Church attendance in the Worcester area is about to rise dramatically.
For when a Hall of Famer-in-waiting is preaching on Sunday, we can fairly anticipate more than a few of the baseball faithful will show up at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints near you.
This month, Dale Murphy and his wife, Nancy, uprooted their family of eight children and headed east, leaving Utah to do Mormon missionary work in Massachusetts. Murphy will serves as the state's mission president for a three-year term. He will direct more than 220 of the 55,000 Mormon missionaries spread around the globe.
He has already visited Central Mass. several times to set up a game plan with missionaries assigned here, and vows to be back often to speak at local churches.
Always a gentle giant of a man, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Murphy cuts an imposing figure standing in a pulpit. "This is exciting and challenging," Murphy said yesterday from his headquarters in Belmont. "This is where the Lord wants me. This is my calling. Mormons are called to serve all over the world."
In this day and age of material greed, Murphy is a shining example of the best sports has to offer. After his retirement from baseball in 1993, his family moved to Utah, where he has served his faith in a variety of part-time ways. He has been the bishop of a local congregation, taught Sunday school, worked with youth groups, and appeared as a motivational speaker before corporate congregations (such as IBM executives) and local civic groups.
"But as far as church work goes, everything has been hit or miss up until now," he said. "This is my first full-time assignment."
Think about the sacrifice Murphy and his family are making to spread the word of the Lord, along with the messages contained in the Book of Mormon. He made millions of dollars as a ballplayer over 18 major league seasons, so he could pretty much pick the elaborate lifestyle of his own choosing. Yet he is moving from his Utah home, relocating to Massachusetts, where he's spent very little time, and committing the next three years of his life to save souls.
Murphy had an amazing baseball career, especially considering he had to mingle among the great unwashed while performing for Atlanta, Philadelphia and Colorado. Teammate John Kruk may have described Murphy best in 1992 when he spaketh the following about the Phillies: "We have 24 morons and a Mormon," wise-cracked Kruk. Quipped Murphy when reminded of Kruk's quote: "That's typical of Kruk, isn't it?"
His accomplishments and his character make Murphy a bona fide candidate for Cooperstown. From 1976-90, he hit more homers than Hank Aaron did for Atlanta while playing in front of some paltry home crowds during some woeful years. He hit for power (398 homers, 1,266 RBIs), stole bases (161) and fielded flawlessly. He ranks behind Aaron and Eddie Mathews in most all-time offensive categories for the Braves.
Murphy won back-to-back MVPs in 1982 and 1983. That second year, he hit .302, drove in 121 runs, stole 30 bases and whacked 36 homers. During his long career, Murphy had little time for proselytizing. He could hardly go knocking on doors. If he did, he wouldn't have gotten the Lord's word in edgewise and would probably have spent most of his discussion time signing autographs. He would likely have gotten more converts to the National League than Mormonism.
"My service to the Lord was largely put on hold," explained Murphy, who converted to his wife's faith at 19 when he was a lukewarm Presbyterian. He was baptized a Mormon in South Carolina in 1975, the year before he made the leap to the majors.
While in baseball, Murphy did serve as an exemplar for all athletes. Without any pep talks, he demonstrated to his teammates what faith could accomplish.
"I wasn't much for preaching. You can't force people to believe as you do. But I believe athletes should be held to a higher standard. They bear a greater responsibility and accountability for their actions. Athletes should be aware that their decisions influence and affect a lot of young people who look up to them. If they make bad choices, they are going to get a lot of negative publicity because they perform in the public eye."
Murphy is too busy these days to follow baseball intently. For instance, he was unaware that Yankees outfielder Mark Whiten had been accused of sexual assault. Naturally, these kinds of reports disturb him." Athletes have the power to help and they should respect that power," he said.
To do his part, Murphy will act as shepherd over his missionaries in Massachusetts. He will counsel them, make sure they are healthy, train them, and hopefully lead converts into the Mormon flock. He will also serve the community, directing his Mormons to do such menial tasks as cleaning parks. He will also speak to civic, educational and social groups when time permits.
"This provides me with a lot more joy and satisfaction than baseball, which I loved playing. This is selfless. I am dedicated to serving the Lord and, of course, there is not as much traveling as there was in baseball. I appreciate being closer to my family. I can calm down now and work to help people. After my stay here, I will return to Utah to serve the Lord."
Today his entire family is with him, except for Shawn, 14, who is still playing in the Pony League playoffs back in Utah. When Shawn arrives, Murphy will take his wife, his seven sons and 3-year-old daughter to a baseball shrine. "I've never seen Fenway Park," he said. "I can't wait."
Then Murphy will be on the road. Visiting places like Worcester. Showing folks how the Lord can help them handle the high hard ones that life so often hurls at them.