#7: Dale Murphy

See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.

Righthanded Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Outfielder
Seasons With Braves: 1976-1990
Stats With Braves: .268/.351/.478, 371 HR, 1143 RBI, 1103 RS

I’ve written extensively of Murph in the past, of course. But now, the biography:

Dale Murphy was the fifth overall pick in the 1974 draft, a high school catcher from Portland. He would be an interesting counterpoint to the (pre-Joe Mauer) belief that you shouldn’t pick high school catchers in the first round, except that it turned out he couldn’t catch. He rose quickly, even without outstanding numbers: rookie ball in ’74, A-Ball in ’75, then to Savannah (then the Braves’ high-A affiliate, and why can’t the team go back to having its minor league affiliates in Georgia already?) in 1976. For a time; he was promoted to Richmond and then to the majors late in the season. He caught 19 games and didn’t embarrass himself, and for a 20-year-old catcher his .262/.333/.354 line isn’t bad at all, though he didn’t hit a homer.

He spent most of 1977 in Richmond, where he broke out (.305/.355 [estimated]/.534). He hit well in his callup (.316/.316/.526; yes, no walks, but this is not an excuse, Mr. Francoeur) but had developed problems with his throwing; at times, he couldn’t even get it back to the pitcher. Eventually, young manager Bobby Cox, who took over the team in 1978, shifted him to first base, which was pretty logical.

I mentioned in the Ron Gant entry that a lot of baseball’s ideas about body types fitting certain positions are probably bunk. For instance, for a long time everyone was convinced that shortstops had to be small, until Earl Weaver stuck Cal Ripken at short. 2300-odd games later… Anyway, Dale is listed at 6-5; the general belief is that someone that tall can’t be a successful catcher. It does seem likely to me that it would take a greater toll on a tall person’s knees, but I am not a physiologist. Joe Mauer is 6-4, and the Twins think he can be a long-term catcher. Moreover, Javy Lopez is listed at 6-3 and I think he’s really an inch or two taller, and has caught in 1351 games, not counting postseason. So I’d say that the jury is out on if Murph, barring the throwing problems, could have been a catcher.

I also mentioned in the Gant comment that the biggest reason Ron was sent down to A-ball wasn’t really his fielding, but that his hitting was awful. Murph’s hitting in 1978 wasn’t all that great (.226/.284/.394) but it was enough to convince the team to let him learn first base in the big leagues. In 1979, he broke out, hitting .276/.340/.469, though he only played in 104 games. Interestingly, he still played 27 games behind the plate, so the idea of making him a catcher wasn’t quite dead. In 1980, it would be.

That year, he was switched to center field, and became a top player. His line isn’t all that much better than in 1979 (.281/.349/.510) but was spiked with 33 homers, third in the league. He made his first All-Star team and finished twelfth in the MVP voting. He had a terrible time in the 1981 strike season, but that was a depressing time for all — depressing enough that his 13 homers were still good enough for tenth in the league.

From 1982 to 1987, Dale Murphy dominated the National League, winning two MVP awards, five Gold Gloves, and four Silver Sluggers, and making the All-Star team each year. He played in every game from 1982 to 1985, and that probably hastened his decline. (Another was the trade of Brett Butler; in 1982 and 1983, particularly the former, Brett periodically relieved Dale in center, with Murphy sliding to left. Afterwards, Dale was in center almost every game.)

In 1982, the Braves won the NL West for the only time between 1969 and 1991. Murphy was named the MVP in a fairly predictable decision, though I don’t think I can defend him as the best player in the NL that year; it was probably Schmidt, though you couldn’t give it to Mike every year. Or to Dale. He led the NL in Runs Created each year from 1983 to 1985 and again in 1987. The first year he won the MVP, but afterwards the Braves fell out of contention and so did he. He had an off-year in 1986, but rebounded after the move to right field for his best season offensively in 1987.

After that, he simply wasn’t a good player. His secondary skills were mostly intact, but he hit .226 in 1988 and .228 in 1989. At midseason of 1990, hitting .232/.312/.418, the Braves traded Murphy, with Tommy Greene, to the Phillies for a load of crap. He played about the same for the Phillies in 1991, then completely lost it with brief, depressing seasons in 1992 in Philadelphia and 1993 in Colorado.

In the end, I think Dale is still safely ahead of Andruw, though if the latter has another season like 2005-06 I would probably reconsider. I can’t rate him ahead of the pitchers here, and Chipper has largely passed him as the Atlanta franchise leader in most counting stats. He is still the Atlanta home run leader, but both Joneses should pass him in 2007.

Dale Murphy Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

52 thoughts on “#7: Dale Murphy”

  1. Dale Murphy is the sole reason that I went from casual fan to full blown follower of the Braves. The hardest thing that I have ever watched is his decline. Really not a decline but a plummet. But what a complete player he was during his outstanding peak. Just before he retired I was hoping that the Braves would bring him back for a farewell cup of coffee but I guess if your not Brian Jordan they don’t do that. My all time favorite Brave.

  2. Got to meet him and get his autograph last week (or was it the week before). Kind of neat to meet the person who was your hero growing up.

  3. Murph was a great player and, while I know its anecdotal and probably not supported by sabermetrics, I seem to remember him hitting a lot of big home runs. In a tight game, he was a guy you always had a feeling was going to hit one out. He had great opposite field power in an era when not too many hitters did. And he was a terrific outfielder. He certainly had his weaknesses as a hitter, but he was the kind of player that could and did truly carry a team. Unfortunately, his peak didn’t last too long and he really fell off a cliff.

    Overall, I don’t think he was better than Chipper and a lot of that relates to the length of his peak. ON the other hand, he certainly added much more defensively than Chipper.

  4. Granted Murph’s career did not end gracefully, but only the #7 BRAVE? Come on Mac, you’re putting Tom (Forty Pounds of Silver) Glavine over Dale and Andruw? Everyday players are far more valuable. I was going to post this later but here is my Top 10. #10 David Justice #9 Tom Glavine #8 Joe Torre #7 John Smoltz #6 Dale Murphy #5 Andruw Jones #4 Phil Niekro # 3 Greg Maddux #2 Chipper Jones #1 Hank Aaron. I could easily flipflop Dale/Andruw, or Niekro/Maddux. Glavine might have better overall numbers than Smoltz, but at no time did I think he was a better pitcher. Dale was the face of the franchise, and the only reason to follow the team for a decade. A guy that every Brave fan idolizes, he deserves a higher ranking than this.

  5. Granted Murph’s career did not end gracefully, but only the #7 BRAVE?

    randy, even you only have him at #6 – I think that’s “reasonable minds can differ” turf, don’t you?

  6. Chipper, Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz, all have to be above Murphy as Atlanta Braves. Aaron might pass them, but he wasn’t in Atlanta all that long.

  7. An interesting side note: the year before the Braves traded him to Philly for horseflesh, the Mets offered Howard Johnson, Len Dyskstra and Bobby Ojeda for Murphy alone. We declined.

  8. Update on Jap. players

    At one point, the posting of 27 year-old southpaw Kei Igawa by Hanshin was said to depend on the team signing Kuroda to replace him as the staff ace. Despite that option disappearing, it is expected that Igawa will still be posted this week.

    71% of Japanese baseball fans filling out this survey believe Igawa will not succeed in the Majors (the orange represents “will not succeed.”)

    38 year-old starting pitcher Masumi Kuwata is a free agent and will try his hand at MLB this season. The righty hasn’t pitched well since 2002, however. He might not make it out of Triple A, but the Indians have already shown interest.

    The winning bid for third baseman Akinori Iwamura will not be made public by Yakult, but it is estimated to be just $1MM. The winning team should be known around Monday or Tuesday.

  9. A great player and even better person, and I can’t think of another player that can be said about. It was almost hearbreaking to watch his sharp decline. I’m still not sure how that happened.

    Like Marc (#7), I always expected him to come through in big situations. Skip did too, I can still hear Skip saying, “C’mon Murph, Smurph one.” (Those stupid little blue cartoon characters were big at the time.)

  10. Hank was in Atlanta 9 years and hit 335 home runs, placed in the MVP voting all but his last season, and was an ALLSTAR every year, not exactly like he was passing thru. I realize there’s some great players on this list and yeah, I have Dale just #6, but behind Glavine? No Way!

  11. Glavine won 242 games in a Braves uniform, fourth-most on the franchise list, second in Atlanta. Heck, he’s only 26 behind Niekro, 24 behind counting Atlanta only. He won two Cy Young Awards (admittedly, Maddux should have won the second, as I said at the time) and is going to go into the Hall of Fame based upon what he did in Atlanta.

  12. @11 I remember that. A good deal but Bobby couldn’t pull the trigger to trade Murph. I wouldn’t have traded Murph either. I kept telling myself that he’d pull out of it and return to form. I’m betting Bobby was thinking the same thing. I actually got to see him as a Phillie when they played the Astros in Houston. The sight of him in a Phillie’s uniform was very disconcerting.

  13. Too many Murph memories. My fave: In ’86, Murph cut his hand on the CF fence running down another Met fly ball at the stadium. I went to the game the next day & Murph wasn’t in the lineup, breaking his consecutive game streak. Gooden was mowing down the Braves & it was about 5-0 in the middle innings. Murph appears in the on-deck circle as a PH.

    The tiny crowd began to buzz & as he strode up to the plate everyone was up & cheering. The streak would continue. The Braves were awful, we were getting killed by one of the best team in years, but Murph was our guy & we had to let him know we appreciated him & the moment.

    Of course, in comic-book hero fashion, he hit a HR, a rocket to left-center. It was a truly magical moment, one of the very few in that lousy era. Thanks, Murph.

  14. I read somewhere, I think at BTF, that Igawa is comparable to Kaz Ishii. Scary. I hope not. Or, if he signs elsewhere, I hope so.

    And I voted this morning.

