Murphy thankful for Cox's patience
Braves skipper stuck with two-time NL MVP in early years
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There was a time when Dale Murphy arrived in big league camp as a highly regarded prospect who faced at least a portion of the same lofty expectations currently staring at Jason Heyward.
But while reminiscing about those days preceding his stint as a two-time National League MVP, Murphy doesn't remember providing manager Bobby Cox the kind of impression that would even remotely resemble the one that Heyward has produced during the past two weeks.
"There's no question that he has some amazing ability, a very good demeanor and work ethic," Murphy said of the 20-year-old Heyward. "It's exciting to watch."
While spending this week in Braves camp as a special instructor, Murphy has felt the daily excitement created by Heyward. But he has also appreciated the opportunity to spend one more Spring Training with Cox, who he will forever remember as the patient manager who provided him a chance to gain the legendary status that he still possesses in Atlanta.
"He stuck with you and gave you a chance to play," Murphy said. "I have a lot of guys to thank, and he's one of the main ones. The Braves drafted me, put up with some pretty frustrating years, and then Bobby saw something in me and hung in there with me."
Early indications are that Cox will not have to show Heyward the same kind of patience that he had to provide with Murphy, whose early days at the Major League level were marked by multiple position changes and some high strikeout totals at the plate.
Looking back, Murphy doesn't remember having the same kind of plate discipline as Heyward, who had walked three times in his first five plate appearances this year before going hitless in two at-bats during Thursday afternoon's 4-2 win over the Pirates at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex.
"Young hitters don't always have that," Murphy said. "He does seem to have an idea and approach that it takes a lot of guys to learn."
When Cox began his first stint as a Major League manager in 1978, he was introduced to Murphy, who at the time stood as a 6-foot-4 catcher whose offensive capabilities were blurred by an inability to consistently control the aim of his rocket arm.
During his inaugural season as a big league manager, Cox gave Murphy his first shot to serve as an everyday player by playing first base. After committing 35 errors over a two-season span, the former catcher proved more than receptive to his manager's offseason request that he move to the outfield.
"He had a lot of abilities," Cox said. "Murph could run and had a great throwing arm. Probably the best spot for would have been to move him directly to the outfield. But Murph had other tools that were way above average. His instincts kicked in immediately. You've got to have a little patience."
Utilizing some of these same advanced instincts that have been recently linked to Heyward, Murphy would move to the outfield and spend the next seven seasons winning back-to-back MVP Awards (1982 and '83) and five Gold Glove Awards.
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"He gave me a chance to play, and that's really the only reason that I had a career is because he wanted me to succeed and he gave me a chance," Murphy said. "He understands sometimes things don't work out real quick."
Cox's first managerial stint concluded inauspiciously at the conclusion of the 1981 season, when he was fired by Ted Turner. But when the Braves won the 1982 NL West title, Murphy and many of his teammates recognized the accomplishment was a product of the attitude adjustment that Cox created with an intense approach and the loyalty that he showed his players.
"I know Bobby yells and screams at umpires, but we never felt that in the clubhouse," Murphy said. "The arguing with the umpire thing was more about protecting us than it was arguing with the umpire. That's a sign to players that he's intense and that he's watching and doesn't let stuff go by."
Based on what he witnessed during the early years of his career, Murphy said he quickly came to realize there was a definite possibility that Cox would one day break the all-time ejections record set by John McGraw.
Cox broke McGraw's record mark of 131 ejections in 2007, and as he enters the final year of his storied career, his record total sits above 150 and in a neighborhood that may never be visited again.
"You know how we thought nobody would ever break Hank's [Aaron] record or nobody will ever have a 57-game hitting streak?" Murphy said. "If I'd have known and somebody would have asked me, 'Do you think Bobby will break John McGraw's [ejections] record?' I would have said, 'Oh yeah, he's got that one in the bag.'"
When Cox walks away from the game at the conclusion of this year, Murphy will miss the opportunities that he has had to watch Braves games on television and hear his old manager yelling support to "Chip," "Mac," "Esky" or any of his players at the plate.
But at the same time, Murphy recognizes the fact that the Braves organization will miss being led by a man who has treated his players with respect and consequently led them to share his passion to succeed on a daily basis.
"You know how you always hear, 'I love my coach and I'm playing for him' -- that stuff happens at this level, even though these guys are making a lot of money," Murphy said. "I think ultimately you work for your boss and you play for your boss. The reason he doesn't have to tell people to play harder is because people are already playing harder for him."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.