- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Benedict is right about those feet, which are size 13, but he's kidding about the overrated part. Actually, some people did think Murphy was overrated last year, especially after he slumped late in the season when Bob Horner, who bats behind him in the fourth or fifth position depending on the pitcher, left the lineup with an injury. "Murph did put a lot of pressure on himself," says Torre. "And good as he was, I saw ways to improve his hitting."
At first Murphy was surprised when Torre suggested he go to the Instructional League in Sarasota, Fla. with all the youngsters. But he readily agreed to combine the instruction with a planned trip to Disney World with his two sons and wife, Nancy, who was then pregnant with their third son. "I thought it was a compliment that Joe wanted to take the time and go down there and work on a few things with me," says Murphy.
So, for five days, Murphy dressed with the Atlanta organization's kids, took 30 minutes of batting practice with Torre and Coach Bruce Dal Canton and talked hitting. "I think we're seeing the fruits of that work this year," says Torre. "Take the other night. Dale beat the Dodgers with a sacrifice fly in the ninth off Tom Niedenfuer. Niedenfuer pitched him very well, and last year Dale would've struck out in that situation. That's the big difference this year—he's become a much better hitter with two strikes on him."
The facts of Murphy's life are that he was born to Charles and Betty Murphy in Portland, Ore. on March 12, 1956. He grew up in Portland, except for a brief time in Moraga, Calif. when his father, then a sales executive for Westinghouse, was transferred there. Dale played for Woodrow Wilson High in Portland. He signed a letter of intent to go to Arizona State, but decided to try pro ball right away when the Braves made him their first pick in the June 1974 draft.
Jack Dunn, a friend of the Murphy family, was Dale's coach in both high school and American Legion ball. Now the coach at Portland State, Dunn recently visited Murphy in San Francisco when the Braves were playing the Giants. "I always knew he was something special," Dunn says. "I know it's just a coincidence, but did you know that the man who discovered Babe Ruth was also named Jack Dunn?"
In 1976, though, Murphy was being touted as the next Johnny Bench. He had the prerequisites: a live bat and a rifle arm. He also had a new religion, and he wanted to serve a two-year mission, as young members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints frequently do. Ted Turner, owner of the Braves, got wind of this and asked Murphy's parents if he could talk to Dale. They said yes, but be careful, Dale's very serious about this. So Turner reached Murphy in Portland and the first thing he said was, "What's all this Mormon stuff? If you need to make converts, I'll let you work on me and my five kids."
Turner didn't talk Murphy out of his mission, but some officials of the church, including a former minor league pitcher named Paul Dunn, convinced him that he could serve while playing. But then something happened. Murphy began to develop a mental block about throwing to second base. He would either hit the pitcher, even if he were crouching on the mound, or he would throw the ball into the outfield. As his father told him, "One thing's for sure, Dale. Nobody will be stealing centerfield on you."
Murphy now looks back on that time with humor. "I think they put me in centerfield because it's as far away from home plate as possible," he says. Actually, the Braves initially tried Murphy at first base, but he couldn't make throws from there either. On March 12, 1980 Bobby Cox, then the Atlanta manager, sent Murphy to leftfield. Suddenly he could throw again.
Like George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) in It's a Wonderful Life, Murphy was given a second chance. In the movie a despairing Bailey is about to leap off a bridge when his guardian angel, Clarence Oddbody, appears. While talking Bailey out of suicide, Oddbody says, "You see, George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away." Murphy, literally, almost threw his career away.
"I never got as low as Jimmy Stewart did in the movie," says Murphy, "but there was a time when I didn't think I'd be able to stay in the minors, much less play in the majors. I couldn't throw, and it was very frustrating. I had all this God-given talent, but all of a sudden I couldn't play. I tried to keep it in perspective and tried not to let it affect my relationships with people. Fortunately, I came through. But I realized that even without baseball, it's a wonderful life."