Is Dale Murphy a HOF'er?

December 14, 2009
Let’s run Dale Murphy through Bill’s famous “Ken Keltner List.” Fifteen questions:
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
Absolutely: Murphy won back-to-back MVP awards in 1982 and 1983, which probably gets you into the discussion. He was a Gold Gove centerfielder who hit 36 homeruns and walked 90 times a season year-in and year-out. He even stole a few bases.
Let’s take 1982-1985: where does Murphy rank among the best players of that era?
Stat (1982-1985)
Games Played
Home Runs
Batting Average
On-Base Percentage
Slugging Percentage
Adjusted OPS (OPS+)
Runs Created
I don’t think Murphy was ever actually the best player in baseball: objectively he wasn’t quite as good as Schmidt or Brett or Eddie Murray. But he was certainly part of the conversation, at least for a half-decade.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
He was, obviously. Just off the top of your head, who else would you even consider for that title? Bob Horner? Jeff Burroughs? Glenn Hubbard? About the only real contender was Phil Niekro, who had a terrific 1982 season but was gone by 1984.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Yes, he was. For at least two years Murphy was the best centerfielder in baseball. The best center fielders in baseball 1980-1986, according to OPS+:
Cesar Cedeno
Andre Dawson
Fred Lynn
Dale Murphy
Dale Murphy
Rickey Henderson
Kirby Puckett
Murphy also ranks as the best NL centerfielder in both 1982 and 1985, though he is passed by Lynn and Henderson in the AL.
Was he the best outfielder? Again, he probably was. From 1982-1985 he led all major league outfielders in Runs Created, while playing 160 games each season and winning four Gold Gloves.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Murphy was invovled in two pennant races during his career. In 1982, the Braves won the NL West title, finishing a game ahead of the Dodgers. They were promptly swept by the Cardinals in the ALCS. A year later, in 1983, the Braves finished three games behind the Dodgers.
Aside from those two years, Murphy played on a string of loser teams. He was a full-time player during the fourteen seasons between 1987 and 1991, and only three of his teams posted records over .500. By contrast, nine of the fourteen teams finished either 5th or 6th in a six-team divisions.
Certainly, Murphy was an impact player on the two pennant races he was involved in: he won MVP awards both seasons. But it also bears mentioning that whenever Murphy left a team, their fortunes tended to improved. He left the last-place Braves in 1990: in 1991 the Braves won the NL pennant. He left a lousy Phillies team after 1992: in 1993 the Phillies won the NL pennant.
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Murphy did not age well: by the time he was t thirty-two he was just an average outfielder. This is a little surprising as Murphy was a clean-living ballplayer who eschewed drugs. His last regular season came when he was just thirty-five years old.
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
No, he’s not. He is not a better player than Ron Santo or Tim Raines, to name just two.
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
No, not most. His ten more comparable players are Joe Carter, Andruw Jones, Duke Snider, Don Baylor, Ron Santo, Gil Hodges, Ruben Sierra, Jack Clark, Ellis Burks, and Jim Edmonds. Only one of those players is in the Hall of Fame.
8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
There are sixty outfielders in the baseball Hall of Fame. If he were elected, Murphy’s 398 homeruns would rank him 16th, between Al Kaline and Jim Rice. His 1266 RBI would rank him 28th, between Enos Slaughter and Zack Wheat. His batting average of .265 would be the second-lowest batting average of any Hall-of-Fame outfielder, ahead of only Reggie Jackson.
He totaled 1308 Runs Created, which would rank 38th among HOF outfielders, between Earl Averill and Kiki Cuyler. He has an OPS+ of 121, which ties him with Heinie Manush for 48th among the outfielders.
Aside from homeruns, his career totals are on the low end of the Hall of Fame’s standards.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Like Jim Rice, Dale Murphy’s career numbers were dramatically inflated by his home park in Atlanta. He had a .281/..368/.499 slash line at home, but just a .250/.324/.440 line on the road.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
