As soon as Murphy moved to the outfield, the throwing phobia disappeared, just like that. In 1980, while performing in unfamiliar territory, mostly centerfield, he hit .281 with 33 homers and 89 RBIs. In '81, for reasons neither Murphy nor anyone else can explain, his production fell off sharply. Turner wanted to cut Murphy's '82 salary 20% to $320,000, but Dale and his agent, Bruce Church, negotiated the Braves back up to $360,000, plus $40,000 in bonuses, all of which Murphy cashed in on. With free agency looming after this season, Murphy and the Braves agreed in February to a five-year, $8 million contract, making him the fifth-highest-paid player in baseball. The contract was also a boost to the LDS Church, because Murphy tithes the usual 10% and contributes additionally to other church funds. He did allow himself the luxury of a new silver Corvette.
Murphy apologizes for not being more colorful, though he's extremely generous with his time. "I wish he was more selfish," says Benedict. "But then he wouldn't be Dale Murphy." Often a teammate will have to pull Murphy away from an interview session and tell the interrogators, "Sorry, Dale has to go to batting practice now."
The Braves like to tell stories about his eating. According to Second Baseman Glenn Hubbard, "He once complained that the watermelon in the clubhouse was rotten. That was after eating five pieces of it." Says Royster, "I've seen him order everything on the menu except THANK YOU FOR DINING WITH US."
His insatiable need for tickets also makes him a clubhouse target. "Hey, Dale," shouts Benedict. "How come you don't say, 'Hi, how are you, how you feeling' anymore? You just say, 'Can I have your tickets?' Then you go have a doughnut." In truth, Murphy is very solicitous when he asks a teammate for passes.
Murphy does get upset every so often. Says Hubbard, "I remember he once got mad at the opposing pitcher for showing up his catcher. The catcher had dropped a throw from the outfield, and the pitcher was glaring at him. Dale told our pitchers he never wanted to see any of them do that to one of our catchers."
"I saw him get mad once," says Torre. "It was this year in San Diego, where the fans are right on top of the dugout. This one fan was screaming obscenities at us. Well, Dale starts getting red, then gets on the top step, leans on the roof of the dugout and says, 'You can shout whatever you want. Just don't cuss.' I think the entire stadium fell silent."
The one thing Murphy can't abide is women journalists in the locker room. Last year two female writers walked into the Braves' clubhouse as Murphy was being interviewed in his undershorts. He excused himself, put a jersey around his waist and went up to the women. "You just can't come in here, ladies. It's just not right," he said. Having been confronted by Jimmy Stewart, they retreated. Right or wrong, Murphy's stance is a matter of honor to him.
It's as if he stepped out of the past or, at least a Frank Capra movie, to take his place in centerfield for the Atlanta Braves. And every time he hits a home run, he'll say he just happened to get good wood on the ball, and the ball just happened to carry....