A Hall of Fame case for Dale Murphy
December, 8, 2012
By Buster Olney | ESPN Insider
Ron Vesely/Getty ImagesDale Murphy was a seven-time National League All-Star.When I got home from the winter meetings Friday, there was a thick brown envelope sitting in the kitchen basket: The Hall of Fame ballot, issued to the voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
A few hours later, I got this in an email:
An Open Letter to the BBWAA: Making the HoF Case for Dale Murphy, or, The Guy Who Changed My Diapers. By Chad Murphy.
[Note: I've pasted the email below in its entirety. The usual links and notes from around baseball can be found at the conclusion of the email.]
My name is Chad Murphy. I'm Dale's oldest son. 'Tis the season for HoF voting, and this being the last year of my dad's eligibility, I'd like to begin by reiterating the voting criteria, as per the Hall of Fame's website:
5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
Next, let me just list a few of my dad's accomplishments in his former role as an active MLB player. Here goes:
• Back-to-back NL MVP 1982, 1983 (1 of only 13 players -- and the youngest in history at that time)
• 7-time NL All-Star (top NL vote-getter and started in 5 of those games)
• 4-time Silver Slugger award-winner
• 5-time Gold Glove winner
• 6th player in MLB history to reach 30 home runs/30 stolen bases in a single season
• In 1983, he became the only player in history to compile a .302+ batting average, 30+ homeruns, 120+ runs batted in, 130+ runs scored, 90+ bases on balls, and 30+ stolen bases in a single season.
• Led MLB in total bases during the span of 1980-1989 (2,796)
• 2nd (only to HOFer Mike Schmidt) in total home runs from 1980-1989 (308)
• 2nd (only to HOFer Eddie Murray) in total runs from 1980-1989
• 1st in total home runs from 1980-1989 among all Major League outfielders (308)
• 1st in total RBIs from 1980-1989 among all Major League outfielders (929)
• 2nd in total hits from 1980-1989 among Major League outfielders (1,553)
• 2nd in total extra-base hits from 1980-1989 among Major League outfielders (596)
• Played in 740 consecutive games from 1980-1986 (11th longest streak in history at the time, and 13th today. Only missed 20 games total between 1980-1989)
• In 1987, reached base in 74 consecutive games (3rd longest streak in Major League history)
• 398 career homeruns (19th in Major League history when he retired, 4th among active players)
• 2111 career hits
• 1266 career RBIs
• .265 career batting average
• Sports Illustrated's "Sportsmen of the Year" Award, 1987 (represented baseball as their "Athlete Who Cares the Most" for his charity work, along with U.S. gold medalist Judi Brown King, Kenyan gold-medalist Kip Keino, and others)
• Lou Gehrig Award, 1985 (given to the player who most exemplifies the character of Lou Gehrig, both on and off the field)
• Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award, 1988 (given to the player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team")
• Bart Giamatti Community Service Award, 1991
• Jersey number "3" retired by the Braves, 1994
• Inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame, 1995 (induction class with Roberto Clemente and Julius Erving. One of only 8 baseball players inducted in the Hall's history)
• Inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence, 1995 (joining Mike Schmidt, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nolan Ryan, and others)
• Inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, 1997
• Inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, 1997
• Inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame, 2000 (joining Phil Niekro and Hank Aaron, among others)
• Founder of the IWon'tCheat Foundation in 2005, whose mission is to encourage character development among youth
Next, I really want to dive into his sabermetrics, starting with his JAWS, WAR, and WAR7, and then moving on to his JPOS, WPA, OPS, and -- last but certainly not least -- the all-important holy quadrinity of VORP, GORP, SCHLORP, and THUNDERCORK.
Oh wait, no I don't.
Stand down, statistics nerds.
I have no desire to get into some sort of cryptic mathematical argument for my dad's induction into the Hall of Fame. The numbers are what they are -- maybe they're strong enough for the Hall on their own, maybe not. Whatever. The bigger issue, to me, is this: what happened to three of the criteria listed under the rules for election, namely, integrity, character, and sportsmanship? Gone but also forgotten? No doubt a player's stats (i.e., "record" and "playing ability") are a crucial part of the equation, but that's just the point: we're talking about an equation here, folks. And we've got a serious case of missing variables. Where'd they go, friends?
