Dale Murphy won back-to-back National League MVP awards in 1982 and 1983, something only Joe Morgan had done before him and only Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols have done since. He won as many MVP awards in two seasons as Braves greats Hank Aaron and Chipper Jones won between them in their entire careers.
“Murph” was a seven-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, and he finished 12th or higher in the league MVP balloting six times during 1980-1987.
Fifteen of his first 18 seasons were spent with the Braves, a period when the ultimate Mr. Nice Guy played for a lot of bad teams and a few good ones. He played in front of a national audience that tuned in to watch the Braves on the cable SuperStation, most of it during a time when fans outside major league markets had only the choice of Braves or Cubs to view on TV on a daily basis.
And so he was a popular player not just in Braves Country, but across the country.
Seven seasons with 29 or more homers in an eight-year span, including four consecutive seasons (1982-1985) with at least 36 homers and 100 RBIs. Those happened to be the years when I was in college, so I don’t remember many particulars from Murphy’s performance during that stretch. (Actually I don’t remember many particulars from anything else during that stretch, but that’s another story…)
Unlike me at that time, Murphy had a reputation for clean living. Had it through his entire career, as straight an arrow as you will come across in professional sports (or any other line of work). Never a whiff of controversy on the field or off. Not before, during or after his playing days. Those milk adds that became popular in subsequent years would’ve been ideally suited for Murphy.
You catch where I’m going with this? His career began in a baseball era tainted by cocaine scandals and amphetamines in the clubhouse, and ended just before the era tainted by widespread steroid use. But Murphy? His character, his reputation were beyond reproach, and remain so to this day.
He makes appearances, signs autographs, suits up as a guest instructor at Braves spring training, and last year became a semi-regular in the Braves broadcast booth. And he’s still the guy fathers can point to and tell their sons to grow up and emulate – without those fathers being worried about that blowing up in their faces someday.
Mistakes? Slip-ups? Doing people wrong? Not Murph. Never.
Which is my long-winded way of making a point: If integrity and character are seriously taken into consideration when 10-year BBWAA members fill out their ballots for the National Baseball Hall of Fame – it says on the ballot I got in my mailbox last week: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportstmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played” – then Dale Murphy belongs in the HOF.
Hear me out.
If integrity and character are going to keep out of the HOF the most accomplished hitter (Barry Bonds) and most accomplished pitcher (Roger Clemens) most of us will see in our lifetimes, then integrity and character should be enough to put Dale Murphy over the top.
If integrity and character (in the form of widespread steroid suspicions, and in Bonds’ case admitted use of “the clear” and “the cream”) are enough to nullify Bonds’ seven MVP awards, eight Gold Gloves, 762 homers, 2558 walks, and absurdly spectacular career .444 OBP and .607 slugging percentage, and enough to nullify Clemens’ seven Cy Young Awards, 354-184 record and 4672 strikeouts, then integrity and character should also be enough to be the difference-maker when it comes to Murphy and what most of us who cover baseball would consider an otherwise borderline HOF playing resume.
In other words, if the morals clause, or however you want to put it, listed as No. 5 on the BBWAA Rules for Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame — it’s the sentence I quoted above — is powerful enough to keep out Bonds, Clemens and other suspected steroid cheats, not to mention keep out deserving Jeff Bagwell even though he’s never actually been connected to steroids, then that is one weighty consideration. And it’s inverse, as it were, should be enough to put Murph over the top.
And if it’s not, then it means voters only use Rule No. 5 as an excuse to keep players out, rather than it being a consideration for helping players get in. Which doesn’t make much sense, if you really think about it.
I mean, if Bonds and Clemens are kept out, the only reason is steroids. The only reason is Rule No. 5, the part about integrity, sportsmanship and character. Because if we’re just going on performance, Bonds and Clemens absolutely, positively must be elected on the first ballot. On that we can agree.
