Interviews

Dale Murphy

Re: Murphy and the Hall of Fame

"Dale Murphy is a Hall of Fame person and that really ought to count for something. I fear, though, that he'll never make the Hall because his statistics pale in comparison to the juiced-ball, juiced-bat, juiced biceps era of today. But the man was a great defensive player and durable clutch hitter.
He never passed up a chance to make an appearance or do something nice for someone on behalf of his sport, his team or his church.

But make no mistake. It was a Hall of Fame career."

~ Dwight Jaynes
Portland Tribune

"I know one thing for sure--if you selected a person on the way he represented himself and his team Dale Murphy would be in the Hall of Fame. He set a great example of how you conduct yourself on and off the field and in my book Dale is a Hall of Famer."

~ Fred Claire
Former Dodger GM

"He's the kind of candidate I favor, a player with a high peak as opposed to someone who hangs around and piles up numbers. But his peak was just six years (1982-1987) and he was an average player outside those seasons. He was also a fine defensive center fielder and a good base runner. He was a heck of a player, and it is no shame to fall just short of the Hall."

~ Mark Armour
Baseball Author


"When you look at Dale Murphy's career statistics -- 398 home runs and .265 batting average through all or parts of 18 big-league seasons -- the inclination is to think, "Almost an All-Star; not quite." Deeper study would indicate big Dale is deserving. First, he hit his home runs in one of baseball's true dead-ball eras, where 30 home runs was a big deal, like 45 today. He led the league in homers several times, won the Gold Glove several times, and most importantly, won back-to-back MVPs, indicating he was the best of his time. To me, that's an important indicator of Hall-of-Fame worthiness. And while Dale played on some bad Atlanta teams, he was also instrumental in the Braves' resurgence as they became a postseason participant after years of ineptitude. I wish Dale had hit two more career taters, which would have made his selection easier.

Even so, I still think he should have his spot in Cooperstown."

~ Kerry Eggers
Portland Tribune

When you talk baseball players in Oregon, Dale Murphy is the guy. Scott Brosius owns the World Series, Bobby Doerr lives in the state and is in the Hall, but was born in San Diego. Nope, when talking the best of the best, "The Murph" is the guy in these parts.


Born in Portland on March 12, 1956, Dale grew up and played baseball in Portland. He graduated from Wilson High School, up in the Cedar Hills section of SW Portland, where he was drafted 5th in the 1974 MLB draft by the Atlanta Braves. He debuted on September 13th of 1976, as a catcher, but only did 19 games in his debut season after coming up from AAA.

What follows is a career that covers both ends of the spectrum in terms of winning and losing.

While it is true that Dale played with the Phillies and Rockies at the end of his career, he is, and will ever remain, an Atlanta Braves player. If you look over the Braves from the late '70's through the '80's, when Dale played, you'll see a team that lost horribly (101 in '77) and won convincingly (Division title in '82). It's that anomaly that makes Dale's career so interesting. It has given him great perspective and as he says, "Baseball is a humbling sport."

Through good and bad, Dale Murphy improved, and most importantly, just plain showed up to play. He was extremely durable over his career. He played the most games (all 162) in the League from '82-'85 and was in the top 10 till '88. From September 27, 1981 to July 9, 1986 alone he played 740 consecutive games, which still stands as one of the longest consecutive game streaks in League history.

His light shined the brightest when Bobby Cox moved him to the outfield, and in '82 he really came into his own garnering a Gold Glove and MVP. Not content with just '82 he repeated the same feat in '83 where he became the youngest of 4 players to have won the MVP back-to-back.

He's an All-Star 7 consecutive years ('80-'87), lead the NL in HRs ('84-'85), Slugging Pct. ('83-'84), RBI ('82-'83), Total bases ('84), RBI ('82-'83), OPS ('83), and yes, strikeouts ('78, '80, '85). What kind of guy does this career make? Humble, exceptional, and possibly Hall of Fame caliber.