To be fair, I'll grant the nerds this: In most cases things like "integrity" and "character" and "sportsmanship" are mighty difficult to quantify. I get that. Other than, say, creating a variable along the lines of "number of arrests for drug possession" or "number of ejections from a game," it's not exactly clear yet how to go about measuring those attributes. As a consequence, this so-called "character clause" does a real number on our quest for objectivity, which makes us uneasy. And so it makes sense that collectively we've emphasized the part of the voting criteria that is easier to measure and largely beyond subjective interpretation, namely, on-field statistics. Fine.
But hold on, maybe not fine. The character clause isn't just totally MIA. In fact, it seems to come roaring back into the conversation every so often when certain players are mentioned, as if judging character weren't so difficult after all. And, mysteriously, this only seems to happen in cases where the point is keep someone out (see: Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, the 'Roid Boys). Indeed, then it gets easy: Gamblers? Out! Cheaters? Be gone! Vehement racists? Well, okay, you can stay (lookin' at you, Cap Anson). Of course, the obvious question here is from whence this biased, one-way application of the character clause?
Here's one possibility. In psychology there's a well-known and well-established finding known as the "bad is stronger than good" principle. In 2001, Roy Baumeister and colleagues reviewed a large number of studies and found overwhelming evidence that negative events figure more prominently in our minds -- and are hence easier to recall -- than positive ones. For example, the authors cite a 1978 study by Brickman and colleagues where they interviewed people who one year previous had either won the lottery (a supposed "good" event) or had been paralyzed in an accident (a bad event).
What they found was that the intense negative feelings associated with being paralyzed had not abated a year later, while the positive feelings from winning the lottery had almost totally disappeared and the details of the experience entirely forgotten. The upshot here is that we, as human beings, adapt very quickly to good events, so quickly, in fact, that it doesn't take long for us to forget the those good things completely. And isn't the uneven application of the character clause perhaps an illustrative example of this quirk in human memory and reasoning? Bad behavior (some of which -- e.g., Joe Jackson -- happened, er, 100 years ago) appears to occupy a more central place in the minds of voters than the exemplary behavior of players like Dale Murphy.
These two facts -- 1) the difficulty of objectively quantifying qualitative characteristics about a player; and 2) our deeply-engrained negativity bias as human beings -- have led to a troubling scenario where we either ignore the character clause altogether, or we use it to keep people out, citing their public sins. But let's be honest: you can't have it both ways. Either we apply the character clause for all eligible players, equally, allowing for both negative and positive evaluations to count toward a player's HoF case, or we toss it out completely. If the latter, then say goodbye (probably) to my dad's HoF chances at the same time you say hello to Mr. Rose and Mr. he-of-no-shoes Jackson. Oh, and might as well roll out the red carpet for Mr. Bonds, too.
As the voting criteria currently stand, however, there's no doubt that a fair, holistic assessment of my dad's playing years would reveal that he is exactly the type of player we should want to represent the game of baseball for future generations. As the criteria suggest, HoF membership is not the equivalent of a career-long MVP award; rather, it's an honor bestowed upon players for the legacies they left behind. In my dad's case, that's a dang near unimpeachable legacy indeed.
P.S. And if it's numbers you want, take a look at this chart (attached) compiled by a friend of mine, Jonathan Clark. [From Buster: The chart is too wide to replicate here; it compares Murphy's numbers to a number of current Hall of Famers.]
Looking at just one element -- his ability to generate runs -- this is pretty impressive. Each of the measures presented are aimed at comparing my dad on his run production ability to more recent HOF outfielders. Pretty interesting stuff, if you ask me! A few things stand out: (1) only Willie Stargell and Reggie Jackson were more likely to hit a home run than my dad, (2) my dad was about as good (or better) than each of these guys in terms of run production (i.e., scoring runs or RBIs), and (3) In terms of awards and/or leaderboards (see the black ink measure) my dad was better than many of these guys. See the notes below the table for some information on averages for these stats during the ['80s] (1980-1989). A quick look at the average likelihood of a home run or the probability of run production tells you just how good my dad was. He was more than twice as likely as the average MLB player to produce a run or to hit a homerun.
• As part of the three- or four-team talks, the Diamondbacks have been working to get James Shields so they could swap one of their other young pitchers in the deal. There has been some frustration with the Mariners in those blockbuster talks this week, with Seattle viewed as the speed bump in the process.
The Diamondbacks signed Brandon McCarthy, whose market value was set when Joe Blanton got his two-year, $15 million deal.
