A few years ago, I hit a foul ball and this guy in the stands tried to catch it. But it hit him right in the chest and he wanted me to autograph the bruise. And that's the truth.
The kicker to the story is that Murphy autographed it. But, then, Murphy is just a boy who can't say no. And during both post-MVP off-seasons, especially the second, the Murphy family nearly went nuts. "Dale wouldn't say no to anybody," says his wife, Nancy, a bright and blonde ex-BYU cheerleader. "He was doing speeches all the time. He'd agree to anything anybody wanted. He was speaking at little things, like flower clubs." Or, as Dale describes it, "I guess you have to get used to the ups and downs. But that was the first time I'd ever had any ups."
At the time, they were living in their dream house in Lawrenceville, a suburb just outside Atlanta. Since the home was built just the way Nancy had always wanted, it was huge and gorgeous and stuck out like the Peachtree Plaza. "The place looked like a hotel," said one friend. Once people found out it belonged to Dale Murphy, cable-TV star, it practically became one. His fame began to clash with the furniture.
Fans would knock on the door and ask for autographs or tours of the estate. Once, after a long road trip, Dale, Nancy and their three boys finally had two hours to themselves before Dale had to get to the ball yard for a night game. They decided to spend it out by the pool. Minutes after they sat down, a nose could be seen peeking over the backyard hedgerow. "Hey, Dale?" came a voice. "Dale, my mother drove a long way down here to see you. Would you mind coming out to the car and talk to her for just a second?" Murphy spent the better part of an hour talking to somebody's mother.
For Nancy, this was not at all what she had enlisted for. When she first met Murphy at BYU in 1978, she was the steady of basketball player Steve Craig. Murphy had moved in with Craig for one semester's worth of schoolwork and, he admits, wife hunting. Nancy and Dale became acquaintances. "I thought he was a semipro player," she recalls. "I had no idea he was any good." Alas, Murphy returned to Atlanta wifeless.
In May of '79 he tore cartilage in his knee chasing a Phil Niekro knuckleball. Nancy called to console him. She also let slip that she had broken up with Steve. This gave them more to talk about than cartilage. Dale called her the next day. She returned the call the day after. After a few weeks Nancy's parents reasoned that a plane ticket could be no harder on their checking account than the phone bill clunking down on the doorstep. Nancy went to Atlanta, staying with a friend. In two months she and Dale were engaged. In October they were married in Temple Square in Salt Lake City. In something of a surprise, Steve Craig was there. He would eventually marry Marie Osmond—quite a coincidence, because Nancy had once gone out with Marie's brother Jay. There being no Mormon gossip tabloid, this stuff has gone unused until now. No need to go into Steve and Marie's impending divorce.
Right off, Dale and Nancy had an argument. Dale wanted a small family, say six or seven kids. Nancy wanted 10. Their first child, Chad, arrived nine months and two days after vows were recited. Could two people be happier? Let's have another and find out. In October 1981, Travis was born. Travis, though, was not like Chad. Travis was born with Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome, a rare disease that retards mental and physical development, inverts thumbs and causes epicanthic folds in the eyelids, giving the face and nose a flatness.
"That year was an extremely difficult time for us," Nancy says. "We'd never been taught how to face something like that before.... Dale was on the road, and I was having to fly all over the place taking Travis to doctors." Since the Murphys rarely talk about their troubles, they generally have precious few shoulders to cry on. For Dale, who is expected to look as if he just stepped off one of his milk-ad billboards, looking chipper and happy became a task. "People see the ail-American image," Murphy says. "They aren't in touch with reality."
For Nancy, it was harder still. "People have a hard time sympathizing with me," she says. "My friends say, 'Look at everything you have. You're making one-point-whatever million dollars a year. How can you not be happy?' "
But the Murphys were decidedly not happy. In one gloomy stretch in 1983, Nancy was pregnant with a fourth child—another son, Shawn, had been born in '82—Travis caught pneumonia after undergoing surgery, and Dale's phenomenal success on the baseball field had translated into phenomenal stress at home, with their privacy seemingly reduced to the hours between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. to midnight.