He’s a genuine baseball legend who hit 398 career home runs, drove in 1,266 RBIs and won a pair of National League MVP trophies, but at the moment, he’s carrying arms full of swag half an hour before taping. He’s preparing for another podcast episode, thinking about ways to increase more audience interaction. He thinks about social media platforms and how various apps offer different things to different audience members.
This is life for Dale Murphy these days. He’s kinda, sorta a media man now. Not officially. He’s never been credentialed, but he is in the public sphere sharing his opinions on a game he’ll never fall out of love with, a game he believes needs younger eyeballs and just more fun associated with it. Static will not help the longevity of the sport survive the coming years. Known within baseball circles — and especially in Atlanta where he starred for the Braves from 1976 to 1990 —simply as “Murph,” he is back in the game.
Again. Kinda, sorta.
It’s what he wants, though. At 63, he’s like all sports fans, sitting on his couch most nights, toggling between games left and right, periodically checking in on the Braves, and then scrolling the standings and boxscores on his iPhone. And like most sports fans, he has his Twitter app open, ready to fire off a tweet into the universe. He joined in 2011 and even now he can’t believe he’s been partaking in banter — friendly and not — for eight years now.
As he puts it: “To me, it’s watching a game with thousands of people and, in essence, we’re all texting each other.”
But the hot takes, the insights, they have a shelf-life in the Twittersphere. Murphy, believe it or not, was looking to get into long-form writing. He’d blogged here and there periodically on his personal website over the years. So Murphy had to sell himself. Yes, even on baseball. He contacted David O’Brien, who covers the Braves for The Athletic to pick his brain. The idea was: what if Murphy became a contributing columnist on the upstart sports site? Murphy shared his clips with an editor. Yep, a guy who very well could become a Hall of Famer one day, interviewed for a job.
For nearly 30 minutes, Murphy talks about this new venture, about his role as a baseball columnist and his new sports podcast with ESPN 700 radio personality Bill Riley called “Power Alley.”
“What the heck am I doing?” he asks himself. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Self-depreciating, sure. But he’s having fun doing it.
Podcasts, Riley tells Murphy during the latest taping of their show, are all about good storytellers. Murphy is one of those people when he wants to be. So this is all coming natural to him. Voicing or formulating opinions is what this version of Murphy enjoys, but his playing days were, at times, the polar opposite. Murphy respected the media, but when reporters invaded the clubhouse, he was always calculated in what he said and how he said it.
Now, Riley jokes with him: “You’re one of us, Murph!”
Murphy will watch games at home with his wife, Nancy, and there will be column ideas that pop into his mind. If he feels strongly enough about pursuing it, he’ll go to his editor at The Athletic. There are times, Murphy says, that his ideas are shot down. He’s fine with it. But when he’s driven to share his take on something revolving baseball, he goes for it.
Last week he wrote about how despite being an old-school player from the 1980s, baseball could use more celebration and emotion rather than being stuck in the mud of its archaic unwritten rules of the past. He’s written how Mike Trout is better than every star and champion he played against and how baseball has regressed in its treatment and care of its minor league organizations.
“I’ve also got to be careful as an old guy to say it’s just better when we played or this is how we used to do it,” he said. “It’s not better or worse. It’s just different. I have an opinion and it’s an opportunity to share my opinion.”
ABOUT DALE MURPHY
Age » 63
Residence » Alpine
A legend of the game » A two-time NL MVP, Murphy hit 398 career home runs from 1976 to 1993. Murphy had 2,111 career hits and 1,266 RBIs. From 1976 to 1990, Murphy was the face of the Atlanta Braves, earning two MVPs (1982, 1983) and seven NL All-Star appearances. “Murph” also earned five Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards.
Murphy doesn’t just plop down at a computer and let his stream of consciousness roll out onto his keyboard. Nancy helps and his editors at The Athletic help, too. He shakes his head a few times thinking how hard it can be. He can do an interview, like this one he did this week. They’re beyond easy for him now. But even after doing a little TV and radio work for the Braves, he learned very quickly that a former athlete isn’t entitled to immediate success in a different medium just because once upon a time Murphy smacked bunches of dingers and made all-star teams.
“It’s a craft and so is writing a column,” he said. “I don’t do it every day. I don’t know how daily columnists, let alone weekly columnists or beat writers do it. You’ve got to formulate everything.”
He’s learning. The Alpine resident will have a new column up online every few weeks, maybe more, depending on his busy schedule. And he finds time to get into the studio in the Broadway building in downtown Salt Lake City for Power Alley where he and Riley riff on the previous week in baseball.
Baseball is for binge-watching, he says.
“You think about Game of Thrones? That was just every week,” Murphy adds.
Which means there’s never a shortage of topics to write about or talk about on the podcasts. Before a recent show, he and Riley take five minutes to prep their topics and go back and forth on what might be ideal topics of conversation. There’s talk of protective netting that some ballparks have chosen to implement in wake of another fan injury from a foul ball, there’s talk about the shift after Murphy caught up with Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman over the weekend at the Braves game. Even instant replay and arguing with the umps.
Murphy also opens the Athletic app on his phone to read off a one-liner from one of his columns.
“I think we have a pretty good rapport,” said Riley, who initially pitched the podcast to Murphy over a year ago. “It probably took a couple episodes. I told him a good podcast is us going back and forth. It’s not me interviewing you. It’s a conversation. It’s not formal and it’s just loose.”
They’ve got that part down pat, it seems.
Murphy jokes that he put away his bat for good when in his last year in the majors playing for the Colorado Rockies he didn’t hit a single home run where the ball is known to fly at altitude. The Rockies were playing at Mile High Stadium back then before moving into Coors Field and the left-field porch was 280. Murph still couldn’t pull one over. The usual self-deprecating on display once again.
The goal, he and Riley say, isn’t to be specifically a baseball podcast or a sports podcast for that matter. They have similar taste in food and music. Eventually they’ll get guests in studio to talk. “Shooting the breeze,” is how Murphy describes it. Nancy Murphy always told her husband to try everything, say yes to anything and be open to the idea of expanding himself. He’s retired from the game, sure, but he’s a guest speaker and also recently opened up a popular restaurant in Atlanta. It’s called ... wait for it ... “Murph’s.”
He hasn’t caught any flak from any reporter pals for joining the media ranks yet, either. He won’t feel official until he walks into a clubhouse with a credential hanging around his neck. He might propose that idea to his editors come postseason time, especially if the Braves are in the mix in the NL. Even this far out, he doesn’t know if he’d have the gall to ask questions. He’d prefer to be a fly on the postgame wall.
So, what else would Murphy like to explore now that he’s diving in at every turn?
“Oh, we’ve got a movie in the works,” he said.
Dale Murphy deadpanned for a good few seconds. Then laughed. No movie. He almost buried the lede.