Considered as a centerfielder, it’s either Murphy or Jimmy Wynn. That said, Murphy is certainly not the best outfielder not yet in the Hall-of-Fame. That honor would go to Raines in left field, and perhaps Dave Parker or Dwight Evans in right. 
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Murphy has five MVP-caliber seasons, 1982-1985 and 1987. That’s a good number: there were five years when any conversation about the best player in the league had to have Murphy in it. He won two MVP awards, and finished 9th, 7th, 11th, 12th, and 21st in other years.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?
He played in seven All-Star games, and had six or seven All-Star caliber seasons, depending on how you judge his 1986 performance. I would estimate that about half the players in history who play in seven All-Star games go on to the Hall of Fame. (Does anyone know where I could find a sortable list of all-star appearances?)  
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
Sure. In his best seasons, Murphy was very good: an excellent offensive player with good defense at an important position. The 1982 Braves won the NL West with Murphy, Bob Horner, Chris Chambliss, Phil Niekro, and a whole lot of nobodies. It was a weak division, but it wasn’t Murphy’s fault that the Braves didn’t have a whole lot of talent. 
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
He probably taught managers that it isn’t wise to try and make an athletic outfielder into a catcher. The Braves tried to move Murphy, who was an excellent defensive player at the middle of the defensive spectrum, to the far left of the spectrum. It didn’t pan out and mangers don’t do that anymore.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Certainly. Murphy was well-known as one of the cleanest-living players of his era, and one of the most generous.
*          *          *
Thanks to Bill for providing the framework for this discussion. To summarize:
The Case for Dale Murphy: During his peak years between 1982-1987, Murphy played like a Hall-of-Famer. In those years he was one of the game’s ten best hitters, a great defensive player at a demanding defensive position. He compiled some impressive career numbers, including 398 home runs and an adjusted OPS of 121. He won two MVP awards, five Golden Gloves, and four Silver Slugger awards. He was famous: he was popular among fans and routinely thought of as one of the best players in the game. He remains the one of the best players at his position not in the Hall of Fame. He was clean player during a period when baseball had a drug problem. He gave generously to worthy causes.
The Case Against Dale Murphy: He played in a baseball stadium that jacked up his hitting stats. His career got started late (thanks to the brilliant decision to play him at catcher). His career ended very early. He played fourteen full seasons in the major leagues, and was only a great player in half those seasons. His career totals aren’t particularly impressive: his batting average is low considering the park advantage, and his on-base percentage isn’t impressive, either. His teams never won diddly or squat.
My Two Cents: Here’s a challenge for you: first, generate a list of ten randomly selected Hall of Famers. Here’s one: the #50-59 Hall-of-Fame players ranked by times caught stealing.
Rogers Horsnby, Harry Heilmann, Joe Gordon, Carlton Fisk, Phil Rizzuto, Heinie Manush, Earl Averill, Ernie Banks, and Duke Snider.
How many of them would have been considered as one of the five best players in baseball for a stretch of five years? Hornsby, certainly. Banks and Snider and Harry Heilmann. Earl Averill, if we stretch it. Half of ‘em.
Another ten: Larry Doby, George Kell, Wade Boggs, Rick Ferrell, Jim Rice, Tony Perez, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Sam Crawford, and Bill Dickey.
Only three could have considered the best player in baseball for a stretch of time: Boggs, Musial, and Robinson. Jim Rice, if you’re from Boston.
Bill’s first question reads as follows: “Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?”
That’s a tough standard: most Hall-of-Fame players don’t meet that standard, not for more than a year or two. Dale Murphy did: for five years he was one of the very best players in baseball. For me, that’s enough to get a vote.
(Dave Fleming is a writer soon-leaving Iowa City. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions on where to find good Red Sox bars in Chicago, both here and at

