Faith, family, fastballs: Dale Murphy’s Hall of Fame bid

Faith, family, fastballs: Dale Murphy’s Hall of Fame bid January 7, 2013

He’s a man of character with old-fashioned values. He’s adored by his wife and eight — count ’em, eight — children. He’s an all-around nice guy beloved by baseball fans.

That’s the picture of Dale Murphy painted by a relatively in-depth story on the retired Atlanta Braves star, who is making headlines as he appears on the sport’s Hall of Fame ballot for the final time.

Murphy’s “character” comes into play at the very top of ESPN’s 1,700-word feature:

There was a time, as recently as five years ago, when Dale Murphy grudgingly accepted his meager Hall of Fame support without protest or complaint. The voters had overwhelmingly decided that Murphy, while a terrific player at his peak, faded too quickly to merit a place in the baseball shrine. And Murphy, true to character, smiled and conceded that the electorate might be justified in its skepticism.

But 15 years in Cooperstown’s waiting room have a way of changing a man’s perspective. Murphy, who is making his final appearance on the ballot this year, has gradually warmed to the “Big Hall” school of thinking. With all due respect — and an acknowledgement that it’s a bit “self-serving” to promote his own cause — he thinks there’s room for a plaque with Dale Murphy’s name in the museum on Main Street.

“If you’re going to take the smaller Hall of Fame approach, it gets pretty exclusive. For the overall good of the game, and the marketing of the game and where it’s headed, I think it’s OK to expand this thing. I would love to see guys like Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lou Whitaker and Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think it hurts the standards of the Hall of Fame. I think it enhances it.”

Next, readers learn about an improbable campaign to persuade baseball writers to support Murphy’s candidacy:

The chance of Murphy improving from 14.5 percent to the requisite 75 percent plurality six days from now are roughly equivalent to the Houston Astros winning the American League West in 2013. But long odds can’t stop the people most profoundly affected by Murphy from stating his case until the last vote is tabulated.

And no, we’re not talking about former teammates, Atlanta Braves fans or Bob Knepper, who got dinged for a 1.358 OPS and eight home runs in his career by The Murph.

Over the past month, baseball writers with a Hall ballot and an open mind have had a little something extra to ponder thanks to a smorgasbord of Tweets, blog posts and other testimonials from Dale and Nancy Murphy’s eight children, who range in age from 19 to 32 and talk about their dad in a way that seems downright old-fashioned. If the Waltons had access to wireless technology on the foot of that mountain during the Great Depression, this is how they might communicate their love for their father with the world.

At this point, I began to wonder if ESPN would address the elephant in the room — the holy ghost — related to Murphy? His Mormon faith, after all, plays a crucial role in his life.

I interviewed Murphy more than a decade ago when I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman and he addressed Mormon missionaries at an Oklahoma church. In that 2001 interview, I asked the two-time National League Most Valuable Player about the Hall of Fame:

In 2001 Baseball Hall of Fame balloting, Murphy fell way shy of the 75 percent support needed for election. He received votes from 93 of the 515 writers (18 percent) who cast ballots.

He’s realistic about his future chances.

“It’s very hard to get into the Hall of Fame, which it should be. And if I get in someday, I’ll be very grateful. But I know where I stand. I mean, if I had 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, I would be in,” said Murphy, a career .265 batter who finished with 2,111 hits.

But Murphy, who became a Mormon at age 19 in his second year in the minor leagues, said he doesn’t worry about earthly matters such as the Hall of Fame.

“Baseball and sports and those things are a lot of fun. But it really doesn’t provide any lasting happiness,” said Murphy, whose oldest son, Chad, 20, is in his second year of missionary service in Japan.

“Faith, family and friends – those are the things in life that really matter.”

So did ESPN pick up on the Mormon angle? Eventually. And briefly.

More than 1,000 words into the story, Murphy’s faith makes a cameo appearance:

If Murphy’s candidacy has done anything, it’s fueled debate about the importance of Rule 5, which advises voters to consider a candidate’s “record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Murphy received some negative fallout during his career for objecting to the presence of female reporters in the clubhouse because it conflicted with his Mormon beliefs, but he nevertheless embodied the ideals that parents impart to Little Leaguers across America.

Joe Torre gave the most telling personal scouting report on Murphy after managing him for three years in Atlanta: “If you’re a coach, you want him as a player,” Torre said. “If you’re a father, you want him as a son. If you’re a woman, you want him as a husband. If you’re a kid, you want him as a father.”

Later, there’s this note:

He is active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gives motivational talks and continues to speak out against steroids through his I Won’t Cheat foundation.

Could ESPN have provided more insight on Murphy’s faith? Definitely. Is the information offered adequate? Probably. It’s a sports story, after all, not a religion feature.

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