YES, IT IS TRUE. That was no rumor that Dale Murphy was in town this week, although it was not true that the Salt Lake Trappers were making him an offer; which makes the Trappers rather unique. Most other baseball clubs in the free world are coveting Murphy these days.
It has made for a rather anxious winter. Phones ringing all the time. Sometimes from teams. Sometimes from the media. Sometimes from fans. And when baseball's winter meetings happened to be held in December in Atlanta - the hometown of both Murphy and his employer, the Atlanta Braves - that didn't help. Murphy was in the headlines daily. The Mets said they wanted him; so did the Padres; and the Angels; and most other major league teams were saying "hmmmmmmmm."The Braves said to go ahead and make them an offer.
This was news. It isn't every off-season that a two-time Most Valuable Player goes on the trading block. For 13 consecutive years now, Murphy has played for the Atlanta Braves, leading them with distinction and a power swing that has produced 334 home runs. The problem has been that the Braves haven't enjoyed quite as much distinction as their budding Hall-of-Famer, especially not lately. They had by far the worst record in the National League last year. Worse yet, Murphy had by far his worst season as a full-time player. His .226 batting average was more than 50 points below his career average of .279; and his home-run total of 24 was 20 less than a year ago, and his lowest output since the strike-shortened season of 1981.
The conjecture was that the Braves had finally dragged down The Murph. A conjecture that even Murphy begrudgingly concedes might be the truth.
"I did get a little down last season," he said. "My head and my attitude sometimes weren't where they should have been. A lot of guys had to battle that. But that's no excuse. When you're down, that's when you should dig deeper."
At any rate, the above situation, coupled with Murphy's marketability, produced the possibility of The Trade.
"I'm not bothered by any of the talk," said Murphy. "It's a compliment, really, when other teams are interested. And I understand what's going on. The only thing different about this winter and any other winter is the uncertainty. And I've been lucky in my career. A lot of players have to go through this every year."
Still, it didn't hurt to get away from the phone for a couple of days this week at the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley.
"I can't ski, because of the baseball," said Murphy. "So Nancy (his wife) and I just had a little getaway. But it was great being in Utah. There wasn't much talk about baseball. The only time anybody said anything all week was when we were leaving and the guy carrying the bags said, "Good luck next season.' "
He didn't even ask where they were going to be.
"The nice thing," said Murphy, "is because of my veteran status, I can accept or reject any offer. So I don't have to go somewhere I don't want to go.
"I don't really have a feel for what might happen. I'm probably the wrong guy to ask right now. It's obvious the Braves are talking to other teams, but my feeling is that they're just listening and won't do anything unless they hear an offer they absolutely can't refuse."
Murphy said he hasn't told the Braves to back off.
"I haven't told them I don't want to go," he said. "I also haven't told them I have to go."
If the Braves can get half an infield for Murphy, or a full bullpen, or several
south sea islands, even Murphy realizes that might make sense.
"We need to make some changes," he said. "That's definite. It's been proven that you can turn things around in a year in baseball. Look at the Giants, and Oakland, and the Dodgers. But you have to make the right moves."
No pun intended.
In the meantime, Murphy's Utah snow-break is over and he's back in Atlanta, near the telephone again. It should be ringing a lot between now and spring training. Most of the time with people asking questions. But sooner or later, with someone providing an answer.