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Nancy lost the baby in the fourth month. They talked about it, decided to try it again and then, last year, lost another, this time in the fifth month. The doctors said the two miscarriages were unrelated. "Dale took the second one especially hard," says Curtis Patton, a friend. Says Dale, "I just felt so bad for Nancy. I don't think any man can know what a woman goes through."
Dark clouds seem darker still with no time to conduct searches for silver linings. The Murphys' lives were nearly not their own. "We couldn't even go out to dinner without Dale getting mobbed," Nancy says. "Even at church he'd get autograph requests. Things were going so bad for us that Dale didn't even know if he wanted to succeed anymore. He knew what success had brought us in the past. Success had brought us a lot of trouble. We were tense most of the year. Last year, he got off to a bad start. There were times when he was kind of down. Of course, Dale's bad moods are like most people's good moods, but I can tell. He stops talking."
Maybe that was because Murphy was having to do so much talking at the park during the spring of '84. "Reporters were asking me if I could do it, you know, win the third MVP, be the only guy to win three in a row," Murphy recalls. "And maybe I began to think that it was important for me to make that a goal. That was the wrong thing to do.... I was playing for all the wrong reasons."
He had stopped hitting. On April 13, Murphy—usually a quick-flash starter (NL Player of the Month for April in both '82 and this year)—had a .152 average. "And even then, even when I was hitting so bad, they were still asking me, 'Can you do it?' "
Worse, with Horner out with a broken wrist, Murphy felt the flames flickering at his pants cuffs. "I think Dale thought he had to do it all himself," Torre says. "I knew he was thinking that way, so I'd try to kid him about it. I'd say, 'Dale, we need 'you to win this one for us tonight. I mean, it's mandatory. Can you do it?' He'd laugh, but I don't know if it helped."
The meltdown occurred Aug. 9 last year at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Murphy came up against Ken Howell in the bottom of the ninth with the tying run on third. He struck out, for the 100th time that season. To celebrate, he drop-kicked the dugout water cooler. "Smoked it, too," recalls Hubbard. "Ice went everywhere." The players in the dugout were frozen, mouths agape. It was as though Murphy had screamed for their attention, stood up on the bench and come out in favor of MTV.
That night the loneliest Brave came home in mental dishevelment. Nancy had seen enough. "Look what you're doing to yourself," she said. "You're not even having any fun. You're miserable. You're depressed. If this line of work makes you so unhappy, why don't you just quit."
Said Murphy, "I feel like it!"
Murphy knew he couldn't quit, "but I'm glad we talked about it," he says. "It woke me up to what I was doing to myself. I was much too intense. That kind of intensity, too much up or down, ends up getting you."
From that night on, Atlas decided to shrug once in a while. The Heat vowed to take the heat off himself. He also vowed to take the heat off his family. If The Education of Dale Murphy had a name, it was No More Mr. Nice Guy (relatively speaking). Another working title: Mr. Clean Gets (Just a Little) Mean. No more interviews or autographs at the house. After the games, instead of walking outside the stadium to his car, a process that usually lasted an hour because of autograph seekers, Murphy now has his silver Corvette (now that's snappy) pulled into the tunnel underneath. For the hundreds of autograph requests that come through the mail each week, he now uses what's known as an "autograph pen," or stamp, and has it done professionally. Sorry, boys and girls.