COMMENTS (25 Comments, most recent shown first)

Before reading this article, I saw Murphy as a borderline HOFer, certainly a better candidate than Dawson, because of the two MVPs to Dawson's one. Also, Murphy ran well early in his career. Having seen Murphy's road stats, I have to say that he is not a hall-of-famer. His career was short, as noted above, and his numbers on the road aren't even all-star worthy, let alone hall of fame.
1:54 PM Apr 1st
I wonder sometimes if it's actually better for the memory of a bordeline case to NOT get in. Once a guy gets his plaque, he is hung on the wall and forgotton. The Hall debates that run on every year, they talk about guys like Santo, Murphy, Allen, etc. and we all learn more about them. When a guy gets in, like Joe Gordon last year or Enos Slaughter in 1985 (I think), they drop out of the arguments.

And out of our memories, for the most part.
1:13 AM Dec 19th
I'm on the fence. I can certainly see why he was a lot of people's favorite player.

Also, with the best defensive measurements we had at the time he was playing (range factor, gold gloves) he was considered a top defensive CF. With what we know now (defensive win shares, trust good scouts, contribution to team defense) it appears his D was over-rated.

I think Dawson was clearly the better overall CF in his prime considering D, base running and park effects, and tons of people bag on Dawson's HOF case.
1:01 PM Dec 17th
I have a quick and cheap method of determining "career value". I take each player's wins above replacement per season, square each individual value, and sum them all.

Comparing Murphy to Andre Dawson (who I think is an appropriate standard for the in-out line of the Hall), Murphy comes out as roughly 85-90% as qualified a candidate. I think that's about right; Murphy has all of Dawson's peak value, but none of his hang-on value.

I can't endorse him.
6:03 PM Dec 16th
Using Bill's 15 Questions, as presented by you, I offer these comments. I've classfied them as subjective (S), objective (O), Both (B), or in some cases something else. But I was surprised to find so lttle documentation on a sabermetric site.

1. S The 2 MVP's are not convincing as evidence as they are so subject to bias and prjudice. For a HOF "yes", I'd require more.

2. Obvious

3. O, if OPS+ is the only criterion. However, RC and GP are prsuasive. Gold Gloves is weak, like MVP, but considerably less relevant.

4. O '82 postseason: 273/273/273/.545. Objectively unimpressive, so where is the impact? Don't have 1983 postseason.

5. O but in decline by definition

6. S

7. O but not a dependable barometer.

8. O

9. O

10-12. B As presented, 10 , 11, and 12 are subjective as they reach conclusions based upon unreliable information. However, they are quantifiable if studied.

13. S, or not always. On decent teams , as an addition Murphy would surely be a difference-maker. On poor teams, he would not.

14. O

15. Irrelevant. It would be folly to begin invoking that standard with Murphy (although he would qualify). If the standard were to be applied retroactively, many plaques would disappear.

Your 2 cents: Your last psragraph begs for the following adjustment to the HOF standard: Expunge the "good behavior and "most comparable players" clauses. An entrant who matches the least of the most just lowers the standard as a whole by adding bottom weight, and inviting more.

If I had a vote, it would be No.

4:00 PM Dec 16th
Murphy's short late career prompted me to wonder if perhaps Mormon players are more likely to walk away early to spend more time with their families. But checking the most obvious source, Brigham Young graduates on, the three best players were Jack Morris, Wally Joiner and Rick Acquilera, who all went through a journeyman phase from 35 to 38/39, so not really a pattern.
10:47 AM Dec 16th
Dave, love your stuff, keep it coming. My feeling is that Dale Murphy belongs in the Hall of Very Good -- I think his stats were heavily inflated by the Launching Pad, and he had a relatively short career for an all-time great. He certainly had an excellent peak, and I agree with you that those five years or so are his best argument. To me he's kind of like Don Mattingly; not so much in the type of player he was, but rather in that he reached a great peak for several years, was an MVP, but dropped off rather quickly. Maybe I'm being harsh, but I think Murphy (and Mattingly too) are just short of HoF status.
10:05 PM Dec 15th
Great article. I find it ironic that most baseball players are done by the age of 32, but a huge part of a marginal HOFers candidacy is 'how well did he play after 32'. Those who play well enough to keep a job get those gaudy counting numbers, those who don't are done at the age of 35. Murphy is the latter, there are probably many players who would lose a comparison to Murph before that number, but just aged better and had a bunch of average seasons that got them in
9:30 PM Dec 15th
Hah! Thanks, Evan, for the kind words, and the quip about Tenace. I doubt very much that Murphy could survive a detailed comparison to Furry.
4:12 PM Dec 15th

