Growing up in Central NJ, you were either a Phillies fan or a Yankees fan. Given the Italian population in the neighborhood, most of my childhood pals were Yankees fans. My father, however, cursed me by raising me a Philadelphia sports fan.
My next-door neighbor, a Polish kid, went a different route. Seeing the Braves everyday on the SuperStation, he was a Braves fan. Thanks, Ted Turner.
We played whiffle ball in his yard. A strike zone was painted on the brick garage that ran behind the yard. First base was a tree. Second was a rock. Third was a fence post. "Power Alley" was down the left field line. Literally, an alley. I had an advantage with power alley in that I was a righty, he a lefty.
Homerun derby everyday was the same. I was Michael Jack Schmidt, he was Dale Murphy. Occasionally, some other kid would wander over and he'd be Don Mattingly. Looking back, it was funny how we'd don our respective teams hats when we pitched, and their helmets and batting gloves when we hit. Little would I know how funny it was until cleaning out the garage I found the helmet and started doing it, this time as a gag, during slow pitch softball games. Pitchers couldn't keep a straight-face when I stepped into the box with an old maroon Phillies helmet.
To me, growing up, the three premier players in baseball were Murphy, Mattingly and Schmidt.
Sadly today, two of those three are not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While Mattingly and Murphy's careers were cut short by injuries, throughout the 80's they were superstars on teams filled with mediocrity.
Between them they have 13 All-Star appearances, 3 MVPs, 14 Gold Gloves and 7 Silver Sluggers. Each in his career was awarded the Lou Gehrig Award, given to players who "best exemplify his character and integrity both on and off the field." Murph even won the Clemente Award for his "character and charitable contributions to his community." Neither, has a plaque in Cooperstown.
While their numbers may not meet Hall of Fame "standards," their contributions to baseball and a generation of kids looking for heroes are second to none. They were All-Stars on and off the field. Their injuries, likely strain from single-handedly carrying their squads for years, killed their chances.
In a few minutes, George Mitchell will put a permanent stain on our national past time. When baseball writers come to their senses in the aftermath and start re-evaluating their basis on which they enshrine our earthly legends, maybe they will realize the value these players brought to the game.
Subsequently, Murphy launched the iWontCheat foundation to help the world of sports overcome the illegal performance enhancing drug problem.
Good luck, Murph.