Today’s Courier Herald Column:
I’m sure it comes as a bit of a shock to those who have met me that I wasn’t much of a jock when I was a kid. Frankly, my appreciation for sports even as a spectator came late in life, with one notable exception. During the 70’s when the Braves were still struggling to find an identity (and path to success) as an Atlanta franchise, they gave out tickets to Atlanta area straight A students. Tickets earned by my sisters and me allowed our family to go to three games per year.
About the time I was entering second grade and just becoming a Braves fan, a rookie by the name of Dale Murphy joined the club. He wasn’t just a franchise player. For many of his seasons with the team, he was the franchise. He earned two National League MVP titles, and if memory serves, one of those titles were earned while the Braves were the last place team in their division. That alone signifies his importance as a member of the team. His contributions to Atlanta were even greater.
The modern era is filled with sports stars who are legends on the field but whose lives are filled with lessons that young fans would do best to avoid. Dale Murphy was as much of a role model off the field as he was on. Murphy – a Mormon, husband and father of eight – was quite famous for his clean living and family values. While not exactly wearing his religion on his jersey sleeve, he was a bit of an ambassador for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to a fan base that was largely composed of Southern Baptists and Methodists who were unfamiliar with his religion.
Baseball and its players are largely defined by statistics on the field. Murphy’s are quite impressive. A quick search of Wikipedia shows he retired with 398 career home runs, which was 19th in baseball history at that time. There are the two League MVP titles. Twice he held both the league home run and RBI titles. There are five gold gloves and four silver slugger awards. He played in five All Star games.
Murphy, ever a selfless person, left the Braves in a trade with Philadelphia in 1990. After holding together a hapless franchise for well over a decade, Murphy watched from another team’s dugout as the Braves had their miracle worst to first season to begin their winning tradition. He ended his career with a 1993 season in Colorado.
In 1999, Murphy became eligible for the Hall of Fame. Election to the hall is by sports writers, a group who, to put it charitably, are often not terribly concerned with performances of athletes off the field. 75% of those who cast ballots must select a player for him to be inducted into the Hall. Murphy has never received more than 23% of the vote. His career association with a losing franchise can’t be of much help. His statistics compared to those who came after him are likely the determining factor.
Murphy’s retirement coincided with the beginning of the steroid era of baseball. In today’s celebrity driven culture, sports writers remain more impressed with those who hit the long ball aided by performance enhancing drugs than by a player who wouldn’t photographed with women embracing him and would pick up meal checks for his teammates provided there was no alcohol on the tab.
There are more people trying to get Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame than there are concerned about the award for Dale Murphy. That’s not surprising, but it is a bit sad.
For those of us who grew up here in Atlanta in the late 70’s and 80’s, Dale Murphy is forever a part of us. He’s a person I looked up to as a kid that remains the legend today- on and off the field -that he was then. There are no asterisks. There are no off the field apologies.
The fact that Murphy is not in the Hall says more about us and how we pick our celebrities than it does about his accomplishments on or off the field. Those of us that call ourselves Atlantans or Georgians remain proud to claim him as one of our own.
And as for me, Dale Murphy remains a charter member of my personal Hall of Fame. He is a great and worthy man.