The locker was empty. There was no nameplate. No bats or gloves. The only rememberance left behind was a poster from the movie, “The Streets of Laredo.”
Still, the Atlanta Brave players couldn’t help but steal glances at the locker as they dressed before Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Padres. It was as if they kept waiting for him to walk through the door any minute, say his friendly hellos to everyone, put on his uniform while reporters flocked to his locker and wander out to play right field.
But Dale Murphy is gone, to a place called Philadelphia.
And if the Braves weren’t playing badly enough with Murphy, you should see them now.
The Braves were swept in a doubleheader by the Padres, losing 7-2 in the first game and 11-9 in the second game.
Just how awful were the Braves?
In the doubleheader, they managed to make six errors--including three consecutive errors in one inning. They left 24 runners on base, hit into five double plays, allowed the Padres to send 50 batters to the plate in the second game alone and recorded just one 1-2-3 inning the entire night.
Well, what do you expect from a team whose pitching staff owns a 5.01 ERA, the worst in baseball, whose .245 batting average is the worst in baseball and, yes, completing the Triple Crown, whose .972 fielding percentage is the worst in baseball.
This is a team that’s so bad, that although the Padres won both games, Manager Greg Riddoch said: “Nobody said it had to be pretty. This is one of those days where you want to forget as soon as you leave the dugout. You don’t even want to reminisce about it, it was so ugly and stinky.”
The Brave fans showed their anger by not even bothering to show up, with a paid crowd of just 10,991. But who can blame them? Would you want to pay major-league prices to see triple-A baseball, a team that not only has the worst record in baseball, but has lost seven consecutive games and 12 of 13, their worst stretch since 1982.
“We’ve got our fans so mad right now that I’m surprised you don’t see snipers in the stands,” one Brave starting position player said. “Of course, if someone came in with a rifle, I’m sure you could spot them since we got about 300 fans showing up.”
This was the first time the Braves have been home since trading Murphy to Phillies, but instead of bothering to bring banners to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to show their contempt, they instead stayed at home writing letters to the editor. The two Atlanta area newspapers have been swamped with vicious letters, with most not only ripping Bobby Cox, Brave manager and general manager, but vowing never again to attend a Brave game.
It doesn’t matter to the people in this city that Murphy has been slumping the past two seasons, and was hitting just .232 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs this season.
This was Dale Murphy you’re talking about.
Murphy was to the Braves as Elvis was to rock n’ roll. He was the Atlanta Braves. As bad as the Braves have been over the past seven years, as miserable as they were to watch, they still had ol’ Murph.
He twice was selected as the National League’s Most Valuable Player. He made the All-Star team seven times. In a six-yar period from 1982-1987, he averaged 36 homers and 105 RBIs a year.
“It’s an empty feeling right now,” second baseman Mark Lemke said. “When you think of the Atlanta Braves, you think of Dale Murphy.”
Said Charlie Leibrandt, who lockered next to Murphy: “It’s hard right now, it really is. I can’t even picture him in another uniform, and I really don’t want to.”
Murphy was so popular in this city, Brave officials said, that they will not have to totally revamp their marketing plan, particularly for the Turner Broadcast System, which had been averaging a mere 1.9 rating for Braves’ broadcasts, anyway.
“This caught everybody totally by surprise,” said Wayne Long, the Braves’ director of marketing. “When you were looking for someone to promote, to be your spokesman, you had to look to Dale Murphy. Over the short term, when I first hear it, I had the feeling that this can’t happen.”
But there the Braves were Tuesday, with their new right fielder, Dave Justice, wearing an earring, of all things. And the man they got from Philadelphia in exchange for Murphy, reliever Jeff Parrett, brought the fans alive in the ninth inning of the nightcap. They chanted: “We want Murphy, we want Murphy.”
“You know, you’d think I’d be happy because I get to play everyday with Murph gone,” Justice said, “but I’m miserable. He meant so much to me. It feels strange without him.
“I hear people say, ‘Well, you’re the guy replacing Dale Murphy.’ Come on, that’s crazy, man. Nobody can replace Murph. It’s like taking over for Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays.
“But you know, as much pressure as I’ve got, look at the pressure on Parrett. I mean, Murphy was God.
“Can you imagine if he doesn’t do good? Oh, man. They’ll run him out of town.”
Justice, at least, was able to soothe the hometown fans for at least a night, hitting three home runs in the doubleheader. He went four for four in the nightcap, with two homers and four RBIs.
Parrett also made his debut, pitching the final inning of the second game, walking two batters but escaping the jam. No matter. He drew the wrath of the fans just walking to the mound and was booed lustily during his appearance.
When you’re 5-9, with a 5.12 ERA, Brave fans expect more in return than Parrett, particularly when just two years ago they had a chance of obtaining Lenny Dykstra and Rick Aguilera in a trade with the New York Mets, and last year could have had Sandy Alomar Jr., center fielder Shawn Abner and outfielders Jerald Clark or Shane Mack from the Padres.
“I’m sure a lot of people are going to keep a close eye on me, and see what I got,” Parrett said. “But they can’t expect me to hit 30 home runs, because I’ll probably only get five at-bats.”
Cox, the man who’s now considered the villain of Atlanta, even though Murphy requested a trade a month ago, said: “You know, nobody wanted to see Dale Murphy leave the city, least of all me. But we couldn’t keep him. We just couldn’t.
“And that’s the saddest thing of all.”
The Padres, according to sources, are discussing a trade with the Boston Red Sox that would send pitcher Calvin Schiraldi to the Red Sox in exchange for triple-A third baseman Scott Cooper. The Padres are searching for a third baseman who could start for them in 1991, while the Red Sox are desperate for a reliever because of the season-ending back injury to Jeff Reardon. Cooper is batting .282 with 12 doubles, one triple and 10 homers for the Pawtucket in the International League. Schiraldi is 3-4 with a 3.95 ERA this sseason with one save. . . . The Padres, who had lost 24 of 27 games, now have won 13 of 17. . . . Padre reliever Rich Rodriguez has faced eight consecutive batters without recording an out. He started the ninth inning in Game 1 for Benes, but promptly gave up two doubles, a walk, and a single, before being rescued by Greg Harris. Harris, coming in with the bases loaded and two out, struck out Ron Gant and Jim Presley, and induced a fly ball to right by David Justice for his sixth save of the season. Harris now has allowed just one hit in his past eight innings.
Padre shortstop Garry Templeton obtained four hits in the doubleheader, and now is just just hits shy of reaching 2,000 hits in his career. . . . Padre center fielder Joe Carter had two RBIs in the nightcap, and now is tied with Matt Williams of San Francisco for the league lead with 86 RBIs. No Padre has led the league in RBIs since Dave Winfield had 118 in 1979. . . . In the past six gamees, Carter is batting .455 (10 for 22) with two homers and 14 RBIs. . . . In the past 10 games, first baseman Jack Clark is batting .414, scoring at least one run in seven consecutive games, and walking in at least nine games. He now leads the league with 67 walks. . . . Since joining the Padres, Clark is batting .362 in Atlanta with six homers and 20 RBIs.
Padre third baseman Mike Pagliarulo was hitless in eight at-bats, stranding 14 baserunners in the doubleheader until he doubled in the fifth inning. . . . Padre pitcher Andy Benes not only won his first career game against the Braves, but singled in the first game of the doubleheader, his first since May 30, ending a a zero-for-20 skid.