Dale Murphy couldn't bear to see his son's Little League teammate crying in the dugout after striking out.
"Taylor. Taylor. Go pat him on the back and tell him it's OK. Go tell him he'll get it next time," the former Atlanta Braves outfielder told his 6-year-old son through the dugout fence.Taylor Murphy was basking in his own good performance that day and balked at his dad's request. Murphy prodded again and Taylor reluctantly obliged, running over to his down-and-out Little Braves teammate, saying something quickly and looking back at his father for approval.
"Good job," said Murphy, whose eight children make him one shy of being able to field his own baseball team.
Still winding down from a 16-season professional career in which he dropped from baseball's boy wonder to an injured has-been, the 38-year-old Murphy hates to see Little Leaguers getting so upset so early in their budding baseball careers.
"People forget how hard it is at their age. You help them get through these frustrating years. But then, it can be frustrating no matter what age you are," said Murphy, who retired last summer after a dismal, injury-plagued season with the Colorado Rockies.
"I know what it's like to be in a slump."
But most fans remember Murphy's non-slump years with the Atlanta Braves:
- The back-to-back MVP awards in 1982-83.
- The five Gold Gloves.
- The 398 home runs.
- The cheers whenever his name was announced.
Murphy is only the fifth player in the 119-year history of the Braves' franchise to have his jersey - No. 3 - retired. The others are Hank Aaron , Warren Spahn , Eddie Mathews and Phil Niekro .
"I don't think I'm really in their league," the modest Murphy said, handing 4-year-old son, Jacob, 25 cents to buy bubble gum at the concession stand. "It's the highest honor they could give me."
Dressed in khaki pants, striped short-sleeved shirt and white tennis shoes, Murphy says he has put on a few pounds since quitting the game a year ago. But his boyish good looks and bashful charm haven't changed. He begins his answer to almost every question with a sheepish, "Gee, I don't know . . ."
He lives on a 500-acre farm in Grantville, about 50 miles southwest of Atlanta, with his wife, seven boys and a new baby girl. The eight kids range in age from 13 years to 9 months. Four play Little League ball.
"We've got a game or a practice every day of the week," Murphy said. "I've never eaten so many hot dogs in my life."
As if that's not enough baseball, the entire family is taking a cruise this summer on a ship that caters to families and offers baseball lessons on board. Murphy will help with batting practice and his children will be part of the ship team that plays teams in Caribbean countries.
"I don't think I'll ever get totally away from the game," said Murphy, who grew up in Portland, Ore., and started playing baseball at age 8.
While he figures out what he wants to do with the rest of his life, he's making up for lost time with his family, playing golf and speaking to groups around Atlanta.
At the Little League field, Murphy is just a regular parent rooting for the kids. He stands by the dugout rather than sitting in the bleachers, and he high-fives his sons when they come off the field. His kids get no special treatment, according to other parents, and he doesn't tell the coaches how to do their job.
"He'll help us out if we ask him, but he's extremely easygoing," said Al Fuller of Newnan, a coach for Taylor's team.
The sincere personality that made Murphy, a Mormon, stand out in baseball circles remains intact.
He listens sincerely as a Little League coach recounts the details behind a 3-inch-long scar on his knee.
"Oh man, that's awful," Murphy says to the guy.
He obliges with a smile when asked for an autograph.
"Sure," Murphy says, signing a baseball cap for the father of a boy on Taylor's team.
"If you looked up All-American in the dictionary, Dale Murphy's picture would be there," said umpire Royce Williams of Grantville. "He's not one of those dog-eat-dog parents."
A new book by Philadelphia Phillies first baseman John Kruk shows that Murphy has trouble getting angry even when he's pushed too far. In "I Ain't An Athlete, Lady," Kruk recounts when Murphy, with the Phillies, struck out and threw his bat on the ground.
On the bus ride to the airport, a foul-mouthed Kruk provoked Murphy repeatedly about the poor performance. Murphy got out of his seat to confront Kruk and the worst he could come up with was, "Shut up or I'm going to bop you one."
Murphy's personality is well suited to the lighthearted Little League atmosphere. He cheers for all the kids, takes photos of his sons, and makes arrangements to sign everyone's team photo.
"Hey dad, I can crack my nose. Wanna hear?" 8-year-old Tyson Murphy said from the dugout.
Dad leans into the fence to hear the faint pop. "Oh no," Murphy said, laughing and unwrapping a piece of pink bubble gum for himself.
What's it like having dad around for all his games now?
"It's good," Tyson said.