Beyond all the numbers, Dale Murphy is viewed as one of the true gentlemen of the game. As the sidebar on this interview attests to, Dale is viewed as a model for what is good and right in sports. Throughout this interview, he truly shied away from anything that would place emphasis on himself, instead pointing to who helped him, or how athletes should use the sport to provide shining examples to America's youth. Perhaps Joe Torre, his former manager, summed him up best, "If you're a coach, you want him as a player. If you're a father, you want him as a son. If you're a woman, you want him as a husband. If you're a kid, you want him as a father. What else can you say about the guy?"

In the following interview Dale talks about what Portland means to him growing up here, his durability and how he improved as a player, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, his possible induction into the Hall of Fame, the continuing Pete Rose saga, the pitchers that he thought were the toughest, Phil Niekro as a competitor, athletes as role models, and how great it would be to have MLB in Portland. - Maury Brown


Portland and a career with the Braves

OSC: Given the fact that you were born in Portland and grew up here graduating from Wilson High School, you have always been viewed as probably the greatest player to come out of the city. Care to talk about your early life here, and how you view Portland?

Murphy: Portland is always home. No matter how long I have been gone, I guess, let's see, I got drafted in 1974, man I can't believe it coming up on 30 years. I guess I am going to have a 30 year high school reunion this year. My parents still live there, and it's something I still have great feelings for. I love to come back and have great memories of growing up and playing ball there and great friends. Portland and Oregon, if you grew up there, it's in your blood. I feel like I work for the Chamber of Commerce because whenever I start talking to people about Oregon, the beach and growing up there, I feel like a salesman for the city. I loved growing up there and have great memories.

OSC: You were drafted very high in the draft (5th overall in '74), can you recall the details of the signing, and how your first years in the Braves organization were?

Murphy: Like I said, it was 30 years ago. Let me see what I can remember here. I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I knew the Phillies were really interested. I don't even remember the Braves talking to us or expressing that much interest. I know I went to a tryout back in Philadelphia with the Phillies, so I thought something would happen there. But, I think Lonnie Smith ended up signing with the Phillies, and so I was drafted by the Braves and went to a rookie league in Kingsport, TN that summer. [I then] played some Legion games, then signed, and just left right from there. I don't remember too many more details than that. I guess back then I wasn't really aware of what was going on. It seems right now everyone kinda knows what's going on. You know, we didn't have ESPN and all the shows that cover sports that much and the draft and the players. Of course baseball is, even now, nothing like basketball or football. I just had no idea what was going on. I knew I got drafted and was anxious to sign and get going.

OSC: You were initially signed by the Braves as a catcher, something that didn't exactly work out for you. Care to touch on your skills at the catcher position? What position did you enjoy playing the most?

Murphy: I signed as a catcher and enjoyed catching. But, eventually I wasn't doing very well catching. It happens to a lot of guys -- they get switched and changed to other positions. I'm grateful the Braves stuck with me and my hitting started getting better. Usually, as a catcher, they can keep you a little bit longer if you're not hitting too well as long as your playing good defense, and I wasn't playing that good defensively. Thanks to my hitting getting better I played some first base. Then in AAA I played a little first base in '77, and then when I got with the Braves in '78 I still did catch a little bit and played a little first base. But, then in 1980 was my first full year in the outfield. Bobby Cox was there and he just said, 'You know, I think you can play every day in the outfield. You run pretty good for a big guy and your bat's coming on. So, let's move you to the outfield.' And it worked out.

OSC: You seemed to have embodied the "mature" player over your career as you seemed to struggle early in your career and then become the embodiment of the "veteran player". Early on ('78 and '80) you seemed to strikeout quite a bit. What was the key to getting your offensive game turned around to the point of now possibly going to the Hall of Fame? (seeing a lot of pitches and turning your game around)

Murphy: I think it was a combination of things. When you sign a contract to play pro ball that's all you do. You're immersed in it. You play a lot of baseball and see a lot of pitches, and it takes a long time to figure out how to hit the pitching as it gets better and better. And also what happens is you start to get stronger physically. Back then we weren't really training and lifting weights. Now, it is done at a much earlier age and kids are stronger. And that really helped me. It helped me get stronger and starting filling out and getting some experience hitting. There's no question that it just takes time, especially in baseball. Not very many guys go from high school or college [straight] to the major leagues. There is an apprenticeship that really isn't a mandatory thing, it's just that it's needed. It takes thousands of at bats to see enough pitches and have some success to where you can go to the major leagues and figure it out. I think getting to the outfield really helped me. I knew I going to be in there every day. And that helps you mentally to know that if you have a bad game you're going to be in there the next day.

There is a whole combination of things. I think just physically getting stronger, and then mentally knowing that you can do it and then getting the chance to do it. I was really fortunate with the Braves. Sometimes it helps to break in with a club that is not doing too well so you get a chance to play at a younger age and that is what happened to me.

OSC: You were also extremely durable over your career. How much of your durability was a matter of "fighting through it" and how much of it was conditioning?

Murphy: It's a combination of all those things. I knew that conditioning was important and now we know, especially the weight lifting part -- the strength part. In the late '70's and early 80's guys started figuring it out that the days of just going to spring training and getting in shape and then playing the season were over. And, that you were going to have to work out and be ready to go when you stepped on the field in spring training and really spend a lot of time working out during the winter. I made a commitment to that. That I would work out as hard as I could during the winter and be ready to go.

I wanted to fulfill my obligation. I signed a contract and, if I was healthy, I wanted to play and I wanted to give my best effort and it ended up in a long streak. It ended up over 700 games. It's just kind of one of those things that just happened. You don't sit down and think, ' I want to play in so many games over so many years.' You just try to show up every day and, if you're capable of playing, and if you're contributing, you're playing good - I just felt I wanted to be in there as often as possible. I felt like I owed it to the Braves.

OSC:In the 70's it looked like the Braves were turning over a new manager every year or so. You had Joe Torre and Bobby Cox and some other guys. Can you talk about some of the managers you dealt with and who you thought was good and who helped the direction of the team go from struggling into real contenders.

Murphy: Well, Bobby Cox really saved my career. He got me into the outfield. He actually traded Jeff Burroughs who had done pretty good for us. He felt that I could play in the outfield. And in spring training he traded Jeff, a budding left fielder, and put me in left. He really had faith in me. He said, "This is your job, go get 'em!"

Anyway, Bobby kind of helped me in my career. But then he put together that team that Joe inherited in '82 with Chris Chambliss, Claudell Washington - of course, Claudell might have signed that winter of '81/'82. But, Bobby got Chris Chambliss and really solidified our infield. And then Joe came in '82 and kind of inherited a team that kind of showed some potential. No one picked us to win it in '82, but people felt like we would finish in the middle of the pack, maybe, which was a big step up for us. That was a great move for Bobby to go to Toronto and Joe to come to Atlanta. It worked out for both of them. In '82 we won it, our division. In '83 we finished second and in '84 we finished second. We kind of got blown out in '84, but we still finished second. The Padres ran away with it.

Those two guys were probably the most influential [for] me because Bobby kind of saved my career and got me going. And Joe really helped as far as my hitting was concerned and really did a great job managing and it has always been a mystery to me why we fired him. It worked out for him. I am very happy for Joe, it's been great for him.

OSC: In 1982 you won the NL MVP, which is an unbelievable feat in its own right, but given the fact that you were the first Brave to win the award since Henry Aaron did in 1957, was there an added feeling of pride given this situation?

Murphy: The first since Hank!? Yeah. Well, that was just another thing that just kind of happened -- It sneaks up on you. You work and you work and all of a sudden you put some numbers and you get voted the MVP. And, you know, I am not trying to be overly modest, but you know the numbers weren't all that big. They weren't huge. And sometimes things just kind of work out. There weren't hallmark years for guys. My average was .280 something. To me it was, 'Man, this is a great honor.' I'm sure the voting was really close. No one had a standout year. We weren't putting up numbers like they are now. I just remember really being blown away when that happened.

OSC: One thing that is wholly unique to your career was the fact that you played on a team that both lost and won over the years. Can you pinpoint what made the Braves go from cellar-dwellers to a winning franchise?

Murphy: Well, pitching is the difference of any successful baseball team -- their pitching and their defense. The years when we did well we had decent pitching and decent defense. Our offense was kind of always there, but the Braves made a major commitment to pitching. If you looked at their drafts in the late 80's and throughout the 90's and their free agent signings, although they had some great one's that were not pitchers, they made some great draft choices and free agent signings as far as pitching is concerned. I think that is the key ingredient for their being competitive year in and year out.

