Baseball star Dale Murphy retires

After slugging 398 home runs and earning back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player awards, LDS baseball player Dale Murphy brought his career to a close by retiring May 27.

He and his wife, Nancy, were honored by the Colorado Rockies at pre-game ceremonies June 1.With his record as a hitter during his 17-year career, placing him 27th on the all-time list for home runs, he is a strong candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame. But perhaps he is more respected for his untarnished reputation of being one of the game's true gentlemen.

Rockies pitcher Bryn Smith summed up his former teammate: "He left on a good note, not something that anybody could regret or feel bad about. There will probably never be anybody else like him. He's a guy that the baseball world respects. They are proud to have his accomplishments and humanity."

That respect is important to Murphy, 37, a member of the Newnan Ward, Jonesboro Georgia Stake. "One of the things I really appreciated through the years was the respect from my teammates," he said. "That is something I will always remember."

He said his concerns for his family contributed to his leaving the diamond and crowds behind.

"At my age, with the years I've had in the game, with my family being back in Georgia, you start thinking a lot. Should I be here? Plain and simple. That affected in some ways my drive and determination, which you've got to have to perform at a high level. I started having some thoughts, `Hey, maybe it's time to go home.'

"You play as long as you can, and then you know when it is time to get home, and I felt like it was time to get home now," he said.

Murphy began his career when he was drafted as a catcher by the Atlanta Braves, the fifth pick in 1974. His first season in the major leagues came in 1976. He played for the Braves for 15 years, mostly as an outfielder, before being traded in 1990 to Philadelphia, an injury-plagued stay that lasted until being picked up by the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993.

While with the Rockies, his at-bats dwindled. After sitting out four games, he was called to the manager's office. When given the notice of being released, he chose retirement.

A Deseret News editorial June 6 described Murphy's contributions to baseball this way: "The qualities that have made Murphy a most valuable player off the field, qualities one associates with the Boy Scout program - [areT being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave, clean, reverent.

"It was those qualities more than his ability to knock the ball out of the park that endeared him to fans across the nation, particularly those in Atlanta where he spent 15 of his 17 major league years. As Associated Press sports writer Robert Byrd once put it:

" Dale Murphy never introduced his own line of sportswear. He never screamed,Play me or trade me.' He never complained that he was confused about his role when he was moved from catcher to first base to center to right. He never threatened to quit if he didn't get a 500 percent raise and he never had his own 900 phone number. Because of the things that he didn't do, and because of the things he did, a deeply religious man was cheered.

" `Many athletes are remembered for their prodigious athletic accomplishments. A few are remembered as much for something else - their character. Dale Murphy is one of those admirable few.' "

Murphy's association with the Church began in 1975 when he became acquainted with Barry Bonnell, a center fielder and convert, who introduced him to the Church. He was baptized by Bonnell in 1975.

Bonnell, a former bishop and member of the Bellevue (Wash.) 7th Ward, said of Murphy: "He's just what everybody says he is. There is no question that he is the grandest gentleman and one of the best players that I ever played with. He's the kind of person everyone wants to say they know. You can't exaggerate when describing the caliber of Dale Murphy."

Murphy, in a telephone interview with Church News after a son's Little League game, recalled some of the highlights of his career.

"I feel like Heavenly Father has given me the ability to play baseball, and hopefully I can better serve Him with this ability. He has really blessed me and my family.

"I have many people to thank for being able to play this long," he said. "When I first started it was a struggle. Some people with the Atlanta Braves organization stood by me."

He said the firesides where he and other Mormon athletes gave talks were a highlight in his life. "Even though we were able to play professional sports, there are more important things in life. Living the gospel and keeping the commandments are what is important," he emphasized.

He said he enjoyed speaking to young people and telling them of the importance of the gospel. One of the things he emphasized was to know how to avoid temptations.

"I've learned to respect others, but I try to remember when it is time to draw the line as far as associating too much; you have to be careful not to get into situations you don't want to be in.

"It's important to stay close to the Spirit to know when to make the right decision to draw the line and keep those standards that you know are right."

During his traveling from game to game, he often visited wards all around the nation. "For many years we used to end the season in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I always tried to catch a meeting of general conference there," he reflected. "And I remember going to a ward in Chicago, the Logan Square Ward. I remember the bishop beckoning to me and saying, `We'd like you to pass the sacrament today.'

Experiences like these, he said, "helped me keep things in perspective. There is always that common bond that we have throughout the world, no matter where you go, and you feel the friendship that you feel at home, and you feel comfortable."

Other wards he visited included the Bay Ward in San Francisco and the Manhattan Ward in New York.

At games, he often saw members, and sometimes missionaries, attending. Once he was given a huge card signed by missionaries at the Missionary Training Center. "That was something I always appreciated. I don't know if I ever told them how much that meant to me.

"I felt like there were a lot of people rooting for me," he said. "They weren't so concerned if I struck out or hit a home run."

Now, a "home run" to Murphy means running a son home from a baseball game. He and his wife are parents of seven active boys, ages 1 to 12. Sister Murphy is expecting their first daughter in October.

"Nancy has had all the responsibility here of keeping things going and raising the children," he said. "Hopefully I can pitch in now. It is pretty busy around here; I didn't realize all that was going on.

"This will be our first summer off. We are looking forward to a summer vacation for the first time."

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