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Thursday, October 20, 2011

My Early Days in the Computer Revolution

A couple of weeks ago, as I was following my timeline on Twitter, I was strangely moved by the thought that many people around the world heard the news of Steve Job’s passing via a product that he created. Aren’t these products remarkable? It was largely through him that we have so many new and amazing technologies—he harnessed them and put them in a useable format. The tasks we face in our everyday lives—including doing our jobs, getting an education, and even staying in touch with our families—have become much easier and more efficient as a result.

As I was reading about Steve Jobs in the days that followed, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own experiences and efforts to embrace technology and computers over the years. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, I was probably what they might consider an “early adopter,” though “gadget freak” is probably the more accurate, less flattering term. I’d like to think I was right there on the front lines at the beginning of the home computing revolution. In my pursuit of these new-fangled “computers,” one of the first stores I went into was Radio Shack. You read that right—Radio Shack. They were the carrier for one of the first affordable home computers, made by Tandy, the TRS-80 (later nicknamed the “Trash 80,” for reasons that soon became all too obvious). Along with the TRS-80, I bought a Texas Instruments computer, as well as a “portable” computer (truthfully, though, it was a beast—probably weighed about 20 pounds) called the “Kay-Pro,” which I could never for the life of me figure out how to use. I eventually sent the Kay-Pro to my dad, who’s got a master’s degree in electrical engineering, assuming he’d be able to figure out how to do something productive with it. Not sure how that turned out!

I also remember flying back to Atlanta from a road trip and seeing Chris Mortensen (he was writing for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time) tap away at a little Tandy computer about as big as a college history book. After asking him what in the world he was typing on, he said something like, “Yeah, it’s cool, I’m typing tomorrow’s article about tonight’s game, and when I get to the hotel I just have to plug this computer into the phone jack, dial the newspaper’s phone number, and then the modem back at the office receives the message, deciphers what I type and then puts it into the article.” I still didn’t understand what that tablet thingy did, but I knew I wanted one. (Eventually I did end up getting one and if I remember right they were relatively user-friendly. I even used it for writing a few letters.)

Soon after this computing craze I took a break from buying any more new computer-related gadgets. It turned out that, on average, they just weren’t very easy to use. These computers were supposed to save us time, I thought, but that didn’t ever work out very well. The phrase “user-friendly” hadn’t really even been invented yet, I don’t think. There were just way too many manuals and too many glitches to sort through.

Nevertheless, I stayed true to my love of gadgets. I have no idea how many devices I had throughout the 80s. Let’s put it this way: if you were to pick a random home electronics infomercial from the 80s, there’s probably a 90 percent chance I had it. I would always pick up the latest issue of Popular Science when I went on road trips and turn right to the only section that interested me—the “What’s New” section (I noticed that the online version of Popular Mechanics calls this section, “Gadgets”) And the gadgets didn’t stop. I even bought one of the first mobile phones (though “mobile” is something of a misnomer). I would literally have to “park” it right in the middle console of my Cadillac Deville, plug it into my cigarette lighter with the antenna going behind my head and out the window (and then held in place on the roof of the car with some sort of magnetic base). I remember driving to Fulton County stadium one day and passing Ernie Johnson on I-285 while I was talking to Nancy on this gignatic carphone (I was surely telling her how about how awesome this new phone thingy was). I looked over and saw Ernie just burst out laughing and then shook his head as if to say, “what kind of crazy space-age gadget is Murph into this time?” I didn’t stick to only computers and phones, however. I’ve also had a number of PDAs—the supposed greatest devices ever created, which we all know now is probably one of the overstatements of the century.

For whatever reason, I didn’t ever get into any Apple products back in those days. In fact, I haven’t been an Apple user for very long, and once again I have my kids to thank for getting me interested. These days, however, I’m neck-deep in all things Apple. Just a couple of nights ago, in fact, I had a nice visit with my mom and dad on iPhone’s Facetime, all of us sitting in our respective living rooms, with me texting them photos of their great-grandchildren at the same time. What an amazing device, right? I told people when I got that iPhone that I’d never lose it because it literally never leaves my hand. And now that I’m on Twitter all the time, too, that iPhone has become even more impossible to put down.

As for Steve Jobs the person, I really didn’t know much about him until just recently. Clearly he’s done some remarkable things, but I didn’t know much about his history. For example, it’s been amazing to find out that he started college in my hometown of Portland, Oregon (he was at Reed College). And (clearly), he was someone who had vision. But more than that, he had the hallmark of a true visionary: he inspired other people to see the world differently. People followed and admired him not only for what he did, but for what he inspired them to be. To challenge the status quo, to remove the blindfolds, to “never settle”—that’s what a true leader moves others to do in order to realize their potential. I’m sure there have been many creative people at Apple responsible for their amazing success over the years, but in my view it takes someone like Steve Jobs to oversee such a process and see it through to the end. By the way, if you haven’t seen his Stanford commencement address, then go check it out right now. If you have kids, make sure they watch it, too. It’s one of those rare speeches that makes you incredibly motivated to take on new challenges and to try things that you’ve always been hesitant to do.

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes from that address:

“Death is one of the great motivators of life—it keeps you from thinking you have something to lose”

“Stay hungry, stay foolish”

Finally, I want to add my voice to the many others around the world whose lives have been impacted by his work:

Thank you, Steve.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Twitter, Chipper, and the Futuristic Terrapins

A few thoughts today about three (mostly unrelated) topics: 1) my continuing adventures in social media; 2) the Braves and their playoff chances; 3) Maryland’s new football uniforms. See, I told you they were unrelated.

First of all, I want to say a big thank you to everyone involved with the recent launch of DaleMurphy.com. So many people put so much time and energy into making it great, and it’s been a lot of fun to watch it come together. Before the launch I told someone it was like the Murphy family was about to have another baby, though one that would hopefully be a little easier on Nancy :) I’m so pleased with how the site turned out, and I hope you can all enjoy it, too.

And then, Twitter. Thanks everyone for their continuing interest in my many tweets (I was told recently that I tweet more than a Kardashian, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly what a Kardashian is :). It’s always a little frightening as a 50+ year old to air my thoughts out in cyberspace (wait, “cyberspace”? Is that what the kids are calling it these days?). It’s one thing to go out in public and do something you’re comfortable with, but it’s been an entirely different experience to get into social media the way I have. It’s been so much fun to reconnect with fans, both from days gone by as well as current Braves fans. Re-emerging into the so-called public eye has brought back so many great memories. For example, a guy a little while back tweeted at me saying that he remembered my career in the 80s, but more than that he remembered that we (the Murphy family) never returned our movies to Blockbuster on time (he had been the manager at our local Blockbuster). He was right! We probably averaged a month or so overdue per rental! Talking about my interests beyond baseball, such as movies and music, has been really exciting as well. The reaction to my interest in current music has really been a lot of fun. In fact, I’ve been thinking about getting into touch with a local independent radio station here to see if I might be able to moonlight as a DJ (maybe a show like “Dale Helping Other 50+ Year Olds Move Past 70s Classic Rock”). I’m a convert to the new music of today, so it’d really be fun to share that with other folks my age.

Next, a few thoughts about the Braves. It’s been great to see them weather the ups and downs of a whole season. I really like the make-up of the team, their attitude, and the additions that they’ve made throughout the year, especially Michael Bourn, who brings speed on offense and on defense. The young players, too, are a solid group. Craig Kimbrel, in particular, has had an amazing rookie year, breaking the record for saves by a rookie. He’s got to be the front-runner for Rookie of the Year, and he may even get some votes for the Cy Young Award (in my opinion, the Cy Young should be given to the most valuable pitcher—the same way the MVP is given to the most valuable player, usually a non-pitcher—and Kimbrel is right up there with anyone). He’s been basically unhittable this year. In fact, he’s exactly the type of pitcher I would have had a lot of trouble with as a batter. I liked fastballs, but I had a tendency to chase them out of the strike zone. Kimbrel’s got a lot of velocity on his fastball anyway, but when he puts it just out of the zone, nobody I’ve seen has been able to catch up with it.

Lately a few people have asked me about Chipper and whether he can get to 500 home runs. Well, first of all, with the way he’s playing, I better stop calling him “pops.” He’s not playing like an old man by any means: his bat speed looks as good as ever, and his defense is solid. I definitely think he has a chance at 500, seeing as how he’s sitting at 450 right now. If he comes back next year (and I think he’s already announced that he will), he could be even healthier than he was this year (he was recuperating in spring training this year, if you remember). In fact, not only do I think he could he get to 500 home runs, but I think he could get to 3,000 hits and finish his career with some truly impressive numbers (either way, he’s still a Hall of Famer, no question about it). When I think about Chipper, I’m always reminded of a quote by Bum Phillips, who, when asked to describe the talent of the great running back Earl Campbell, said, “Well, he may not be in a class all by himself, but it doesn’t take long to call roll.” That’s Chipper to me. He’s one of the greatest to ever play the game, and he’s been a treat to watch over the years.

Anyway, back to the Braves. I, for one, am really looking to the playoffs. I think that if the Braves stay healthy, they can beat anyone in the league in a 5 or 7 game series. I do hope JJ’s knee heals up quickly and he’s ready to go before we get there, though.

And now for something completely different: Maryland’s controversial football uniforms, courtesy of Under Armour. Most of the comments about the uniforms were not very favorable, as you may have heard. I wasn’t watching the Maryland game on Saturday (I was watching a music documentary about the Pixies, another band I really like), but I started noticing a bunch of funny comments about Maryland coming through on Twitter. After awhile, I checked out some of the highlights to get a glimpse of these supposedly horrendous uni’s. I thought about this for awhile, and here’s my take: they’re awesome. I thought the design was clever, incorporating the state flag as they did, and most of all it was a refreshing change of pace from the usual college football uniform. It was bold, interesting, and in my opinion a sign of things to come (Under Armour is probably way ahead of the curve on this one). Think about it this way: remember when James Carville came up with Clinton’s winning slogan “It’s the economy stupid”? Here the applicable phrase might be something like, “It’s the demographic stupid!” In other words, if you’re a male between the ages of 18 and 34 and you like those wacky Maryland uniforms, then Under Armour has done its job. I haven’t asked my kids about Maryland specifically (my kids actually fill that 18 to 34 demographic almost perfectly), but if those Oregon Ducks uniforms are a comparable standard, then I’d bet they were pretty excited by the Maryland uniforms, too. And isn’t it a good thing to see a little creativity, a little risk-taking in uniform design anyway? Without it, we probably wouldn’t have ever had some of those classic designs of the past that we look back on so fondly today (baby blue Braves uniforms anyone?)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thank You Bobby Cox!

I just wanted to post a quick thank you note to Bobby Cox, whose number was retired this weekend. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: there are a lot of people to thank for giving me the chance to play in the major leagues, but you, Bobby, are at the top of the list. Nancy and I and the kids couldn’t possibly thank you enough for all you’ve done. That said, here’s my best attempt.

First and foremost, thank you for having confidence and patience with in me early in my career. My journey to the big leagues was a bumpy one at times, but it would have surely been bumpier had you not had the foresight to put me where I needed to be—in the outfield. After my escapades as a catcher and first baseman, no two ways about it—moving me to the outfield saved my career.

I’ll never forget getting that phone call from you in the fall of 1979. Nancy and I had just been married in October, and we didn’t really know where my career was headed. I’d been hurt off and on through the 1979 season, plus I’d been playing catcher and first base, and I don’t need to remind anyone how that turned out. I was running out of options in the infield--it was really looking like my career might end before it even began. We were visiting family in Utah that fall and you called to say you were thinking about moving me to the outfield, and I remember feeling so excited about the idea. It gave me a lot of hope that things were going to finally change for the better. You found a home for me, so to speak, in the outfield—where I stayed for many years to come.

If someone would have told me, say, in 1977 that I’d make the all-star team in 1980 as an outfielder, and that I’d go on to win five gold gloves there, I’d have never believed them. But Bobby, you went the extra mile to make it all possible for me. You and John Mullen put me on the roster as an outfielder, and even made room for me as a starter by trading away former AL MVP Jeff Burroughs. I couldn’t believe you had that kind of confidence in me, and I always wanted to live up to that. I know I’m one of many that you believed in against the odds early on in their career. But I’m sure thankful I was one of them. Looking back, I know you saw something in me I don’t think I even saw in myself. And for that, I will forever be grateful.

Saying ‘thank you', Bobby, is not nearly enough when I think of the impact you’ve had on my career. And the move to the outfield was only one way you changed the course of my life. There are hundreds of other ways—too many to name here--that you’ve made me a better player, a better teammate, and a better man. What you’ve done for me, Bobby—I’ll never forget. Thank you for everything.

*Note to all coaches of all sports and all players of all ages. Take a look at Bobby Cox’s success, his players’ respect for him, and the way his players consistently played hard for him over the years. Bobby didn’t motivate by humiliation, punishment, or fear. He motivated his players and got the best out of them by respecting them, communicating with them, and encouraging them. He believed in them. In other words, Bobby knew the secret to good coaching—loyalty coupled with respect. He was on our side as players, and we knew it. Too many times coaches at all levels try to inspire excellence in through humiliation and intimidation. (I have seven sons and one daughter who have played—and some who are still playing—sports. Believe me, I’ve seen it all.) These kind of coaches may get short term performance gains out of their players by treating them that way, but in the long term it always takes its toll. (I mean, really, doesn’t “inspiration through intimidation” just sound like an oxymoron anyway?). Great coaches don’t command respect—they endear the respect of their players by respecting them first, treating them like people, and keeping things in perspective. That’s what Bobby did. Coaches—remember, you are there for your players, not the other way around. Your players are not there to make you look like a great coach. Instead, you are there to be a great coach and a mentor to them no matter what—win, lose, or draw. The idea that you have to be a yeller and a screamer to motivate your players simply isn’t true. Think about the long term impact you’re having on your players (especially those of you who coach kids.) You will win games—and you’ll lose a few, too, but so what? You’ll be changing lives for the better for many years to come. And isn’t that what it’s really all about? Just ask Bobby Cox. That’s what he did. And now, when the last game has been played and his managing days are over, he can look back and be proud of the legacy he’s left behind.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Getting Traded to the Phillies--The Rest of the Story

I get a lot of questions about getting traded to Philadelphia in 1990, sometimes from Braves fans who tell me they were upset with the Braves just trading me away like that. Although I really appreciate the sentiment, I’ve always felt like I should kind of clarify exactly what happened. So, without getting into too many details, here’s how it went.

It was the summer of 1990, and things weren’t going that well. The previous two years (1988, 1989) hadn’t been that great either, honestly. The team was struggling, I was struggling. I saw some potential in a few of our young pitchers (like John Smoltz and Tom Glavine), but other than that I didn’t have much of a sense for where the Braves were heading. I talked to Nancy a lot about how frustrated I was and started to realize it might be time for me to move on. There had been trade rumors off and on through the mid-80’s (and even up through ’88 or so—the Mets were one team that always seemed to be mentioned) but I never paid much attention to them because, quite honestly, I could never see myself leaving the Braves. But by the end of the decade, that had changed. I started feeling kind of excited at the prospects of going to a new team. I wondered whether a change of scenery would rejuvenate me, and my career. At the same time, I was aware of what can happen when a long-time player has some success with one team and sticks around longer than he should: production eventually falls off and the team is left with the uncomfortable task of figuring out whether to renew his contract (even though his best years may well be behind him) or release him (usually against popular opinion.) The Braves had done so much for me through the years that I just didn’t want to put them in that position. And it can be equally awkward for the player himself, not knowing whether he can contribute enough to make it really worth keeping him. I sure didn’t want to wait around to find out what that felt like, so I decided it was time to get the ball rolling.

So I went in and talked to Bobby Cox that August. I told him that, with free agency coming up in a few months, I was thinking it might be time for me to move on. More specifically, I told him I was planning to leave as a free agent that winter but that if they wanted to try to trade me immediately I'd consider it (I had the right to either accept or reject any proposed trade since I'd been in the league for awhile with the same team.) I wanted the Braves to explore the possibility of getting something out of the situation, instead of me just leaving them as a free agent.

Soon after this discussion with Bobby, my agent called and told me the Phillies were interested. They had made a trade offer the Braves were willing to accept, and they would renew my contract with an additional two years guaranteed. Nancy and I knew it wouldn’t be easy to transition our eight children to a new city, but going to Philadelphia looked like a great option for us. Not only were the Phillies headed in a strong direction (in just three years, they would go to the World Series, in fact), but accepting a trade would also make it possible for me to avoid all the uncertainty of the free-agent process. So, with that, I accepted the trade.

The basic point I want to make here is that I actually initiated the trade—not the Braves. I hope this clarifies the issue for some folks who, occasionally even today, tell me they’re upset with Bobby and/or with the Braves for sending me to Philadelphia. What most people don’t know is that, even without the trade, I would have become a free-agent that winter and ended up somewhere besides Atlanta. It definitely wasn’t easy to make the move to the Phillies and the fact that the Braves went to the World Series the next year didn’t make it any easier. Still, I was glad I did it. It was time. I had a great experience with the Phillies. And as demanding as the Philadelphia fans could sometimes be, I really enjoyed playing for them and wish I could have performed better. My family and I were always treated well by the Phillies organization and we’ll always appreciate the friendships we made while we were there.

On a side note, I can’t tell you how weird it was to put on a new uniform after so many years wearing Braves blue. I’ll never forget stepping into the batter’s box for the first time at Veteran’s Stadium. I started getting into my stance, and then looked down to tap the plate to find RED shoes and RED stirrups staring back at me. Those new colors definitely took some getting used to.

I can’t leave this subject without saying one more thing. No matter where the years have taken Nancy and I and our kids, no matter how much we have enjoyed other places we have lived and the people we have known, there’s no two ways about it: Atlanta will always feel like home and I’ll always be a Brave.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beatco Playlist--And Some New Songs You're Going to Love

Several people have asked me to post the entire Beatco playlist (see Murph Listens to What? post)...so here it is:

Come Together (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Kamera (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Something (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Radio Cure (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Oh! Darling (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
War On War (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Octopus’s Garden (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Jesus, Etc. (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Ashes of American Flags (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Here Comes the Sun (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Heavy Metal Drummer (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Because (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
I’m the Man Who Loves You (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Pot Kettle Black (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
You Never Give Me Your Money (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Poor Places (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Sun King (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Reservations (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco)
Mean Mr. Mustard (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Impossible Germany (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Polythene Pam (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
You Are My Face (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Golden Slumbers (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Hate It Here (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Carry That Weight (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
On and On and On (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
The End (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
Let’s Not Get Carried Away (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Her Majesty (Abbey Road—The Beatles)
What Light (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Getting Better (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—The Beatles)
Shake It Off (Sky Blue Sky—Wilco)
Strawberry Fields Forever (Magical Mystery Tour—The Beatles)
She’s a Jar (Summerteeth—Wilco)
I’ll Fight (Wilco The Album—Wilco)

If you like Wilco, you must like great music...so here's some more great music by my son, Chad. He records under the name "Markarians": (PS...you're going to love it!)
For a free download of his latest album: http://markarians.bandcamp.com/album/ten-means-heaven
Music video for "Rip Through Sunsets": http://vimeo.com/26542032
Music video for "Strangers II": http://vimeo.com/25932177
Take a second to "like" Markarians on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/markarianstheband

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Niekro and Matthews: Major-League Mentors

Who did you look up to in the early days of your career?

Early on in my career I was lucky to rub shoulders with a number of great players, but there were two guys, in particular, that really had a lasting impact on me: Phil Niekro and Gary Matthews, or “Knucksie” and “Sweet,” as we called them, respectively. In Phil’s case, one thing I admired was how he managed his career, namely, his contract negotiations, which were always done professionally, avoiding any conflict. On the field, he was a great example to us young guys (me, Bob Horner, Glen Hubbard, etc.) of how to play hard and endure to the end. For instance, I saw him pitch a bunch of times when he wasn’t feeling 100%. He may have had a sore back or arm, but he’d get out there anyway and give it his all. He also hated getting pulled from games. Contrary to many pitchers in the game today (which fact is partly due to the rise of the middle-reliever), Knucksie expected to pitch all nine innings every time he got on the mound. A couple of years ago, in fact, he told me that he genuinely felt like he had failed the team every time he didn’t pitch a complete game. Another thing about Knucksie was that he could hit. He took his hitting very seriously, and he was always on the lookout for ways to help the team win. In short, Knucksie was a true gamer. And, watching his example, I decided that’s how I wanted to be known, too—-as someone who’d put the game and their team ahead of himself.

A few posts ago I mentioned going to a Giants/Phillies game the night before my pre-draft workout in Philadelphia back in 1974. If I remember right, Gary Matthews was a young player on the Giants at the time. And like Knuckise, Gary was a true player’s player. His effort and enthusiasm on the field really set him apart, in my eyes, from so many other guys. Every time Gary would put the ball in play, you just knew he wasn’t going to be satisfied with a single. He’d often knock his helmet off running to first so he could at least try for second base (in fact, he’d hit with his baseball cap folded up in his back pocket, a habit I think came from his early career when it was typical to run without a helmet). Gary was aggressive, always talking and motivating everyone, and he’d push us young guys to be better. We all really looked up to him. I can remember, for instance, when I heard we’d traded Gary to the Phillies in the spring of 1979. I was taking batting practice in spring training, and I hurried in to John Mullen’s (the general manager) office and asked him if it was true that we traded Gary. I remember first stopping in the clubhouse, to grab a Gatorade or something, all the while debating in my mind whether it was appropriate for me to go express my disappointment to the GM! It was the first time I’d ever gone in to management to voice my opinion on one of their decisions. That’s how much I admired Gary. In a way, trading Gary was a compliment to the younger players—the Braves obviously felt we’d be strong enough offensively that we could trade him to get some pitching. Still, we missed his energy on the Braves, and he went on to great things with the Phillies and Cubs, where he was given the nickname “Sarge” for saluting the bleacher bums out in left field before every game. I was very fortunate to have had him and Knucksie showing me the way during the critical early stages of my career. I’ll never forget their examples.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Memories of 1980 (and why MLB has the best all-star game...)

My first all-star game was in 1980 at Dodger Stadium. It was my first year playing centerfield, so making the all-star team really confirmed for me that I’d found a home in the outfield. It was such a thrill to be out there with so many great players, many of whom I’d been watching on TV as a high school kid not that long before. Johnny Bench, for example, was the starting catcher for the National League that year, making his 13th all-star game appearance. Steve Garvey was making his 7th appearance, and Pete Rose, his 14th. J.R. Richard was our starting pitcher, and before the game I remember thinking the AL guys had absolutely no chance of hitting him (not only was J.R. one of the toughest pitchers around, but the game started at 5 p.m., which meant the shadows would make seeing the ball even more difficult than usual). And I was right: J.R. got through the first three innings pretty easily, if I remember right. Ken Griffey hit a home run and was named MVP—little did I know I’d be playing with him on the Braves a few years later.

I was lucky to get in the game that year, which doesn’t always happen for everyone (I remember that Jose Cruz, for example, didn’t get in the 1980 game). I played centerfield for a couple of innings and also got to hit against Goose Gossage. Well, I say “hit,” but I think I just tapped a little dribbler off the end of the bat, right back to the mound. (I did hit a pretty long foul ball right before that, though).

One thing I’ll never forget about that day was a brief encounter I had with Pete Rose in the tunnel between the dugout and the locker room. As I was walking back he stopped me and said, “Hey congratulations on making the All-Star team, Murph.” Then he continued: “Remember, though, don’t do anything any different out there tonight than you would during the regular season.” Right then I had this image of Pete running over Ray Fosse to win the 1970 All-Star game, and I knew without a doubt that he meant what he said. It was a perfect example of Pete’s attitude toward the game.

This leads me to one of the reasons why I think Major League Baseball has the best all-star game in professional sports. Baseball all-stars (on average) really want to do well in the game. In my experience, I never really got the feeling that there was anyone out there that didn’t want to win. I was fortunate to be on a lot of winning NL teams, but when we lost it was tough to take. In the 1983 game at Old Comiskey Park, for example, we got pounded by the American League, and it wasn’t easily forgotten by any of us, believe me.

There’s another reason, I think, why the MLB All-Star game has an edge on other sports. Given the nature of the game of baseball, players almost have to treat it like regular season game. Unlike many other team sports, baseball’s a game of one-on-one episodic play wherein the course of a game can drastically change every single time the ball’s in play. As a player, then, you can’t ever just not play defense. Pitchers aren’t ever going to throw half-speed nor will shortstops ever just not dive for a close ball. You could slack off, of course, but not without it being totally obvious that you’re phoning it in. In football, though, I’d argue it’s much easier to blend in if you’re not giving 100% on defense, as we’ve seen in the Pro Bowl. In the NBA All-Star Game, it’s even something of a norm to play as little defense as possible. To be fair, I don’t really blame NFL players for not playing full-speed defense in the Pro-Bowl—they go through so much pain and injury in the regular season already that they’re bound to slow down a little bit in an exhibition game. In fact, in my opinion the Pro Bowl should go the way of the dodo. Why not hold some sort of big awards banquet or golf/bowling exhibition with NFL players instead? I’d bet fans would really enjoy this sort of televised event, and I’d suspect players would welcome the change.

Baseball is fortunate to have a system of norms and rules that keep defenders on their toes, and the MLB All-Star Game is all the better for it, both for fans and players alike.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Brian McCann--Doing It the Right Way

As many of you know, Brian McCann will be the starting catcher for the National League All-Star team this year. One thing you can say about Brian is that he was born to be a baseball player. He’s a gamer, that’s for sure. He’s a clutch hitter, he can win the game with his defense and he works great with his pitchers. Braves nation has been fortunate to be a part of Brian’s career so far. He’s a great player. This will be his sixth All-Star Game in his young career. Amazing. You think it’s easy to root for him now? Here’s a quick story that will make you want to pull for him even more.

Back around Brian’s first year in the league, the Braves were moving to new television network, and they asked Phil Niekro, me, Sid Bream and some other old players to do a few promotional spots with some current players (a cross-generational effort, in a sense :). Phil and I teamed up with Brian for one of the commercials.

There were two parts to the commercial. In the first spot, Knucksie turned to me and said, with a chuckle, “You know, Murph, back when I played it took a real man to throw a knuckleball,” to which I jokingly replied, “And a better man to hit one!” That was it—a ten-second little funny back-and-forth. For the next spot, Brian and I switched places. Phil said, “You know, Brian, back when I played, it took a real man to hit a knuckleball,” and then Brian said, “And a better man to catch one!” Everyone had a good time with it—or so we thought.

After the shoot Brian and I were sitting there talking, and he was clearly concerned about something. As he was taking off his shinguards (he’d been in catcher’s gear for the shoot) he looked over and said, “Nah, I can’t say that.” I said, “What do you mean?” Brian said, “I can’t say what I just said—"a better man” than Phil Niekro? I can’t say that. I mean, it’s Knucksie, and I’m just a rookie. How can I honestly say that? I’m not a better man than Phil.” I tried to tell Brian that it was just a joke, but he was unmoved. He'd grown up watching Phil and had such respect for him that he just wasn’t comfortable with it.

So I went over to Phil and told him that Brian didn’t want to say what he said, and that he wanted to redo the spot. “Wait, he doesn’t want to say what?” Phil asked, a bit puzzled. I explained and then we went over to the producer and told him to not start packing up yet, since they were going to need to shoot a different version of the second spot. After we explained a little bit more they ended up reshooting the commercial.

I learned a lot about Brian that day. He's got character, simply put. He’s a humble guy who appreciates the chance he has to play baseball and to represent the Braves organization. It's clear that not only does he want to be a successful player, but he wants to do it the right way. As a baseball fan what more could you ask for?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Knowledge = Mental Edge

If you’re drafted as a baseball player, you’ve obviously got some talent. As you work your way through the system, though, you inevitably start discovering new strengths and new weaknesses. And, to me, this is the moment that separates great players from the rest. Great players draw on two things here, specifically: 1) an unshakeable confidence in their abilities; and 2) a knack for not only learning new things about those abilities but also for remembering and applying those lessons, which they do constantly. And as you might expect, # 2 is often one of the main sources of #1.

There’s so much tacit knowledge required to excel at a game like baseball, and you need to develop that knowledge as quickly as possible. As a pitcher, some of the most important learning comes from studying veteran pitchers and asking them about what they did and why they did it. Other ways to learn include talking with catchers who know how to get guys out (and also with batters, if they’re willing, to get them to say which pitchers they have trouble with and why). Greg Maddux was one of the best examples of this I’ve ever seen, and it’s not as common as you might imagine. I remember Ted Simmons, for instance, toward the end of his career, wondering why more young pitchers weren’t asking him about the things he didn’t like to see as a hitter so they could try them on opposing batters. And the same thing goes for hitters: you need to pay close attention to what others do that seems to work well, and then try to notice the details about your swing that are perhaps holding you back.

Once you develop this trove of knowledge you’ll need to work to maintain it. I always tell young high school and college players to study hard and learn how to think, since the intellectual skills they gain in the classroom will go a long way in helping them retain and apply what they learn on the baseball field. Throughout my career I saw a lot of talented players that really struggled with this mental aspect of the game. Despite their talent, their on-field instincts never really progressed, and they were unable to improve past a certain point.

To be sure, baseball is a game of split-second reactions and finely-tuned physical reflexes, which may seem contradictory to all this cerebral stuff I’m talking about here. But I think it’s also true that these instincts rely heavily on knowledge gained through previous experience. Take base running, for example, a skill that relies as much (if not more) on prior learning as it does on pure physical ability. If you’re naturally quick but don’t have a sense for situations (e.g., when to take a chance and when to stay put), then you’ll literally be going nowhere fast.

Not only will all this mental work help you move up as a young player, but it will also help compensate for diminishing physical abilities later in your career. In fact, I’d bet it’s the same as in many other careers—when you start losing your edge your best weapon is what you’ve got stored in your head. And, trust me, that hard-won knowledge can be a powerful asset. Just think of how many seasoned “older” players have been more effective in certain ways than their younger, more talented peers.

In short, the mental side of game isn’t just a matter of learning to relax, being confident, and trying to keep your focus—it’s about first doing the mental work that will allow these positive states to emerge on their own.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Getting Drafted--My Experience

I was drafted in June of 1974. I played high school ball at Wilson High School in Portland, Oregon, and by June of my senior year, during my American Legion season, I starting noticing more scouts at my games. I got to know one Phillies scout in particular, Bill Harper, who was good friends with my high school coach, Jack Dunn. I knew Bill liked me, and about two weeks before the draft I got a call from the Phillies inviting me to a pre-draft workout at Veteran’s Stadium. It was exciting, to say the least. My Dad and I flew back to Philadelphia, and we got to watch the Phillies play the Giants before the workout the next morning.

A lot was going through my mind during the tryout, as you can imagine. Mostly, though, I couldn’t believe the humidity. It was just sweltering. Portland has never known the type of humidity you get out there on the East Coast. I didn’t bring a bat, either, I remember that. First they wanted to see us hit with wooden bats (aluminum bats had just been invented, and that was really all I was used to), so I walked up to the bat rack to find a collection of—no kidding—the most massive bats I’d ever seen. They were just huge to me. (Mike Schimdt, Bob Boone etc. were with the Phillies at the time). I heaved one out of there and went out to hit. I was really nervous. My hands were sweaty, and I didn’t do that well (I think I hit maybe one off the wall). Then they took us out to the outfield for the sixty-yard dash, and I had the great misfortune of being paired up with Willie Wilson, one of the fastest guys to ever play the game (at the time he had a scholarship to play halfback at the University of Maryland). There I was, this tall, skinny guy, about 6’ 4” 200 pounds, with only decent speed, matched up against Willie Wilson. As soon as they yelled “Go!” Willie was already ten yards ahead of me. I left the workout pretty sure I hadn’t impressed the Phillies all that much, at least not in the speed department.

The draft was a couple of weeks later, and it’s interesting how it differed from today’s draft. Without the Internet or any major sports media outlets around, none of us had any idea which teams were interested or even really what our chances were. I knew the Phillies might draft me, but I had no idea whether any other teams were interested. As it happened, I was picked 5th overall by the Atlanta Braves. The Phillies took Lonnie Smith 3rd, and the Padres took Bill Almon as the overall #1 pick. I honestly had no idea I’d go that high, nor did I have much of a clue about what it all meant. I barely knew where Atlanta was on a map, let alone where their minor league clubs were located. In fact, the whole minor league system was pretty much a mystery to me. All I knew was that Hank Aaron had been with the Braves, and he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. You could say I was a little na├»ve.

Soon after the draft my dad and I negotiated my contract with Bill White, the scout for the Braves. They offered me a $52,000 signing bonus. I didn’t have an agent--it was just me and my dad--nor did I have information about what comparable players were signing for, but $52,000 seemed incredible to me. I remember talking with my parents about it, and they asked, “Well, what do you think? Do you want to go to college (I had signed a letter of intent to go to Arizona State) or do you want to play pro ball?” I told them I wanted to give baseball a shot. So I signed.

Later I found out that Bill White had sent a telegram to Eddie Robinson, the GM for the Braves, during our negotiations. He told him that it was all going well and that he thought they might be able to get me for as low as $65,000 (!). So much for my negotiation skills, I thought. I mean, $52,000 seemed like a major victory!


Padres: Bill Almon
Rangers: Tommy Boggs
Phillies: Lonnie Smith
Indians: Tom Brennan
Braves: Dale Murphy
Brewers: Butch Edge
Cubs: Scot Thompson
White Sox: Larry Monroe
Expos: Ron Sorey
Angels: Mike Miley

Twitter Questions

Thanks everyone for all the blog questions on Twitter! I'm planning to answer a lot of them...stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

I love documentary films. And, like much of the music I listen to these days, most of my favorite documentaries I found through my kids. Now, you may think documentaries are too boring to “count” as movies—they’re too slow, too straightforward, without any special effects, etc. To me, though, this is exactly what makes them (the best ones, at least) so entertaining. That is, they’re great because they’re entertaining in an active rather than a passive way. Hollywood and its endless cycle of “cutting-edge” special effects has really perfected the passive entertainment experience, but active viewing is something different altogether. It’s hard to explain, really, but there is just something fascinating about watching incredible stories about actual events and actual people, without all the polished visuals and witty dialogue. That extra layer of realism has a powerful effect on the way I respond to the characters on-screen. Indeed, when truth is stranger than fiction, you can’t help but look at your own life in a different light.

Take Werner Herzog, for example. He’s the legendary filmmaker behind Grizzly Man, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Encounters at the End of the World, and many more (all recommended, by the way). I don’t think you could invent stories more compelling than the ones he’s documented. Somehow you leave his films feeling more alive than you did going in.

Of course, many documentaries come with a built-in agenda, but, if you know that going in, it can give the film some added complexity that keeps things interesting. This is another bonus of the documentary format. Whether or not you are persuaded by a particular message, I don’t think you can deny that documentaries have a unique ability to inspire action (or inaction!).

All that said, here’s a list of some of my favorites (the italicized blurbs are from imbd.com).

The Cove (2009)

Using state-of-the-art equipment, a group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry, infiltrate a cove near Taijii, Japan to expose both a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health.

For all you baby boomers out there, you may remember Ric O’Barry as Flipper’s original trainer. He believes that Flipper, the famous TV dolphin, didn’t just die but actually committed suicide from being in captivity, and he’s since dedicated his life to animal rights. The Cove is a shocking and thought-provoking take on our ethical responsibility toward living creatures of all types, dolphins in particular. Highly recommended.

Inside Job (2010)

‘Inside Job’ provides a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse.

You’re sure to have an opinion after this one. You might even get angry. Really angry. As someone (like the majority of us) who’s always tried to be prudent with their money, I walked away from Inside Job feeling like the financial crisis wasn’t a random accident but the logical result of one of the greatest scams we’ve ever seen. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re out of the woods yet.

Food, Inc (2008)

An unflattering look inside America's corporate controlled food industry.

At times educational and at times stomach-turning, Food Inc. is a must watch for anyone interested in where our food comes from (a pretty universal concern, I’d say, even if you have never really thought about it). I sometimes wonder how many people turned vegan or vegetarian after watching this, in addition to all the people who surely started making a greater effort to buy local. Even if you don’t go vegan, you’ll never look at the label “corn-fed” on a package of beef the same way again! One of the most harrowing parts of the film is the connection between agribusiness (and the mass production it entails) and E.coli breakouts (E.coli, as far as I know, is rare on smaller, locally-owned farms.). A remarkable documentary.

Dear Zachary (2008)

A filmmaker decides to memorialize a murdered friend when his friend's ex-girlfriend announces she is expecting his son.

If you remember the ‘50s TV show Lost in Space, you’ll remember the B9 robot who sends out a public warning whenever he senses danger. Picture me right now as B9, flailing my arms about and shouting DANGER, DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! I recommended Dear Zachary to a friend of mine recently without warning him beforehand what he was in for, and I learned my lesson.

He and his wife were shocked.

It’s true, this film is an absolute mindbender. And it’s definitely not a standard feel-good flick, though you will feel good—very good—at times. Indeed, Dear Zachary is one of those rare movies that captures the entire range of human experience, from one extreme (extraordinary goodness) to another (unbelievable evil). You can’t watch this movie and not be profoundly moved. You’ll be horrified at the ineptitude of certain legal systems and the insanity that people are capable of. You’ll also marvel at a real-life display of unconditional love on the part of Zachary’s grandparents. Highly recommended. (And remember, you’ve been warned :)

Man on Wire (2008)

A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974, what some consider, "the artistic crime of the century."

The old footage of the Twin Towers is reason enough to watch Man on Wire, but luckily the story is completely gripping, too. It’s amazing that without the Internet around (this was back in 1974) many of us probably never even heard about Philippe Petit’s daring caper when it happened (I don’t remember anything about it, at least). A great film.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)

A film about the former US Secretary of Defense and the various difficult lessons he learned about the nature and conduct of modern war.

I barely missed getting drafted into the Vietnam War. I registered for the draft in high school, but the war ended right as I was graduating. Watergate and Vietnam were all over the news when I was growing up, though, so to hear McNamara essentially apologize for his actions during that era, to see him emotionally moved—this all really hit me hard. The Fog of War really made me think about the unintended consequences of any decision to use military force, not only for entire countries but for the men and women who have to make those tough decisions. The parallels between McNamara’s eleven lessons and our situation today (and the various wars we’re involved in) are hard to miss. We’d do well to listen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pete Rose? I Think It's Time

I was called up to the major leagues in September of 1976. One of the first—and still one of the best—teams I played against was the ’76 Cincinnati Reds, who were just coming off a dramatic World Series victory against the Red Sox the previous year. Nicknamed the “Big Red Machine,” the Reds were absolutely stacked with talent, including one of the best players I ever played against, Pete Rose.

A lot of negative things have been said about Pete over the years, of course, despite his legendary career. I’m often asked whether I think Pete should be in the Hall of Fame, and, truthfully, it’s not an easy question to answer. Here’s my take. As we know, Pete is serving a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for gambling on the Reds as a player-manager, which also means he’s ineligible for the Hall of Fame. I can’t say I disagree with the way the votes have come down against him over the years: rules against gambling are necessary to protect the integrity of the game, and they must be enforced if they’re to be useful. Gambling cannot be taken lightly.

However, I think Pete has already paid perhaps the highest possible price for his bad decisions—he never had another career opportunity in baseball. To me, then, the question comes down to the scope of the lifetime-ban rule. As it stands now, if you’re caught gambling (regardless of whether you were betting on your team to win or lose), you’re given a ban that 1) prohibits you from being employed by Major League Baseball again, in any capacity, and 2) is in effect until the day you die.

The first part makes perfect sense to me, because to preserve the integrity of the game MLB simply cannot employ players and managers with a history of betting on games, period. And I agree that the direction of the bet shouldn’t matter. If you bet on your team to lose, well, that’s obviously a problem. Less obviously, if you bet on your team to win, you still compromise the essence of the game. For example, if you’re the manager, you may rush your star closer out there before you would otherwise, perhaps even if he needs to rest that day. Your best pitchers may get too many innings for their own good. Being too invested (literally) in controlling the outcome of the game is sure to put people and intelligent decisions at risk.

In my opinion, however, part 2 doesn't make quite as much sense as part 1. A “lifetime” ban seems excessive. Will it really be necessary to keep Pete out of the game when he’s in his 80s? I mean, really? He’s already lost any chance to have another job in baseball, and as I see it, that’s the essential point of the punishment anyway, to hurt the offender in terms of their career and livelihood. That’s a steep penalty to suffer—as it should be. But a ban that persists long after retirement age? What if, as an alternative, we take the amount of time Pete’s been out of the game so far—22 years—and make that the standard punishment? Maybe round it up to 25 years and call it the “Pete Rose” rule. In my view, this would accomplish everything the lifetime ban was created to do (25 years out of the game will pretty much ruin any career).

Pete’s clearly paid for his poor decisions, so I think the time has come to look at his career and legacy in a fresh light. He served his punishment—he never had another job in baseball and he likely never will. Just think about that for a minute. We do and should believe in justice, and violations should be reprimanded. But isn’t it possible that, at this point, keeping Pete out of the Hall of Fame may say more about us than it does about him?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Murph Listens To What?

First, a confession: I have an artsy-craftsy side. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise—after all, I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. You can't really grow up somewhere like Portland without some of its cultural, um, "quirkiness" rubbing off on you. If you’ve seen the new IFC series "Portlandia," you know exactly what I’m talking about (it's a must-see for Oregonians and non-Oregonians alike, in my opinion.) One of my favorite episodes, “Put a Bird On It,“ illustrates that quirk factor to perfection. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.

Anyway, it’s true, I love the arts in all forms. Musically, I was raised on the Beatles. My sister Sue and I used to go down to our basement and lip sync to whatever the newest Beatles record was at the time. She usually got to be Paul, and I would have to settle for Ringo. (Come to think of it, why’d I pick Ringo when John was available?) My love for the Beatles stayed strong through my early teenage years, but then came the 70s with bands such as CCR, The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, America, as well as the whole southern rock movement (the Allman Brothers Band, etc.). I was crazy about them all. The late 70s and early 80s probably deserve a separate post altogether (a cautionary tale about the dangers of polyester and disco), as this was the period when my musical tastes really began to expand. Through it all, though, no matter what else caught my ear, I always came back to the Beatles. They were my bread and butter.

Over the years since then, my kids have led me to a wide range of musical styles and artists. These days I really like The Decemberists, The Red River, Kurt Vile, The Raconteurs, Midlake, Local Natives, Band of Horses, Pinback and a long list of others, which brings me to the idea behind this post. A few years ago my son Chad told me that I might like this one particular band—one whose name sounded, to me, more like a brand of refrigerator than a music group. “Wilco,” they were called. He said they had all sorts of 70s soft rock and other classic rock influences going on (“Dad Rock,” in other words). I was intrigued—I fit the fatherly profile after all. He bought me a couple of their albums (Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) and I gave them a listen. And with Wilco that’s all it takes—one good listen and you're hooked, end of story. I bought Sky Blue Sky soon after and wore that album out, too. I couldn’t get enough.

Then, in February of 2008, Chad called and invited Nanc and I to Chicago, where he, his wife Mindy, and our first grandchild, Finn, were living at the time (Chad was getting his Master’s degree at the University of Chicago). He said we should try to visit the same week Wilco would be playing the Riviera (it was apparently part of a five night stand and they’d be playing their entire catalogue). How could I say no? I mean, seeing Wilco in their hometown, at a Chicago landmark no less? This seemed like a no-brainer, so we did it. It’s tough to put into words the experience of seeing them live. “Fun” doesn’t really cut it—maybe “electrifying” would be better. Yeah, electrifying. Wow! I’ve been to a few concerts in my day, but nothing like this. Man, Jeff Tweedy—that guy is the real deal. He’s just…a dude, you know? I mean that as a compliment. Not many other creative geniuses seem as stable and down-to-earth as Jeff Tweedy. I realize that a band’s creative output is sometimes enhanced by the frontman’s (or frontwoman’s) eccentricities. And, it’s true, sometimes an off-kilter view of the world can lead to unique and memorable art. I get that. But Jeff Tweedy proves it doesn’t always have to be that way. He has an amazing ability to create music that resonates with a huge range of people without being someone that’s impossible for regular folks to relate to.

To me, Wilco isn’t just a throwback to classic rock; they are classic rock, often doing it even better than those who influenced them in the first place. I can’t really explain this in musical or technical terms, so let me illustrate with an example. I had a business meeting a few days ago, and as I walked in I heard some familiar music playing in the background. My first thought was, “Hey, that’s cool, they’re playing some Wilco.” But then, after a few seconds, I realized it was a Beatles song from Abbey Road. It caught me by surprise—I couldn’t believe how much they sounded like each other. And that gave me an idea.

I decided to make a Wilco-Beatles playlist (Beatco, I called it) on my iPhone. With the meeting about to start, I hurriedly picked out songs from Abbey Road, Magical Mystery Tour (“Strawberry Fields”), Sgt. Pepper (“Getting Better”) and mixed them in with tracks from Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Sky Blue Sky, Summerteeth (“She’s a Jar”), and Wilco, the Album ("Wilco"). I got it together just in time for our lunch break, went out to my car and popped in my newly created Beatco album. That afternoon, on the drive home after the meeting, more Beatco. Running errands later that afternoon—more Beatco. Needless to say, it was amazing. Maybe the best playlist of all time.

A few thoughts hit me during “Heavy Metal Drummer.” They were confirmed after listening again to the “Impossible Germany”-“Polythene Pam”- “You Are My Face”-“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”-“Sky Blue Sky”-“Golden Slumbers”-“Hate It Here”-“Carry That Weight”-“On And On” portion of the playlist. Here’s what I realized, plain as day:

1. Beatco was the album that Abbey Road wishes it was.

2. Jeff Tweedy has the voice Sir Paul wishes he had.

3. Nels Cline is the session guitarist the Beatles should have had. I mean, c’mon, have you heard those solos on Sky Blue Sky? Put him on some Beatles albums and we’d be talking about Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, BB King, Duane Allman, and Nels Cline. And not necessarily in that order.

So there you have it. That’s my Wilco story. “Dad Rock”? Maybe. “More Classic than Most Classic Rock”? Definitely.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Parenting: It's Not About Us

Quick thought today about raising kids. One of the major challenges of parenting is figuring out the right level of involvement in our kids' decisions about their lives, their interests, and so on. Specifically, should we push our kids toward (what we view as) the most potentially successful or desirable path for them, or should we stand back and let them gravitate naturally toward their own interests (even when they are not what we might envision for them) and offer encouragement in other ways, using a different set of criteria?

Mckay, one of my younger sons, taught me a great lesson about this awhile back. He must have been around 11 years old at the time (he's now 19). On the way to one of his little league games, I asked him, “McKay, so...what’s your favorite position?”

He looked at me and said, “Oh, probably benchwarmer.”

I chuckled a little. “Haha that’s funny, McKay, but seriously... what’s your favorite position?” He quickly shot back, saying, “No, I AM being serious. I like sitting on the bench with everyone else, laughing and goofing around and stuff.” You can imagine this wasn't exactly the answer I had in mind when I asked the question. So I said, “Well, McKay, remember the other day you were in the outfield and you got the ball at the warning track and threw that kid out at second base? That was amazing, buddy! You're really good at baseball!” McKay then said something I'll never forget.

“Well, I may be good at it, but it doesn’t mean I like it.”

I had to think about that one for a minute.

It was a simple, but enlightening, point: sometimes kids don’t enjoy the things they're naturally good at. And, even if they do enjoy those things, they may not be passionate about them. We can all understand this idea, I think, but as a parent it can be easy to forget, mostly because we like to see our kids succeed. Although for many people there's a clear connection between talent, success, and enjoyment, we can't just assume it works this way for our kids. They may have the first two, but that doesn't mean they'll necessarily get the third. As parents we need to be careful and always check our motivations. We should ask ourselves, for example, "Do our kids really enjoy activity X as much as we like watching them do well at it? Are they having fun developing that talent? Does it motivate them to improve and progress? Or are they miserable in spite of their abilities and despite their achievements?"

We need to help our kids figure out, first, what they really like to do. Then we need to help them figure out how to improve themselves in that area of their lives. Talent, success, and interests may not always align perfectly, and if that’s the case, we need to make sure we’re helping them find their passion and not our version of it.

And, through it all, the most important thing we need to remember is: Parenting is not about us. It's about them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jorge Posada Pulls A Ferris Bueller?

Last Saturday night, about an hour before the Yankees and Red Sox were set to play, Jorge Posada went in to manager Joe Girardi’s office and told him he couldn’t play. Posada is, in my mind, a Yankee great. He’s been a rock behind the plate for over a decade and a clutch hitter for the Yankees during their championship years. But Saturday night he was told he'd been dropped to 9th in the line-up. I don't think this should have come as much of a surprise. His batting average is .165 and he doesn't have a right-handed hit yet this season. But, there it was. He wanted to sit out rather than hit 9th.

Posada’s decision raises interesting questions about the tension between the individual and the group in the context of a team sport. Professional athletes must be driven, focused, and sometimes even selfish and stubborn to succeed at the highest levels. Pete Rose, for example, used to say he was the most selfish player on the field because he wanted to get a hit every single time he got up. There’s no question these attributes can contribute to personal and team performance. But there’s a dark side to this type of ambition. In short, it can cause you to temporarily forget that you’re playing a team sport. One reason team sports are so interesting to me is that they usually require ambitious, self-focused people to think hard about the desires of a variety of other people—namely their teammates, manager, position coaches, general manager, and owner—if they want to accomplish anything for themselves. Egos must be sacrificed for the good of the group, but sometimes this can be difficult to do. And the resulting damage can be both personal and collective. Indeed, not only can blind ambition lead you to make very dumb decisions with unrecognized personal risks, such as using steroids or HGH, but you can also undercut the very people that helped you get where you are. This tension is apparent in the twilight years of a successful player's career, when they may not be playing as well as they used to.

So here’s Jorge Posada, the great Yankee catcher, in the middle of a batting slump, and probably at the tail-end of his career. He sees he’s been dropped to 9th in the line-up, goes into Joe Girardi’s office, says he can’t play, without explanation, and the Yankees take him out. This is strange. When you play a team sport (or even when you work in a business), you do what your manager says. Period. Certainly, there needs to be good communication between you and your manager, but when a decision is made, you do it. To be fair, it looks like communication may have been a factor in Posada's reaction. Joel Sherman, of the New York Post, said that after all that Posada has done for the Yankees, and since hitting 9th is so symbolic and probably something that would not go over too well, Giraridi should have talked to Posada about this possibility at least a couple days before the decision was made. I agree. Posada apparently found out he was hitting ninth when he got to the ballpark that day. Both sides could have talked and maybe avoided this major blow-up. Girardi was trying to help him get out of his slump by playing him, but maybe 8th could have worked. Ninth, really? There are a number of Yankees struggling...maybe someone else could have hit ninth. That would have shown Posada some respect, and Posada probably would have reacted with respect towards Girardi. Good managers are not only good tacticians, but they are also good communicators...or at least they try. Nevertheless, Posada should have stayed in the line-up. I mean, he's really been struggling. In the words of my high school coach Jack Dunn, lately Posada's been a switch hitter that hits three ways: "left, right and seldom”.

Focusing on oneself can slowly erode the foundations of effective teamwork: respect for the team and respect for the manager. If you have respect for your manager and teammates when things are going well, you can’t abandon that when you are struggling. Some may say he doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment. For example, David Ortiz, seizing on the chance to stir the pot with Yankeee fans, said the Yankees were wrong to do this to one of their own. But let’s remember that Posada’s making over ten million dollars this year to add to the tens of millions he has made over his career. He’s produced, he’s been a leader, and he’s been handsomely compensated for it. Now he just needs to remember that the best leaders are those who know when to lead and when to follow.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stay tuned: More fun to come!

Don't forget to join me on twitter now: @DaleMurphy3

And stay tuned for my new website (coming in the next few weeks!): http://www.dalemurphy.com/

Speed and Quickness in Baseball

Ken Bradley of the Sporting News asked me recently about speed and stolen bases coming back to baseball. Here are a few of my thoughts on the topic, followed by my answer to Ken’s question about whether or not we’ll ever see 100 stolen bases in a season again. (Look for Ken’s upcoming survey in Exit Poll at Sportingnews.com.)

In my day, speed was a highly valued commodity in baseball. When I was playing, plenty of guys were drafted for one main reason: because they could just flat-out fly. The basic strategy of management in that situation was something like, “well, if we can teach him to just put the ball in play somehow, we’ll be all set. That’s all he’ll need to do—make contact and then run like the dickens.” This was a pretty common way to look at it, in fact. In the early days of the Kansas City Royals Academy, for instance, the philosophy was to first and foremost draft good athletes and worry about the particulars later. In other words, you didn’t draft these guys as position players. Instead, you drafted them for their raw horsepower and then figured out how to fit them into the system. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that defenses seemed to cover a lot more ground in those days. Speed was valued in a big way, and it showed. Just the other day, Bob Denier, a great leadoff hitter and base stealer for the Cubs and Phillies in the 80s, put it to me this way (I’ll paraphrase): “Murph, remember when, like, every team had at least one guy who could steal 70 bases a year? And the Cardinals had six?”

I wasn’t one of those guys drafted for their wheels. Mine were functional, sure, but not knock-your-socks-off amazing. In May of 1974, right after high school, I was invited to a Phillies pre-draft workout, and one of the drills was the 60-yard dash where we paired up and ran for time. My numbers weren’t that impressive, and they looked even worse because for some reason I partnered up with Willie Wilson. Yeah, that’s right. The 60-yard dash with Willie Wilson. You’d think I would’ve found a fellow catcher, someone to help my cause. But, of course, I picked Willie, who went on to become one of the best base stealers of all time. I had no shot.

Anyway, all that said, I think it’s great that speed is coming back to the game. I expect a couple of things to happen as a result. First, because speed will be a bigger plus than it has been in recent years, scouts will look at young players differently. This will probably encourage more fast kids to see baseball as a viable option in addition to, say, football. Second, fans will see more “small ball,” that is, more bunts, hit and run plays, stolen bases, and triples (the latter being, for a lot of people, one of the most exciting plays in baseball). But I don’t think these changes will necessarily shift the game away from its recent focus, namely, the home run. (I’ll say more about that in a minute.) Still, I think we’re seeing signs of something I’ve always believed: baseball fans aren’t just in it for the long ball; they’re in it for the drama, the pure thrill of the competition--and small ball's a great source of drama. Indeed, with steroids out of the game, we’ve seen homeruns go down but fan attendance remain constant.

Now, will anyone reach 100 stolen bases in a season again? I say no. First of all, I don't think anyone right now is equipped to do it. Jose Reyes is probably the best bet among current players, but I suspect we’ll probably see even better base stealers in the near future, kids who are probably in high school right now and/or at least a few years away from the big leagues. But I don’t think anyone will ever get to 100 again, though someone may come close. Why? Well, first, to even have a sporting chance you need a stellar on-base percentage, and that’s no easy task. Ricky Henderson, for example, had a .414 OBP when he stole 108 bases, and Vince Coleman was at about .360 OBP when he stole 109. The bigger reason, however, is that even though we'll surely see players with 100 stolen base-caliber speed, most ballparks these days are geared toward hitters, which means that teams don’t really have any incentive to be designed for speed or to focus on the “small ball” tactics that can generate stolen bases. Think, for example, about the St. Louis Cardinals in the days of Vince Coleman. Back then they played 81 games a year at the old Busch Stadium, but they also played a lot of games at those classic Astro-turfed 'speed' parks like Olympic Stadium, Veterans Stadium, the Astrodome, Three Rivers, and Riverfront. Some of these parks favored hitters, some favored pitchers, but one thing’s for sure: they were all fantastic for runners.

So, with Astro-Turf dead and gone (no complaints here) and hitter’s parks here to stay, I think that despite speed’s return, power will continue to be emphasized.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Happy Birthday Willie Mays

I saw that Willie Mays turned 80 last week so I wanted to share a few memories and thoughts about him. People always ask me who my favorite player was growing up, and I’ve always said Willie Mays (and Johnny Bench, too, once I started playing catcher in high school).

I’m a native Oregonian—a Portlandian, more specifically—but when I was in elementary school we spent a couple of years in the San Francisco area. My dad worked for Westinghouse, and in the mid-1960s he was transferred down to sunny California. This turned out to be a transformative event in my life, as it may have been for any 5th grader just starting to discover baseball. Indeed, those were good times for Bay Area baseball fans. The Giants had a great team: Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Ray Sadeki, Jim Davenport, Jim Ray Hart, and, of course, Willie. Everyone loved Willie.

I have so many fond memories of those days. I mostly remember cold nights at Candlestick Park with my dad. We’d be there, freezing in the Westinghouse seats, sometimes in a box at the loge level and other times in the bleachers. I always loved watching Willie warm up before the game. He’d throw for a while with the other outfielders, and when he was finished he’d gently toss the ball up over the fence to the fans. I remember watching the kids, all gathered around, scrambling for it.

And then, of course, the basket catch. If there was a relatively routine fly ball, Willie would camp under it and just wait. Then, instead of catching it above his head, like most outfielders are taught, he’d turn his glove over, almost casually, and catch it below his waist. It always seemed so risky to me. But Willie had flair. A kind of artistry went into everything he did on the field. I swear, there was something almost poetic about the way his helmet would fly off every single time he’d run the bases.

At some point my dad got me a Willie Mays signature outfielder’s glove. It was a MacGregor and made of kangaroo leather. I used to take my Willie Mays baseball cards and compare the top row of webbing on Willie’s glove with the webbing on mine. I remember one time sitting there and counting, one-by-one, the stitches and the leather loops on each, which to my amazement were the exact same. I was convinced—absolutely convinced—that my dad had somehow gotten me one of Willie’s old game mitts. To this day I’m not even sure where my dad bought that glove, so, who knows, maybe it’s true :)

I also remember hitting a lot of imaginary home runs in those days (if, as a kid, you ever had a baseball bat, a handful of rocks, and a whole lot of free time, then you probably know what I’m talking about). We lived in an apartment in Redwood City for awhile, and I’d spend hours in the rear courtyard area, smacking rocks over the fence with the trusty bat I got at Bat Day. I’d count every single one, pretending I was getting closer and closer to Willie’s all-time total. It was the stuff of dreams: listening to ballgames on the radio, hitting rocks over the fence, and imagining I was a star big-league ballplayer like the great Willie Mays.

Willie retired shortly before I started playing, but I’ll never forget meeting him for the first time early in my career, at Candlestick Park, when the Braves were visiting the Giants. It was one of the great thrills of my life.

Happy (belated) birthday, Willie.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Welcome to Murph Talks

Hello everyone. My name’s Dale Murphy. During my career in the Major Leagues, I was known among reporters as a pretty boring interview...I guess I just never had much to say. But no more! After almost 18 years of retirement, I’m excited to be officially joining the blogosphere.

Believe it or not, I’m a grandpa now, and I’m closing in on 60 years old. People often ask me what I’m doing these days, where I’m living, and just generally what’s going on in my life. That’s where this blog comes in. Honestly, it’s a little intimidating for someone like me—someone who’s always kept their private life, well, private—to start laying it all out there in a blog, so bear with me as I get the hang of this thing. Of course, when I was playing, my performance on the field was always public, but, you know, it’s a whole different thing to have your ideas and opinions out there for everyone to see. So here goes nothing.

I’ll be blogging on a bunch of different subjects, from baseball to politics to raising kids and back again. I’ll probably throw in a few movie and music reviews, too, just to keep things interesting. Because more than anything I want to keep it interesting. And, who knows, maybe even a little bit surprising sometimes, too, like next post when I talk about my undying love of big-haired heavy metal bands (just kidding).

I’m not all that technology-savvy, so my son Chad will be helping me organize these posts. Thanks to him for that. My wife, Nancy, as always will be providing key logistical and moral support, such as making sure my jokes are funny enough for primetime. Thanks, Nanc.

And thank you for reading.