Cooperstown gains two, Murphy still waiting
The Hall of Fame welcomed two new members on Monday as Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice
were voted in by the Baseball Writers of America. Both players
inclusion in Cooperstown may help shine a new light on the superstars
of the 1980s, including Atlanta Braves legend and all around good guy, Dale Murphy.
No decade has suffered more confusion as to how the merits of its most
dominant players will ever earn them induction in the National Baseball
Hall of Fame, but there was no question about Henderson’s Hall of Fame
credentials. Henderson was named on 511 of the 539 votes cast, or 94.8
percent of the vote. His 1,406 career stolen bases is a record that
will likely never be approached, let alone broken.
Henderson was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s, one of baseball’s
most overlooked and under appreciated decades. His mantle was that of
the greatest lead-off hitter in baseball history, but when the topic
turns to great sluggers of the ’80s, Murphy is a name that usually
surfaces early and sticks around late in the conversation.
A quick look at Murphy’s numbers might make it easy to dismiss him in
the light of a first ballot shoo in such as Henderson. Coming up as a
catcher and moving to first base before eventually landing in the
outfield, Murphy solidified his game there and became a true
shining stars in the sport, both on and off the field.
Murphy captured back-to-back National League MVP awards in 1982 and
1983, joining the 30-30 club in the second of those campaigns. He lead
the league in homers in both ’84 and ’85 and cobbled together a
consecutive games streak of 740 all the while.
His work at the plate was matched by his excellent play in center field, where he
captured five Gold Glove Awards. Throw in seven All-Star appearances,
including being the leading vote-getter in 1985, and four Silver
Slugger Awards and you start get an accurate representation of how good
Murphy was in his prime.
Detracting from Murphy’s Hall of Fame case is his precipitous decline
that began in 1988 and saw his career end due to chronic knee problems
after truncated 1992 and 1993 seasons. His career batting average of
just .265 would not be the lowest in the Hall, but is usually the first
place detractors start when building the case against his enshrinement.
The 1,748 times Murphy struck out ranked him seventh at the time of his
retirement and provides the second blow of a one two punch that is
likely enough to give any voter pause. Though he was unable to reach
400 homers, standing at 398, Murphy can likely thank the work stoppage
of 1981 for that shortcoming.
Noted sluggers of the ’80s, guys like Murphy, Rice, Andre Dawson and Dave Parker, who did not also reach the 3,000 hit plateau have found it harder to meet the admissions standards of the voters. Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield are two prime examples of sluggers who reached 3,000 hits to solidify their candidacy.
While some voters will take the performance of these players and place
it in the context of the era in which each man played, others have
likely had their power number standards forever altered by the
performance enhancing drug scandals of the past decade.
Rice caused voters to languish over the slugging achievements of his
first 12 seasons, ultimately giving him 412 votes for 76.4 percent on
his 15th and final time on the writers’ ballot. Players must be named
on 75 percent of the vote to gain entry. A .298 career hitter with 382
homers and 1,451 RBI over parts of 17-seasons with the Boston Red Sox,
Rice put up more than half a dozen MVP-caliber years and captured the
award in 1978.
The onslaught of 400, 500 and even 600 home run club members with
questions surrounding their accomplishments only serves to diminish the
power numbers attained by players like Rice, Murphy, Dawson and Parker
in the minds of many of the writers charged with the task of selecting
baseball’s best for enshrinement.
Much of the debate around these borderline Hall of Fame candidates is
that when placed against his peers, there is generally always one
player from their generation that sets the bar. You could make a case
that Mike Schmidt and his 548 home runs was the primordial power hitter of Murphy’s era.
Voter standards for comparison are made both statistically and by the
position, but no two writers utilize an identical standard. That leaves
a player’s accomplishments up for interpretation. This could be based on his era, the
teams he played for, and his mastery of the game against both his
opponents and statistical peers.
Putting aside his amazing consecutive game streak for a moment, Cal Ripken‘s
numbers make him one of the greatest slugging shortstops of all-time. However, those same numbers would not land Ripken a spot near the top of the best slugging
outfielders or first basemen in the game’s history. That does little to
change the fact that Ripken’s numbers, at any position, would still be
There is no set formula of achievements and milestones that creates a
Hall of Famer. Mythical statistics, such as 3,000 hits and 500 home
runs, remain the most readily identifiable resume points to identify a
player who has the numbers that define greatness. The latter of those
may change in the face of this past decade’s PED scandals. Just wait
until Rafael Palmiero is on the ballot.
With Murphy, Dawson and Parker joining the likes of Tim Raines, Don Mattingly, Alan Trammell
and others, it may be still another decade more before the Hall voters
en masse are truly able to appreciate some of the greatest position
players of 1980s. In the end, the Veterans Committee may be the ones
who hear the cries of baseball’s often overlooked stars of yesteryear.
Till next time,