Philosophy and Comparisons

The question of Dale Murphy‘s Cooperstown candidacy is primarily a philosophical one. There is no question that his peak years were of a Hall of Fame caliber; no player with a clearly superior peak is not in, and those with roughly equal peaks who are not are not in for readily evident reasons. At the same time, there is no question that his career statistics, other than home runs, are not Hall of Fame numbers.

So we have a player who under the “traditional” peak value/career value dichotomy does very well on one and poorly in the other. If your bias is for peak value players, Murphy should be in. If your bias is for career value, he should not.

In this discussion, I am planning to compare Murphy to a group of Hall of Famers and Hall of Fame candidates. One will be Andre Dawson; another will be Jim Rice. Dawson reflects a merge of career and peak arguments; his career value, while certainly higher that Murphy’s, wasn’t quite enough alone to get him in, but with the addition of a fairly high peak it probably will. Rice is another peak value player, like Murphy, but his peak was not as high. (I will explain why when I discuss him more fully.) Rice was done as an elite player even younger than Murph, at about 27. However, he was able to hang around at a fairly high level for several years after that, and wind up with almost 2500 hits. He will get in, quite likely in 2008, even though there are at least three outfielders on the ballot more qualified. Dawson, one of the three, will probably make it in a year or two later.

I will also compare Murph to Dave Parker. I am not quite as sure with Parker that his peak value wasn’t superior to Murphy’s; it’s close. His career value was certainly higher, and he had some good post-peak years. However, Parker’s personality and drug use have kept him out of the Hall.

These three are all outfielders, all roughly contemporary to Murphy. Each won one MVP (to Murphy’s two) and made seven or eight All-Star teams. They make a set. All three are far more popular Hall of Fame candidates to Murphy, and the reason why is simple; they put together several post-peak years of average play to bring counting stats up, while Murph did not.

A fourth outfielder will come from the next generation, Kirby Puckett. Unlike the other players I will be comparing Murphy to, Puckett was a centerfielder; Puckett was the best centerfielder in baseball between Murphy and Griffey, and his first outstanding year was Murphy’s last at the position. Puckett’s career ended suddenly, by an injury, well short of normal Hall of Fame standards for an outfielder. And his rep during his career of being a good guy has not survived, unlike Murphy’s. Still, he made the Hall with no problem. What if instead of trying to play for several years after he was done, Murphy had retired after the 1988 season with an injury? He didn’t have Puckett’s hit totals, but had over 100 more homers and similar runs scored and RBI totals.

I will also add a fifth outfielder from a different time, Joe Jackson. Some people want to put Shoeless Joe in the Hall of Fame. I don’t, and we’re not going to get into the details of his (quite obvious) guilt in baseball greatest scandal. However, the question I have is, “Can you put Joe Jackson in the Hall of Fame based on his numbers?” His peak value is of course very high, but his career ended at 30 because he was a crook, and he had only 1772 career hits. Jackson didn’t have the decline phase to his career, just as Murphy didn’t. Can you put in a guy who didn’t have one because he threw the World Series, and leave out a guy who didn’t have one because of injury but was one of baseball’s great gentlemen?

The philosophical question, as I see it, is “How much credit are you going to give a player for average play?” Average play has value. If you doubt that, just look at first base. Or the bullpen; don’t you wish the Braves had an average closer? At the same time, average play doesn’t, or shouldn’t, get you into the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is for great players.

I will be honest; I’m on the career value side a lot of the time. If a guy gets 3000 hits, he should be in, even if nobody thought of him as a Hall of Fame type while he was around. At the same time, nobody has a career of being average for a long time. Well, not except Pete Rose. If a player lasts 20 years and averages 25 homers a year, he isn’t going to hit 25 every year. He’ll hit 35 some years and 15 in others. Fred McGriff has, unfairly, gotten the stigma of being a guy who just hung around, but he was a great player from 1988 to The Strike. Then he was just hanging around, being average (which has value).

You see, most Hall of Famers have a career path similar to Dale’s through about 31. It’s just that then they have a phase of being average that lasts a few years and builds up their stats. Murph didn’t do that. Personally, I can’t see keeping a guy out of the Hall of Fame because he didn’t have enough average years.

41 thoughts on “Philosophy and Comparisons”

  1. Personally, I can’t see keeping a guy out of the Hall of Fame because he didn’t have enough average years.

    I think the problem is, after Murph’s peak period, he didn’t have any average years. They were uniformly bad. Since only the very, very best players extended their period of dominance into their mid-30’s or later, the standard of having had some average years seems okay to me. With the Koufax exemption in place — a peak of particular and historic dominance that Murph can’t claim.

