Braves icon Dale Murphy knows that time has nearly run out on him to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by writers. After this one there will be just one more year on the ballot for “Murph,” who admits being surprised by the low percentage of votes he’s received in the past 13 years.
With the 2012 HOF class to be announced Monday by the Baseball Writers Association of America, Murphy said he thinks he belongs in Cooperstown and remains hopeful of enshrinement. Fifteen years is the maximum on the writers’ ballot, but there’s always the Veterans Committee if he’s not voted in by writers. (It would require an unprecedented one- or two-year increase in votes for him to make it in via the BBWAA ballot.)
The reasons most often cited by writers for leaving out Murphy were his .265 career batting average and relatively brief period as one of the game’s elite players. A former catcher converted to center fielder, “Murph” was a two-time National League MVP (1982, 1983) and seven-time All-Star who won five Gold Glove and four Silver Slugger awards.
He led the NL in RBIs in 1982 and ’83, led the league in homers in 1984 and ’85, and made it in the “30-30” club with 36 homers and 30 stolen bases in 1983. He did it while earning a reputation as one of the nicest players in the game, a straight arrow never involved in a whiff of controversy on or off the field.
Murphy retired with a .346 on-base percentage, 398 homers and 1,266 RBIs in 18 seasons, the first 15 with the Braves. He was 12th or higher in MVP balloting six times.
His production declined in his last six injury-plagued seasons following his last great run in 1987, when he hit .295 with 44 homers, 105 RBIs and a .997 OPS for the Braves. After hitting .279 with 310 homers and a .362 OBP in 12 seasons through ‘87, he hit .234 with 88 homers and a .307 OBP in his last six seasons.
He had four consecutive seasons with 36-37 homers and 100 or more RBIs from 1982-1985, while played all 162 games every year in that span.
Despite being one of the top-tier players of the 1980s, Murphy hasn’t been named on as many as 25 percent of writers’ ballots in any year, and was named on fewer than 13 percent in 2011. Enshrinement requires 75 percent.
If he fails to get elected in 15 years on the ballot, a player can still be selected to the HOF by the Veterans Committee at a later date. But fewer are selected in that manner than by conventional election.
I caught up this week with Murphy, 55, while he was en route to Florida with family. A Utah resident and father of eight, Murphy traveled a lot of weekends this fall his wife, Nancy, to see son Jake play football for the University of Utah. Another son, Shawn, has played in the NFL for Miami, Tampa Bay and Carolina.
It may surprise folks to know the elder Murphy is an avid fan of Wilco and other alternative-rock bands, after being introduced to the music by oldest son Chad. During our chat, Murphy discussed his Hall of Fame situation and association with the Braves, as well as a little football and left-of-the-dial rock ‘n’ roll.
Q: So you’re just back from seeing Jake and the Utes beat Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl? Did you go to a lot of his games this year?
A: Yeah, we went down to El Paso. I think I went to every one but Washington State. The forecast was getting dicey for that one and it ended up being a blizzard. Pullman’s not the easiest place to get to. But he went to everything else. He’s a freshman this year, went on a [Mormon] mission to Australia and then last year redshirted. So he’s a redshirt freshman; he’s 21 or 22. He’s looking forward to playing a little more next year. It’s been fun.
Q: Is Jake the one who influenced your musical tastes and got you into so many hip current bands including Wilco? You’ve seen Jeff Tweedy and the boys [Wilco] in concert, right?
A: Yeah. My oldest, Chad, got me listening to Wilco. We’ll have to talk about it more sometime, because I know you talk a lot about music on your [AJC Braves] blog and I keep up with that. It’s interesting — one of the things I find interesting is that 50-plus-year-olds, they kind of give up on [new] music, and there’s so much good music out there. I think the Ipods and accessing it and things like that got a little, I don’t want to say intimidating, but…
Q: So do your music tastes these days run more to alternative rock?
A: It’s been really fun to explore this new music and move on from America and Bachman-Turner Overdrive drive and stuff. [Laughter.] Not that that’s not good music, but there’s so much new stuff that’s so good and interesting. It’s tough to keep up with it all.
Q: Probably not a lot of 50-something former MVPs can say they’ve been getting into Wilco and other bands, huh?
A: Well it’s been fun, and I think that’s the fun of Twitter – this intersection or cross-section of diverse people and interests, and you connect in ways … it’s been fun. In fact, I did a [online interview] with Peter Moylan, and he was asking me about music I listen to. And he and Chipper [Jones] were wondering who half the bands were that I named…. [Laughter.] I’m going to have a contest on Twitter and say the first hitter that walks up to [to the plate] with Wilco or something like that playing, I’m going to get him [a prize].
Q: OK, let’s change gears a bit. Murph, has this time of year become frustrating for you because of the annual Hall of Fame voting announcement? Or do you still allow yourself to be optimistic about your chances?
A: I’m always kind of optimistic. Not really frustrated, I think because my percentage [of votes] hasn’t really been knocking on the door, you know? I think if it’d been at 60 percent or something for five years, it might be different. I mean, I always try to be optimistic. I know my percentage is pretty low and you need 75. And I’m not really close. So in that way I’m not really frustrated.
To be honest, I thought my percentage would be higher over the years. It hasn’t been high. I tend to feel like I’ll get a bump this year. We’ll see. There’s been some talk about guys that played in the ‘70s and ‘80s, that there might be some revisiting of their careers [by voters], and I have some people that have been supportive. So we’ll see. I appreciate the support and I try to stay optimistic.