Some rival executives believe Arizona's transaction could be relatively simple, and a good deal for the team: They trade Justin Upton to Texas in a three- or four-team deal, and get Asdrubal Cabrera in return. "That's a fair swap," said one executive.
This is what Arizona's lineup could look like with Cabrera:
LF Adam Eaton L
2B Aaron Hill R
SS Cabrera S
C Miguel Montero L
1B Paul Goldschmidt R
RF Jason Kubel L
3B Eric Chavez/John McDonald/Willie Bloomquist L/R
CF Gerardo Parra L
• The Dodgers are reportedly making noises about getting out of the Zack Greinke negotiations because they're not gaining traction and the perception is Texas is leading. If true, that's kind of a silly bluff: If Greinke called them this morning to make a deal, does anyone think the Dodgers would say "No, sorry, we've moved on"? The Dodgers appear to be in the same position the Rangers and Yankees were in with Cliff Lee two winters ago, when all they could do is sit and wait through the silence -- until the Phillies signed Lee.
The Rangers have time to make their decisions, writes Gil LeBreton. They are all-in on Greinke, writes Evan Grant.
The Dodgers will look to the rest of the market if Greinke goes to the Rangers.
• If the Yankees ever reversed course and got into the Josh Hamilton talks, it would mean that what they've done in the past month makes no sense. They have said they don't have a lot of money, as they aim to get under the $189 million threshold in 2014, and have been standing down the past couple of weeks. And to suddenly jump in on the most expensive position player -- someone of great talent but also extraordinary risk -- would mean a complete reversal, and maybe even some midstream panic. My guess is they will stay the course and not take a serious run at Hamilton.
Among all of the signings executed across the baseball landscape this offseason, the Yankees have some of the more efficient deals -- one-year obligations with Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, in a winter in which lesser players are getting more money.
If the Yankees ever do decide to jump in on Hamilton, then Greinke is the bottleneck, writes Joel Sherman.
• Kevin Youkilis' decision is, at heart, a choice between playing for Cleveland and Terry Francona for something in the range of two years and $18 million total (or maybe a little more), or playing in a more competitive situation with the Yankees for one year at $12 million. He is said to be really torn by his choices.
• Right now, Michael Bourn and Rafael Soriano are on the island of misfit toys in this market -- both out of sorts with the seeming opportunities and the prices being paid out for what they do well. If Hamilton lands with the Mariners, it's not clear where Bourn would get his money, especially in the aftermath of Philadelphia's trade for Ben Revere. And there are no teams clamoring for a closer for the kind of money Soriano turned down from the Yankees last month in rejecting their $13.3 million qualifying offer.
Here's one possible situation that could develop for Bourn: The White Sox are talking about trading a couple of their younger outfielders.
The White Sox lineup could look something like this with Bourn (again, this is total speculation):
3B Jeff Keppinger
DH Adam Dunn
1B Paul Konerko
RF Alex Rios
SS Alexei Ramirez
C Tyler Flowers
2B Gordon Beckham
• It's not clear what situation Nick Swisher will want, but it does appear as if Cleveland could be in the best position to sign him if he takes the largest offer, whether it be something in the four-year, $50 million range or the five-year, $60 million range. There just aren't a lot of possible landing places for him at this point. Swisher should age well as a player because of his ability to take a walk.
• There was a strong consensus among teams that pitcher Josh Fields was the best player available in the Rule 5 draft and that Houston picked the right guy. The Astros held steady during the winter meetings, writes Brian Smith.
• Other teams were really surprised the Red Sox left Fields unprotected from the Rule 5 draft -- especially while keeping Scott Atchison on their roster initially.
Boston took a lot of hits in the Rule 5 draft, which can be viewed through two distinct prisms: 1. It has a lot of farm-system depth. 2. Rival evaluators assessed their players differently than the Red Sox did.
• The Mets think the most likely trade suitors for R.A. Dickey are Toronto, Kansas City and Texas. But in light of the prices paid out lately, his contract ask must seem more reasonable.
• Detroit has quietly been targeting relievers capable of closing in its trade talks. The best relievers on the market appear to be the Pirates' Joel Hanrahan and the Indians' Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano.
As Tony Paul writes, the Tigers could wait until spring training to make another move.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Trades aside, the Twins' offseason work is far from done.