  2. Mac, what is your opinion about Joe Torre and Ken Boyer? In or out?

    I think with the likes of Hoyt Whilhelm, Bruce Sutter and Nellie Fox in the Hall, Murphy might as well be in, too.

    At the heart of it, those average years mean something. It sets you apart from the Mark Fidrychs, Denny McLains and Roger Maris’s. The career was too short and the high wasn’t high enough.

    How much better was Murph than Garry Maddox in center? Not much, if any.

  3. How much better was Murph than Garry Maddox in center? Not much, if any.

    You mean defensively I assume. I have to suppose that Maddox was better, as Murphy’s defense never gave rise to a cool quote like “Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water. The rest is covered by Garry Maddox.” Someone should contact Wikipedia, by the way. They attribute the quote to Harry Kalas, but all other sources I’ve seen claim it was Ralph Kiner….

  4. Boyer should be in, but after Santo. Torre… Probably not. His case is basically reliant upon calling him a catcher, but he spent more time in the infield than behind the plate. It’s probably best to split the difference and call him a third baseman, and he falls behind a number of guys there. (In addition to Santo and Boyer, Nettles and Evans.) He’ll make it in as a manager anyway, and the Hall only gives you one plaque.

    Now… Murphy’s peak was a lot longer than the Maris-class players. Maris had 2 1/2 great years and several above average ones. McLain had three great seasons and was a bad pitcher the rest of the time.

    And you’re being facetious about one-year-wonder Fidrych, I assume. (With only five seasons, he isn’t eligible anyway.)

    Maddox was certainly a better defensive player than Murph, no question. As a hitter, he wasn’t even in the ballpark.

  5. Torre will indeed make it into Cooperstown as a manager, in fact he and Bobby Cox could make it the same year which would be a great day for Braves fans.

    This Murphy business is a waste of server space. Do some real reporting, find out what’s going on with the sale of the team, and whether that’s linked to our quiet winter.

  6. If there hadnt been a strike in 1981, he would have certainly had over 400 homers, which im sure looks better to the baseball writers. Does anyone else agree?

  7. JimK, Mac can and did defend himself quite well. I think he is whipping a dead horse, as do you. But a waste of server space? Spend your time elsewhere or wait for a thread you can sink your teeth into. The winter is quiet because this roster can compete as is. As JS said, a closer would be nice, but we have other options. Do a search of power hitters over age 32 and tell me what the combo of Delgado/Floyd is likely to do. the Nats and Marlins are belly up and the Phillies don’t compare to us. Get ready for another great summer.

  8. How is it a waste of server space? How else would the space be used? Swap? Snide remarks should at least try to make sense.

  9. JimK,

    There’s a story on the sale of the team at Bottom Line: Slow going, nothing really to “report” right now.

    For what it’s worth, I think this fairly long Murphy thread indicates just how much Brave fans still love and respect Dale Murphy. Baseball fans are allowed to be wistful, sometimes overly so. And, considering that it’s January 13, I’ll take some wistful.

    We’ve gone round & round about The Murph and I think the forum is certainly split on his place in Cooperstown, but I think we greatly appreciate Mac’s thoughtful, passioned & reasoned approach to the topic. Personally, I’d love to be convinced.

    But moreover, I love to see the responses about a player that, well, meant a lot to us. I think he also turned a lot of people onto the Braves.

    Anyway, it ain’t wasting my time.

  10. i’ve got no stats to back me up, so this probably doesn’t mean anything and i’m a totally biased braves fan, but I’m 30 years old and really started watching baseball somewhere around 82-83 (at least that’s where my baseball card collection starts) so I was kind of in those golden years of just becoming a fan during these years that all the current HOF debate players were in. But here is my list of players in the 80’s that I thought were great and really loved watching play in order.

    1. Murph
    2. Mattingly
    3. Ozzie Smith
    4. Winfield
    5. Ripken
    6. Puckett
    7. George Brett
    8. Nolan Ryan
    9. Clemens
    10. Sandberg

    And then there were the guys I knew were good, but always rooted against
    1. Boggs
    2. Strawberry
    3. Gooden
    4. Schmidt
    5. Garvey/Sax
    6. Canseco

    And then the guys who were good but just kind of bored me and I didn’t care either way…
    1. Molitor
    2. Yount
    3. Gwynn
    4. Carew
    5. McGwire

    And then the guys who were just ok, but I loved them anyway..
    1. Claudell Washington
    2. Jose Oquendo
    3. Joaquin Andujar
    4. Pete Incaviglia
    5. Rob Deer
    6. Rafael Ramirez
    7. Jose Cruz

    I know you can’t put them all in, but I’ll never forget watching those guys.

