"An Atlanta Hero Comes Full Circle"

Emotional evening: Murphy says thanks to Braves fans as he joins team's legends whose numbers are retired.

By Joe Strauss

On a night reserved for memories, family, and, yes, visible emotion, the circle became whole for Dale Murphy. Honoring a man embraced by Atlanta for his humanity as much as his undeniable talents, the Braves retired Murphy's No. 3 in a pre-game ceremony Monday night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. In one emotion-choked wave of his hand, Murphy said thank you and farewell.

The man Braves teammates called "Bucket Head" but unswervingly admired and respected joins Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro, Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron as Braves whose numbers have been retired. Fittingly, Murphy's number was unveiled behind center field, where he won five consecutive Gold Glove awards and was named NL Most Valuable Player in 1982-83.

"I almost lost it when they unveiled the number and when I talked about Nancy and the kids," said Murphy, who gave a three-minute speech to a crowd that refused to sit.

Three years ago the Braves had honored Murphy following his trade to Philadelphia. He subsequently signed as a free agent with Colorado and soon afterward retired, because of balky knees. "This," said Murphy, "is different." This was forever.

Braves manager Bobby Cox recalled Murphy as "a great person . . . a person that has never changed."

Now Murphy retreats to his Newnan ranch with his wife, Nancy, and eight kids -- seven boys and an infant daughter. There will be a new career as soon as Murphy decides what it will be.

"There's a finality to this," Murphy said afterward while moving through a stadium suite occupied by dozens of family members and friends. "After this, there's nothing else going on. There are no more ceremonies. It's going to be strange because I've looked forward to this night for a year.

"You look forward to [retirement] but another part of you misses hearing the applause."

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