BASEBALL STATESMAN COMES TO TOWN
Dale Murphy's next visit to his hometown of Portland will mean a chance to kill two birds with one stone.
The Wilson High grad and former major-league great comes to town Nov. 9 to appear as keynote speaker at a benefit for Friends of Baseball.
Murphy, now living in Alpine, Utah, will stay to watch the Portland State-Weber State football game at Providence Park on Nov. 11. The youngest of Murphy's seven sons, McKay, 26, is a 6-4, 295-pound defensive tackle for the Wildcats.
It also will be a chance for the senior Murphy to visit with his parents, Charles and Betty, who live in Hillsboro. And sister Sue Morse, who resides in Tillamook. And perhaps his oldest son, Chad, a professor in the business school at Oregon State.
"It's interesting to have my son connected to Oregon State," Murphy says. "A bunch of my high school buddies and teammates — guys like Steve Rudolph and Bruce Plato — went to school there. So did my sister. We've always leaned in that direction over the Ducks. To have Chad wind up in Corvallis has been fun."
Murphy is the most accomplished player ever to represent Portland in the major leagues. During an 18-year career from 1976-93 — all but the past 3 1/2 seasons with Atlanta — he won back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player awards (1982 and '83), five Gold Glove awards, four Silver Slugger awards, and was named seven times to the All-Star Game. His No. 3 uniform was retired by the Braves in 1994.
Friends of Baseball, a nonprofit established in 2005, is a nonprofit that offers aid and partner resources to youth baseball and softball in the Portland area. Executive Director Nova Newcomer, after watching Murphy speak at a Portland Old-Timers Baseball Banquet a few years ago, was struck by how he enjoyed talking about his time playing baseball as a boy growing up in the city. That's precisely what Friends of Baseball is trying to make sure all kids have access to.
Murphy was pleased to be a part of FOB's "Swing for the Fences" gala event at the Portland Art Museum. It's a benefit for the the organization's "Full Count" program, which provides coaching and equipment for children who otherwise might not have received it. (For information on the event, see friendsofbaseball.org/swingforthefences.html or call 503 389-3753.)
And it's right up Murphy's (hitting) alley.
"They do some great work," he says. "It's a pleasure for me to support them and reinforce the idea of values in our society. No matter where I go, I try to talk about my appreciation for those who are involved in youth sports in any capacity. I am so grateful for the dedication of my coaches growing up — people like Jack Dunn.
"There are invaluable lessons to be learned through youth sports or any activity — debate, drama, band and so on — outside the classroom. To be able to thank and support those efforts in some small way makes me feel good."
Except for two years when his father was transferred to San Francisco — when Dale was in fifth and sixth grade — he spent his entire childhood in Southwest Portland. Murphy played Tualatin Little League at Alpenrose and Babe Ruth at Gabriel Park. He played for Dunn at Wilson High, helping the Trojans win a pair of PIL championships. And he starred on the Dunn-coached Watco Electric team that finished third in the American Legion World Series at Lewiston, Idaho.
"None of us could have asked for a better experience growing up playing baseball in Portland," Murphy says. "With Watco, it was like travel ball before travel ball was even thought of. We had amazing coaches who helped us learn the game. I'll forever be indebted to those people."
Murphy made it to the big leagues with Atlanta at age 20, earned his first All-Star nomination at 24 in 1980 and, by age 30, seemed well on his way to baseball's Hall of Fame. He had his last great season at 31 in 1987, hitting .295 with 44 home runs, 105 RBIs and a .417 on-base percentage.
Then his performances dipped considerably. He played six more seasons, winding up his career with 2 1/2 seasons in Philadelphia and 26 games in Colorado at age 37.
"I got hurt in Philly and was never healthy with the Rockies," Murphy says.
And he fell two home runs short of the 400 mark that might have provided him more cache with Hall of Fame voters, who gave him short shrift. Murphy never received more than 23 percent of the vote, well short of the 75 percent necessary for election. He stands with Roger Maris and Juan Gonzalez as the only Hall-of-Fame-eligible recipients of multiple MVP awards not to gain admittance to Cooperstown.
Murphy's chances for the Hall of Fame now rest with the Veterans Committee, with his "era" coming up for evaluation once every three years.
"My career will be debated, and maybe it will happen one of these years," Murphy says diplomatically. "I'm very lucky to have been on the ballot for 15 years. It's not an easy place to get into.
"There are guys who have a better résumé than me who aren't in — guys like Lee Smith and Alan Trammel and Jack Morris and Ted Simmons. I'd be more frustrated if I'd gotten 65 percent of the vote, and I was never close to that. It's not like I was on the bubble. I get it."
Murphy's heart remains with Atlanta — "I'll always consider myself a Brave," he says — and he operates a restaurant, "Murph's," a 10-minute drive from the Braves' new ballpark, SunTrust.
SunTrust Park, with a capacity of 41,000, "is amazing," Murphy says. "It's a great experience to go there. The old parks were massive. The newer ones like SunTrust are more intimate, beautiful, placed in a mixed-use development where they enhances the area. And SunTrust is a good place to hit — though not as good as Fulton County Stadium."
Murphy is enthused about the potential of a major-league franchise in Portland.
"I'd never heard the commissioner (Rob Manfred) say 'Portland, Oregon' before," he says. "That got everybody's attention. When the commissioner mentions your city, that's exciting.
"A lot of people have done a lot of behind-the-scenes work, it sounds like. I hope it happens. What a great West Coast division you could have."
Could big-league ball work in Portland?
"I think so," Murphy says. "The dynamics have changed. You don't have to fill a park with 50,000 people anymore. I'm thinking more like 30,000 to 35,000 for 81 dates a year.
"I know the city of Portland, with the baseball heritage and the number of fans there. And it's not just supporting your team — it's seeing all the other teams, too. Some people go to just watch the game, but it's a great family experience now, too. SunTrust has a climbing wall and a zip line. There's a lot of entertainment value there.
"Portland has supported the Blazers and the Timbers. Baseball makes sense to me there. And no matter whether you get an expansion team or a relocated team, the playoffs aren't out of the realm of possibility. You may not win the World Series, but you can at least be in the hunt for a wild-card spot pretty quickly."
If Portland gets a franchise, might it see a "Murph's" restaurant in the area?
"If you get a stadium," he says, "we'd love to expand there, for sure."
At 61 — "It's hard to figure where all the years have gone," Murphy says. Life is good for Dale and Nancy, who just celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary. They've lived in small-town Alpine, a half-hour south of Salt Lake City, since 1994. They have eight children — daughter Madison, the baby at 24, is the only girl — and 11 grandkids, with a 12th on the way.
Three of the boys turned to football. Shawn, 34, played at Utah State and went on to a four-year NFL career as an offensive guard. Jake, 28, was a tight end at Utah who made it to the practice squad of four NFL teams.
Now there is McKay, finishing his career at Weber State. His father will be at Providence Park on Saturday, cheering him on.
"It all worked out well," the senior Murphy says.
He was talking about the opportunity to get back to Portland.
It serves, too, in describing the life of one of baseball's great statesmen, and one of the state of Oregon's classiest representatives in the world of sports.