  11. Amen on Claudell! If there was a Hall of Fame for players who made mediocrity look good, Claudell would be inner circle. My list would also include Gary Redus, John Candelaria, and Garry Templeton.

  12. Jose Cruz, now, he was a really good player in a really bad place to hit. Adjust for the park, and some of his seasons are almost as good as Murph’s or Dawson’s or Parker’s best seasons, and he had more good ones. His career OPS+ (that’s park adjusted) is 120. Murph’s was 121 and Dawson’s was 119.

  13. In college, I was president of the Rafael Ramirez Fan Club. It’s membership was 2.

    So what was Raffy’s mom really like?

  14. “Anyway, it ain’t wasting my time.”

    Well, me being here IS a waste of my time which is EXACTLY why Im here so much. Its a great site and it sure beats doing work. You need diversions to keep going.
    Thanks for the site Mac

  15. Smitty, I agree with you, but I don’t want to. Chipper has had a great career, has several more good years ahead of him, and though his health has been in decline he has posted very good numbers while healthy each of the past several years. There’s really no reason he shouldn’t go into the Hall, except that 3rd base is the most underrepresented position, which suggests that he may run into more trouble than he ought.

    But everyone knows he will have deserved it.

  16. What I meant to say is, I think Chipper shouldn’t need our help to get him in, although I’m happy to shout as loudly as I can on his behalf once he’s retired.

  17. Even the thought of Chipper not getting into the Hall is mind-boggling to me. I can’t see how he wouldn’t. His career numbers are awesome and he’s one of the best switch-hitters of all time. He also has a WS title and an MVP award, for all the voters that like those things. If he doesn’t get in, Congress should investigate. Unlike the steroids thing, THAT would be worthwhile.

    (Everyone knows that last sentence was in jest…right? right?)

  18. If Chipper fell off a cliff right now, essentially he will have had Ron Santo’s career (w/ park and era adjustments). But throw in the MVP, the team success, and Chipper’s status as a Face of Baseball, and I think he gets in without a throw. Of course, a couple more of those average seasons wouldn’t hurt!

    By the way, I don’t mean to bring up Ron Santo as an argument against Chipper. It’s an argument for Santo.

  19. Thing is, Chipper’s never been “average”. He’s consistantly an above-average switch-hitter, even when he’s not winning an MVP award. I’ll grant that 3B has gotten a lot stronger since he’s been around, but when he started, it was still a rather weak hitting position. If we figure he’ll play for another 4-5 years, he should pass 2500 hits. If he can keep his OPS up around .950, I think he’s gotta be a shoein, especially if the Braves win another WS.

  20. Murph played centerfield. As in “Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play. . . ”
    Baseball is the ultimate meritocracy. To hold down a job in the big leagues requires an incredible amount of a specialized skill. Even then, some positions require deeper and more diverse skills.
    Dale Murphy “held down” the job of centerfielder for 150 or more games in over 10 seasons, with two other seasons over 100 games. During the discussion of Ripken’s streak, many scoffed that he just did his job like everybody else is expected to do to stay employed. Big Whoop!
    It was bullshit and still is. “Everybody” can’t play shortstop at the major league level for 20 years. And practically nobody can play centerfield for 10+ years, including most pros. That added weight in my perception is probably why I’m so hard on Jim Rice, although I certainly wouldn’t pitch to him with much money at stake!
    Wonderful that we can have this discussion of who’s a real ballplayer, a good ballplayer, a great ballplayer, and an immortal.
    A most pleasant waste of time.

  21. from the department of “If guy A is in, why not Murph?”, I give you Bruce Sutter. Great 8-year peak, last great season at 31, then flamed out to mediocrity. Murph – great peak, last great season at 31, flamed out to mediocrity. Murph’s peak is surely more valuable than Sutter’s too.

  22. To me, Murphy’s problem isn’t that he didn’t have enough average years. It’s that he had so many awful years. If “average” is either neutral or slightly positive, then isn’t awful negative? Doesn’t that count against him, instead of merely failing to bolster his case? I think it does. He would have a better case if he’d retired at 30 in my mind. I’m not necessarily a longevity guy, but you can’t ignore the years that he was a net negative, and therefore cost him team wins.

    Sorry, Murph. Love ya… and all that stuff!

  23. Creynolds, I do agree with you. Joe DiMaggio is actually revered for ending his career early; if Murphy had retired after his first year of hitting .220, he’d be remembered for his wonderful career peak and praised for going out at the top.

    All that aside, he’s a freaking Hall of Famer. He just is. Watch the game tape from 1980-1987, the five straight Gold Gloves, the two straight MVPs. Just watch the guy. He’s the definition of what a Hall of Famer looks like. It’s called grace.

  24. I think AAR’s last paragraph probably best sums up my opinion. I know the stats–at least the long-term ones–are against him, and I know he was really bad in his last few seasons, but anybody who watched Dale Murphy or ever heard a single interview he’s given should just *know* he’s a Hall of Famer.

    On a related note, this may have already been mentioned, but it seems like when writers are considering “character” in their HOF votes, they only consider the negative side. That is, they’ll keep guys out for being jerks, but nobody gets rewarded for being above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty outstanding as a person. And I think that’s a misapplication of that particular criterion.

  25. Whatever shortage on that score may have come from the writers was more than made up for by the previous incarnation of the Veterans Commity.

    And just to go back to the “if that guy’s in, shouldn’t this guy be, too?” thing. It’s a decent part of a bigger argument for some guys, but isn’t the HOF diluted enough by too many “that” guys?

  26. Chipper Jones won’t get in on the first ballot, even thought he probably should. He will get run through the ringer like Sanberg did. ALl his numbers will be there and the division streak, but he will get screwed for some time because baseball wirtters are retarded. Jeter will get in on the first ballot.

  27. I hear you.

    I generally don’t buy the “if-that-guy’s-in-then-my-guy-oughta-be-in-too” HoF argument. My retort often seems to be, “Well, maybe the first guy shouldn’t be in, either.”

    On a related note, but certainly for another group of fans, is the Don Mattingly-Kirby Puckett conversation: Very similar career stats (with Mattingly better in many areas), but one’s in and one isn’t.

  28. BTW, I believe Chipper’s gonna get in and rather easily. If he limped on for 3 years or got hit by a bus tomorrow, he’d get in. When all is said and done, Chipper’s offensive numbers will put him in the Top 5 3Bs of all-time. In some categories, he’s #1 right now.

    From living in an area that not-so-subtley detests the Braves, I can tell you that the level of respect for and fear of Chipper (and Smoltz) is off the charts. He’s generally considered a future Hall of Famer.

  29. We need a crazy trade!

    THe mail man recorded part of the Collin Cowherd show on ESPN and brought it in and told me to play it backwards and this is what I heard.

    Braves get- Scot Shields and Adam Dunn
    LAA get- Langerhans and Brandon Clasuen
    CINN gets- Joe Saunders(LAA), LaRoche, Chuck James, Little John S

  30. I generally don’t buy the “if-that-guy’s-in-then-my-guy-oughta-be-in-too” HoF argument. My retort often seems to be, “Well, maybe the first guy shouldn’t be in, either.”

    I largely agree. If Sutter’s in, Murph should be in, but I tend to think Sutter shouldn’t be in to begin with.

    Chipper will likely get jerked around on his undeserved defensive rep.

  31. Off the subject, but what is the status of Jorge Vazquez? He surprisingly started the season in the minors and put up solid numbers. He looked pretty decent for the most part in Atlanta, but got on Cox’s bad side and seemed to be unstable in pressure situations. Is he still on the 40 man roster or an Atlanta minor league roster?

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  33. Seeing 50# post here reminded me of the player I see as the comparison to Murphy: Tony Oliva. Great hitter at his peak, but wound down very quickly. Oliva’s stats, as good as they are, are hurt by playing his best ball in the second deadball generation.

    I loved watching Murph and don’t need the BBWAA to tell me how good or how “famous” he is. Its largely an academic debate, but unlike a poster above, I enjoy the discussion.

  34. Agreed bama. I remember when Tony was winding down as an active player and the Twins had this goodwill thing going where players would actually come up into the stands and shake hands with fans about an hour before gametime.

    It was heartbreaking when I shook hands with Tony one night. From the waist up, the guy was buff and looked to be in perfect condition, but when I backed up, you could see that the guy could barely stand on those battered knees.

    Sad, sad, story. A truly great hitter with a style all his own.

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