July 7, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Dale Murphy


TODD COPPERNOLL on DALE MURPHY
Greetings, Hall of Fame Jurors, it’s time for you to decide the fate of Mr Dale Murphy. Before we proceed, there are some things I'd like to say on Mr Murphy's behalf.
First of all, Murph played the majority of his career on Atlanta Braves teams whose talent was closer to that of the Columbus Clippers than that of the New York Yankees. Forget the notion of Dale pounding fastballs over the fence because the pitcher was more focused on holding the runner. Don't worry about inflated RBI totals for a man who constantly batted with runners in scoring position. Anything Dale Murphy achieved as a major league player was done on talent alone, there was no place to hide, and there was no one to lean on.
Shortly before he turned eighteen, Dale Murphy was drafted by the Braves with the fifth overall pick in the 1974 draft. Coming through the minor leagues as a catcher, Murphy was on a fast track to stardom. Dale made his first big league appearance at the age of 20, and was in the majors to stay at age 22.
Dale's major league career did not start with a bang, while he showed power from the beginning, his skills were very raw- the statistics from his rookie season bear that out. That first year Murphy hit 23 home runs in 530 at-bats, but he also struck out 145 times, finishing with a batting average of .226 and an on base percentage of .284.
Murphy's breakthrough season came in 1982, when he was age twenty-six. That year, the Braves began the season 13-0, and went on to win the National League West, before losing in the playoffs to St Louis. Murphy established himself as the star of the team, winning his first Gold Glove, his first Silver Slugger and the first of two consecutive NL MVP awards.
This began a run of six consecutive seasons which will ultimately decide Murphy's fate with Hall of Fame voters. From 1982-1987, Murphy won two MVP Awards, five (consecutive) Gold Gloves and four (consecutive) Silver Sluggers. He played in every game from '82-'85 and missed only five games total over the six seasons.
A true superstar during this time, Murphy averaged 36 home runs per year, and had a 30/30 season for good measure. If you remember Dale Murphy as one of the greats of his generation, it's the images of these seasons that will come to mind.
On the downside, Murphy slowed rapidly, beginning at age thirty-two.
In 1987, Murphy hit .295, with a career-high 44 home runs, 105 RBI and 16 stolen bases. In '88 he fell to a batting average of .226, with 24 home runs, 77 RBI, and three steals.
He was never a dominant player again. Just like that.
The era of the 70s and 80s was not a great time to be a power hitter, historically speaking.  Among players who debuted in the 1970s, only Mike Schmidt and Eddie Murray went on to hit 500 home runs.
With that in mind, I decided to compare Murphy's career stats to Schmidt and Murray, and added contemporary Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, George Brett, and Robin Yount.
Here's what I found:

Season
Runs
Hits
2B
HR
RBI
AVG.
OPS
Murphy
13.4
89
157
26
30
94
.265
.815
Control Group
17.2
93
173
32
24
97
.285
.839

Here we can quickly see why Murphy is a borderline case, and why he has failed to win the fancy of the Hall voters. The abrupt decline of his productivity left him short of the Control Group by nearly four full seasons played, and also left him short in every category but home runs.
His numbers certainly are respectable, an average of 30 home runs per season during this particular era is quite impressive, but the overall stats do not compare well to this group.
Whether this should influence Hall of Fame voting or not, Mr. Murphy is regarded as a first class gentleman by anyone you'll ever hear speaking about him. He's an easy guy to root for.  He did his job, did it very well, and didn't complain publicly about the lack of talent around him, although he would have been justified to do so.
All things considered, what I see here is a very good player, who had a great peak to his career. With two or three more dominant seasons, Murphy would have had my vote with ease, but things didn't turn out that way. Murph tried to hang on long enough to reach 400 career home runs, but hit only two while batting well below .200 during his final two years as a player. He came just short of the milestone because his skills gave out just a bit too soon, which is exactly the way I see his case for the Hall of Fame.
My vote is a disappointing no, made such by my own wish to see nice guys succeed. I can't say yes on this one, but I would be very pleased if I'm in the minority.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Todd Coppernoll recently launched his website Baseball in the Blood, an entertaining mix of news, history and overall silly baseball stuff.  You can follow him on Twitter at @bballintheblood or over on Facebook.

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