Before Chipper, there was Atlanta Braves icon Dale Murphy
Another Braves slugger will achieve baseball immortality Sunday, but for kids of the 70s and 80s, inductions can be hard to enjoy knowing who is still left out.
Chipper Jones will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame over the weekend; the fifth Atlanta Braves legend in the last five years to receive the sport’s highest honor. For Braves fan who grew up in the 1970s and 80s, however, induction weekend usually serves as a reminder that their childhood hero has been wronged.
The progression of long-term Atlanta Braves face of the franchise sluggers is pretty clear and undisputed; Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy, Chipper Jones and now Freddie Freeman.
Dale Murphy isn’t the only Atlanta veteran deserving of his place in Cooperstown that has been disrespected by Hall of Fame voters – namely Fred McGriff and Andruw Jones – but he’s the one most in danger of being left out for good.
Those who (wrongly) subscribe to the method of only comparing players against all-time lists of specific positions to decide who is worthy of hall of fame induction are not being very scientific in their approach, and often leave out all sense of rational decision making. The Hall of Fame should be most about comparing players against the era in which they played. The quality of pitchers, the size of ballparks and many other factors in baseball change.
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Ending his career with 398 home runs, 2,111 hits, 1,266 RBI, and 1,197 runs, it is the unofficial magic 400 homer threshold that comes up the most when discussing Murph’s hall of fame status.
Murphy became Hall of Fame eligible during the steroid-enhanced home run derby we know as the 1990s, but a bit before baseball’s dirty little secret came to light. It was a perfect storm for one of the most productive and dominant players of the previous decade to get the shaft.
The Braves legend stayed on the Hall ballot for his entire 15 years of eligibility, peaking at 23 percent of the vote in 2000 and sinking to 11.5 percent in 2009. Murphy secured just 18.9 percent of the vote on his final ballot in 2013, relegating his last shot at the Hall to the veterans committee.
In his first year of eligibility there, the 16-member Modern Baseball Era Committee selected Jack Morris and Allan Trammell for the 2018 Hall of Fame class, passing up Murphy. He can, however, appear on the veterans ballot again in two years.
Remember when the bulk of Major League stadiums were massive, cavernous shared facilities with pull-out football bleachers? If you played in the 70s and 80s, that’s where your career happened. There weren’t many hitters parks with short porches or low walls. Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Houston, San Francisco, Oakland and later Denver all had multi-use stadiums. Dale Murphy played his entire home career – Atlanta, Philadelphia and Colorado – in three of the stadiums on this list.
During the 80s, Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt led MLB with 313 home runs. Dale Murphy was second with 308, followed by Eddie Murray who had 274. Murphy led the majors in both homers and runs batted in for an entire decade from 1981 to 1990. Only 12 players reached the 40 home run season mark during the 80s; Murphy hit 44 in 1987.
With back-to-back MVP seasons (82-83), Murphy also racked up four Silver Slugger awards (82-85), five Gold Glove awards (82-86) and was named an All-Star seven times.
Taking absolutely nothing away from Chipper Jones – arguably the most consistent switch hitter of all time – he had the advantage of playing on several teams among the greatest ever assembled in the history of the sport. Dale Murphy played his career in a virtual talent wasteland while the Atlanta franchise struggled to find its way as the career of Hank Aaron faded further into the past.
How much more productive could Murph have been as a member of the 81 Dodgers, 84 Tigers or 87 Twins? It’s impossible to say, but easy to suppose that with even a little bit of star power protection in a lineup, he might have been much closer to Mike Schmidt, statistically speaking.
Likely the most undeserving victim of the dark age of baseball – the steroid era – and a star that shined bright across America, even on a really bad franchise, Dale Murphy deserves a spot among the immortals in Cooperstown.