And if we’re not going based solely on performance, if we’re weighing character and taking into account moral turpitude and such, then don’t we have to give points to the guy who is the very embodiment of the other end of the spectrum, the one who is the polar opposite of the suspected steroid cheats, not to mention the many other doers of distasteful deeds who are already in the Hall of Fame? (Bigots, liars, cheats and scoundrels, the quaint building holds the busts of many who you would never have wanted your daughter to marry.)
This is Murphy’s 15th and final year of eligibility on the ballot. He was named on 23.2 percent of ballots in his second year of HOF eligibility in 2000, and he’s been below 15 percent ever since. That’s just ridiculous.
If Murphy had played for the Yankees or Red Sox, I say he would’ve been named on at least 50 percent of the ballots by now. Consider ex-Yankee Roger Maris: a .260 career hitter and four-time All-Star with 275 homers, 850 RBIs and an .822 OPS, he was named on more than 40 percent of the ballots three times.
Given the recent backlash from the steroid era, and the sentiment that some voters might give a little more credit to the players who were never suspected of using anything other than skills and hard work, I believe Murphy might actually be close to HOF election by now if he’d played in one of those major markets.
Murphy finished his career with a .265 average (undoubtedly the biggest thing holding him back with voters), .346 on-base percentage, .469 slugging percentage, .815 OPS (also hurts him), 398 home runs and 1266 RBIs in 18 seasons. As I said before, he was a seven-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove winner, and finished 12th or higher in the league MVP balloting six times, and one other time finished 21st.
“I don’t vote for Murphy,” FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal said when I asked him a year ago. “I feel badly about it — if ever a guy met the ‘character, integrity, sportsmanship’ criteria in a positive way, it’s him. But his relatively short peak bothers me, and even though we’ve come to understand that batting average is not the best offensive measure, his .265 mark is simply not up to Hall standards.”
Boston Red Sox great Jim Rice was elected in his 15th and final year of eligibility, getting named on at least 50 percent of the ballots for 10 consecutive years including 72.2 percent in his 14th year and 76.4 percent in 2009 to make it in.
Rice was an eight-time All-Star who didn’t win any Gold Gloves, won one MVP award, finished in the top five in MVP balloting five times, and two other times finished 13th and 19th. He closed his career far ahead of Murphy in batting average (.298), slugging (.502) and OPS (.854), and just ahead of him in OBP (.352), with fewer homers (382) and more RBIs (1451).
Rice was a very good player for a longer period than Murphy, but didn’t have a 7-8 year stretch that matched the peak years of Murphy’s career.
Again, Rice was named on more than 50 percent of the ballots for 10 consecutive years, and Murphy has been below 15 percent for the past 11 years. If Murphy doesn’t get in the Hall of Fame this year, then he certainly should at least be named on a hell of a lot more than 15 percent of the ballots.
Andre Dawson, who played much of his career in Montreal but played briefly in Boston and became a legend with the Cubs, is in the HOF with a .279 career average, .323 OBP, .806 OPS and 438 homers and 1591 RBIs.
We’re entering something of a new era of voting now, with Bonds and Clemens appearing on the ballot for the first time. And if voters are going to use Rule No. 5 as the reason to keep out the best hitter and best power pitcher of the past three decades, and the most feared hitter since Babe Ruth, then can’t Rule No. 5 also be used to strengthen the case for enshrinement for a two-time MVP whose on-field accomplishments alone were enough to warrant some consideration for election?
He had four consecutive seasons with 36-37 homers and 100 or more RBIs from 1982-1985, hitting above .280 with an OBP above .370 while playing all 162 games in each of those seasons. Yes, all 162. In 1983, he led the NL in RBIs (121), slugging (.540) and OPS (.933), and led the league in homers in 1984 (36) and 1985 (37). And he did it while being nice to people, being a great teammate, never getting into trouble or taking anything to help him perform at a higher level.
Hey, most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps, to borrow a line from Chuck D. And most of my favorite players as a kid weren’t straight arrows. I mean, Dave Parker was my man. And Pete Rose. And George Foster. Loved those guys. But we’re not talking about merely guys you loved watching, we’re talking the Hall of Fame here, and that Rule No. 5 was presumably put there for a reason. To be considered by voters. So consider it.
