Tag Archives: Dale Murphy

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Today, we take a look at another controversial case for Baseball’s Hall of Fame, examining the career of Atlanta Braves outfielder (with short stints in Philadelphia and Colorado) Dale Murphy. We also take a quick look at another strange career from yesteryear, evaluating Detroit Tigers hurler Virgil Trucks.

First, let’s take a look at Dale Murphy. Many old-school journalists loved Dale Murphy, and many Braves fans clamored for him to be in the Hall of Fame, citing his two MVP awards and amazing six-year peak as rationales for his inclusion in Cooperstown. His detractors point to his precipitous decline, the abrupt end to his career in 1993, and his pedestrian “counting” stats. Which side is correct? Let’s look at his career.

Dale Murphy was born on March 12, 1956 in Portland, Oregon. After excelling in high-school ball at Woodrow Wilson High School in Portland, the Atlanta Braves made him the fifth pick in the 1974 Rule IV Draft. He got cups of coffee in the majors as a catcher in 1976 and 1977, then had his first full season as a 22 year old in 1978.

His rookie year did not go well, posting a triple slash line of .226/.294//394, numbers that are considered so awful today sophisticated writers would be howling for his demotion to the minors. He improved quite a the following season (splitting time between catcher and first base), hitting .276/.349/.510 in 104 games, hitting 21 homers in 394 at bats.

As a 24 year old in 1980, hitting 33 homers and driving in 89 in an era when 30-homer seasons were rarer. Murphy hit .281/.378/.507 and came in 12th in MVP voting. This impressive year was followed by mediocre numbers in the strike-shortened 1981 season before Murphy’s meteoric rise occurred.

Dumping the “tools of ignorance” for good, Murphy won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1982 AND 1983. He smacked 36 homers in each year and led the league both seasons in RBI. He was the best player in the league in both seasons, but in 1983 he was otherworldly, joining the then-unheard of club of players who hit 30 homers and stole 30 bases in the same season. He was extremely durable during his peak, going over four years without missing a game and piling up Silver Slugger awards and Gold Gloves (Gold Gloves are subjective, yes.) Murphy went on to post great seasons (albeit non-MVP seasons) in 1984, 1985, and 1987 (finishing in the top-12 in MVP consideration those years) before his numbers started to fall off.

Rob Neyer wrote a Sweetspot blog post in 2009 explaining what happened next. Murphy underwent knee surgery in 1989 and was never the same player. His career, which began with so much promise as a 20 year old, was over by age 37. In that way, his career was similar to current Dodger manager Don Mattingly’s; like Mattingly, Murphy had an amazing peak. His “decline phase” (seasons between ages 34 and retirement) was so precipitous that by the time he was up for election in 1998, it had been more than a decade since his last amazing season. Add that to the gaudy numbers being put up in the same time frame (70 homer seasons, anyone?) and Murphy’s great 1982 and 1983 seasons pale in comparison.

For that reason, voters never seriously considered him for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. His numbers hovered between 18 and 28 percent in each of his fifteen seasons on the ballot, which unfortunately concluded this past season. Murphy will have to wait for the Veterans’ Committee to put him in the Hall; I’m not holding my breath, but stranger things have happened.

Does Dale Murphy merit inclusion in Baseball’s Hall of Fame? Rob Neyer says no. Stay tuned for my verdict.

Virgil Trucks links:

Virgil Trucks Baseball-Reference page
1952 Standings and results