Claim to fame: Murphy was a stalwart outfielder, fan favorite, and back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player during the 1980s for the Atlanta Braves. He declined badly near the end of the decade and was an afterthought for the expansion Colorado Rockies by the end of his career in 1993, though Murphy still finished with 398 home runs and a reputation as one of the best defensive center fielders of his generation. But that might not be the biggest driving factor for getting him into Cooperstown.
Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Having made 13 appearances on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for Cooperstown, Murphy has consistently received roughly 10 percent of the vote in recent years. With two more years of eligibility remaining with the writers and slim odds of skyrocketing to the necessary 75 percent of the vote, Murphy looks like a Veterans Committee candidate.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Murphy came up Saturday in conversation with my family. We were talking about these epic Wiffle ball games my dad and I used to have in the front driveway of our house in Sacramento, and we got to remembering some of the players we created. I’m lucky enough to have a dad who loved playing sports with my friends and I growing up, and in every sport, he gave his all. I never beat him once in tennis, I avoided inside shots in basketball because he blocked them, and I became a good deep receiver in street football and learned to catch inside passes with my hands because if they hit my forearms, they stung. But my favorite memories might revolve around the Wiffle ball games.
Often, it was just my dad and I playing games that lasted until dusk, but we each had a full cast of characters. My dad alternated between two pitchers, the menacing Nelson, who my dad explained was always in and out of jail and the soft-tossing McGregor who was brought on in relief when Nelson had me close to tears. There was my dad’s spray hitter Tito Fuentes and, my favorite, his power hitters Mickey Mammoth and Mail Murphy. I wasn’t as creative. I had Silly Mays and possibly Silly McCovey, as well.
On the strength of statistics, Dale Murphy might have a distant case for the Hall of Fame. Things like his .265 batting average, relatively pedestrian lifetime WAR of 44.2, and dramatic decline could render him a borderline candidate at best, though I’m sure he’ll have supporters arguing he was every bit as talented in his prime as some of the other outfielders of his generation already in Cooperstown, men like Jim Rice, Dave Winfield, and Andre Dawson. But when it comes down to it, I think of Mail Murphy. I think of a clean-cut player who had a column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for years answering children’s questions. I think of Atlanta native Jeff Foxworthy noting in his memoir that when he learned of Murphy’s trade to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1990, he stood in the middle of an airport crying.
Over the next 10 or 20 years, the Hall of Fame will face a public relations crisis as more and more statistically worthy players from the Steroid Era become eligible with the writers. At some point, the writers will be damned if they enshrine one of these players and damned if they don’t. For Cooperstown’s historically less-objective voting branch, the Veterans Committee, feel-good stars like Murphy might be a welcome distraction.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.
Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al Oliver, Alan Trammell, Albert Belle, Allie Reynolds, Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Closers, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave Parker, Dick Allen, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Moises Alou, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark