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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Holmes: When Dale Murphy was the best player in baseball

Playing for a team that televised every one of their games in cable television (Braves and WTBS out of Atlanta), Murphy drew a fan following well outside Georgia. His clean-cut image endeared him to fans of all ages. But in 1990 the 34-year old was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in the middle of the season, a deal that enraged fans of the team. When he faced reporters following the transaction, Murphy had tears in his eyes.

He never played as well after leaving the Braves, and when the Phils released him during spring training in 1993, the humble veteran took a $2 million pay cut to sign with the expansion Colorado Rockies. He retired after that season and held two press conferences to announce his decision: one in Denver, the other in Atlanta. He would always consider himself a Brave.

Murphy has received enough votes to keep his name on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, but his candidacy has never been taken real serious by the writers for some reason. For a stretch of 5-5 years, Murphy was unquestionably the best all-around player in the National League and one of the best in the game. he led the league in five different important offensive categories and he garnered MVP votes in seven seasons. In fact it’s his MVP consideration that is probably his best case for the Hall of Fame: in addition to winning two MVP awards outright, Murph was 7th once, 9th once, and in the top 12 a total of six times. He certainly has his share of supporters.

“I can’t imagine that Joe DiMaggio was a better all-around player than Dale Murphy,” Nolan Ryan said.

Thanks to Bret.

Repoz Posted: August 25, 2012 at 11:42 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: braves

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   1. Jefferson Manship (Dan Lee) Posted: August 25, 2012 at 11:59 AM (#4217860)
For a stretch of 5-5 years, Murphy was unquestionably the best all-around player in the National League
Tony Gwynn, Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines, Pedro Guerrero, Mike Schmidt, and Ryne Sandberg say hello.
   2. Leroy Kincaid Posted: August 25, 2012 at 12:09 PM (#4217872)
When someone says "unquestionably" it usually means there's a lot of questions.
   3. Tom Nawrocki Posted: August 25, 2012 at 12:11 PM (#4217877)
Dan, five minus five equals zero.

At any rate, the trade to the Phillies happened when it was clear that Murphy was no longer anything close to the best player in baseball. The previous two seasons, he had averaged .227 with 22 homers.
   4. Jefferson Manship (Dan Lee) Posted: August 25, 2012 at 12:11 PM (#4217879)
Obviously, Guerrero was a disaster with the glove, but he was such a phenomenal hitter for a few years that he's at least in the conversation.
   5. Rally Posted: August 25, 2012 at 12:18 PM (#4217896)
I'd be interested in the context of that Ryan quote. My guess is it's nothing recent, where he'd have the benefit of perspective, but something said in the early to mid 80's when Murphy was at the top of his game.

Ryan's perspective on DiMaggio would be similar to mine on Willie Mays (retired a few years after I was born). In either case, we didn't see those guys play or probably wouldn't remember what we saw if we did. Pretend I was a pitcher in the late 90's, and just had my ass kicked by Ken Griffey Jr, and watched him steal an extrabase hit from a teammate or two. Some reporter asks me after the game about Griffey and yes, I'd probably compare him pretty favorably to Willie Mays.
   6. Misirlou doesn't live in the restaurant Posted: August 25, 2012 at 12:32 PM (#4217910)
1982-1986 NL WAR

Carter - 32.2
Schmidt - 31.0
Raines - 27.5
Hernandez - 25.6
Murphy - 24.9


Raines - 31.4
Schmidt - 29.7
Gwynn - 27.4
Murphy - 26.5
Smith - 25.9


Schmidt - 36.8
Raines - 34.1
Carter - 33.0
Murphy - 32.3
Smith - 30.7

Years cherry picked to be most favorable to Murphy. his 1981 WAR was 1.5, 1988 was 2.8

Now, WAR is not the end all, but there certainly is a question. whether he was the best.

of course, the term all around is meant to denote skill in every facet of the game, hitting for average, power, walks, defense, and speed. And if there were some sort of pentathlon of those 5 skills, with each getting equal weight, Maybe Murph would win. Better power than Raines, Smith, and Gwynn. Better speed than Carter, Hernandez, and Schmidt... Let's have a competition among the 7 in all 5 categories, with 7 points for first, 1 point for last.

Average (from 1982-1987):


Power, in this case home runs.


After 2 events:

Murphy - 11
Hernandez - 9
Schmidt - 9
Gwynn - 9
Raines - 9
Carter - 8
Smith - 2

Walks :


Speed, in this case, SB:


Standings after 4 events:

Murphy - 21
Raines - 20
Schmidt - 18
Hernandez - 17
Gwynn - 17
Carter - 11
Smith - 11

It comes down to defense, in this case, GGs

Smith (6)
Hernandez (6)
Murphy (5)
Schmidt (4)
Gwynn (2)
Carter (1)
Raines (0)

Final standings:

Murphy - 26
Hernandez - 23.5
Schmidt - 22
Raines - 21
Gwynn - 20
Smith - 18
Carter - 12

Ergo, Dale Murphy was unquestionably the best all around player in the NL from 1982-1987

   7. The District Attorney Posted: August 25, 2012 at 12:58 PM (#4217929)
Heh, #6 is like the kind of articles Bill James writes now...
   8. Tony S Posted: August 25, 2012 at 01:38 PM (#4217963)
In his prime, Dale Murphy was very much a Hall of Fame "feels-liker". He WAS perceived as a great player (and while he might not have been the best player in baseball, he was in the conversation).
If he'd had a more normal decline phase he'd probably be in the Hall by now.

But he followed George Foster off the same cliff...
   9. John DiFool2 Posted: August 25, 2012 at 01:39 PM (#4217965)
As long as we're cherry-picking, Ryno belongs in #6's discussion about all-around players, if you do 84-89 or 90 (30-36 WAR)
   10. DanG Posted: August 25, 2012 at 01:42 PM (#4217968)
Murphy was better than Pesky.
   11. Misirlou doesn't live in the restaurant Posted: August 25, 2012 at 01:42 PM (#4217969)
As long as we're cherry-picking, Ryno belongs in #6's discussion about all-around players, if you do 84-89 or 90 (30-36 WAR)

I overlooked him as he didn't make the top 5 in WAR for any time period. But in that pentathlon, he comes in between Smith and Raines, about 18.5 points or so.
   12. BDC Posted: August 25, 2012 at 02:34 PM (#4218016)
At the time, I didn't think Murphy much deserved his 1982 MVP award (and metrics bear me out). In 1983, I initially though that Andre Dawson had pretty clearly surpassed Mike Schmidt as the NL's best player, but by the end of the year I was OK with Murphy winning MVP; WAR has him second that year to Dickie Thon, idiosyncratically (though I do remember Bill James writing at the time about how underrated Thon was by the media and the general public). By 1984, Murphy was back in the pack a bit, a fine player but not really in the discussion for all-round best at any given time. He was an excellent ballplayer for 6 to 8 years, obviously.
   13. Jefferson Manship (Dan Lee) Posted: August 25, 2012 at 04:50 PM (#4218119)
By 1984, Murphy was back in the pack a bit, a fine player but not really in the discussion for all-round best at any given time. He was an excellent ballplayer for 6 to 8 years, obviously.
Yeah, I almost felt bad up in post #1, but there's no shame in being a worse ballplayer than Mike Schmidt or Tim Raines.
   14. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: August 25, 2012 at 05:18 PM (#4218122)
dale was a big guy and the pounding of centerfield didn't help. it might have helped if he had moved to right field though who knows if that would have forestalled the decline

   15. RMc's Unenviable Situation Posted: August 26, 2012 at 07:55 AM (#4218428)
Would Murphy had made the Hall if he hadn't driven off the statistical cliff when he did? Let's take a look:

After his Age 31 season in 1987, Murphy was at 310 HR, 1555 H and 927 RBI. His established levels were 38 HR, 169 H and 99 RBI. Using the Favourite Toy (5.4 years remaining), we get projected career totals of 514 HR, 2467 hits and 1462 RBI; and those numbers might've been even higher, if Murphy could've taken full advantage of Sillyball. Plus, if he stays in Atlanta, he would've been part of the great Braves teams of the 90s, perhaps even coaxed another World Series win out of them (I'm looking at you, Game 7 of 1991). And, of course, the guy's as clean as a whistle. He's in.

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