13-year career in Atlanta and was 33rd on the all-time homer list at the time with 371.

He spent nearly as much time giving of himself to the community as he did at the ballpark: Co-chaiman of the Braves' "65 Roses Club" that raises funds for Cystic Fibrosis research . . . chairman of the Atlanta chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation . . . member of the national board of the Huntington's Disease Society of America . . . spokesman for the Georgia March-of-Dimes, the American Heart Association, the Georgia PTA, the Arthritis Foundation and the Atlanta school district's drive to encourage reading and summer school enrollment.

He kept busy on the field, too. He was the Most Valuable Player in the National League twice, in 1982 and 1983. He played in seven All-Star Games. He won five Gold Gloves. From 1982 to 1987, he averaged 36 home runs and 105 RBIsi ia year.

"I feel like I haven't produced like I feel I can in recent years," Murphy said at a press conference after the trade. "Maybe with a new direction, I feel I can play a few more years."

For the record, the Braves acquired pitcher Jeff Parrett and shortstop Victor Rosario for Murphy and pitcher Tommy Greene. Not too many people are envious of Parrett, who may as well have attempted to burn the American flag on the mound instead of pitch during his first appearance in Atlanta.

That appearance came in the ninth inning of the second game of a doubleheader against San Diego August 7. The Braves were in the process of another loss, and as Parrett trudged in from the bullpen, the chat arose, "We want Murph! We want Murph!"

His replacement, Dave Justice, squirmed.

"You know, you'd think I'd be happy because I get to play everyday with Murphy gone," Justice said. "But I'm miserable. He meant so much to me. It feels strange without him."

"I hear people say, 'Well you're the guy replacing Dale Murphy.' Come on, that's crazy, man. Nobody can replace Murph. It's like taking over for Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays.

"But you know, as much pressure as I've got, look at Parrett. I mean, Murphy was God.

"Can you imagine if he doesn't do good. Oh, man. They'll run him out out of town."

At least some of the pressure was taken off Justice. He was named player of the month for August after hitting .301 with 11 homers and 29 RBIs.

Murphy, meanwhile, is taking his hopes to Philadelphia. General manager Lee Thomas was only too happy to acquire him.

"He's a good defensive outfielder, and he still has all of his hitting capabilities," Thomas said. "We gave up a guy who won 12 games a season the last two years and a shortstop and got Murphy. A year or two ago, there's no way we could have gotten him for that.

"He's a solid defensive player. Nobody is going to go from first to third on us when he's in right field. He'll bring out better things in Lenny Dykstra, Charlie Hayes, all of them."

Thomas said the Phillies acquired Murphy more for his on-the-field skills than for his off-the-field leadership, but Thomas appreciates Murphy's character as well.

"He'll talk to the young guys, anybody," Thomas said. "He's very approachable by just about anyone.

"He's been just great with all our public relations people, everyone. There is probably not a finer human being in baseball today. He's a class guy."

And now, he belongs to Philadelphia, dressed in red pinstripes rather than red, white and blue. A new city will get a chance to fall in love with an old ballplayer. And Murphy will get to know a new city.

"I think he's done all right," Thomas said. "Once we get through the winter and get to spring training, he'll be a bona fide Phillie and ready to go."

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