The athletic career of Atlanta Brave great Dale Murphy got off to to a rocky start. Dale's parents enrolled him in Tualatin Little League baseball at age 10 and Dale collected a grand total of one hit his first season. Not quite what you'd expect from one of the greatest power hitters ever to play baseball. But with Dale, you never expect the norm.
With the support of his parents, Dale continued to play Little League (and other sports, including one season on his high school football team) and became a prep all-star and eventually the best high school talent in Portland, OR. By the time he was a high school senior, he was a 6' 4" catcher with a gun for an arm and a .400 batting average for good measure. The Phillies seemed the most interested in Murphy but the Braves chose Murphy to be their catcher of the future. The press touted him as "the next Johnny Bench" but there would be many changes ahead for Dale.
Dale quickly climbed through the Braves minor league system and reached the majors in his 3rd season. The Braves had drafted Murphy for his defensive abilities and athletic skills. Phillies scouts had said "It is doubtful that he'll develop into a power hitter." At this point it appeared both of these assessments were accurate (he averaged less than 9 home runs in each of his first 3 seasons).
Dale's quick progression through the Braves system appeared to be a sign Dale would be an integral part of the Braves for many years. In fact, the Braves projected him to be their everyday catcher in 1977. But adversity swiftly struck Dale. The one thing he could depend on, his throwing arm, abandoned him and Dale found himself back in the minors. He could not throw out base runners anymore. One night he even hit his pitcher in the back while trying to throw out a baserunner! Dale became very disheartened and almost gave up baseball forever to become a missionary in the Mormon Church (of which he had become a member in 1975). At the urging of the Church and Braves owner Ted Turner, Dale returned to the Braves during Spring Training 1978.
1978 was another trying season for Murphy. Though his power numbers were up so were his strikeouts and errors. 1979 wasn't much better for "Murph", except for his marriage to Nancy Thomas, who he had met while attending Brigham Young University a year earlier.
Finally, the time had arrived. Bobby Cox took over as Braves manager in 1980 and moved Murphy from catcher and first base to the outfield. Murphy responded immediately by gunning out numerous runners at the plate and being named a N.L. All-Star. He finished third in the N.L. with 33 home runs and the season was topped off with the birth of Chad, the first of his seven sons.
1981 was a lost year for Murphy and the Braves as the strike destroyed most of the season. The Braves finished fourth in the first half and fifth in the second half. Dale more than made up for the previous season in 1982. The Braves won 13 straight games to start the season and Murphy played all 162 games, leading them to the playoffs. He also led the league in RBI, was named an A.S., won a Gold Glove, and won the MVP. And what does an MVP do during the offseason? He goes to the Instructional League of course! Manager Joe Torre had suggested it and Murphy didn't hesitate in taking his advice. Additionally, Dale found himself the fifth-highest paid player ever. Dale apologetically noted "Salaries . . . are kind of crazy. I mean, it's not like we are firemen or doctors, people who really do important things." Dale always donated a large amount of his time and salary to numerous charities and causes, including turning over 10% of his salary to the Church every year since 1975.
It was business as usual for Murphy in 1983. Ho hum, another year, another MVP (he was the youngest ever to win consecutive MVP's). Dale had fulfilled his promise and was now a full-fledged superstar and possibly the most popular player in the game. But with the accolades came the pressure (will he win another MVP?) and the autograph seekers. They were everywhere, even IN HIS HOUSE when he would come home after a game! On top of that, Nancy suffered 2 miscarriages and his second son, Travis, caught pneumonia. Dale struggled until he realized he was putting too much pressure on himself. Once he decided he would relax at the plate, he crushed the ball for most of August and September. Amazingly, he still led the league in home runs and was third in RBI's. Murphy would probably have been a shoo-in for his record-breaking third straight MVP if he had not let the pressure get to him early in the season!
1985 through 1990 saw Murphy continue to produce while the Braves didn't. What little fans did show up to see Braves games were there to see Dale. Dale was the Braves. On April 29, 1986 he made a running catch by bracing his hand on the outfield wall. In doing so, he caught his palm between the seams and needed 9 stitches in his hand. He was projected to miss 7-10 games but came off the bench the next game to hit a pinch-hit home run and extend his consecutive games played streak. His streak ended at 740 straight games (11th longest at the time, just ahead of a man named Cal Ripken, Jr.) on July 9th when he asked out of the lineup because he felt he was playing poorly. In 1987 Dale passed the 300 home run mark.
In 1990, Dale stunned Braves fans everywhere. He requested a trade. Was he unhappy with the Braves? Not quite. Dale realized the Braves were involved in a youth movement and that he was stinting the growth of future star rightfielder David Justice. And after the last 7 years of dedicating himself to the Braves while they finished at or near the bottom of the division, he deserved a chance to play for a winner. The Braves traded him to Philadelphia where he was hampered by injuries during his 2+ seasons there. Colorado signed Murphy to provide veteran leadership on their expansion club in 1993 but it was too late. Murphy could not muster either of the homers he needed to reach the famed 400 mark. He retired on May 27, 1993. The next year the Braves retired his uniform number and the Rockies honored him with his own night even though he was a Rockie for less than 2 months!
The only thing left to cap Dale's brilliant career is his induction to the Hall of Fame. It's in the Baseball Writers' hands now. I'm confident that they will see their way clear to elect Dale Murphy, even if it takes 10 years. The BBWAA ballot lists three general areas of consideration-contributions to the game, accomplishments in the game, and character. His accomplishments in the game are not as great as some in the Hall but no doubt greater than some of those in the Hall. His contributions to the game are irrefutable. Murphy was THE goodwill ambassador for baseball, usually signing autographs until a team representative told him he must stop. Murphy is in a class by himself. CLASS. How many baseball players refrain from arguing with umpires (with one look from Dale an umpire would know he was mistaken; but instead of arguing Dale would trot to the dugout)? How many donate as much of their salary to charity as Murphy did? Many questionable characters such as Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth are in the Hall of Fame. The Hall Of Fame could use more players WITH CHARACTER.