Before there was a tomahawk chop, two trips to the World Series, and three straight National League West division titles, Dale Murphy was playing stellar outfield for the Braves. Although many of the teams he played for were disappointing, there never was any doubt that Murph was giving his all.
In appreciation for the wonderful memories he gave the team and the city, the Braves saluted Murphy June 13 with the rare tribute of retiring his uniform No. 3. That gave Murphy a spot on the team's "Wall of Fame" at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Flanked by his wife, Nancy, and eight children--sons Chad, Travis, Shawn, Tyson, Taylor, Jacob and McKay and daughter, Madison--Murphy was feted for a brilliant 17-year career.
In a ceremony hosted by Braves announcer Pete Van Wieren, the organization said thanks to one of its favorite sons. Van Wieren, who was behind the microphone for most of Murphy's great moments, had an opportunity to give the two-time National League MVP (1982-'83) personal kudos.
"Dale, you have meant so much to the Braves organization both on and off the field," said Van Wieren. "Many of us in the Braves organization were just fortunate to work or play alongside number three."
The tribute began with a 3-1/2-minute video of Murphy's outstanding plays set to the music of Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." The video, produced by Ken Noland of TBS Sports, left most of the early arriving crowd gasping as they did during Murphy's playing days.
"Many times out there I didn't really give them much to cheer about," Murphy says. "But I think many of them sincerely cheered for me. It didn't start out great or end great, but there were some good times in the middle."
Ironically, Murphy's tribute came on a night when the Braves were preparing to open a four-game series with the Colorado Rockies. While his career ended in Denver, Murphy's greatest hits were with the Braves. And true to what has become a Murphy trademark, the experience was a bit overwhelming.
"I just hope they realize how thankful I was to be a member of the Braves," says Murphy. "You don't start your career with things like this on your mind. To be honored like this makes you look back and appreciate the chance to play. It's truly a humbling experience."
Although several members of the organization's top brass were in attendance, some were unavoidably detained. Team president Stan Kasten was at the owners' meetings in Cincinnati, and owner Ted Turner was in Washington for a special dinner with President Bill Clinton. However, via videotape, Turner paid his tribute to Murphy on the DiamondVision screen in center field.
"I remember all of his great moments from the Gold Gloves to the MVP awards," Turner said. "I'm sorry I couldn't be there, but you will never be forgotten."
Braves chairman of the board Bill Bartholomay and Turner Sports president Terence McGuirk presented tokens of appreciation to Murphy and his family. The gifts were a Rolex watch with a ruby and diamond dial and an etched crystal piece. McGuirk then presented Nancy Murphy with a pewter bowl in appreciation for what she, too, has meant to the organization.
"If there was ever a readymade Hall of Famer, it's Dale Murphy," said Bartholomay.
Many of the teammates who were around for Murphy's final days as a Brave also took time to salute him. Manager Bobby Cox and John Smoltz came out of the dugout to offer their appreciation for his impact on behalf of the team.
"Murph, you were a great ball player," Cox said. "But most of all, you were a great person. You never changed."
The highlight of the entire ceremony was when Murphy's number finally took its place next to those of the of the organization's other all-time greats. To an almost deafening crescendo, Murphy's plaque with his name and No. 3 on it, was unveiled from behind a blue covering on the facade of the club level in left-center field. It's now displayed with the immortal names of Hall of Famers Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron and former teammate Phil Niekro.
"I really haven't done anything close to what they've done, so it makes you wonder why me?" says Murphy. "I don't really feel comfortable being up there.
"When you see what I've done and look at their accomplishments, there's really no comparison," adds Murphy. "I can't imagine another honor in baseball better than this because we've been a family for so long."
Murphy also has been honored by the Braves in 1991 following his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. But instead of saying thanks for the memories again, there was a sense of finality to this tribute.
"After this, there's nothing else going on," Murphy says. "There are no more ceremonies. It's 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."
Even the Rockies got into the act of paying tribute to Murphy. Once the game started, former Brave Marvin Freeman pitched Colorado to a 7-2 victory, the team's first over the Braves in their brief history.
"I know the Braves were honoring the Murphster tonight," Freeman said. "But he ended his career with the Rockies, and we wanted to give him a tribute, also. This win is for Murphy."