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Baseball great Dale Murphy back in Portland to be with his former teammates and take another bow

The voice sounded a bit winded, and he apologized for his huffing and puffing as we carried out the phone interview.

“Just landed in Portland and I’m taking a walk,” Dale Murphy said Friday. “Gotta lose 10 pounds by (Saturday) night.”

Murphy evidently wants to look fit and trim for his old Watco Electric teammates, who will convene tonight for an informal dinner and then be honored Saturday night at the Multnomah Athletic Club by the Old Timers and Active Baseball Players Association of Portland.

The former two-time National League most valuable player will be the event’s keynote speaker, but he’ll share the stage with 14 of his teammates as they are honored on the 40th anniversary of Watco Electric’s third-place finish in the 1973 American Legion World Series at Lewiston, Idaho.

Actually, the results at Lewiston could have been better. Puerto Rico later had its championship vacated after multiple players were declared too old to participate.

“That still eats at us,” says Jeff Dunn, a member of that Watco team and son of its coach, Jack Dunn.

Murphy, who lives in Alpine, Utah, arrived in Portland Friday following a long flight from Philadelphia after speaking at a banquet in Reading, Pa.

“I don’t do these very often,” says the seven-time All-Star outfielder with the Atlanta Braves, “but you could do them all through January if you wanted.”

Murphy, who turns 57 in March, circles this date on his calendar, though.

The former Wilson High great is proud to be welcomed back to his hometown, where parents Charles and Betty and his only sibling, Sue Morse, still reside. He is even more proud to be invited to speak at the Old Timers banquet, given his history with it.

“I went to those (banquets) every year with the Dunns and my Dad growing up,” Murphy says. “They’d bring in name people to speak and you’d be like, ‘This is a lot of fun.’

“There is a neat bond within the baseball group here in Portland. I remember all those people here who loved the game of baseball. It’s a great memory.”

The bonus this weekend is the reunion with his old high school and Legion teammates.

“People say all the time, ‘Murph, too bad you didn’t make it to the World Series,’ " Murphy says. “I always say, ‘I did make it — in American Legion baseball.’

“The most fun I ever had playing ball was here in Portland with all these guys I get to see this weekend. That’s what I always tell kids — you might go on to play in college or pro ball, but remember the times in high school.

“I was lucky enough to play pro ball, but I was also lucky to play high school ball and have parents and a community that supported it like we did in Portland. Groups like the Old Timers are so important in helping allow our kids to do extracurricular activities, where you learn some lessons of life you can’t teach in the classroom.”

Murphy’s major-league credentials — including 398 home runs in a dead-ball era from 1976-93, five Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards — haven’t been enough to get him into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Despite support from some of his eight children — seven boys, one girl — and a fan petition via Facebook, Murphy received only 18 percent of the vote in balloting of the Baseball Writers Association of America, far short of the 75 percent necessary for induction.

It was the 15th and final time Murphy will be included on the ballot.

“I would love to have had more support,” Murphy says. “I thought I would get more support. If I’d had 60, 65 percent (of the vote), I’d be very frustrated. My high was 24 percent. I was never close.

“But it was a great experience to be on the ballot for 15 years, and I loved the campaign my kids put on for me. It was a great honor, no question about it.”

Murphy’s name now could go to the Veterans Committee for nomination.

“That’s not a done deal, either,” he says. “I’ve had people say I have a profile that could be more favorable (to the Veterans Committee), but however you get in there, it’s not easy.”

Murphy was surprised, and a bit nonplussed, at the recent vote that reaped no new members of the Hall of Fame.

“It’s easy for me to say from the outside looking in, but I don’t know if it’s a good system we have in place,” he says. “Some people think it’s great that standards are high, and they should be tough — I agree. But I don’t know if it’s a great thing for baseball that no living player goes in this year. It’s kind of frustrating.”

The biggest reason, of course, is the exclusion of steroid-era standouts such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. That part of it makes sense to Murphy.

“I agree when the voters say, ‘If you guys get in, it’s going to be a long time,’ " Murphy says. “I don’t think you should be in (the Hall) if you have some connection to (performance-enhancing drugs). It’s not right to have people in there when you have a lot of guys who chose not to use (PEDs).

“They can say they weren’t testing in those years, but they knew it wasn’t in the spirit of the game. (Then-Commissioner) Fay Vincent had written letters to everybody saying steroids and amphetamines weren’t approved. The players knew it wasn’t right, and probably against the law.”

Murphy and his wife of 33 years, Nancy, keep busy with family that now includes four grandchildren, with two on the way. Son Jake, a 6-4, 250-pound sophomore tight end at Utah, caught 33 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns — one against Oregon State — this past season. An older boy, Shawn, played four seasons as an offensive guard in the NFL.

Murphy is helping scout players through Major League Baseball International. He was in Italy last month and is heading to Brazil next week to stage camps and check out prospects. He will serve as first-base coach under Joe Torre with the U.S. team in the World Baseball Classic, with a first-round game at Phoenix in March.

And Murphy, who served as analyst for 30 Braves television and radio broadcasts last season, will be doing it again in 2013.

“I love the game of baseball, so it’s all fun for me,” Murphy says.

Murphy has no political ambitions, despite talk in recent years about a run for governor of the state of Utah.

“I talked to a lot of people about it,” he says with a laugh. “The best way to put it is, cooler heads prevailed.”

Now Murphy is back in his old digs for a festive weekend, enjoying the company of the guys he grew up with.

“It’s the best,” Jeff Dunn says. “We’ve gone fishing in Alaska with him several times, and he brings up stuff we did as kids that the rest of us don’t remember.

"It’s the same old Murph. Just a good guy.”

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