Results tagged ‘ Dale Murphy ’

The End of an Era

Bobby Cox (Downsized).jpg

The back and forth NLDS battle between Atlanta and San Fransisco came to a close on Monday, with the Giants taking a series clinching 3-2 victory.

And with that, a Hall of Fame career came to a close.

Thinking of life after Bobby Cox is something that most Braves fans have spent much of the 2010 season trying to come to terms with. We all knew it was coming, but this changing of the guard compels one to wax poetic.

How do you put a career of that magnitude into perspective?

Break out the book of cliches and turn to the chapter that deals with respecting others and receiving the same in return. Bobby Cox makes each and every one of them ring true. It’s safe to say that no other manager of this generation has garnered a fiercer loyalty from the men who played under him.

Cox has been a constant with the organization for the better part of three decades. It’s hard to imagine there being a time in which the Braves organization won’t have his steady hand heavily involved with shaping the roster, as he did as general manager, or steering the product on the field.

Most organizations will never know what it is like to have that kind of stability. Often second guessed and at times scrutinized, but universally respected for his knowledge of the game and commitment to his players, Cox has cemented his legacy among the greatest managers in the history of the game.

That is no easy feat.

Consider the tenures of most managers in the game today. Save a Tony LaRussa, or a Joe Torre, or a Jim Leyland, most have not served anywhere close to the number of years which Cox has. Even in a long and distinguished career, how many managers are staying with one club for two decades at a time?

None currently.

Beginning in 1978, when he took the helm of an entirely different Braves team, Cox made an immediate impact. Sure, the Braves teams under Cox of the late 70s and early 80s didn’t show immediate results, but his brush strokes were everywhere when the team captured its 1982 West Division crown under Torre.

Take a lanky catcher with throwing problems and turn him into a gold glove center fielder? Cox has done that. Just ask two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy, who has openly stated that the decision to change defensive positions made by Cox was the saving grace of his career.

The legacy of Bobby Cox will rest as much on the loyalty that was built in the clubhouse as it will on the wins that happened on the field. Cox created a winning environment in which every one of the 25 men on his roster knew that Bobby believed in their ability to thrive in pressure situations.

So as this afternoon’s press conference signals the end of one era, a new one will begin. What that will be is anyone’s guess, but Cox will be a tough act to follow.

Cooperstown gains two, Murphy still waiting

Murphy HOF SM.jpg
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
Hall worthy.

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,

G-Mc

 

The need for speed…

Baseball is in a state of transition. There’s no doubt about it. The days when we would watch massive sluggers hitting tape measure blasts… while batting seventh in some cases, no less… will become much more rare. And in that respect, it restores the value of true sluggers. Bulked up baseball and PED (Performance Enhancing Drug) Era is becoming a thing of the past, and more than anything, I hope that means it will be safe to steal bases again.

Take a moment to look through the seasonal stolen base leaders during what may have been the “fastest” decade in the history of the game – the 1980s. Maybe I am partial because that’s the decade I grew up and consequently fell in love with baseball. Either way, there was a more complete brand of baseball that all started with speedy men at the top of the order that not only stole bases in mass quantities, but knew how to run the bases.

When a team is constantly relying on a 3-run homer to get themselves back in the game, with little or no other means of manufacturing runs, then that is a team that will live and die by that sword. I wouldn’t presume to say that is what is working against the Braves (who’ve hit just 118 homers going into Friday), but if there was ever a time to unleash “small ball” on the big stage, that time would be now.

Josh_Anderson.jpgAtlanta brought up speed merchant Josh Anderson late last month after a fantastic season with the Triple-A Richmond club (.314 with 42 steals in 121 games). This is a kid who sets a goal of 50 steals at the beginning of each season. Want to take a guess who the last Brave to steal 50 was? That would be Otis Nixon, setting the franchise record with 72 in 1991. The Braves have had just one player not named Nixon to steal more than 40 bases in the last 17 years. That coming in Rafael Furcal‘s ROY season of 2000.

It didn’t take Anderson long to start climbing the team leader-board in steals. With five already, he trails only Gregor Blanco‘s team-high 11 and Kelly Johnson‘s 10 for third on the team. How about a little more food for thought: The Braves have stolen 46 bases as a team this season… that would be one less than Anderson’s combined total of 47 entering Friday.

While I am not saying that speed will be a cure-all for the offensive struggles and all around ineptitudes that the Braves suffered through all season long. But a fusion of excitement that could get some pitchers distracted, put a few more men in scoring position and add a little bit of pressure to the opposition wouldn’t be a bad thing. And a team doesn’t have to have Ricky Henderson, Lou Brock or Tim Raines to accomplish this. Think how many times that just a run here or there would have made a difference in the one run ballgames.

The model that sticks out in my mind would be the Cardinals of the 80s. It was a team that took speed and the concept of manufacturing runs and turned it into a high art. It seems like everyone but Jack “The Ripper” Clark was capable of stealing 30 bags on that team. It also seemed like the defense of those St. Louis Clubs was second only to their speed in the all around game. I don’t think I am alone in suggesting that a return to this style could help rejuvinate and instantly change the way peoeple look at playing the game.  If just one team proves successful in this venture, you will see no less than half a dozen copy-cat attempts in the 3 years to follow.

Come to think a little more about that decade, and it was full of guys like Brett Butler, Willie McGee, Willie Wilson, Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Dave Collins, Gary Pettis, Juan Samuel and even a young Ryne Sandberg who were stealing 40+ bases. And those are just the guys I am thinking of off the top of my head. Then there was this guy named Vince Coleman  who took stealing to a higher level still.

On the other hand, you had Dale Murphy leading the league with 36 and 37 home runs. These days, the 40 stolen base club is far more exclusive than the 30 home run club. Maybe that will start to turn around. I’d love to see it. How about you?

Till next time,

G-Mc