ESPN the Magazine’s Wright Thompson is seemingly delivering up stories ordered directly from my subconscious. Specifically, a catchup with Braves legend Dale Murphy who, while falling just short of the Hall of Fame, had a bigger impact on a generation of fans than a whole heck of a lot of Hall of Famers did:
Joel and I are two of the thousands of TBS Kids, or Generation Murph, or whatever you’d like to call us. Most of us were born during the presidency of Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter, and we fell in love with baseball watching the Braves on the Superstation. We hung the posters of the lanky center fielder in loopy midswing stride — too wide a loop and too long a stride, time would prove — and we wanted to grow up just like him. We told him so.
And he listened. Murphy, as Thompson notes, was probably the most responsive and fan-friendly player of his generation and that generosity continues to this day. He’s also the most down-to-earth and, well, normal baseball superstar you’ve ever come across. Indeed, in the course of Thompson’s chronicle of Murphy’s post-playing career, you are struck with the notion that the very large Murphy family is some cross between the Brady Bunch, the Cleavers and the Waltons, even if the Murphys themselves compare it all to the Dunphys on “Modern Family.” Whatever you think, it’s impossibly refreshing to read a story about an athlete or a celebrity in which there is no cliche “fame-infamy-redemption” arcs. With Murphy it’s just . . . a really nice and happy life.
There’s a decent bit in the story about Murphy and the Hall of Fame that, I suppose, should be expected, even if it’s somewhat irksome and distracts from the story.
You know the thrust of it by now: Murphy, the two-time MVP who hit 398 homers did not make the Hall of Fame after suffering a steep and unexpected falloff, robbing him of what should’ve been a gradual decline during which he built the longevity which would’ve likely made him a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Thompson, like so many other writers, decides that Murphy should get some extra credit for not being associated with PEDs during the era in which they became ascendant:
If baseball wants to wash itself clean from steroids, the best way to do it isn’t to keep Bonds out of the Hall but to let Murphy in. Induct cheaters but also celebrate Dale Murphy for his 398 home runs and for the dozens he did not hit. He finished just two short of 400, and only four eligible players not linked to steroids have 400 or more homers and are not in the Hall. None was ever MVP. Murphy’s recognition is a vote about the culture we want.
We’ve talked about this topic many, many times here, and for all of my love and respect for Murphy, the player and the man, using the Hall of Fame vote to make some comment on baseball players’ characters is fraught with problems. More problematic is the notion Thompson cites here, which is to “celebrate Dale Murphy for his 398 home runs and for the dozens he did not hit.” My question is “Only Murphy?”
Does Don Mattingly get in for the 847 hits he might’ve gotten, putting him at 3,000, if it were not for his bad back? Hey, maybe PEDs would’ve helped that too. How many more homers do we give Fred McGriff? How many more do we give Dwight Evans? Darrell Evans? How far down that just-missed-it list do we get before we find a guy who, unlike Murphy, may have taken steroids but we simply don’t know about it? Because those guys exist too. And don’t the players who missed time for World War II and Korea stand ahead of them in line if we’re counting stats that did not happen?
I’m not saying Murphy should not be in the Hall of Fame. On a crowded ballot I probably leave him off as having fallen just short due to his lack of career longevity, but if the Veterans Committee votes him in when he’s next eligible I will cheer for it. I’m just saying that baseball accomplishment and character judgments are not compatible variables and never have been and that once you start in with the sort of business Thompson suggests we engage in with Murphy, you sort of have to continue to do it with other, much, much harder cases and I don’t think anyone’s prepared or equipped to do that. Again, I’d love to see Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame, but I’d want to see him in there for the right reasons, not because he’s the most useful weapon at hand for some moralizing voters.
That bit aside, spend some time this morning with Thompson’s story on Murphy. You’ll be glad you did, even if you’re not a TBS Kid or a member of Generation Murph.