"He Did It His Way"

He didn't drink, he didn't curse, and he cared about the fans. Sound too good to be true? Not for Dale Murphy, who wouldn't have had it any other way.

By Paul Hagen, Philadelphia Daily News

Tom Glavine had a problem.

The Braves' left-hander, an eventual Cy Young Award winner, knew what had to be done. That was easy. Phillies pitcher Roger McDowell had just drilled Atlanta outfielder Otis Nixon and had been ejected from the game for his trouble. Now Glavine would retaliate. No problem there.

But the first Phillies batter due up was Dale Murphy. And, well, you know. If only it was somebody else. Anybody else.

It wasn't just that they'd been teammates before Murphy was traded to the Phillies the summer before. Murphy was special to everybody. He very well might be the only person in baseball nobody ever said a bad word about.

So Glavine compromised. He threw four floating pitches high and inside that forced Murphy to take a half-step off the plate. Glavine lobbed up four puffballs that moved so slowly Murphy could read the name of NL president William White on the face of the ball.

After the fourth pitch, Murphy looked quizzically at the mound and trotted to first. Glavine was thrown out of the game.

"The reason Glavine got four pitches was because Dale Murphy was hitting," home plate umpire Bob Davidson said later. "You don't throw at God. If it had been anybody else up there but him . . ."

But it was Murph, and how can you intentionally hit such a great guy?

One of a Kind

Murphy's career will be remembered for many achievements, highlighted by the back-to-back NL MVP awards he won in 1982 and 1983. He made seven All-Star appearances and played in more than 150 games in 11 straight seasons. Six times, he hit more than 30 homers, and he finished his 18-season career with 398 round trippers.

Murphy appeared on two Rookie Catchers cards - his 1977 Topps RC (#476) and a 1978 Topps #708. Topps apparently thought Murph would make the big leagues in '77, but Dale played just 18 games. He arrived to stay in '78.

Career stats aside, Dale's proudest legacy might be the unwavering respect he received from teammates, opponents, umpires, fans, and media.

Here's a scene from Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Fla., late one 1993 spring training afternoon:

The Phillies' exhibition game had been finished for a couple of hours, and the shadows were beginning to slant over the field. All of the players had fled for the beach, for dinner or for a quick nine holes before dark.

All of the players but one.

Murphy stood in the far right-field corner, near the clubhouse, talking to a family standing in the bleachers. He already had signed hundreds of autographs, and his family was waiting. He had more than fulfilled his obligations. And yet he stood and talked, genuine and polite, as the sun fell lower and lower in the sky, as if he had nothing better in the world to do.

And you'd have to multiply that moment by a thousand just to begin to get a sense of the man.

True to Himself

Murphy was an oasis in the baseball desert. He didn't curse and didn't drink, but he didn't impose his values on others, either. Baseball can be an uncouth society. Dale somehow managed to be true to his nature without cutting himself off from the rest of his teammates.

It wasn't unusual for Dale to take younger players to dinner and pick up the tab - with one exception. If they wanted to drink, that was fine. But they'd pay for their own beer.

On the rare occasions when a young player would test him with an off-color story, Murphy would just grin that aw-shucks grin and respond with a squeaky-clean knock-knock joke of his own.

Team publicists marveled at his willingness to give speeches, visit hospitals, grant interviews. He won the Roberto Clemente Award in 1988, given annually to a player who represents high ideals. Murphy was active in numerous charities, doing more than simply lending his name to The 65 Roses Club for cystic fibrosis research, the March of Dimes and the Make-A-Wish foundation.

Part of his appeal, too, was that despite enormous accomplishments and acclaim, he never seemed to take himself too seriously. He laughed when a guard at Veterans Stadium didn't recognize him one afternoon and wasn't going to let him into the park. Can you imagine another superstar whose ego would have remained so unruffled?

Murphy maintained that aura and dignity through the end. Even when he missed all but 18 games of the 1992 season because of a series of medical procedures on his arthritic left knee. Even when it became increasingly apparent last spring that there would be no place for him on the Phillies' roster. Even on the awkward day in Oklahoma City when he was released by the Phillies and signed by the expansion Colorado Rockies. And even on May 27, 1993, when the Rockies were forced to deliver the final ultimatum: Retire or be released.

Still, it's a measure of Murphy's stature that the Phillies agonized about how to uncouple themselves from the 37-year-old outfielder they, sadly, couldn't find a spot for. That, despite the fact that Murphy's glory years were with the Braves. General manager Lee Thomas, who rarely lets sentiment stand in the way of doing what's best for the team, didn't make a move until he was sure he'd found a spot elsewhere for Murphy.

Similarly, the Rockies called a farewell press conference for Dale even though he'd been a little-used player (.143 average in 42 at-bats) in his brief Colorado career.

If there is a smudge on this portrait it's that Murphy was forced to end his career two home runs short of a recognized milestone that just might have punched his ticket for induction into the Hall of Fame in five years.

"It's strange because, in the end, every time I'd go up I was thinking about that," he admits. "And people were always asking me about it.

"Sure, I would have liked to have gotten to 400," he adds. "But that's the way things worked out. Really, as I look back on my career the main thing I remember is that I should have gotten it. I should have hit 50 more. I remember all the pitches I should have hit out but didn't.

"I had plenty of chances."

Now the question is what kind of chance he has to make the Hall of Fame.

Those who support him will point to the consecutive MVP awards and six straight All-Star appearances.

Thomas would vote for him. "He fills all the criteria," the Phillies' general manager says. "He may not fill them as well on the field as some. But he fills them better than anyone off the field."

And, in the end, that might be the most important tribute of all.

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