I remember clearly there was talk of 1999 being the greatest Induction class since initial Hall of Fame votes back in the late 1930’s: George Brett, Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk and Dale Murphy.
The writers, though, made Fisk wait another year, and passed on Murphy for 15.
Murphy's career did not have the length preferred by the Hall voters. Most inductees solidify their credentials in their late 30's. Murphy offered virtually nothing after his age 31 season. This is not the only way to judge a career, however, and I lean toward the players with a high peak. Murphy had a marvelous run at an exceptionally high level.
From 1980 to 1987, Murphy was a truly great player.
During that eight-year run, he averaged a .374/.517 with 292 total bases a season. In a run-depressed era, he produced an OPS+ of 140 while playing a vital defensive position. OPS+ takes into account the run scoring environment and is useful in comparing eras. 100 is the league average, and that 140 is a quality number. Compare that to other great centerfielders from the 80's to the present. I've put the number of years that puts the player in the best light. It is clearly better to have more years in that column.
Ken Griffey, Jr. - 152 OPS+, 10 years
Jim Edmonds – 141 OPS+, 11 years
Dale Murphy – 140 OPS+, 8 years
Bernie Williams - 140 OPS+, 9 years
Robin Yount (SS/CF) - 135 OPS+, 10 years
Kirby Puckett - 132 OPS+, 10 years
Andre Dawson (CF/RF) - 129 OPS+, 11 years
Carlos Beltran - 126 OPS+, 9 years
First, it points out the dearth of offensive talent in centerfield. We have this image of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays as prototypical centerfield machines, but since the 70's, there have been very few from the position who have had the offensive production to get into the Hall. Murphy's eight year peak - offensively - fits in nicely with the greats of the generation.
Defensively, there is conflicting information.
Murphy won Gold Gloves, at least illuminating his reputation, but defensive metrics say he hovered between slightly above average to below average. Far from a lumbering slugger, the metrics point to an effective base runner. In that same eight year period, Murphy averaged 16 stolen bases a year with an excellent extra bases taken percentage of 53%. Digging deeper, he averaged only 11 grounded into double plays a year, despite being a right hander consistently making hard contact to the left side of the infield. The man could hit and run.
Now the downside.
Murphy had one of the steepest declines I can recall in the pre-PED era. From 1989 to 1993, he plummeted to .307/.396. This began with two full seasons of cratering offense in Atlanta, before his well documented struggles in Philadelphia.
Few players in history can make the claim of being the best player in their league for a several year period. Dale Murphy is one of them. He was top two in OPS four times in five years. Productive and durable, he was top five in total bases a full seven times in an eight-year stretch. That's a great player.
In an era when the so-called "character clause" is used only as a tool of punishment, Murphy provided an opportunity to invoke it in favor of Hall of Fame induction. I'm kind of sad it wasn't.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brian Kenny is an Emmy Award winning MLB Network host. He appears across MLB Network's studio programming, including “Clubhouse Confidential” and “MLB Now”. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrbriankenny.