Keltner List of the Day

The Keltner List was developed by Bill James as a device to evaluate a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy. In The Politics of Glory James says that it is probably his favorite tool to do that. (You can read about the background in that book, or do a Google search, for further information.) So let’s run it for Dale Murphy…

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?

He won two MVP awards, in 1982 and 1983, so he was at least considered the best player in the league. The 1982 MVP is a little shaky, but the 1983 one was deserved. He was, at minimum, on the short list of Best Player In Baseball candidates from 1982-1987.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Duh. The seven best offensive seasons by Atlanta Braves from 1980-87 were all by Murphy. (He had an off year in 1981, and ranked behind Chambliss and Horner.) There was no real All-Star level starting pitcher on those teams either.

Murphy annually finished ten or more Win Shares higher than any teammate from 1982-87.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

He was the best centerfielder in baseball in 1982-83. In 1984, Tim Raines spent his one season in center, and he was better; in 1985 Rickey Henderson was in center and was better. Neither of them was a career centerfielder. If you count only the career centerfielders (and not leftfielders playing the position temporarily) Murphy was the best centerfielder in baseball from 1982-1985. Puckett broke out in 1986, but Murph was probably still the best in the league. He moved to right in 1987 and was close to the best in the league, though Gwynn may have been slightly better. (Tony had three more Runs Created; they tied with 29 Win Shares.)

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

In 1982 Murphy won the MVP, playing 162 games and winning the Gold Glove, as the Braves won the Western Division by one game. It’s hard to have a bigger impact on a pennant race than that. It was the only year in which the Braves made postseason play during the Murphy era. The next season, they finished three games back but would have been lucky to finish .500 without Murph, who was even better that year. Those were the only years the Braves were in contention in his career.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Well, he didn’t, not for very long or very well. If he’d had a normal aging pattern, he would have.

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No. Of eligibles, he has to rank behind Blyleven by any standard, and he wasn’t as good as Raines or Ripken or a number of other upcoming candidates. His peak years are probably superior to any of the other current position candidates except Parker, Mattingly, and Belle, and it isn’t clear that those three were actually better. For career value, he has to rank behind Dawson, Parker, and Trammell, and probably several players such as the two Evanses who have fallen off the ballot. Of BBWAA-eligible position players, I would rank him third behind Parker and Dawson, and also behind several pitchers. If you include players who have fallen off the ballot, he also ranks behind Dwight Evans and Ron Santo.

7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

No. One player on Murphy’s most-similar list, Duke Snider, is in. Joe Carter, his most-similar player, has fallen off the ballot. Ron Santo and Gil Hodges, the fourth and fifth members of his list, are popular candidates.

If the standards used for Snider’s election held for Murphy, Murphy would have made it easily. Like Snider, he was a great centerfielder at his peak but didn’t have a good end to his career. Murph simply didn’t have the end of a career typical of a Hall of Famer. Any number of Hall of Famers were about as good as him through Age 35 or so, but he was completely finished (and played only two more depressing part-seasons after that) at that age, while most Hall of Famers were able to add four or five more ordinary years.

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

No, except for home runs. Only two eligible players with more homers are not in the Hall of Fame (Darrell Evans and Dave Kingman) and Murphy had superior all-around skills to both. That will change as the New Live Ball era players become eligible and several with up to 500 homers might not make it.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Fulton County Stadium during Murphy’s prime years was The Launching Pad, of course. That certainly boosted his home run totals, but it wasn’t as extreme as Coors Field nowadays. Fulton County wasn’t a great hitter’s park except for home runs; the rest of his stats are legitimate. He should also get extra credit for defense.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

Considered as a centerfielder (and considering Dawson a right fielder) I think so. George Van Haltren, a nineteenth century centerfielder, is a popular candidate among people who care about nineteenth century players, but I have trouble taking stats from that era too seriously. I would rate the non-HOF, eligible CF:

1. Murphy
2. Vada Pinson
3. Al Oliver
4. Brett Butler

Pinson has his advocates, and his career stats are probably better, but he wasn’t nearly the player at his peak. The other two are not taken seriously.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

He won two MVP awards, and had MVP-type seasons in three other years, 1984-85 and 1987. In all three of those campaigns he led the league in Runs Created and was second in OPS.

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 into the Hall of Fame?

