Murphy can still knock it out of the park

February 14, 2013 

There were those in the audience who, well, didn’t know who Dale Murphy was.

They were countered by others who were able to answer questions about Murphy’s career before Murphy could.

By the time Murphy was done talking to the nearly 450 people on the Hawkins Arena floor Wednesday night at Mercer’s annual First Pitch Classic banquet, those unfamiliar with No. 3 probably had a similar scouting report:

“He was pretty good. And what a nice guy.”

Which would, of course, inspire neck-stretching nodding from those familiar with No. 3.

He only endeared himself by happily reporting the arrival of a Cracker Barrel close enough for him to patronize and get some grits, which led him to a poem:

“True grits, more grits, fish grits and collards,

Life is good where grits are swallered.”

Murphy has four grandchildren, with two more on the way.

“Atlanta Braves fans do not like to hear that Murph is a grandpa,” he said. “It’s like DHing: you get to have all the fun and you don’t have to go out there and play defense. Give ’em a little money and a little ice cream, and everything’s great.”

Murphy couldn’t believe it’s been 20 years since he wore a uniform, which he did for the final time as an active player in May of 1993. It was -- gulp -- a Colorado uniform, a vision certainly erased from Atlanta fans’ memories.

He’s a little used to being overlooked by the current generation of fans. He was at spring training about four years ago, signing autographs, and headed into the clubhouse when a youngster asked his dad to identify that guy going into the locker room.

‘Well, son, this is Dale Murphy,” the father said. “He used to play outfield for the Braves. He used to be like Chipper Jones.’ ”

Youngsters, of course, can be more humbling than a good knuckleball.

“The kid looked up at his dad,” Murphy said. “ ‘Can he go in the locker room and get Chipper’s autograph for me?’”

Which reminded Murphy of the time he gave Jones some grief a few years ago when he wasn’t playing a lot during spring training.

“I said, ‘Come on, Chipper, you got to get out there and play. Everybody comes down here to Florida to see you play, let’s go,’ ” Murphy said. “He goes, ‘Murph, just settle down. When you were my age, you were retired.’”

Murphy certainly took up the first three spots of the “should be in the Hall” list of those on hand Wednesday, but he has his own “should be” team.

“The first guy that comes to mind is Lee Smith,” he said. “If you followed the Cardinals and the Cubs back in the ’80s, Lee Smith was one of the most dominant relievers I ever faced. He has a number of saves more than guys that are already in the Hall of Fame.”

Murphy’s list includes Fred McGriff, Jack Morris and Tim Raines.

Murphy was yet another speaker at Mercer’s the event who just cruised through, minus notes and stuttering and rambling. The occasional thought that escaped briefly was more than countered by a quick wit.

Question, in a tentative tone from a youngster: “Can you still hit home runs like you could when you were really young?”

Wry answer after an ever-so-short pause: “Yeah.”

Much of Murphy’s time was spent praising manager Bobby Cox, and how Cox’s mind worked, record-setting ejections notwithstanding.

Murphy recalled a pitcher who had just been called up and immediately surrendered a game-losing grand slam. Bullpen coach and former catcher Eddie Perez approached the devastated kid who certainly wondered if he even need unpack.

“Hey man, get your head up, lets go, forget it, you be ready to go tomorrow,” Perez said, according to Murphy. “You be ready to pitch tomorrow because Bobby’s gonna get you back out there on the mound the first chance he gets.”

Rather than dread coming to work the next day, Murphy said, the kid no doubt couldn’t wait to fulfill his manager’s faith, and that was Cox.

Murphy talked of Cox’s influence, but clearly Murphy has lived by philosophies in place long before he made it to Atlanta. He spoke of the immeasurable importance of encouragement for kids, and of the lessons outside of the classroom, and of treating people.

“Whatever situation you are in as a parent, as a coach, as a teammate, as a mentor, the most important thing you can have is respect for other people, and respect for each other,” Murphy said. “And really, treat each other like, you know, the Golden Rule. Treat each other like you expect to be treated.

“It sounds so simple, but it’s not always that easy to do.”

For Murph, maybe it is. One is beloved for more than homers and MVPs.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or mlough@macon.com.

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