When it happened, it wasn't a complete shock. We all knew the Braves were trying to trade Dale Murphy. The Astros, Padres and Phillies were the teams interested. But when the word came that Murphy had, in fact, been traded to Philadelphia, it was a punch in the gut for any Braves fan.
Even though deep down we might have known it was time, even necessary, it hurt. Dale Murphy was the Atlanta Braves in the 1980s. He was a two-time MVP and the face of the franchise. Murphy was Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz all wrapped into one.
He was the one thousands of fans loved, the one thousands of young baseball players tried to emulate. If you were a kid in the state of Georgia and did not have the "Power Alley" poster with Murphy on your wall, well, something was wrong. It was the best poster ever. Well, maybe second-best next to that one Farrah Fawcett did back in the day.
He had a nickname. He was handsome. He was a good guy. He was a star. He had a family. He had everything. And we all loved him.
And then, he was gone.
Two years earlier, in the winter of 1988, the Braves shopped Murphy when the Winter Meetings were in Atlanta. Then general manager Bobby Cox fielded offers for Murphy. The Braves were going through a rebuilding plan, and it made sense to see what the team could get for him.
The Mets, who at the time were very good, were the favorites to get him. The names mentioned in the trade rumors were big names: Howard Johnson, Len Dykstra, Rick Aguilera and a top left-handed pitching prospect named David West, who Cox reportedly loved and believed could lead the Atlanta rotation.
"The rumors were kind of interesting," Murphy told me in 2004. "They really didn't bother me. It was part of the job. Those two guys and a big left-hander like that would have been a good deal for the Braves."
The Padres were also in the talks. The names floated out there included John Kruk, Sandy Alomar, Jr., and Lance McCullers.
But Cox hung on to Murphy and resisted the trade, at least then. The Braves continued their rebuilding project around Murphy. Young kids came up and all of a sudden Murphy was the elder statesman on the team. He was only in his early-30s, but comparatively he was the old guy in the lineup.
The 1990 season was a mess, really. The Braves hoped to get to .500, but the early season loss of big-time free agent Nick Esasky didn't help things. The young talent was starting to blossom. David Justice came up to replace Esasky and was the rookie of the year. Ron Gant went from being stuck in Low-A to becoming a 30/30 man. And the pitching was emerging. The fruits of the rebuilding plan were starting to be seen, even though the wins were still hard to come by.
Murphy was facing free agency following the 1990 season, and he decided to let Cox know of his plans.
"I told Bobby that I was going to be a free agent and I had decided I was going to move on next winter," Murphy remembered, "and if there's a trade that you think could work or that you wanted to do and I think I could go to that team and it would be a good team for us than we'd look at it. We felt it was time to move on."
So Cox pulled the trigger on a trade with the Phillies. Tommy Greene, a young right-handed pitcher, would join Murphy heading north. The Braves got back reliever Jeff Parrett, outfield prospect Jim Vatcher and infield prospect Victor Rosario. Not one of the three did much with the Braves.
I remember where I was when I heard the deal was done. I was actually listening to Cox's radio show, where he confirmed to Skip Caray that Murphy was no longer a Brave. I remember the next day watching 11 Alive as they had video of Murphy and his wife Nancy boarding a plane for Philadelphia.
It was surreal. It was hard to think about a Braves team without Dale Murphy.
"I think Nancy and I felt the same way," Murphy said. "It was like, 'Oh, no What in the world is going on?' There were a lot of tears shed, but there was kind of a sense of excitement. Guys kind of need a little jump start sometimes. I don't know if guys like to admit it. I was kind of in the doldrums and the team was kind of in the doldrums. I just thought, 'Well, I'm going to force the issue. I'm going to make the decision and move on.' But it was a shock even when we knew it was coming."
What was almost cruel was that the Braves got on track following Murphy's trade. Of course, the 1991 season was the most magical year in Braves history, and to think it happened right after they traded the most popular player in Atlanta's history not named Hank Aaron was amazing.
"I was really wishing I could be part of it," Murphy admitted. "I was really thinking, 'Boy that could have been fun.' You're always second-guessing yourself. It was challenging still living in Atlanta and not being part of all that excitement."
In a historical perspective, it is almost as if the Murphy era of Braves baseball had to end before the Braves could accomplish what started in 1991. Maybe that chapter simply had to end so the next one could begin.
"Maybe I was sensing that," Murphy said. "Maybe everybody was sensing that. I think that's why I forced the issue. Let's say I stay there, (John) Schuerholz does come in, and he sees that we've got to move Murph. It would have gotten real sticky. I didn't want to go through that. Dave Justice was coming up and (Ron) Gant was out there. Let's say they make that trade for Otis (Nixon, in the spring of 1991) and I'm still there. They wanted to go with the young guys. It sure felt like it was time to leave. I felt I was very loyal to the team, but it was time for me to move on."
Should we be surprised that even Murphy would know what to do? He would do the right thing, wouldn't he?
But it still hurt. It was weird watching the Braves and not seeing him on the team, in the lineup. And it's hard to believe it's been 25 years since the trade that put Dale Murphy in another uniform.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.
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