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Plane Crash

The MF Sports commentary from writer Eric Butterman

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New York Times, October 20, 1987

Atlanta-Thousands weep near Hartsfield International Airport as a commercial airliner carrying slugger Dale Murphy crashed to the ground not long after takeoff. The two-time MVP and fan favorite was on his way to deliver a speech to a youth Christian group, said a spokesperson for the Atlanta Braves. Murphy, survived by...

Hall of Fame induction transcript, 1993

My name is Bob Horner and I'm here not just to induct Dale-(his voice is drowned out momentarily by the crowd fervently chanting, "Daleeee!! Daleeee!!")-Dale Murphy into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I'm here to celebrate a life which was taken from us way too soon. As a teammate I can tell you Dale was more than a great baseball player, he was a great...

Of course, neither of the two above events ever actually happened. Thankfully for everyone who knows Dale Murphy, he's still among us and still passing on the message of sportsmanship and compassion. But he also was passed over for the Hall of Fame last month, and his meager vote total all but guarantees he always will be. I, admittedly, would not have voted for him-at least not until a peculiar, OK, morbid thought lodged itself into my skull late last week: Dale Murphy should've died in a place crash.

I know, I know. How can I say something so awful? Well, the main reason Murphy's not in the Hall of Fame is because a late-'80s back injury all but completely usurped his power, his trademark throughout an All-Star career. The Braves traded him shortly thereafter, and, because of one of the deepest farm systems of all time, proceeded to have the greatest divisional run ever, to the point that it makes some believe, however falsely, that Murphy had been holding Atlanta back for years. Or that Murphy was never quite so dominating as he had appeared, that he was just a player who'd had two great MVP seasons in '82 and '83 and wasn't truly outstanding in any other campaign. But if Murphy had somehow tragically gone down in a fiery plane crash in late 1987, two things would have guaranteed him an easy vote into the Hall: 1) He would not have had his bad-back seasons counted against him, and 2) Voters would have realized he was the best player in the National League in 1987. That's right, he could have easily won a third MVP. That year saw actual MVP Andre Dawson launch 49 home runs-a number so daunting that few paid attention to Murphy's career-high 42 home runs. But both of them ran away with the best slugging marks in the National League. Little-known fact: Murphy's OPS, a combination of slugging percentage and on-base percentage, seen by many as a leading offensive statistic, was more than 100 points higher than Dawson's and easily higher than anyone else's with at least 500 at bats.

Therefore, disturbing and peculiar as it sounds, had Murphy's plane gone down, Hall voters would have quickly realized how much this perennial Gold Glove right fielder had accomplished, and his Hall plaque would have been bronzed the moment the fire department recovered his charred body from the offending wreckage. Bottom line: I don't believe players should be punished for not dying in plane crashes, but somehow, if you think about it, this is the case. Just as it is with Jim Rice for not plummeting to his death in November 1986.

Eric Butterman is a contributor to ESPN.com and The Sporting News. You can reach him at ebsport@gmail.com.

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