BY DON SCOT
The 52nd annual Reading Hot Stovers baseball banquet, which was conducted on Jan. 17, featured former Detroit Tigers pitcher Jon Warden, Braves and Phillies outfielder Dale Murphy and recently hired Cleveland Indians first base coach and Shillington resident Mike Sarbaugh as guest speakers. The event also honored Berks County high school athletes and teams.
Murphy, who joined the Braves as a catcher before becoming a six-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner as an outfielder, was the main attraction, especially since he had just been denied entrance to baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, for the 15th time.
“To be on the ballot for 15 years, and I’m not complaining, but I’ll be honest and say I thought I’d have more support,” said the only multiple National League MVP winner other than Barry Bonds not to be in the Hall of Fame. “I couldn’t be more thankful that people are having this debate about me and feel it is good for baseball. Here we are in the middle of January and we’re talking baseball.”
Despite being a bit late too meet with the media prior to the start of the banquet, Murphy was more than forthright about his thoughts on how the hall balloting and process works and maybe should be reviewed.
“The voters are unclear about some guys, because of the steroids,” said Murphy, “but I feel bad for the guys who were really close like Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Craig Biggio and Lee Smith. I’d like to see their cases debated without all the extra stuff. The steroid talk really dominated this time. I agree with the Hall of Fame that if you have a pretty direct links to steroids you’re not going to get in. As to my situation, I got a nice little bump and was happy to be on the ballot 15 years because that doesn’t happen too often. Maybe I’ll have a good enough profile for the Veterans Committee.”
Murphy led the NL in home runs in 1984 and 1985 and RBIs in 1982 and 1983, when he was also the league’s MVP. But his last three seasons with Philadelphia and Colorado pulled his power numbers down.
“As far as statistics, if my lifetime batting average had been higher, everything else would’ve been too,” said Murphy with a laugh. “That’s one stat that people have a tough time with. What is called your peak years they like to see stretched out further, but my last few years that included my time in Philly, I didn’t do that well. I was battling a few injuries, but I just wasn’t doing as well and that was frustrating. If you take away my last four years, I actually have a better chance of getting in the hall because it looks better.
“I wasn’t really trying to hang on, and one of the reasons I came to Philly was because I was struggling in Atlanta,” Murphy continued, “and I was healthy and wanted to keep playing. Then the injuries came up, and I missed most of ’92 because of a bad knee. It’s hard for a guy to think ‘if I quit now my career would look better.’”
Recently, one of Murphy’s sons, Chad, wrote a letter of support to the baseball writers mentioning how the character clause and integrity of the game should be considered when voting.
“I think about that, but you have to have the statistics to get in,” said Murphy. “You can’t just say this guy is a good one and let him in. The whole debate comes down to how you feel about that Hall of Fame. If you want it to be a really elite group, that’s fine. But the argument is: ‘Do you want it to be a big or small hall of fame?’ Obviously a big one helps me.
“You can look at legacies, and when guys played, and that’s important too,” Murphy added. “That could override how you compare to guys already in. Going back to Morris, because when he pitched he was a hall-of-famer, the same way I don’t understand why Smith isn’t in. The debate that has won out is to keep it small and exclusive.”
Admitting he is a baseball purist who played in the National League and never had the designated hitter, the slugger felt the game needs to make some changes.
“I don’t like the DH, but the National League is the only league in the world that doesn’t have it,” said Murphy. “Maybe after 40 years it is time to change that. We need to be a little more progressive and get the DH in the National League.
“We need to speed the game up and get away from these four-hour games,” Murphy continued. “The purists say you can’t have a clock and I say we can’t keep these long games and keep kids interested. Games shouldn’t go longer than two-and-a-half hours. I’d like a 10-second clock on the pitcher, and maybe that isn’t the answer, but something needs to be done. But at least, there have to be more strikes called with a larger strike zone.”
Murphy concluded the chat with: “Is the way we’re trying to identify the best players the best way to do it? To me, there are a lot of things that should be looked at. Next year Tom Glavine and Gregg Maddux go on the ballot, and probably make it on the first ballot, and Morris, for his last time, and won’t make it because of who is on the ballot against him. Is that fair? To me it isn’t, because it’s the luck of the draw. Not having anyone going into the Hall of Fame this year I don’t think is great for the game, the kids or marketing.”