Playing every day took a toll on Murphy, who was undermined by injuries when he should still have been in his peak years. His career average and OBP declined significantly during his final six injury-plagued seasons, after his last great year in 1987 when he hit .295 with a career-high 44 homers, 105 RBIs and a career-best .997 OPS for the Braves.
After hitting .279 with 310 homers, a .362 OBP and .500 slugging percentage in his first 12 seasons through 1987, he hit .234 with 88 homers, a .307 OBP and .396 slugging percentage in his final six seasons.
In November 2011, Braves president John Schuerholz wrote an open letter to media members supporting Murphy’s HOF case. “Not only on the field, but off the field as well, Dale represented himself and the city of Atlanta with the class and professionalism consistent with the ideals of Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown,” he wrote. “Even today, he continues to be one of our game’s greatest ambassadors.”
That letter might have helped Murphy, but still he got only a bump from 12.6 percent of the ballots in 2011 to 14.5 percent in January. This year, the ballots arrived last week, and another emailed letter in support of Murphy arrived at about the same time. This one was from his son Chad, sent out to all BBWAA members.
Here it is, in its entirety:
An Open Letter to the BBWAA: Making the HOF Case for Dale Murphy, or, The Guy Who Changed My Diapers
My name is Chad Murphy. I’m Dale’s oldest son. ‘Tis the season for HOF voting, and this being the last year of my dad’s eligibility, I’d like to begin by reiterating the voting criteria, as per the Hall of Fame’s website:
5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
Next, let me just list a few of my dad’s accomplishments in his former role as an active MLB player. Here goes:
• Back-to-back NL MVP 1982, 1983 (1 of only 12 players—and the youngest in history at that time—to accomplish this)
• 7-time NL All-Star (top NL vote-getter in 1985 and a starter in 5 of those games)
• 4-time Silver Slugger award-winner
• 5-time Gold Glove award-winner
• 6th player in MLB history to reach 30 home runs/30 stolen bases in a single season
• Only player in history to compile a .300+ batting average, 30+ home runs, 120+ runs batted in, 130+ runs scored, 90+ bases on balls, and 30+ stolen bases in a single season, 1983
• Led MLB in total bases during the span of 1980-1989 (2,796)
• 2nd (only to HOFer Mike Schmidt) in total home runs from 1980-1989 (308)
• 2nd (only to HOFer Eddie Murray) in total runs from 1980-1989
• 1st in total home runs from 1980-1989 among all Major League outfielders (308)
• 1st in total RBIs from 1980-1989 among all Major League outfielders (929)
• 2nd in total hits from 1980-1989 among Major League outfielders (1,553)
• 2nd in total extra-base hits from 1980-1989 among Major League outfielders (596)
• Played in 740 consecutive games from 1980-1986 (11th longest streak in history at the time, and 13th today. Only missed 20 games total between 1980-1989)
• Reached base in 74 consecutive games, 1987 (3rd longest streak in Major League history)
• 398 career home runs (19th in Major League history when he retired, 4th among active players)
• 2111 career hits
• 1266 career RBIs
• .265 career batting average
• Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsmen of the Year” Award, 1987 (represented baseball as the “Athlete Who Cares the Most,” along with U.S. gold-medalist Judi Brown King, Kenyan gold-medalist Kip Keino, and others)
• Lou Gehrig Award, 1985 (given to the player who most exemplifies the character of Lou Gehrig, both on and off the field)
• Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award, 1988 (given to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team”)
• Bart Giamatti Community Service Award, 1991
• Jersey number “3” retired by the Braves, 1994
• Inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame, 1995 (induction class with Roberto Clemente and Julius Erving. One of only 8 baseball players inducted in the Hall’s history)
• Inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence, 1995 (joining Mike Schmidt, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nolan Ryan, and others)
• Inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, 1997
• Inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, 1997
• Inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame, 2000 (joining Phil Niekro and Hank Aaron, among others)
• Founder of the IWon’tCheat Foundation in 2005, whose mission is to encourage character development among youth
Next, I really want to dive into his sabermetrics, starting with his JAWS, WAR, and WAR7, and then moving on to his JPOS, WPA, OPS, and—last but certainly not least—the all-important holy quadrinity of VORP, GORP, SCHLORP, and THUNDERCORK.