Forgot to mention it, but this article and the BJOL ballot article were both outstanding. Things like this are why I subscribe to the site.

3:06 PM Dec 15th
OK, the suspense was killing me, so I chose a few neutral statistics and compared Tenace to Murphy:

Games: Murphy 2180, Tenace 1555. So far, so good.

OPS+: Murphy 121, Tenace 136. That's to be expected, as Tenace beat Rice in this category (as well as most of the guys on the BBWAA ballot).

OBP: Murphy .346, Tenace .388. Hmm. Didn't expect that one. That guy sure did walk a lot...

Home Runs in Road Games: Murphy 181, Tenace 107. Whew! I was starting to think that Murphy was going to lose every category. Just to make sure, let's try

Home Runs Per At Bat in Road Games: Murphy 4.48%, Tenace 4.66% OK, so there really is a big park effect at work here...

The answer to question number 16 on the test, "How does he compare with Gene Tenace?" is "about as well as Jim Rice did."
2:37 PM Dec 15th
In honor of your outstanding work on Jim Rice's candidacy last year, I will add a 16th question to the list:

How does he compare to Gene Tenace?
2:16 PM Dec 15th
His cf defense might close the gap between him and Rice... but then you have to ask again whether Rice belongs on that nice list of HOF outfielders from ventboys.
I figured the Atlanta park index for home runs in the 80's. One could simply divide all home hr by road hr, in which case you get an index of 129. Or use the splits at and figure hr/(ab+sf-k) to get homers per batted ball. Doing that, you get an index of 126, which I think is more accurate. Murphy's career split was 20% more homers at home than road (217 to 181). So, in a neutral park he was a 361-home run guy. His home/road ops split was .867/.764.
In his best years- 1980, 1982-1987, the park's hr index was a bit higher, 129.

Rice had a 208/174 home/road home run split and a .920/.789 ops split. And I have him as 222-126 (.638) in win-loss shares on offense. That's better than Murphy's 206-135 (.604). Like Murphy, Rice hit 20% more hr at home. But his rate of home runs per batted ball was not as good as Murphy's.

Bill gave Murphy a 47-63 defensive win-loss share record, partly due to his catching stint. My guess is Murphy almost makes up on defense the gap between himself and Rice on offense. They're pretty close, but I still feel most if not all the guys I mentioned are better candidates than either Rice or Murphy.

A surprise was how extreme the home run index for Atlanta was in the early 80's:
1980: 148
1981: 181
1982: 196
(using hr/batted ball ratios to compare.)
Then it drops off the table, with indexes of 108, 110, 117, 132, 112, 117, and 89(!) the rest of the decade. Anyone know if they changed dimensions in '83 or did something to cause this extreme difference?
1:35 PM Dec 15th
Much as I'd like to, I can't see Murphy as a HOF player. He did not age well, he was average or below offensively in roughly half of his seasons, and he got a huge offensive boost from his home park.
1:01 PM Dec 15th
One issue is the 'center fielder' thing: Murphy did play most of his games in center...should he get bonus points for that? Murphy (or Cruz) is probably the best CF'er not in the Hall. Does he close the gap(s) when defense is considered?
12:47 PM Dec 15th
Oh, and Rice too. Rice's election looks pretty borderline when you look at the list of his "peers", doesn't it?
11:18 PM Dec 14th
Just for reference, here is a list of the outfielders elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA, in chronological order:

