While the Atlanta Braves sit atop the National League East standings yet again in 2023, it was not always so. For nearly 25 years, the franchise searched for consistency, with a maverick owner trying virtually everything to turn his team around.
One shining light during those trying times was outfielder Dale Murphy.
Playing 15 of his 18 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Murphy became one of the most popular players in Major League Baseball and the unquestioned face of a franchise that was on every television set from coast to coast thanks to team owner and media mogul Ted Turner’s far-reaching TBS SuperStation.
Before the Braves went on an incredible run of success throughout the 1990s, an entire generation of fans grew up on teams that had Murphy and sometimes very little else.
Some 40 years ago, Murphy won the second of back-to-back Most Valuable Player Awards, cementing his place among baseball’s best and writing a substantial chapter of his legacy in Atlanta.
Winning one MVP award is an accomplishment but winning it in consecutive years is rare air indeed.
“The first one kind of snuck up on me really,” Murphy reflected. “When you look at my numbers in 1982, they don’t jump out at you. I think that’s one of those things that unless you have a completely dominating year, sometimes MVP awards are kind of the right time and the right year.”
Murphy set career-highs in virtually every offensive category while leading the NL with 109 RBI. He hit 36 home runs, stole 23 bases and scored 113 runs, all while playing all 162 games for the first time to further a consecutive games played streak that reached 740 before ending in 1986.
Though the 1980s did not offer Murphy the kind of consistent winning that the club would come to be known for in the decades that followed, the 1982 and 1983 seasons provided a glimmer of hope that things could be changing.
As Murphy gave the club a consistent middle-of-the-lineup threat known across baseball, the Braves stormed out to a 13-game winning streak and won the NL West in 1982.
“I always say Bobby (Cox) got me to the big leagues and really found a position for me, but Joe Torre helped me believe I could be a complete player which really made my career,” Murphy said.
After all, it was Cox who made the decision to move Murphy from catcher to outfielder in 1980, but Torre, who replaced Cox as Atlanta’s manager after the 1981 season, also proved instrumental in charting the course of Murphy’s career.
“He communicated and was really involved in my hitting,” Murphy said of Torre’s influence. “We had hitting coaches, it’s just that back then and especially from Joe Torre, a guy that won the batting title, we really related well. He kind of opened my career, especially starting to steal bases. I’d never thought of myself as a base stealer.”
A base-stealer Murphy became.
“After the ‘82 season, I specifically remember Bob Walk coming up to me and he goes, ‘Great year, Murph. Good luck and have a great offseason. Next year, you’re going to be a 30-30 guy.’ I had never even thought about that,” Murphy said.
As predicted, Murphy did indeed join the 30-30 club in 1983. At the time he was just the seventh player ever to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season.
That sort of accomplishment is the kind of thing that garners MVP consideration.
“Statistically, I thought I was in the running in ‘82, but then in ‘83, I stole 30 bases, hit 30 home runs, had probably my best all-around year and knew I had another shot,” Murphy said of his MVP chances. “Joe Torre just changed my perception of what I could do on the field. He gave me the green light. For three years, I never got a steal sign. I could go at any time. I really credit Joe Torre with just giving me the idea that over the course of 162 games, you could steal some bases.”
With his best season under his belt, Murphy joined a small group of players to win consecutive MVP awards. Though several players have done so since, Murphy, Mike Schmidt, Roger Maris, Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hal Newhouser, and Jimmie Foxx were the only ones as of 1983.
Not only was Murphy among the best players of his day, but he was suddenly standing along with some of the all-time greats.
“I don’t know how to describe what I was feeling,” Murphy said. “I tried to figure out, so I just won two MVP’s, is this going to motivate me or just slow me down? Are expectations getting too high? I just really had to sit down and say, ‘Okay, look, you’ve won these things and you’ve had some good years, but you’ve got to use them to motivate yourself to work even harder.’”
That mindset paid big dividends.
In addition to consecutive MVP awards, Murphy picked up plenty of hardware over the course of the 1980s. He won five gold gloves, four silver sluggers and appeared in seven All-Star games.
Even after four decades, Murphy keeps the MVP award — and really all of his accomplishments — in a unique perspective, viewed through the lens of humility.
“You think about MVP’s, being able to win is unusual to a certain degree,” Murphy said. “I’m not trying to downplay it, but sometimes it’s just circumstances and who you’re going against. I think about Hank Aaron only winning one MVP, it’s just a different level of competition. I was fortunate to play and have some of my best years and I didn’t get hurt during quite a few stretches over four or five years. It’s just something that I was kind of in the flow is the best way to put it. You just get there and you’re not thinking too much. I was healthy and just a combination of a lot of things led to my best years.”
Though the Braves took a while to build a winner, Murphy and those early TBS teams helped create one of the most popular brands in all of sports. Few players were and are as beloved as Murphy.
That is part of a lasting legacy for one of baseball’s true nice guys.
“Again, 1982 was fun because we won the division, but as far as being in the zone and not thinking too much, 1983 was the year that I always remember,” Murphy said. “I was in a flow that five years earlier I didn’t even know what that was like. Things were flowing. I’d show up to the ballpark, felt good, felt strong, and we were competitive. So, it was a lot of fun.”
This article originally appeared in the Marietta Daily Journal. Find it here.