Oh wait, no I don’t.
Stand down, statistics nerds.
Look, I have no desire to get into some sort of cryptic mathematical argument for my dad’s induction into the Hall of Fame. The numbers are what they are—maybe they’re strong enough for the Hall on their own, maybe not. Whatever. The bigger issue, to me, is this: what happened to three of the criteria listed under the rules for election, namely, integrity, character, and sportsmanship? Gone but also forgotten? No doubt a player’s stats (i.e., “record” and “playing ability”) are a crucial part of the equation, but that’s just the point: we’re talking about an equation here, folks. And we’ve got a serious case of missing variables. Where’d they go, friends?
To be fair, I’ll grant the nerds this: In most cases things like “integrity” and “character” and “sportsmanship” are mighty difficult to quantify. I get that. Other than, say, creating a variable along the lines of “number of arrests for drug possession” or “number of ejections from a game,” it’s not exactly clear yet how to go about measuring those attributes. As a consequence, this so-called “character clause” does a real number on our quest for objectivity, which makes us uneasy. And so it makes sense that collectively we’ve emphasized the part of the voting criteria that is easier to measure and largely beyond subjective interpretation, namely, on-field statistics. Fine.
But hold on, maybe not fine. The character clause isn’t just totally MIA. In fact, it seems to come roaring back into the conversation every so often when certain players are mentioned, as if judging character weren’t so difficult after all. And, mysteriously, this only seems to happen in cases where the point is to keep someone out (see: Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, the ‘Roid Boys). Indeed, then it gets easy: Gamblers? Out! Cheaters? Be gone! Vehement racists? Well, okay, you can stay (lookin’ at you, Cap Anson). Of course, the obvious question here is from whence this biased, one-way application of the character clause?
Here’s one possibility. In psychology there’s a well-known and well-established finding known as the “bad is stronger than good” principle. In 2001, Roy Baumeister and colleagues reviewed a large number of studies and found overwhelming evidence that negative events figure more prominently in our minds—and are hence easier to recall—than positive ones. For example, the authors cite a 1978 study by Brickman and colleagues where they interviewed people who one year previous had either won the lottery (a supposed “good” event) or had been paralyzed in an accident (a bad event). What they found was that the intense negative feelings associated with being paralyzed had not abated a year later, while the positive feelings from winning the lottery had almost totally disappeared and the details of the experience entirely forgotten. The upshot here is that we, as human beings, adapt very quickly to good events, so quickly, in fact, that it doesn’t take long for us to forget those good things completely. And isn’t the uneven application of the character clause perhaps an illustrative example of this quirk in human memory and reasoning? Bad behavior (some of which—e.g., Joe Jackson—happened, er, nearly 100 years ago) appears to occupy a more central place in the minds of voters than the exemplary behavior of players like Dale Murphy.
These two facts—1) the difficulty of objectively quantifying qualitative characteristics about a player; and 2) our deeply-ingrained negativity bias as human beings—have led to a troubling scenario where we either ignore the character clause altogether, or we use it to keep people out, citing their public sins. But let’s be honest: you can’t have it both ways. Either we apply the character clause for all eligible players, equally, allowing for both negative and positive evaluations to count toward a player’s HOF case, or we toss it out completely. If the latter, then say goodbye (probably) to my dad’s HOF chances at the same time you say hello to Mr. Rose and Mr. he-of-no-shoes Jackson. Oh, and might as well roll out the red carpet for Mr. Bonds, too.