Babe Ruth
Ty Cobb
Tris Speaker
Willie Keeler
Mel Ott
Paul Waner
Harry Heilmann
Al Simmons
Joe Dimaggio
Ted Williams
Joe Medwick
Stan Musial
Roberto Clemente
Mickey Mantle
Ralph Kiner
Willie Mays
Duke Snider
Al Kaline
Frank Robinson
Henry Aaron
Lou Brock
Billy Williams
Willie Stargell
Carl Yastrzemski
Reggie Jackson
Dave Winfield
Kirby Puckett
Tony Gwynn
Jim Rice
Rickey Henderson

30 total players. I think that I put him on my ballot in your voting forum, Dave, but I am dubious about whether he fits in with these guys. Kiner and Medwick were voted in a million years after they were eligible, and they are the only ones other than Puckett that Murphy can stand up against, aren’t they? I suppose Brock and Williams, but the 1960’s skewed their numbers an awful lot.

I’d say wait for the Vets’ committee.

11:17 PM Dec 14th
Ken Singleton is pretty informative comp. (He's also my paradigm for "if you're not better than Ken Singleton, you're not a HOFer.) According to Bill's book, Singleton won 302 WS and Murphy 294. But Singleton made only 5160 batting outs to Murphy's 5849, suggesting Singleton lost about 15-20 fewer games. Singleton's best seasons were 36,33,32,28,28,27; real similar to Murphy's 33,32,32,31,29,28.
8:20 PM Dec 14th
The numbers above represent the general issue well... Murphy had some great seasons, but didn't have enough 'good' seasons to go with his great seasons. I mean, if you take that great stretch of 6 seasons (82-87), what are you left with? Not much. If he had better seasons before/after that stretch, I think he would go in... as it is, I would not vote for Murphy because there just wasn't enough.
7:27 PM Dec 14th
I got my win share-loss share data from Bill's explanation of the formula- I forget now which of his columns has it. In addition to the player stats and runs created formula, it involves putting together team, park and league data for each season. I have a Mac, so I have it on spreadsheets by position. If you're interested in other players from 1956 on I can provide them, but I don't have the technical runs created formulas for before then. As mentioned, my results seem to shortchange players by 3 to 5 win shares total, but I've yet to figure why.
5:21 PM Dec 14th
Correction. Don't believe everything you read.
I should have known something was amiss with the 8-24 record above for Murphy. My bad- a data input error on his ab's for two seasons- 1987 and 1988.
That bad '88 season should be 11-16.
But: I also made a similar error in his best year above (1987), which now should read 19-4 instead of 22-(-4).
These basically cancel each other out; he doesn't have the super-bad year, but he also doesn't have the super-great one either. I have him now at 202-140 for offensive win-loss.
My apologies.
Murphy's average park index in the 80's was 112, which is just a notch below that of Jim Rice over his career (114).
3:26 PM Dec 14th
Wow...that's startling. I didn't know he fared so badly against the likes of Ken Singleton.

Over the six good years, he seems okay: 117-32 for Murphy, compared to 111-16 for Jack Clark, 135-17 for Singleton, 119-16 for Jose Cruz. But the other years, man, Murphy gets blown out of the water.

Just curious: where did you get your Win Share/Loss Share data? Can anyone access it?

