Murphy fondly remembers time with Phillies

Murphy fondly remembers time with Phillies

It was a glorious July weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y. Dale Murphy spent part of each day sitting behind a table, chatting with baseball fans, signing autographs. Across Main Street and to his left loomed the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

He's 59 years old now and this is what he does: Makes appearances, give speeches, tells baseball stories to appreciative audiences, many in the Atlanta area where he is still a face-of-the-franchise icon and remembered fondly for his well-deserved reputation as one of the nicest human beings ever to wear a big league uniform. He spends a couple weeks in Spring Training with the Braves each year as a special guest instructor.

Playing for Atlanta in 1982 and '83, Murphy was voted the National League's Most Valuable Player Award winner. He hit 398 career home runs -- a lot for that era -- including his last one as a member of the Phillies in 1992.

His connection to the Phillies is looser. He was acquired along with pitchers Tommy Greene and Jeff Parrett on Aug. 3, 1990. The Phillies gave up Jim Vatcher and Victor Rosario. In his two-plus seasons in Philadelphia, Murphy batted .249 with 27 homers and 116 RBIs in 228 games. In his final season, dogged by knee problems and a staph infection, he played in only 18 games. Murphy remembers his time in red pinstripes fondly, though.

"I had great memories from the organization and the players. I had a tremendous experience," he said. "The frustrating part for me was my health, and my contribution was disappointing to me. But I felt like part of the family from the first day I got there. When I see [former first baseman John Kruk], he says, 'Get down here to Fantasy Camp.' I get invited to Alumni Weekend there. It's coincided with the Braves' [alumni celebration] for a few years now. But they've invited me. I get the alumni newsletter. I love reading that."

Kruk, in fact, supplies him with material when he gives a speech.

"I quote him a lot. I tell the story about somebody asking him what he thought of the team since I got there. And he said, 'Now we're 24 morons and one Mormon.' He kept me laughing," Murphy said, still chuckling at the memory.

Murphy lives in Alpine, Utah, about a half-hour from Salt Lake City. As of mid-September, he and his wife, Nancy, had six grandchildren, with three more on the way. He plays some golf, but his real passion is mountain biking.

"They've got some really good trails out here. It keeps me in shape," he said.

One of the reasons he hasn't played more golf lately, though, is because he's facing shoulder surgery following a mountain bike spill.

"The doctor said, 'Hey, you're almost 60 years old. Don't go out to get your exercise thinking you're 20,'" Murphy recalled with a laugh.

The Phillies released Murphy days before the start of the 1993 season, and he immediately signed with the expansion Rockies. The hope was that, if nothing else, he would hit at least two more home runs to give him 400 for his career. It didn't happen, and two months into the season, he retired.

"They played in Mile High Stadium. It was before Coors Field, obviously. It was about 280 [feet] to left, and I couldn't hit a home run out of there in two months. And I figured, 'If I can't hit a home run out of here, in Denver, at 280, it's time to retire,'" he said. "You know, baseball is a game of round numbers looking a lot better. But I wasn't 100 percent. I was OK. Maybe I had a chance of DHing somewhere. …. I think about that, but I just knew it wasn't going to happen. I'd have to chase that, and I think I was ready to get home."

There have been 27 hitters in baseball history who have won multiple MVPs. Twenty are in the Hall of Fame. Three aren't eligible for the ballot yet. Of the remaining four, Barry Bonds and Juan Gonzalez have probably been kept out because of suspicions about performance-enhancing substances.

That leaves Murphy and Roger Maris as the outliers. And as Murphy sat there in July -- almost literally in the shadows of the Hall of Fame -- it was impossible not to wonder what he thought when he looked in that direction. His eligibility expired in 2013. And while he could still be considered by the Veterans Committee, the reality is that that's an uncertain path, even for a player who made seven All-Star teams and won five straight Gold Gloves.

"I've had some very supportive people. And I really appreciate it. You go back through the history of my career. If you had told me that when I was in A-ball, that it was a possibility that people would support me for that-- I switched positions [after being drafted as a catcher]. My path to the Major Leagues was a little crooked. So just to look back. I was on the ballot for 15 years, which was a great honor," he said graciously.

"I know a lot of [voters] like to see production throughout a career. I was banged up at the end of my career. My last couple years in Atlanta, some of my production was down. So I understand that. I had opportunities to put together some better numbers."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.