As the voting criteria currently stand, however, there’s no doubt that a fair, holistic assessment of my dad’s playing years would reveal that he is exactly the type of player we should want to represent the game of baseball for future generations. As the criteria suggest, HOF membership is not the equivalent of a career-long MVP award; rather, it’s an honor bestowed upon players for the legacies they’ve left behind. In my dad’s case, that’s a dang near unimpeachable legacy indeed.
While he’s certainly not impartial, Chad made some good points, no?
If Murphy isn’t named on at least 50 percent of the votes in his final year, and given strong consideration later by the HOF Veterans Committee, it’ll be a shame. And Rule No. 5 might as well be omitted.
• Leftovers and thoughts from Nashville: While the Braves continue to look for a left fielder, preferably one who hits leadoff – hello, Emilio Bonifacio? – the deeper we get into the winter the more the possibility grows that they could go with what they have and re-assess during spring training or the early season, if necessary.
If the Jays don’t trade Bonifacio, and the Braves don’t settle for a one-year stopgap – or as Wren put it, a “Calipari” – they might consider going with some combination of Martin Prado, Reed Johnson, Jose Constanza and possibly others (Jordan Schafer will try to win a 25-man roster spot this spring).
Part of the reason they’ve got more confidence that might work is the winter performance of third baseman Juan Francisco, who is not just having a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League – .315 with seven homers, seven homers, 26 RBIs in 29 games, ,375 OBP and .940 OPS – but also has hired a personal trainer and gotten himself in better shape.
He’s moving so much better, the Braves have even noted that Francisco played some left field in the minors with the Reds. Not that they would play him there unless in a pinch, but the flexibility is always a plus.
General manage Frank Wren, manager Fredi Gonzalez and a few other front-office officials went on what Wren called a “fact-finding mission” to the D.R. this past weekend, a day after returning from the Winter Meetings in Nashville. They were eager to see Francisco, catching prospect Christian Bethancourt, Constanza and pitchers Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, all playing for Licey.
Teheran was dominant in front of the Braves team brass, allowing one hit and striking out eight to run his scoreless streak to 16-2/3 innings over three starts, with only two hits allowed in that span.
“We’ve seen him make good progress down there,” Wren said last week, before heading down to the D.R. to see him in person.
Teheran and Delgado are penciled in to compete for the fifth spot in the Braves’ rotation, “because the other four spots are full,” Wren said.
And when I mentioned to him that some Braves fans were a little worried about trading Teheran or Delgado because of what it might do to the pitching depth after Tommy Hanson already got traded, Wren said, “We worry too. Depth is a good thing. It’s a really good thing. At the same time, when you have what you feel is a team that can challenge for a championship, you’ve got to sometimes make tough decisions.”
I mentioned that teams can’t keep pitchers in Triple-A forever, that it’s tough to send a top prospect back there for a third season (Teheran has 50 starts at Gwinnett over the past two seasons).
“No, and that’s why we’re really motivated to get Teheran and Delgado out of Triple-A for 2013. Because you don’t want them kind of dying on the vine there.”
Wren said that was the main impetus for the Hanson trade, to open a spot for one of the younger pitchers.
The Braves wouldn’t consider trading Teheran or Delgado if they didn’t have other starting-pitcher prospects coming up behind them. But they do, including Sean Gilmartin, a 2011 first-round pick who is on a similar career climb through the organization as the one taken by another lefty first-round pick, Mike Minor.
“He’s right there,” Wren said of Gilmartin, who had a 3.84 ERA in 27 starts in 2012, the last seven after a promotion to Triple-A. “And [Zeke] Spruill. Spruill really had a great fall league and he’s continuing to grow and mature. And J.R. Graham is just behind that group.”
• More on Graham: The hard-throwing 22-year-old’s stock is on the rise. A fourth-round pick out of Santa Clara in 2011, Graham went 12-2 with 2.80 ERA in 26 starts in his first full season of pro ball, with 110 strikeouts and 34 walks in 148 innings and a WHIP of 1.061.
He finished the year at Double-A, going 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA in nine starts with 42 strikeouts in 45-1/3 innings, and this week Graham was named the Braves’ No. 2 prospect by Baseball America, behind Teheran. (Delgado had too many MLB innings to qualify for the rankings.)