Thanks for the you got my thinking all mixed up again, damn it!
3:09 PM Dec 14th
Murphy wouldn't be the worst player in the Hall if he were selected, but there are many players who have similar type stats that aren't in (see Chuck's comments above). One of the things I look at when trying to decide if a player is HOF worthy, a 16th question to the Keltner list if you will, was he a "historic" player? Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean, while having lesser numbers, are each HOFers because they were historically great and/or significant. (Roger Maris, Mark McGwuire and Jim Creighton are players that I think of as "historic" who are not in, but ought to be.) Murphy was not. It's a tough question, similar to number one on the Keltner list, but it is something I look at to help me decided if someone is HOF worthy.
2:56 PM Dec 14th
In terms of batting win-loss shares, Murphy had 6 great to very good seasons. Strike year of '81 is the *.
22 (-4), 22-3, 20-4, 19-6, 17-6, 17-9.
But he also had 6 marginal to bad seasons:
9-8, 8-8*, 11-13, 11-14, 10-15, 8-24.
The remainder are a handful of years where he didn't play much:
1-1, 1-2, 0-3, 0-3.

There are several players, some of them contemporaries, whom I would take if given the choice of having them be my best player:
Ken Singleton:
best years: 26-(-3), 25-(-3), 22-(-1), 23-1, 20-4, 19-5, 17-6, 12-4*, 15-7, 9-4, 13-9, 13-9.
marginal to bad: 13-13, 4-13.
also a 4-4 partial season.

Jack Clark:
best years: 20-(-3), 22-3, 18-1, 18-2, 16-2, 17-5, 14-1, 16-7, 14-7, 13-8, 9-0, 10-7*,
marginal/partial: 6-4, 0-1, 2-3.

Jose Cruz:
best years: 23-1, 23-1, 20-3, 19-6, 18-5, 16-2, 18-7, 15-7, 12-5*, 12-9, 9-3.
marginal-partial: 9-9, 8-8, 4-3, 1-0, 1-3.

Roy White:
best years: 23-2, 22-2, 20-2, 21-4, 20-7, 17-6, 16-5, 9-6.
marginal-bad: 8-6, 2-0, 14-14, 12-12, 4-5, 2-7.

Brett Butler:
best years: 21-3, 21-3, 19-6, 19-7, 16-1, 18-9, 16-9, 16-10, 15-7, 14-7, 15-11.
marginal-bad: 14-13, 12-12, 8-7, 2-9, 3-2*, 2-3.

Bobby Murcer:
best years: 27-(-3), 25-(-4), 19-6, 17-5, 17-8, 16-9, 15-8, 17-10, 12-9.
marginal-partial: 8-5, 12-11, 11-9, 4-1*, 1-1, 0-1, 3-4, 0-3.

Frank Howard:
best years: 26-(-1), 25-0, 23-1, 18-6, 17-4, 16-4, 15-3, 16-5, 15-5.
marginal-bad, patial: 11-9, 8-6, 7-5, 5-5, 8-10, 0-1, 0-1.

What I see so far is that these other players have no more than one bad offensive season, calling years below .500 bad. Murphy had four such years, and a couple of .500 years to boot. If you had the choice of any of the above players to put on your team for their entire careers, how many would you take ahead of Murphy?

Batting win-loss shares:
Singleton: 234-73 (.762)
Clark: 227-69 (.767)
Cruz: 235-99 (.704)
Butler: 231-119 (.651)
Howard: 210-65 (.765)
White: 208-83 (.715)
Murphy: 206-135 (.604). (Bill James' batting win-loss numbers for Murphy. I have him at 201-140, though don't know the reason for the small difference. I'm usually a few win shares shy of Bill's number, so that would just bump up the other players even more.)

The closest contemporary I find to Murphy is Dawson in terms of offensive win-loss pct. .615 for Dawson, .604 for Murphy. But Murphy is well below 300 win shares including defense, and not close to 100 more win shares than loss shares. Murphy was a fine player for six years- a great player for two, maybe three different seasons. But he was also a marginal or subpar performer for six other years, which is something these non-Hall-of-Fame players don't have on their records. If six good to great years are enough for selection, fine; but I think Murphy has to get in line behind a lot of other guys.
2:22 PM Dec 14th
Just a reminder: be sure to cast votes in the comment section of my previous article, "The 2010 BJOL HOF Ballot."
12:50 PM Dec 14th
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