|Dale Murphy, Dodger killer in Dodger Stadium action. He had 38 lifetime homers with .765 OPS against LA in his career.|
It's a real shame that the Hall of Fame won't be seeing Dale Murphy's enshrinement in the near future. If there is one thing that the Hall of Fame lacks is including such things as “integrity” and “character” as vital traits of players that voters take seriously when considering candidates for Cooperstown. As the BBWAA voters get younger each year, few actually watched his greatness as a player. Fewer knew of his contributions to the game and the world as a man.
In his 14 years on the ballot, Dale Murphy has never achieved more than 23.2% of the vote. This year will be his last year on the ballot, and with many quality players on the ballot for the first time this year, he has virtually no chance of qualifying. Murph’s best opportunity now will be through the Veteran’s Committee, and experience has shown that to not be an easy way into the Hall either.
Between 1980 and 1987, there were few players that could match Murphy in the most important statistical categories in the game. He was the top tier center fielder in the league winning five gold glove awards, four Silver Sluggers, two NL MVP awards, one Roberto Clemente Award, one Lou Gehrig Award. Additionally Murphy had seven All Star game appearances.
Murphy led the league in home runs, RBIs, and slugging % twice. In runs scored, OPS., and total bases- once. In all those categories, he was in the top five nearly every single year between 1980 and 1987. This guy was the most feared hitter in the league. Outside the lines he was gentle, humble and giving.
He didn’t smoke, drink or swear. When the Braves had “Budweiser” logos printed atop of each locker in the dressing room, Murphy taped a hand written “Kool Aid” sticker over his. When women reporters began to enter the locker rooms for interviews in the 1980s, Murphy would remain in uniform until everyone had finished their business with the after game reporting and the locker room had emptied out before he'd quietly dress and leave.
As his career winded down and injuries cut his sure hall of fame credentials into border-line ones, he retired anyway. He was a Colorado Rockie, and he could have beefed up his numbers with two or three more years in the high altitude, but he said that some kid deserved to get a chance to take his roster spot. So he hung up his spikes, knowing that he needed just two more homers to reach 400 in his career, at a time when 400 homers was quite a milestone, (it was 19th all-time at the time).
There was no player more giving with his time. He was a man that spoke at virtually every charity event that asked him, endorsed only healthy products, signed every autograph, and was always aware of children and those that looked up to him as a role model. He was a player that hustled on every play, often for teams that were not in contention.
In the last ten years, Murphy stepped forward and spearheaded the non-profit “I Won’t Cheat” foundation. It is an organization that meets with young athletes from Little League on up and advocates sportsmanship, ethical behavior, and warns youth of the dangers of PED use.
Many believe that Murphy’s Hall of Fame credentials are lacking and that the injuries he suffered in the final 5 years of his career destroyed his chances. There is no doubt that is true to some extent, but for a 9 year period, Murphy was one of the top five players in the league. Nine years is not a short stretch by any standard. We as Dodger fans understand that with Sandy Koufax.
There are those that believe that the steroid era numbers combined with the many small ball parks that came into play during the 90’s and 2000’s has hurt Murphy’s chances as offensive numbers from the 80’s don’t stack up with those of the steroid era. For that reason alone, he should get a second look. Jack Morris was the pitcher of the 80s and he probably gets in this year. Why not the best offensive producer from that decade?
|More Dodger Stadium action, Murphy patrolling the CF wall, 5 time Gold Glove Winner (photo by Lennoz McClendon/AP)|
What set me off on this Dale Murphy rant today on this Dodger related blog? It all stems to my Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA) vote for the Hall of Fame that I submitted with Murphy’s name on it. I realized that this would be Murph’s last chance to get in and I felt that he should be enshrined. As I researched this piece, I came across a letter that Chad Murphy (Dale’s eldest son), wrote to the Hall of Fame voters this year. I couldn’t have come close to tallying up the credentials that he did. Nor have I ever seen a better justification ever written on Murph’s behalf. I think it’s well worth reading. Not only because of the logic that it contains, but also due to the loyalty and love that is portrayed in it as a son comes to his father’s defense. I conclude this piece with it.
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 (Jeff Bagwell, 1999)
- 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.
Chad Murphy is a PhD candidate in Organizational Behavior at Penn State University and is the oldest of Dale Murphy’s eight children.
Great article Eva and a super letter by Chad. I love the part about character not being used as a criteria, if impeccable, but used to keep players out of the HOF.ReplyDelete
It's a great point by Chad. Too bad the voters won't give his point serious consideration.ReplyDelete
Sorry about the Eva, EvanReplyDelete