By the way: I wrote the other day about the importance of identifying a direction and committing to it. The Twins are absolutely doing this: Terry Ryan has focused wholly on rebuilding the organization's pitching. Ryan would be the first to tell you there is much more work to be done, but he has taken the first strides by trading for younger arms -- and not by overpaying for C-minus veteran free agents. The Twins might not seriously contend again until 2014, or 2015, but they are at least committed to a direction, an incredibly important first step.
2. The Royals are working with a tighter budget than what has been known. Which might be another reason Dickey could be attractive for them, given his $5 million salary for next season. The Royals' talks for Shields are on hold, writes Bob Dutton.
3. Randy Choate is attracted to the Cardinals' commitment.
4. The Reds finished their deal with Ryan Ludwick. Within the same John Fay article, Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty says the price tag for Bourn would really have to fall before the Reds would get involved. The Reds are already paying Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce well -- so it'd be tough for them to give Bourn $15 million annually.
5. Also from John's article:
Drew Stubbs knows that many of his batting statistics have dropped steadily over the past three years, so the Cincinnati center fielder is making adjustments.
Stubbs is experimenting with a shorter stride. He said he has been working with Reds minor league hitting coordinator Ronnie Ortegon at his offseason home in Texas, where Ortegon also lives.
"They talked a lot in the postseason about Austin Jackson of the Tigers, going from more of a leg kick to a toe tap," Stubbs said Friday. "We've been tinkering with that a little bit. Obviously the longer your foot's in the air, the more room for error you have."
Stubbs hit .267 as a rookie for the Reds in 2009. His batting average has dropped annually from .255 to .243 to .213.
Stubbs has heard about the Reds possibly seeking other options.
"I try not to read anything into it," Stubbs said. "If I play like I'm capable of playing, everything will take care of itself."
6. The newest Cub says he wanted to be a Cub all along.
7. The Brewers signed a pitcher.
8. Dan Haren passed his physical. Incredibly, he will make more money than he would have if the Angels had simply picked up his $15 million option. Haren got a $3.5 million buyout from the Angels, plus the $13 million in his one-year deal with the Nationals.
9. J.P. Howell says he's interested in the Nationals. Hey, why not? They're capable of winning the World Series.
10. The Phillies are looking for pitching, writes Bob Brookover. Within the same piece, there is word that the Phillies are waiting on Michael Young to make his decision. I agree with what he writes in this piece: Cody Ross is, on paper, the best free-agent fit for the Phillies.
11. Aaron Hicks is going to get a shot in center field with the Twins, writes Ben Goessling.
12. The back of the bullpen is a concern for the Pirates, as they wait on Jason Grilli's decision.
13. Scott Boras said the Pirates were never close to signing Mark Appel. The Pirates, by the way, were very comfortable with their decision to draft Appel, figuring that, at that spot, he would be a really good value in a very weak draft if he ever changed his mind and decided to sign -- and if not, they would get an extra pick in next year's draft.
14. The Yankees signed Brett Gardner.
15. Andruw Jones is reportedly set to sign with a team in Japan.
16. The Red Sox are moving in the right direction, writes Dan Shaughnessy.
It'll definitely be a different type of team next season, and they have a lot of energy guys who have shown they are capable of excellence. It's also possible that every player they have signed this winter -- David Ortiz, David Ross, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino -- is on the downslope of his career.
17. Johnny Damon wanted to come back in September.
18. The Rays are keeping their trade options close to the vest.
19. The Braves left the winter meetings without a left fielder.
20. If the Rangers trade Michael Young, they'll be losing a key guy, says David Murphy.
21. Arizona has a lot of stuff marinating, says Kevin Towers.
22. The Rockies need to be proactive, writes Troy Renck.
23. Hamilton hasn't signed with the Mariners yet, writes Geoff Baker.
24. There is still room for Brian Wilson to return to the Giants, writes Bruce Jenkins. I don't know whether that's a good idea. Wilson is a star and a popular personality, and presumably he wants to close again. If Bruce Bochy prefers to go with the guy who threw the last pitch of the 2012 World Series, Sergio Romo, the Giants could have their version of a quarterback controversy.
25. The Angels look OK, but their fans might be expecting more, writes Bill Shaikin. Pennants aren't won in December, writes Jeff Miller.
26. The Padres' optimism has taken a hit, writes Bill Center.
27. The Blue Jays are in the mix for Jason Grilli.
• Joey Votto is going all Rocky IV, he says.
• Pedro Martinez says he was clean in his career. Andre Dawson says that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens don't belong in the Hall of Fame.
• Vanderbilt won in overtime.
And today will be better than yesterday.