The '82 season, and players that stood out

OSC: What players, both teammates and opponents impressed you most? Were there any players that mentor you when you were coming up and did you mentor any players?

Murphy: I don't know who I mentored. I tried to be helpful to young players coming up.

I appreciated Gary Matthews help as a young player with the Braves. He always played hard and had an aggressive attitude out there. I think it kind of rubbed off on me. And he was always trying to encourage me in that way. And Phil Niekro I always appreciated, as a young player, how he approached his job. He went out there hurt many times and how he handles things professionally.

OSC: Are there any standout games or events in your career that you feel are special?

Murphy: Mostly, when I think about my career, I think about the '82 season when we won the Division. And when I think about that season, I think about the big lead that we had and then losing that lead to the Dodgers. I believe in August we lost something like 19 out of 21, or some unbelievable number. Going from first place, with a pretty big lead, and then going to second place behind the Dodgers, I just remember talking to Phil Neikro one out in the outfield during batting practice. We were pretty down. We had just gotten off a road trip, I think in San Diego. I lost a ball in the sun. It was a fly ball that almost hit me. We ended up losing and I just remember talking to him and he just reassured me. He said, "We're still in the hunt. We just gotta keep believing. We gotta keep thinking we can do this." And Phil just carried us. I think he won 17 games that year. And then the last series was in San Diego and the Dodgers were in San Francisco. I think he pitched the second game of that series. He was such a good competitor and a positive guy. He hit a homerun in the game he pitched. He was doing everything for us. That's one game that stands out in my mind, is how he just never gave up. And we ended up losing on Sunday and so did the Dodgers so we ended up finishing a game ahead of them, or something like that. We weren't excited about tying. We would have gone to L.A. for a one game playoff on Monday.

I think that's what I remember, a guy like Phil Neikro really being positive and upbeat even when things weren't really looking good for us.

OSC: Every batter faces pitchers that have their number. Can you think of some pitchers that when you stepped into the box you said, "This is somebody I really have to concentrate on or really work hard to get at"?

Murphy: Yeah, Hershiser. We faced him somewhere in the middle of his 80-something inning hitless streak, we might have faced him twice. Hershiser was not overpowering, that's not what he was known for. He just knew how to pitch. And he was always a tough one, you never really felt comfortable. He's like Maddux, you never really felt like you knew what you were doing. I always felt like he was in control of things.

And then there's the big names that you always knew you were in for a battle; Nolan Ryan and Carlton. You knew they were probably going to get the best of you. But you might get a chance to get a few runs across the plate.

OSC: Can you think of any players that you saw as a heavy competitor or had a hard work ethic?

Murphy: I enjoyed playing against Ozzie Smith. He was a very frustrating guy. But it was fun to be able to play against him. It was to be able to compete against Pete Rose. And then The Big Red Machine. I got to play against them in September of '76 and then September '77. There were still guys from that '75 team. That was the best team I have ever seen. Mike Schmidt. I felt he really played hard and studied the game. He was someone I really admired, as far as playing against.

I got to play against and with Bruce Sutter. I thought he was one of the great relievers. I think he should be in the Hall of Fame. But I think there is a number of those relievers that should be in the Hall of Fame. You could call Eckersley a reliever, although he wasn't a true reliever his entire career, he may pave the way. He deserves it. I hope he does break the way for these guys. Gossage should be in. Sutter should be in. But I'm not going to argue about it.

"Character", Pete Rose, and the Hall of Fame

OSC: You've always been a player of character, and obviously a man of great faith. Are athletes role models, and if so, to what extent?

Murphy: I don't think there is any question that players are role models. Growing up we all have people we look up to. And the people that society puts out there for everybody to see are role models. In our society, it's athletes; it's entertainers, and certainly, it's family members and parents. I think that is the critical place where you can model to your kids on how to behave and how to act and the difference between right and wrong.

