"Murphy Vanity Tag A Big Hit"

By Roger Pavey

The June 13 Dale Murphy Night was something special to everyone in the sellout crowd. Everybody has a Murphy story. Most of them involve home runs, great defensive plays or nice-guy stuff.

Tony Cocchi has a different kind of story. Cocchi is a Dale Murphy collector, make that the Dale Murphy collector. He has uniforms, caps, cleats, bats, cards and a license plate.

"I had one of those vanity plates that said MURPH3," says the veteran Snellville (Ga.) collector. "I was going to get a pizza in my Jeep and a guy came up behind me with a piece of paper and a pen.

"He begged me for an autograph," Cocchi says with a laugh. "I told him I wasn't Murph, but he didn't believe me. So, I finally signed it so he'd go on. That's when I got another plate."

Cocchi also had problems at Atlanta Stadium. "After games, there'd always be a crowd around my Jeep. They sure were disappointed to find me instead of Murph," says Cocchi.

Cocchi has more than stories about Murphy. He also has a display that would make the two-time National League MVP's mom proud.

"I've got a couple of shirts," says Cocchi. "I've got his 1980 and 1987 road shirts. They used to go for $1,100 or $1,200 a few years ago, but now they go in the $600 range. That always happens when a guy passes his prime and isn't a sure bet for the Hall of Fame."

It seems most of the Murphy items available have dropped to about half of what they were in the early '80s. For instance, during his peak years in 1982-83, his Topps 1977 rookie card went as high as $50. Today, it books for $30 in the Beckett Baseball Card Guide, but it's a tough sell for $20 anywhere but Atlanta.

"His card is really tough to sell," says Cocchi, "but his equipment will move at some price. Like his bats, they used to sell for $300, now you're lucky to get $150."

One of the more coveted pieces Cocchi owns is a home run ball that Murphy hit on July 27, 1989. The ball is significant because it was the second homer he hit in the same inning. "It's one of the best things I own," says Cocchi.

Memorabilia collecting is interesting because it's not always the most expensive item that is the most prized. Lots of times it comes down to a story with a personal slant.

Just ask Tony Cocchi if he'd give up his MURPH3 plate.

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