It was won by, well, nobody. None of the eligible former players were listed on the required 75 percent of ballots by sportswriters.
This year’s vote was bigger news than usual because it was the first year of eligibility for the highest profile athletes from the “steroids era,” home run kings Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and dominant pitcher Roger Clemens.
None of them came anywhere close. Many of the sportswriters’ attitudes could be summed up as “they cheated; we’re not voting for cheaters.”
It didn’t take long for the talking heads to dub that attitude as a “morality clause.” But, just in passing, someone wondered out loud. “You know, if the morality clause can keep someone out of the Hall, whose performance was above the line most people would view as the standard for admission, why doesn’t it work the other way around?”
And to most longtime baseball fans one face, one image, popped into our minds. This was Dale Murphy’s final year of eligibility. Now 56, Murphy had a tremendous 18-year career, mostly with the Atlanta Braves.
He was a two-time MVP, won many awards and was a key player on baseball’s best team of the 1990’s.
But he hurt himself by staying about 3-4 years too long as his stats dipped below “Hall of Fame-acceptable” levels.
Even that action was all tied up with Dale Murphy’s exemplary character.
He stayed simply because he loved it. In fact, he took a pay cut—yes a professional athlete took a pay cut—to play with the Colorado Rockies their first year of existence because the ardent westerner Murphy thought it was so important for that area of the country to get an MLB team.
So, home runs and RBIs aside, what was Dale Murphy like?
• A devout Mormon, he tithed 10 percent of his salary to his church.
• He didn’t use alcohol or tobacco and wouldn’t swear in a sport where clubhouses are usually renovated every few weeks because the language peels the paint off the walls.
• He once virtually silenced a crowd in San Diego. A fan behind the Braves’ dugout had been heckling him the entire game but when the guy broke loose with a string of profanity, Murphy’s head popped out of the dugout. “You can get on me all you want,” Murphy yelled. “But look at all these kids here. You don’t have to use language like that.” The shamed fan shut up, as most in the crowd applauded the “enemy” player.
• He wouldn’t allow himself to be photographed being embraced by any woman except his wife.
• Braves manager Joe Torre fined players who were late. Torre kept finding cash on his desk. It was Murphy, paying late infractions the manager never even knew about. • Murphy picked up the tabs for teammates’ meals, with the exception of any alcoholic beverages they may have consumed.
• Heavily involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, March of Dimes and American Heart Association, he wrote a column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution answering questions from children on their needs and concerns.
• He started the iWon’tCheat Foundation to encourage young athletes to avoid drugs and play ethically. iWon’tCheat patches have been on Little League World Series Uniforms since 2005.
• He refused to do any interviews until he was fully clothed.
• I’ve heard from people with connections with Houston hotels who lodged visiting teams that the Braves were their favorites because of Murphy’s kindness and generosity to fans and the general public.
• But he does have a “police record.” In 1978 he was pulled over for speeding in Provo, Utah. Murphy was late to give a speech to a church youth group.
• Lots of people hated him, of course. A tabloid once sent a reporter to the Braves to dig up dirt on Murphy. Not finding any, the exasperated journalist finally gasped “isn’t there anything wrong with the guy?”
Silence, then catcher Bruce Benedict stammered, “uh, well, his dang feet are too big.”
You know, so far as that morality clause goes, maybe Dale Murphy doesn’t need the Hall of Fame to validate his life the way the cheaters apparently do.