And that is not to say that athletes and entertainers don't have impact, they certainly do. And they can have a great impact for good. I tried to remember that and I wish that all athletes would realize that and remember that. Some don't agree with that, but what I am saying is that there is really nothing to agree with or disagree, it's just a fact, whether you like it or not, is the point. You are going to make impressions on people, and especially younger people that enjoy sports, that watch and follow you; watch what you say and what you do. You can have an impact for good. Why not think about that? No one is perfect. I'm not saying that. We all have weaknesses. You have an opportunity, make the most of it. And think about that when you're going through your career. You can have a good impact.

OSC: What are your feelings about the Pete Rose situation?

Murphy: Pete's dug a big hole for himself. The problem with the commissioner is the rule. There really isn't too much the commissioner can do. The rule is very clear. Pete broke the rule. And so, as far as my feelings are concerned, you got to abide by the rule. I don't know how else to get around it. There may be a way to get around it, but I think you add that with what has happened lately -- a total lack of contrition and understanding -- it's really another opportunity for Pete to exploit the situation in his own behalf. Instead of trying to repair damage done from what he did, it is really frustrating to ex-players and fans of the game, I think. Instead of trying to work this thing out it's been more difficult for me to side with Pete because of the way he's handled this.

I think he got some really bad advice. I think right after it happened there needed to be a lot of work on his behalf that he just did not come forward with, and take part in, and want to make amends, and make things better, and fix the problem he created. So, I think it is very frustrating and I'm not sure what the commissioner is going to do. The only idea, and I don't know if this is even ethical or logical, is to change the rule to a 25 year ban. And then make him wait for 12 more years. Because it just sends the wrong message.

He really wants to put on a uniform again and get on the field. That's what is really what he wants to do. And if I were him, that's what I would want, too. The Hall of Fame, I think that would speak for itself. But, I would miss not being able to have the opportunity to even go work for a team. And it's so interesting to me and I think it just illustrates that he's got a problem.

Here's that one thing he loves, baseball, and he can't overcome this addiction. He's even said publicly that, 'I've told the commissioner that I'll work on [gambling]. But I'm still going to go to the track.' You know, if you're an alcoholic, my understanding is you don't say, 'I'm still going to drink a little bit. I'm still going to drink beer because it's legal.' That's what Pete has said, 'I'm still going to do legal gambling because it's legal.' Well, to me gambling -- and I don't know a lot about it -- but my understanding is it's a problem you have to address and you can't gamble any more. And if he wants to get back in the game and put on a uniform but he won't say 'I am not going to do this any more.' It's a sad thing that people have not been able to get to him and say, 'Pete, here's how you could have maybe done this differently.' How you do it is to tell him, 'You've got a problem and gambling is a problem.' You know, he should say, 'I am going to go on the road and start talking to people on what a problem it is. And I'm not going to do it any more. I want to get back in the game.' It just hasn't been that way. He's written a book. He capitalized on his admission to the commissioner that he gambled to make money. It's just really in bad taste.

OSC: You are up for the Hall of Fame, which I'm sure everyone in your hometown here would love to see. Do you think about going to the Hall, or is it a case of if it happens it happens?

Murphy: I don't think about it a lot. I've been eligible now for a few years and I'm not getting a lot of support. I think if I was on the bubble I would be giving a different answer, but I am not really sitting on pins and needles. I have people that really support me and feel the things I have done should get some more consideration. And then there's others that don't feel that way.

It's a real tough place to get into.

I understand statistics are statistics. They're there. I have heard some people say some very complimentary things and have been very supportive. I appreciate that. It's a challenge when there are some players that I'm wondering why they didn't get in sooner and they say I should be in there. I don't have a problem with them saying that. I agree with most of the guys that are saying that. I have some borderline statistics and I understand that. There is nothing you can do about it. It's there. I have had some people say 'Well, for the 80's and for those good years, you should be considered. And they kind of tailed off in the end.' Some people say, 'You needed a few more good years.'

So, I don't really think about it a lot. I do think about it. I appreciate the support I have received and will just have to wait and see. If it happens it is going to be a while.

OSC: Do you still follow the game closely? And if you do, are there any players that you currently admire?

Murphy: I think I follow it pretty closely. I'm not working for anybody, so I'm not involved in the game, but I think I follow it pretty closely. I enjoy watching it. I enjoy seeing what guys are doing and what's happening. This winter has been interesting with all the possible trades and stuff.

I love the game and I love to watch it. I love Alex Rodriguez. I think he's probably the best player in the game. I love John Smoltz and some of the guys I played with that are still playing; Tom Glavine and Smoltz - I think that's it (laughing) with the Braves. And I follow what Bobby Cox does and Joe Torre --I played for Joe. I really enjoy seeing how Joe is doing with the Yankees. And I watch Derek Jeter, I think he's incredible. I love to watch Greg Maddox pitch.

I was really impressed with some of those young guys on the Marlins this year. That was tremendous. And what was that pitchers name? Josh Beckett? Yeah, Beckett. That was just incredible. I have never seen any young kid pitch like that. It was amazing.

OSC: Outside of sports do you have any other aspirations for life that are public in nature? Word has it you've considered politics.

Murphy: I have thought a little bit about it. There is nothing to announce. But I have talked to people and people have talked to me. I am giving it some consideration in the future.

MLB in Portland and closing thoughts

OSC: Portland has grown from a "town" into a "city" since you graduated from High School here. Portland seems eager to bring Major League Baseball into the city as a sports option for the fans. What do you think of the game of baseball, and what do you think MLB would do for Portland if it did come here?

Murphy: My first thought about it is I wish I was still playing. I can't even begin to think of what it would have been like to possibly have played a game there and then possibly played for a team in Portland. That would have been a dream come true. I went out to play an exhibition game in Seattle. We left -- boy listen to this schedule -- We left Florida and went to Seattle for an exhibition game before the season started. I don't know how that got scheduled. From West Palm Beach to Seattle and then back to Atlanta to open the season.

Just playing in Seattle, the Seattle area reminds you a lot of Portland. Just walking around the city it felt so good to be in the Northwest. All I can say is that I'm like a lot of people from Portland that are associated with the game, it would be so exciting [to get a MLB team]. Baseball has a great heritage in Portland. And I am grateful that I am feel connected somehow to the great tradition that we have. I just got a letter the other day where I am invited to the Active and Old Timers baseball banquet. I look down at the names of those invited and those who are involved and I think about the days of growing up and going to the Old Timers banquet and the people are such good people -- Jack Dunn, and of course getting to play for Jack, and I kind of felt like I grew up with those group of men and growing to love the game of baseball. It's interesting to me that there isn't a lot of communities like this. Baseball has a really unique baseball history. Areal great one. And now one that is still viable [in Portland].

The kids still play some great baseball in Portland and in the Northwest -- a lot of supportive communities. Were not known like a southern California, or Texas, or Florida. But, what we can do in weather conditions in the springtime, things like that [is great]. We have some really good programs there. And then to compliment that, to grow on that heritage, from the old days of the Portland Beavers, which I was able to go there now and I know there's minor league baseball there. All I can say is that would be a fitting tribute to the support of the community, that they have given to baseball, to have a major league franchise there. And, it would be a dream come true.

OSC: We've asked this of some other players that have ties to Portland, so why stop there. If Portland lands an MLB team, would you consider being here on opening day?

Murphy: For sure. I can't imagine what would stop me from being there on opening day. Unless I have a bunch of boys playing baseball here. Like I said, I wish I was playing and if they get it I would consider a comeback (laughing) just to put on a uniform. That would be a blast. I'm kidding about a comeback, but I might try to be batboy or something.

OSC: Is baseball something that is good for kids to build on for life? Are there lessons in playing baseball that can be applied to life outside the sport?

Murphy: I think so. I think you learn a lot of things about athletic competition at any level. But, I think baseball is a very humbling game. It always reminds you that you're imperfect and that you just have to keep working at it.

Having a good, positive attitude is essential in whatever you do.

Even as cliché as it is, even if you're going to strike out every once in a while, and you're not going to hit a home run very often. But that's the way life is, you just keep going, keep swinging and have a good, positive attitude. And that's the great thing. You [have] a lot of good life lessons to learn from baseball and from sports in general - as long as we keep in perspective, what sports really is - it's entertainment. It's fun. But, we can learn some great things from it. I think kids from their involvement in sports. It's one of the best things they can do.