Former Braves player's speech in South Mississippi a home run

Dale Murphy hit 398 home runs during his 18-year MLB career, which spanned from 1976 to 1993 and consisted of 15 years with the Atlanta Braves, three with the Philadelphia Phillies and one with the Colorado Rockies during their inaugural season.

Tack one more dinger onto Murphy’s resume. The two-time National League MVP was a big hit Friday during his speech at the Saenger Theatre as part of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art’s “Our Love Affair With Baseball.”

During his hour-long talk, Murphy covered everything from his start in baseball and longevity in the professional game to his family, faith and, of course, his love of baseball.

The Braves icon mixed in funny anecdotes — some involving former Braves owner Ted Turner — with his philosophies on the subtleties of the game.

He hammered home his point on the latter by pointing to potential American League MVP candidate and Houston Astros standout Jose Altuve, who stands at 5-foot-5, facing a hypothetical 6-foot-6 pitcher.

“One of the things I really like about the game is it’s a subtle game. There’s a lot of subtleties that go into the game. It’s not just pure athletic power,” he said. “... It’s not necessarily how hard does the guy throw. It’s does he throw it in the right spot? If he misses by this much, Altuve is going to hit it 400 feet.”

From prospect to All-Star

Drafted fifth overall by the Braves in 1974, Murphy came up through the minors as a catcher but, as he put it, started throwing the ball “all over the place.”

“It’s funny, while you’re playing it there’s kind of a love-hate relationship because you’re not always doing that well, the things you’re kind of struggling with,” Murphy said. “Sometimes the game really stinks because it’s so hard. But then when you’re in the groove, it becomes easy and you love it.”

Murphy re-told the story about knocking his own pitcher at Richmond out of the game because of a wild throw to second base. Still, even with the defensive deficiencies, Murphy could hit. He made his major league debut in 1976 and split time at first base for several seasons before moving to the outfield full-time in 1980.

“I always say I led the league in errors at first. I don’t know,” Murphy said. “I should Google it I guess, but I’ve never really wanted to find out for sure.”

The winter of 1979, Braves manager Bobby Cox phoned Murphy.

“(Cox) said, ‘Murph, do you think you can play the outfield?’ I don’t know what I said, but I might have said something like ‘Well, do I have a choice?’ and he said ‘No, not really,’ ” he told the couple hundred people in the audience Friday. “So I moved to the outfield in 1980.”

Not coincidentally, 1980 was Murphy’s first of seven All-Star seasons. That year, he hit .281 with 33 homers and 89 RBIs.

“If Bobby wouldn’t have moved me to the outfield, I wouldn’t have had a career,” Murphy said after the luncheon. “I was lucky he was there, that he hung in there with me and stuck with me and gave me a chance to change positions.”

Ted Turner era

Murphy also recalled Ted Turner’s colorful ownership of the Braves, which he called a “crazy, a little unpredictable, and fun in some ways.

“You always knew when Ted walked into the clubhouse. You could hear him. He yelled across the clubhouse, ‘Murph, don’t worry about that slump you’re in. You’re saving me a lot of money with this slump,’ ” he said. “... He was just thinking the next contract negotiation he wouldn’t have to pay me as much.”

Quick hits

Murphy also touched on a number of other topics, including:

  • On the potential of being named to the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee: “So I got to play for Ted. That was crazy. A little unpredictable, kind of fun in some ways.”
  • On whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame: Murphy said gambling on the game has no place in baseball but believes the penalty shouldn’t be a lifetime ban. He’s for reducing the penalty to around a 25-year ban.
  • On hot-shot rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson: “Dansby is a really good player. It’s been fun to see him come up. I think he’s going to be there for a long time. He’s a great kid, great attitude, he’s a winner and a leader. I think he’s going to be with the Braves for a long time.”

Friday’s luncheon was at the Saenger because of a fire Thursday morning at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs