By Ross Forman
Dale Murphy, a seven-time National League All-Star and back-to-back NL MVP (1982-83), appeared on the cover of The Sporting News in 1981. The headline blazed, One Hot Hitter. And Murphy is shown holding a baseball bat with flames coming from it.
“Someone got that image and started making his own baseball cards,” Murphy said as he simultaneously signed autographs at a Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular, held in Rosemont, Ill.
Murphy’s agent contacted the person making the unlicensed cards and eventually all of the cards were sent to Murphy.
“I have a bunch of these cards,” he said, laughing. “The rumor was that Dale Murphy had these yanked because I didn’t like the image and the fire, that it was some evil, eerie image, with a bat on fire.
“In reality, this guy just didn’t have permission to (produce them).”
Decades later, those fiery, unlicensed cards are “somewhere in a shoebox,” Murphy said.
Murphy had an illustrious 18-year career (1976-1993) for three teams: Atlanta, Philadelphia and Colorado – but was most remembered, of course, for his run with the Braves. He was the National League’s Silver Slugger Award-winner four straight years (1982–1985) and the National League’s Gold Glove award-winner five straight years (1982–1986). He was a .265 lifetime hitter with 398 home runs, and his No. 3 jersey has been retired by the Braves.
He was on the Hall of Fame ballot for 15 years, but never was inducted.
“I kind of started (my career) during the big rise, the big spike (of the hobby). My first (full) year was 1978,” said Murphy, who played 19 and 18 games, respectively, for the Braves in 1976 and 1977. “I know the industry has had its ups and downs, but I’ve had a good experience attending the card shows, meeting a lot of people.
“There’s a lot of good charity work that goes on behind the scenes at card shows. Sure, a lot of the signed memorabilia ends up in homes and collections, but a lot of it also ends up in charity auctions.”
Murphy’s career spanned 2,180 games and close to 8,000 at-bats. He played in all 162 regular-season games four consecutive seasons (1982-1985) and he drove in more than 100 runs in each of those seasons.
When he first retired, Murphy didn’t do a lot of card show appearances, yet eventually started doing some and realized that “they are so much fun.”
“People are always appreciative when I come to the shows, and I have a great time interacting with the people,” said Murphy, who attends about three to five shows annually.
“I’m not much of a collector, but I wish I was. I really wish I had collected more stuff from when I played. I just didn’t think about it at the time and didn’t do it,” Murphy said. “I played in the late-1970s and now really wish I had thought about it (because) I played against a lot of guys whose (Hall of Fame) careers were just ending; I could have gotten their autograph.
“I wish I had gotten bats from some guys, such as Pete Rose, Willie Stargell, Mike Schmidt and others. I see (some of) those guys occasionally now, and I could get something from them, but it would have been nice, fun while I played.”
One autograph Murphy had was a baseball signed by Hall of Famer pitcher Nolan Ryan – until his kids decided to use it.
“I looked over in the bushes and picked up a baseball. Then I saw Nolan Ryan (had signed it),” he said, laughing.
Now 60, Murphy was the Braves’ first-round (5th overall) draft pick in 1974. He made his major league debut on Sept. 13, 1976. He played his last big league game on May 21, 1993.
He still gets autograph requests daily, just as he has for almost 40 years.
“It baffles me now even more, now that I’ve been retired for 22 years,” Murphy said.
Murphy has several noteworthy cards, such as his 1978 Topps (No. 708) – the rookie catchers card that also features Bo Diaz, Lance Parrish and Ernie Whitt – which sells for close to $500, if graded a PSA Gem Mint 10. There also is a 1977 Topps four-person card, with Gary Alexander, Rick Cerone, Kevin Pasley and Murphy.
Another must-have Murphy card is his 1989 Upper Deck ‘reverse image’ card.
“I may still have some of my cards, the ones I collected as a kid, but I didn’t collect that much. I was a typical kid when it came to collecting. One card I definitely remember is a Willie Mays card,” Murphy said. “We didn’t think to keep them in (mint condition); I wish we would have.
“Getting my own baseball card for the first time … that was surreal, really strange.
“I’ve really liked some of the throwback cards (produced) over the past few years.”
Murphy said he has signed “not too many” of the ‘reverse image’ cards over the years.
Murphy said he saved some game-worn and game-used relics, such as bats.
“I never really know (for sure) when people ask me to sign items and inscribe it as game-used,” he said.
He also has several game-worn gloves, “and I’ll never give those away; I’ll always treasure them.”
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com