He was a seven-time All-Star, 1980 and 1982-87. He may have been a token selection in 1986 but the others are legitimate. This is not a particularly good record for a Hall of Fame candidate, but it’s not awful either. One more selection would tie him with any number of Hall of Famers and candidates. I would say this is neither a plus or a minus, but another example of the basic problem with his candidacy — a lack of good but non-peak seasons.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

They won one division with him and narrowly missed another. But there’s no question in my mind that a team with him as its star could have won several pennants; there simply weren’t enough good players on that team. In some seasons, Murphy and Horner were the only above-average hitters on the team, a team that other than Murphy and Hubbard was also poor defensively, and had only one or two good pitchers. Babe Ruth in his prime couldn’t have won a pennant with the 1985-89 Braves even if he pitched every fourth day and played the outfield the rest of the time.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Not very much. He played a role in keeping the Braves franchise afloat in the mid eighties when they could have relocated, but that was a period of remarkable franchise stability and I doubt that would have happened.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

This is the easiest question on the list, even easier than #2. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.


Murphy does very well on the questions meant to measure a player’s peak years, which is no surprise. He was possibly the best player in the National League for most of the eighties; only Schmidt would be a worthy contender. He does not do well on questions meant to measure his career impact, though. That is the basic problem; he simply wasn’t any good after he turned 32. If he were from Latin America, we’d wonder if he had a baseball age. Murphy’s case depends, ultimately, on how you feel about the peak/career divide.

35 thoughts on “Keltner List of the Day”

  1. Nice work.

    I always liked the Dale Murphy/Gil Hodges analogy. Similar careers, similar adulation among fans.

    Whenever I talk with old-time Brooklyn Dodger fans here in NYC, they always say things like, “You really had to see Hodges to appreciate him. Others got the glory, but Hodges was the glue. Great hands, great leadership, best person you’d ever wanna meet.”

    Minor quibble: For what it’s worth, the Braves were actually in a “pennant race” in that goofy 1981 season. If I remember correctly (and I may not), they were in first place on Sept. 1 or thereabouts. So, hey, we’re talking a “Second-Half Championship.”

  2. I’m pretty sure Murph’s career in the very late stages was adveresely affected by a shoulder injury causing his bat speed to diminish significantly.

    I have one problem regarding this issue. When Albert Belle retired he was immediately dismissed as a HOF possibility because of his personality and the surly individual troublemaker he was. Murph seems to get no credit whatsoever for being arguably the role model that every fan would like their son to grow up and become (besides the religious stuff. The fact Pete Rose is a lowlife hurts him as well. Shouldn’t who Murph is as a man count for just enough to put him over the top?

  3. My theory is that Murphy’s body type had a lot to do with his rapid decline — although he was never overweight, he was long-limbed and had a long, slow swing. Since he was already prone to strikeouts, any loss of bat speed that came with aging (and exacerbated by the wear and tear of being a big man playing center field every day for several years) was professionally fatal. The beating that his legs took sapped his power far more than it might have in a player with a more compact build.

  4. It would be really nice if I were old enough to remember Dale Murphy at all. I was born the year he had his last good season, and looking at the numbers after that…yikes. That’s a dramatic fall off a cliff. His OBP during those last 6 years was just awful. And, unfortunately, I think it will keep him out of the Hall.

    Shocking news of the day: Reggie Bush is declaring for the draft. Never saw that coming ;-)

    Actually, if I were him, I might have stayed in school another year just to avoid playing for the Texans.

  5. Great article Mac; I always enjoy the Keltner list.

    One point that Bill James clarified somewhere (maybe in Politics of Glory): by “best player” in the game, on the team, or best centerfielder in the league, he didn’t mean “best season.” Essentially you can think of who was the preseason selection — so even if Horner was better in 1981, Murphy would still be considered the best player on the team. Likewise, Schmidt was probably the best player in baseball in the Mid-’80s but Murphy was really close.

    That aren’t many players who have peaks as high as Murphy (where they were close to the best player in the game for several years) who aren’t in the HOF. Dick Allen, who I mentioned yesterday, is one, and his personality issues and, relatively, short career likely explain it. Mark McGuire may be another because of the steroids issue though I suspect he’ll eventually get in.

    Are there other (eligible)players with 2 MVPs who aren’t in?

  6. Are there other (eligible)players with 2 MVPs who aren’t in?

    Roger Maris. Juan Gonzalez might also have a tough time.

  7. I kinda don’t think so either, but Gonzalez will be a great HoF conversation as it relates to peak value & post-’94 stuff. He won’t be the only one.

  8. I always figured that Murphy’s time as a catcher at the start of his career played a part in his rapid fall-off. A lot of catchers have a sharp decline after age 30 because of the wear and tear. He certainly didn’t log that many major league innings behind the plate, but possibly the damage was already done.

  9. Selected quotes about Murphy stolen from The Baseball Page:

    “If you’re a coach, you want him as a player, If you’re a father, you want him as a son. If you’re a woman, you want him as a husband. If you’re a kid, you want him as a father. What else can you say about the guy?” – Joe Torre

    “He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever pitched to” – Nolan Ryan

    “Just look at him over there, Doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t take greenies, nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, hits the hell out of the ball, hustles like crazy, plays a great center field and isn’t trying to get anything from anybody…Doesn’t he just make you sick?” – Terry Forster

    “I can’t imagine Joe DiMaggio was a better all-around player than Dale Murphy.” – Nolan Ryan

    “The best player I’ve seen since Willie Mays.” – Billy Connors

    “Last year he was our league’s most valuable player. And this year he may be the most improved player in the league. What does that make him?” – George Bamberger

    “The only way to stop him is to throw him balls. Throw away, away, away. Even then he might hurt you.” – LaMarr Hoyt

    “I’ve never known anyone like him. God only makes one like Dale every 50 years.” – Chuck Tanner

    “I don’t challenge Murphy, even if he’s 0 for 20. Not him, not ever.” – Mario Soto

    “It would be a different team without him. I don’t think there would be too many people watching us play.” – Zane Smith

    “What’s really special about him is that he knows how to run the bases. He gets up his speed, and he knows what his capabilities are. If he tries for a base, you know he’s going to make it.” – Hank Aaron

    “If you could improve Andre Dawson, he would be Dale Murphy.” – Jerry Royster

  10. Did anyone read Joe Sheehan’s article on Bruce Sutter’s HOF election? It’s enough to make you lose faith in the process entirely.

  11. You caught me off guard there, Mac.

    My answer: steroids…just kidding.

    My real answer:
    I always just felt like Murph gave up. It’s not
    that he quit, but if it was tough to be a Braves fan in 80s, how much fun could it have been for Murphy? Why work harder to compensate as your
    skills begin to deteriorate when it’s going to mean nothing? Then the injuries hit and that was it. It’s kind of like when you know an old couple that always seem so full of life. Then after one dies suddenly of a heart attack the other one, who was in seemingly excellent health before, dies a few months later of natural causes.

  12. JC, that’s quite possibly the saddest thing I’ve read in weeks. Dale Murphy just gave up? Dale Murphy, the hero for every child?

  13. It’s kind of like when you know an old couple that always seem so full of life. Then after one dies suddenly of a heart attack the other one, who was in seemingly excellent health before, dies a few months later of natural causes.

    That is exactly what happened to my grandparents in 2004.

  14. I don’t think he gave up, I think his body was through. I have a different theory about athletes, and in general it says that every athlete has a number of games/innings they can play in their lifetime. Supplements aside, the body just has so much to give before it gives out. Some guys can play for 20-25 years(Julio, Clemens) and some guys for 10 (Murphy, Griffey Jr.). That being said, the HOF selections stink as they are, and it will only get worse as the steroid era players start to become eligible.

  15. Murph was a friend of a close family friend, and with me being the baseball fan in the family, I always got the scoop. From what I understand, JC is actually on the right track. But “gave up” really isn’t the correct term. It would be much more accurate to say he lost the passion for baseball.Some of the contributing factors have been mentioned here… being on a terrible team, injuries, and so forth. But if you look at Murph’s character, what to those who idolized him really set him apart from other ballplayers, then you’ll get a hint as to where his passion REALLY was… with his family, and with his faith. Baseball just wasn’t at the top of his list anymore… not even close.If you look at what keeps some of the old guys playing, when they just keep on keeping on, it’s because they find fulfillment in competition, being on a team, being a star, pursuing milestones, a “baseball legacy”, or whatever. Those things just weren’t as fulfilling to Murph towards the end. He was more worried about where he stood with his family and his God than where he stood with the baseball writers of America.

  16. Murphy is always a challenge for me (and maybe for a lot of us) because he is one of the few players to expose the tension between the intelligent, thoughtful baseball fan I would like to be and the hero-worshiping little kid that I was. The 1980s were ages 5-15 for me and as an obsessive Atlanta Braves fan at that age Dale Murphy was an absolute god-send. He was without question the best Braves player during that time period and he never did anything that would disillusion a naive and impressionable kid. In many ways, he was the perfect baseball player for a kid to look up too.

    I don’t think he belongs in the Hall of Fame (everything considering) but I really WANT him to be in the hall of fame because he was one of the reasons I loved the game of baseball so much and in this day and age of selfish, narcissistic, overpaid hacks there should be a way of elevating Murphy and saying in so many ways that count that he was the best the game ever had.

    Another thing to add to the Murphy decline pile is that he always seemed like a guy who wasn’t completely defined by the game. He seemed very interested in spending a lot of time with his family and in his community. Could it have been that he didn’t have the kind of overweening ego that compels players to compete even as they are declining. My totally uninformed guess is that all the losing and the injuries sapped some strength from him as he began to age and a full and rewarding home and personal life gave him the kind of perspective that made a manical focus on baseball less likely.

    There’s an old Eugene McCarthy line about how being a politican is like being a football coach—you have to be smart enough to do the job but dumb enough to think it matters. Maybe Murphy was well-rounded enough to come to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth killing himself over.

  17. Sorry to hijack the thread away from Murphy for a moment, but I just saw this quote from Andy Marte:

    “While in the Dominican, Shipley asked perhaps a telling question. ‘He asked me if I could play left field,’ said Marte. ‘I told him, ‘Yes.’ I’m ready to play right now.'”

    Shipley, BTW, is the Red Sox director of international scouting.

    It’s a pretty lengthy article, actually, but this sentence jumped out at me. I thought we tried him in the OF and gave up? So how come he can now supposedly play the OF? Did we give up too soon? Did we evaluate him wrong? Or was he being stubborn?

  18. As a big Murphy fan, I really appreciate the thoughtful comments on this string. ububba’s quote list certainly demonstrates the respect his peers, and others within baseball, had for him.

    Murphyfan’s & Jason’s comments reflect my feelings about Murphy quite well, certainly better than I could have put them, and for that I thank them.

    As a man, and as a player, Murph belongs in the Hall of Fame. I can’t think of a player who better represents what the game should be. However, based solely on numbers, I’m afraid he falls short of what voters will consider for enshrinement.

  19. Oddity… Andre Dawson’s best year was 1981. Dale Murphy won the MVP that year.
    Murphy’s best year was 1987. Dawson won the MVP.

    Go figure. These guys are just intertwined. More on this pair in upcoming days.

  20. This just in from the Baltimore-Boston Post Gazette. Shipley (Someone I know about, but you don’t) asked Marte if he could pitch a few innings if needed. Marte replied, “Yes, I am ready to pitch right now.” Did the Braves miss something here? And us with no closer!!!

  21. “While in the Dominican, Shipley asked perhaps a telling question. ‘He asked me if I could play left field,’ said Marte. ‘I told him, ‘Yes.’ I’m ready to play right now.'”

    Ain’t that a kick in the crotch.

  22. Jenny, the Braves didn’t give up on Marte. JS and Bobby just believe it’s more important to get a veteran shortstop than to keep the best prospect in baseball within the organization. Also, they do not believe in Betemit at shortstop.

    Obviously, a lot of us here do not agree with JS and BC on this decision, but this is already a done deal and let’s just move on I guess.

  23. Yeah, JC, I agree with you. I never doubt Marte’s willingness to play at another position. It just seems to me that it is the Braves are not willing to try Marte at another position!

  24. Murph’s career numbers don’t make it easy to remember what a superb player he was. The quotes ububba recalled add weight to the argument that Murph was more than the sum of his stats. I would have loved to have seen Murph and Andruw at their peaks in the same outfield.

  25. I would have loved to have seen Murph and Andruw at their peaks in the same outfield.

    Me too, wageslave, because that would have meant Murph playing RF, where he would have been better suited to a longer productive career. I believe this discussion would then have been made unnecessary.

  26. Brett Butler was playing center about a quarter of the time in 1982-83. You know what happened then. My guess is that they would have continued to flip between center and left if not for the Trade From Hell.

  27. Wow, I never thought about the trade in those terms, but henceforth I will blame John Mullen for costing Murphy his rightful spot in Cooperstown.

  28. Pingback: Baseball Musings
  29. What I also think hurts Murphy is a position change. He originally started as a catcher, but couldn’t throw the ball to second base. They moved him to first base, but he struggled there as well. Once he moved to center field, he got going. His peak seasons were from 1980-87. Eight seasons probably isn’t long enough to get in.

    Put another way, not only did he end too early, he also started too late. It took him five seasons to really get going.

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