I asked Wren if Graham had surpassed expectations in his first full season.
“We had a good sense based on that first season after he was drafted,” he said, referring to Graham’s performance at Danville in short-season rookie ball in 2011, when he had a 1.72 ERA with 52 strikeouts and 13 walks in 57-2/3 innings. “We liked him a lot, and he’s done nothing but get better and continue to impress. He’s a premium talent.”
When I asked if it would be long before Graham was considered a truly elite pitching prospect, Wren smiled and said, “No. He is one of those guys. He’s absolutely one of those guys.”
The top pitching prospect in the organization?
“He’s up there close,” Wren said. “There’s not many guys in the game that pitch consistently above 95 [mph], and he’s one of those guys….
“He’s probably Huddy’s [Tim Hudson] size. Built like Huddy. Maybe a little stockier than Huddy. In the game where I saw him, he sat 96-98 [mph], and his last pitch of the game, in the seventh [inning], was 97. He’s got a real good breaking ball and developing change. His fastball is electric.”
What about the mental side, work ethic and all that?
“Great kid. One of the hardest workers, one of the best athletes,” Wren said. “He’s an impressive young guy.”
When I asked where Graham would be in 2013, Wren joked, “We’ll have to ask him where he wants to go….
“He’s going to be in Double-A or Triple-A, one of those. Depends on if we think he needs to work on anything. But I think he did enough at Double-A that he’s going to get a good look anyway.”
• If don’t spend it now: After signing Reed Johnson to a one-year, $1.75 million contract that includes a $1.6 million salary in 2012, the Braves have less than $10 million remaining to spend for next season, near as I can tell. If they don’t add a left fielder, they should have most of that to spend at some point during the season, either early on if they realize they have to make a move, or at the trade deadline.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean has mastered in recent years the strategy of saving some money to add a big piece during the season. Pat Burrell, Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro all were added mid-season by the Giants and played a big part in stretch runs and/or postseason success.
Just something to think about if fans out there are fretting over the possibility the Braves might not spend what modest cash they have, in the first offseason in some time when they actually had the ability to add a couple of significant salaries to the payroll.
“The way we look at it is, every dollar you save going into the season, you can double [on a mid-season acquisition],” Wren said. “So if you save $5 million, that allows you to go get a $10 million player [before he’ll only be owed about half of his salary]. And at the trade deadline, if you save $5 million that really lets you get a $15 million played [since he’ll only be owed about one-third of his salary after July 31]. So that money is valuable at the trade deadline. If you’re able to take on salary [in a trade], you may not have to give up as much in talent. It really pays you both ways.
“So having money going into the season is a good thing. Especially if you don’t find the exact right fit.”
• Finally had a chance to watch the last three episodes of this season’s Treme on HBO, so I’m going to close with a tune from one of New Orleans’ musical treasures, the mighty Neville Brothers. You can hear it by clicking here.
“YELLOW MOON” by the Neville Brothers
Oh, yellow moon, yellow moon
Why you keep peeping in my window?
Do you know something
Do you know something that I don’t know?
Did you see my baby
Walking down the railroad tracks?
You can tell me, oh, if the girls
Ever coming back
Is she hid out with another
Or is she trying to get back home?
Is she wrapped up in some other’s arms?
Or is the girl somewhere all alone?
Can you see if she is missing me
Or is she having a real good time?
Has she forgotten all about me
Or is the girl still mine all mine?
With your eye so big a shiny
You can see the whole damn land
Yellow moon, can you tell me
If the girl’s with another man, man?
Oh, yellow moon, yellow moon, yellow moon
Have you seen that creole woman
You can tell me
Oh, now ain’t you a friend of mine
With your eye so big a shiny
You can see the whole damn land
Yellow moon, can you tell me
If the girl’s with another man, man?
Oh, yellow moon, yellow moon, yellow moon
Have you seen that creole woman
You can tell me
Oh, now ain’t you a friend of mine
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog