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Checking the list: Murphy's HOF case

Keltner questions help clarify Braves great's Cooperstown potential
December 6, 2017

Many years ago, Bill James created what he called the Keltner List. This was a series of questions to ask about a player to get your mind straight about their Hall of Fame case. In the early 1980s, a group of baseball luminaries -- including then-Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig

Many years ago, Bill James created what he called the Keltner List. This was a series of questions to ask about a player to get your mind straight about their Hall of Fame case. In the early 1980s, a group of baseball luminaries -- including then-Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig -- got together to try and convince people that former Cleveland third baseman Ken Keltner belonged in the Hall of Fame.
James came up with this list of questions to ask about Keltner and any other Hall of Fame candidate. The Keltner List is not a formula; it doesn't have a point system and doesn't give a clear thumbs up or thumbs down at the end. No, you ask and answer the questions, and by the end, maybe you will have a clearer view of that player's career.
With Bill's permission, I'm bringing the Keltner List back with a couple of added questions of my own -- I think Keltner 2.0 will help us understand the Hall of Fame case of Murphy.
1. Was Murphy ever regarded as the best player in the Majors? Did anybody, while he was active, suggest that he was the best player in the game?
Yes and yes. I would say for six years, 1982-87, most people would have said that Murphy was the best player in baseball. In retrospect, you could certainly make a case for Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Mike Schmidt or Cal Ripken (all in the Hall), but Murphy was in that class.
2. Was Murphy the best player on his team?
Yes. That wasn't especially close and it isn't overly impressive; Murphy spent most of his career playing for terrible Braves teams.
3. Was Murphy the best player in the Majors at his position?
Yes. Murphy was the game's best center fielder throughout his prime. Andre Dawson was as good in the early part, but then he moved to right field. Kirby Puckett and Eric Davis came along toward the end of Murphy's prime.
4. Did Murphy have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Only one. In 1982, the Braves won their first 13 games and then played well enough the final six weeks to hold off the Dodgers by one game. Murphy hit .281/.378/.507, played all 162 games, led the National League with 109 RBIs, won a Gold Glove Award and his first NL MVP Award. The Braves wouldn't have won the division without him.
But that was it for postseason baseball. Murphy's Braves contended the next year (Murphy won his second NL MVP Award) but lost to the Dodgers by three games. They were dreadful for the rest of Murphy's career in Atlanta.

5. Was Murphy a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Sadly, no. This is the big problem with Murphy's case. At 31, Murphy hit .295/.417/.580 with a career-high 44 home runs. After that, he was basically done as a player. Murphy hit .234/.307/.396 for the last six years of his career, and an effort to get to 400 home runs didn't pan out with the expansion Rockies in 1993; he finished with 398 home runs. He was a big man who missed only five games between 1982-87, and his body just wore down after that.
6. Are most of the players who are comparable to Murphy in the Hall of Fame?
Not most. Among Murphy's most similar batters, Duke Snider and Ron Santo are in the Hall of Fame. Andruw Jones is the most similar batter, and he is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. Jones is not expected to do especially well in the voting.
7. Are Murphy's numbers worthy of the Hall of Fame?
Let's use a few different methods to see:
By Black Ink -- which counts the number of times a player led the league in important stats -- Murphy scores a 44. The average Hall of Famer is at 27. So that's good.
By Gray Ink -- which counts the number of times a player finished in the Top 10 in important stats -- he scores a 147. The average Hall of Famer is at 144. So that's good.
By the Hall of Fame Monitor -- which uses points to determine how likely a player is to be elected to the Hall -- Murphy scored a 116. A likely Hall of Famer is 100. Good again.
And finally by Hall of Fame standards -- a rather complicated formula again giving points, with 50 being the average Hall of Famer -- Murphy scored 34. Not as good.
And by Jay Jaffe's JAWS -- which considers a player's career WAR and peak WAR -- Murphy falls short. His 43.6 JAWS is well below the average Hall of Fame center fielder (57.9 JAWS).
8. Is there a reason to believe he was better or worse than the stats say?
Probably a little of both. Murphy benefited from playing in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where the ball carried so well the place was called The Launching Pad. On the other hand, he played in a relatively low-scoring era and for terrible teams that offered little support. Murphy was a good all-around player, which can get overlooked in the stats. He was viewed in his time as a five-tool player -- he stole 30 bases one season, won five Gold Glove Awards and walked 115 times one year.
9. Is Murphy the best player at his position not in the Hall of Fame?
Because Murphy essentially was done at 32, he does not have the career numbers to make that claim. Kenny Lofton and the just-retired Carlos Beltran have more impressive career numbers. But you could certainly argue that at his peak, Murphy was as good as any center fielder not in Cooperstown -- not counting Michael Trout, of course.
10. How many MVP Awards did Murphy win and how many MVP-type seasons did he have?
Murphy won two NL MVP Awards, which obviously helps his case. He had what I would call four MVP-type seasons, and he got MVP Award votes in seven years.
11. How many All-Star and All-Star-type seasons did Murphy have?
Murphy made seven All-Star teams, and I don't think he had any other All-Star-type years.
12. If Murphy was the best player on a team, could they win the World Series?
We'd have to guess, obviously, because the Braves were so bad. But I think the answer is clearly yes. Numerous teams have won World Series without a player as good as Murphy.
13. What impact, if any, did Murphy have on baseball history?
Murphy was a pivotal player for opening up Major League baseball to the South. When he played, there was no baseball in Florida or Washington, D.C., and so the Braves were really the team from Florida up to Virginia and out to Alabama, Tennessee and even Mississippi. This was especially true after Ted Turner started broadcasting Braves games on TBS -- and unabashedly marketed them as "America's Team." Murphy was the only player worth watching on America's Team, and for years he carried the entire banner of Southern baseball.
14. Did Murphy uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that is written into the Hall of Fame guidelines?
Yes, and then some. Murphy was perhaps the game's most approachable and friendly superstar. He was, in this way, the Stan Musial of his time.
15. Was Murphy especially popular and fun to watch?
Yes. Murphy was seen all over the country while playing for losing Braves teams, and he had an impact on fans. He was a fun player who played all out, covered a lot of ground with his long strides and had a big all-or-nothing type swing. Murphy was one of the most popular players of the 1980s, his posters were on the walls of many young fans. Even today, Murphy remains immensely popular because of his play and personality.
16. Was there anything particularly memorable about Murphy? Did he have any famous moments?
Murphy's unique ability was hitting opposite-field home runs. That is something that is common today because the players have grown so much stronger, but in the 1970s and 80s, you rarely saw players hit opposite-field home runs. Murphy did it routinely. His power was to right-center, and it was striking how his ball seemed to carry differently from other players.
As for famous moments, Murphy only played in one postseason, so he did not get the opportunity to have such a moment.
And at the end of the Keltner List, it seems to come down to this: Murphy was a Hall of Fame-level player for his seven or so years. And his career then crashed when he was still a relatively young man. So it comes down to this: Was he great for long enough?

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for