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Thursday, January 3, 2013
Murphy shunned by voters and statheads

By David Schoenfield

Jerry Crasnick has a nice story on Dale Murphy and the push his family made for him on his final year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Murphy has no shot at getting elected after receiving just 14.5 percent of the vote a year ago; his family needed to start the campaign five years ago. Murphy doesn't have a strong Hall of Fame case despite his two MVP Awards, but you do wonder why his support never built after getting 19.3 percent and 23.2 percent of the vote his first two times on the ballot. Jim Rice, a contemporary and player of similar career value -- Baseball-Reference has Rice at 44.3 WAR and Murphy at 42.6 -- started a little higher than Murphy, but not that much higher at 29.8 percent, and slowly built Hall of Fame momentum until he got elected in 2009, his final year on the ballot.

Dale Murphy
Dale Murphy was voted the NL MVP after the 1982 and 1983 seasons.
The Rice/Murphy comparison is even more difficult to understand when factoring that Rice could be a bit surly at times and wasn't really well-liked by the media while Murphy is universally regarded as one of the class individuals in the game's history. It certainly isn't a "fame" thing; yes, Rice played in Boston, but Murphy was one of the biggest stars of the '80s, with Braves' games broadcast all over the country on TBS.

Rice has some statistical advantages in his favor -- he hit .298 lifetime versus Murphy's .265 mark, had eight 100-RBI seasons to Murphy's five -- but Murphy played center field, got on base at nearly the same rate since he walked more, ran better and Rice received a big advantage from Fenway Park. Neither player reached 400 home runs (Rice had 382, Murphy 398) or 1,500 RBIs (1,451 for Rice, 1,266 for Murphy), but Rice got the support.

Of course, you can't really create a Hall of case around a Jim Rice comparison, since Rice is one of the weakest Hall of Famers the baseball writers have elected. Let's compare Murphy to two other 1980s outfielders: Hall of Famer Andre Dawson and Tim Raines. Many think Raines has a better Hall of Fame case than Rice, Murphy or Dawson.

If we look at each player's "Hall of Fame" seasons -- what I'll call a season with 4.0 WAR or greater -- we get this:

Rice: Five seasons, 29.2 total WAR
Murphy: Six seasons, 36.2 total WAR
Dawson: Six seasons, 37.3 total WAR
Raines: Six seasons, 37.5 total WAR

So, yes, at his peak Murphy was awesome. He even compares favorably to first-ballot outfielders like Dave Winfield (six seasons of 4-plus WAR, total of 32.6) and Tony Gwynn (seven seasons, total of 39.6 WAR). What Murphy lacks are some of those 2-win and 3-win seasons, seasons that add to a player's career totals and help cement a legacy. Those aren't really Hall of Fame seasons, but they are seasons that Hall of Fame voters factor in. Jay Jaffe has a more in-depth statistical look at Murphy's career.

There is one interesting side note to Murphy's case. As many voters decline to vote for PED-tainted candidates, or rebel against all these fancy new stats, you might think they would be more inclined to vote for "clean" players like Murphy (if we can assume anybody was clean, even in the '80s, it would be Murphy), but that hasn't been the case at all. Sometimes you just can't please the Baseball Writers Association of America. And sometimes it elects Jim Rice.