Q: Have you thought about it being your next-to-last year of eligibility on the ballot?
A: Yeah, a little bit. I usually do a few interviews when the voting comes out, but I’m doing a lot more now because the time is running out. I’m aware of that. Again, it’s not something I’m thinking about all the time, but I do think about it. I appreciate the chance to be considered. I’ve known for all these yeasr that if it was going to happen it would be a while before it did. [The HOF] is a tough place to get into, as it should be.
This year and next, and if it doesn’t happen then we’ll see what happens in the future.
Q: John Schuerholz emailed a letter on behalf of the Braves this year to Hall of Fame voters and other members of the BBWAA in support of your candidacy. Is there anything else that you think could be done or could have been done over the years, or do you believe election is just something that should sort of happen on its own?
A: That letter from John and the Braves was really nice and I really appreciated it. I’m in the camp that you let things happen. I’m a little uncomfortable in some ways campaigning and tooting your own horn. Even talking about it sometimes, you don’t know exactly what you’re supposed to say. But one of the requirements they list going in is to believe you belong. I think there’s a place for me in there. It’s got to kind of happen on its own. I appreciate the support, but there’s no feeling on my part that something should have been done before. I just appreciate the Braves’ support now and we’ll see what happens.
I think there’s a certain momentum right now and that it was probably an advantage for the Braves to come out now, as it gets more to the end [of his ballot eligibility], to come out more when there’s some revisiting of some guys’ careers. But I just appreciate the support.
Q: Do you think you’d have received more votes if you’d played in a larger market, or even if you’d played for the Braves during their run of division titles as opposed to the team’s struggling 1980s era when you were in Atlanta?
A: I have said before and I think it that postseason play is an advantage for guys being considered. Your career gets imprinted more there, and I was only there once — it was ’82, a long time ago. That would have helped to have been [in more postseasons]. But I think there’s some comparables [among players in the Hall of Fame].
Q: Would getting into the Hall change the way you’re viewed or even the way you view your own career? Or are you satisfied with what you accomplished regardless of whether you can ever put that “HOF” next to your signature?
A: It’s one of those things — obviously what a great thing to be able to be a part of. But there’s the career that stands and there’s really no going back. Are there some things I’d do differently? Oh, I’ve always felt I can think of things I wish I’d done – played in more postseasons. But as far as what I did, I just tried to approach every year the same way, to work hard at it, do the best you can.
The one thing that kind of challenged me at the end was injuries. Those are things that just happened. There’s really no going back. I gave it my best shot. I think that’s all you can ask for in anything you do.
Q: You’ve maintained a close association with the Braves, coming to spring training in recent years, stopping by to see Bobby Cox and his team sometimes on the road. Even though you played for Philly and Colorado at the end of your career, do you still consider yourself a Brave?
A: Oh, yeah, definitely. I had a great experience in Philly and Colorado. It was great to be able to go to experience other organizations and cities. But I came up in Atlanta. They gave me a shot… I love showing up at [Braves] spring training; it’s a blast. The Braves have always been very accomodating, and we show up whenever we can on the road. I’m definitely a Brave.
Q: Having said that, how tough was it for you to watch the Braves’ September collapse? Were you keeping tabs on the team every day during that season-ending skid?
A: I was heartbroken just like everybody was. That was a tough stretch. Back in ’82 when we won the division we had a tough August. If we’d have had the same month in September as we had in August we wouldn’t have gotten in. It’s just one of those ups and downs. The Braves had a tough September and St. Louis had a crazy September. Just one of those things that happen. It was crazy week of baseball for a lot of teams. I was watching a lot and watched every pitch of the last game.
Q: What do you think of the state of the Braves, as far as the direction the organization is headed. Do you like their young talent?
A: I do. I love some of these young players. How can you not love them? And Chipper [Jones] has hung in there tough, looks like he’s still going strong. I love some of these guys, they’re fun to watch. I appreciate the Braves organization, how they do things. They maintain that strong commitment to young players and developing them.
Q: You mentioned Chipper. He’s nearing the end of his career, all of it spent with the Braves. What have you thought watching him over the years, seeing him grow up a Brave and experience so much success, but also deal with disappointment and adversity?
A: I think Chipper obviously has had an amazing career. You’ve seen a young kid grow up right before our eyes as Braves fans, and he’s had a tremendous career and given it all to Atlanta. Speaking from personal experience, that’s something you don’t see. And having him here, one of the great third basemen in the history of the game — I’ve loved watching Chipper. One of the premier hitters in the history of the game.
He’s matured and he’s been able to do things that a lot of players have not been able to do, to maintain production at the end of his career, like Mike Schmidt did. That’s the problem when you get to his age, just staying 100 percent. But I think it’s been fantastic to see what he’s been able to do.
Q: Are you thinking of going to Cooperstown in a couple of years to see Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and probably Bobby Cox all get inducted together?
A: Oh, man, that would be fantastic. I hope I’m there, definitely. I’ve been there on other occasions. If I’m around I’m definitely putting that down on my calendar.
Q: I would imagine Bobby’s pretty special to you?
A: Oh, for sure. He gave me a chance to play. Got me in the outfield. Hung with me through some tough times I was having. He saw something in me. I’ll never forget that.