Mercer baseball head coach Craig Gibson hit a home run by landing former Atlanta Braves star Dale Murphy for the Bears fifth annual First Pitch Classic that will be held Feb. 13 at Hawkins Arena on the Mercer campus.
Murphy joins former Atlanta and current Kansas City outfielder Jeff Francoeur, Chicago White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham and Braves legends John Smoltz and Chipper Jones as keynote speakers for the event during the previous four years.
I remember Murphy coming up in the Braves organization. He was a first-round pick in 1974 and started his career as a catcher but had a hard time throwing the ball back to the pitcher. He switched to first base, where he played two seasons, before the Atlanta brass moved him to the outfield, where he excelled.
Murphy was the face of the Braves for more than a decade, playing parts of 15 seasons before being traded away to Philadelphia at the end of the 1990 campaign, where he played three years before ending his career with the Colorado Rockies in 1993.
He was a bright spot for the most of his career on Atlanta teams that were not very good. In fact, during his 15 seasons in Atlanta, he played on teams that had a 1,043-1,322 record for a .441 winning percentage. Only three times was he a member of an Atlanta team that had a winning record: in 1980 when the Braves were 81-80, in 1982 when they finished 89-73, and in 1983 when they were 88-74.
In 1982 and 1983, Murphy was the NL MVP, which puts him in elite company. Only Barry Bonds (seven), Albert Pujols (three), Stan Musial (three), Roy Campanella (two), Johnny Bench (two) and Ernie Banks (two) have more or as many. Legendary Braves star Hank Aaron won his only MVP trophy in 1957, and Jones captured his lone one in 1999.
During the eight-year period between 1980 and 1987, Murphy was one of baseballs best. As mentioned, Murphy has claimed two MVP awards, two home run titles, two RBI crowns, seven All-Star Game appearances, four Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards. He also had a 30 home run, 30 stolen base season. Murphy finished his career with 398 home runs, 1,266 RBI, 1,197 runs scored and a .265 career batting average.
Do those stats make Murphy worthy of selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame? The Baseball Writers Association of America didnt think so in this, his final year of eligibility. He received 18.6 percent of the 75 percent necessary for selection to the hall. During his 15 years on the ballot he never came close, garnering a high of just 23.2 percent in 2000, his second year on the ballot.
Murphy still has a chance to make it to the Hall of Fame, but the decision will now be left up to baseballs Veterans Committee. His numbers are similar to those of long time Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who was voted in by the Veterans Committee last year. Santo had a .277 lifetime batting average, 342 home runs, five Gold Gloves, was a nine-time all-star and had 1,331 RBI. Santo was voted in by receiving votes on 15 of the 16 Veterans Committee ballots.
Other prominent Veterans Committee selections have included managers Walt Alston, Tommy Lasorda, Casey Stengel, Sparky Anderson and Dick Williams, as well as players Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize, Jim Bunning, Larry Doby, Orlando Cepada, Bill Mazeroski and Enos Country Slaughter, to mention a few.
If you want to hear Murphy speak at the First Pitch Classic, contact Mercer assistant coach Ben Gillespie at 301-2738 A limited number of tickets are still available at a price of $75 each for the dinner and $50 each for the autograph session.
Contact Bobby Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org