  15. Look, I didn’t want to trade him either. But to pass on two All-stars and a No. 3 starter in order to trade him the next year for something called Jim Vatcher was probably the worst front-office decision in history.

  16. In French, the Smurfs are called les Schtroumpfs, and they were created by the Belgian artist Peyo. “Schtroumpf,” which sounds vaguely German in French, sounded even naughtier to American TV executives, so they changed it to “Smurf.”

    Translation of the above:
    In Smurf, the Smurfs are smurfed les Schtroumpfs, and they were smurfed by the Belgian smurf Smurf. “Schtroumpf,” which sounds vaguely Smurf in Smurf, sounded even smurfier to American Smurf executives, so they smurfed it to “Smurf.”

  17. I definitely think Glavine deserves to be above Andruw. The Braves won their only WS without Andruw, largely because Glavine shut out the Indians. I think Glavine was a lot more important to the Braves than Andruw.

  18. I agree Bobby messed that one up. But the worst front office decison in history? Shoot there are worst ones in the history of the Brave’s front office. However its up there as a real stinker of a non trade.

    Jeff Parret and Jim Vatcher. My memory sucks. I thought that this was the trade in which we got Ozzie Virgil who gave us at least one decent season.

    Ok I give, not trading Murph straight up for Johnson, Dykstra and Ojeda is worse than trading Jacoby and Butler for Barker.

  19. The Braves also had a throw-in in that deal. They sent Tommy Greene to Philly, and he was the only player in the deal who was worth anything for either team.

  20. Dang it! Didn’t Greene throw a no hitter for the Phil’s? I had forgotten about him too. Getting old sucks. Thank God for baseballrefrence and such.

    BTW Mac, great job and thanks a million. This stuff is making a tough end of the season palatable.

  21. Tommy Greene was from Whiteville, NC, so I was bummed when the Braves just gave up on him, especially in such a stupid trade.

    I loved Dale Murphy and I was heartbroken when they traded him. One of my favorite moments was in the utter pile of crap that was the 1988 season. This was the year that we lost something like 25 in a row to start the year. We only won 54 games all year. Murph was hitting .226 and I had just moved to a new town, away from all my friends and was spending the summer by myself. And the Braves sucked.

    In June, we were up against the Mets and they were beating us going into the 9th. They brought in Randy Myers, who was virtually untouchable. We managed to get a runner on. The way to get Murph out was to throw him really bad curve balls. Myers decided to try and blow a fastball by him and Murph parked it. We win. It was a very brief moment of joy in a very bad season.

  22. I wonder if the gun Lonnie lost in divorce was put in the laegal paper work reading, “A 9mm Berretta, bought to kill baseall General Manager.”

  23. All I want for Christmas is to get rid of Shula…

    “UNC officials would like to get someone in place by mid-December at the latest to take advantage of a full recruiting season. But Butch Davis might hold out to see what opens up. One long shot possibility could be Alabama. Although coach Mike Shula’s team was 10-2 a year ago and went to the Cotton Bowl, the Tide are 6-4 this season after a stunning (to Tide fans) loss at home to Mississippi State Saturday. With a game at LSU this week and then the regular-season finale against Auburn, the Tide could finish 6-6, which would irritate more than a few backers. Whether it would prompt a switch is uncertain, but if it does, count on Davis, if he is still available, to get a call. One thing is sure. At Alabama, football is very much the main act. And that is why UNC officials may push Davis for a decision sooner rather than later.”

  24. If LSU didn’t play stupid agains Florida and Auburn, they might be able to take down Ohio State. THey really have a lot of talent

  25. I’ll predict Les Miles isnt there that long, he’ll be a bust in my opinion. Hopefully Shula is ousted before the game, I’m only dreaming I’m afraid. At least all Auburn fans like the guy, maybe they’ll take him!

  26. csg, what’s your source for the japan news? i haven’t seen anything about kuroda signing with a japanese (or mlb) team.

  27. i just checked technorati and it looks like you got that from mlb trade rumors. damn, i guess i need to learn to read japanese so yahoo japan makes sense…

  28. My favorite Murph story: His dad came to see him play catcher and on three consecutive steals he threw three balls over the second baseman’s reach. After the game, his dad said: “Not bad… If they’d have been trying to steal center field you’d have had all three of them.”

  29. His career average and other numbers tumbled greatly after he got his trademark mole removed…..seriously
    You can’t be ranking Hank to high, all his big numbers were no Atlanta numbers, i thought Dale would have been before Hank
    Dale was the 80’s and Hank had 5 years of the 70’s.
    I was more of a Horner guy then Dale guy, But Dale was the face in the 80’s ( with the mole)

  30. You can’t be ranking Hank to high, all his big numbers were no Atlanta numbers

    I think, according to Mac’s rules, that Milwaukee numbers count if the player played a certain number of years in Atlanta. If so, then Hank HAS to be number 1.

  31. Hey guys from Nov. 7th. Jim Vatcher here. Just happened to be randomly searching the web and came across this website. “Something called Jim Vatcher” is pretty funny. Thanks for the pub boys!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *