The (temporary?) 180-degree turn of the Atlanta Braves in the National League West isn't expected to hurt the Most Valuable Player award chances of centerfielder Dale Murphy, whose home run and RBI totals are among the best in baseball. With an appoximate 50-point jump in his batting average this season as well, writers are starting to ask Dale for an explanation.
''When Joe Torre came in as manager this year, he asked me to stop pulling the ball so much and start making use of the entire field,'' Murphy said. ''He also changed my stance a little. I think the rest has come from simply being more selective at the plate, although I still go through periods when I swing at a lot of bad pitches.
''I know guys in this league who analyze opposing pitchers right down to the way they walk out to the mound, and maybe there's something to all that. But since I've never been able to think and hit at the same time, I just take each at bat as it comes. As you can see, I'm not a complicated person.''
Murphy, whose 29 home runs and 80-plus RBIs jump out at you like the eyes on ET, looks as though he just jumped off a US Marine recruiting poster. He's 6 ft. 5 in. tall with arms like wagon tongues, and there aren't too many pitchers in the National League who can throw a ball by him.
''Without taking anything away from anyone else on the Braves, Murphy has carried us more often than any other player on this team,'' Torre said. ''But you can't just put him out there and forget him. You have to keep reminding him to pay attention to the strike zone, and that if he doesn't, he'll never get anything good to hit.''
Two years ago, when Dale hit 33 home runs, he also struck out 133 times, an aggravating figure to baseball purists, but no better or worse than most sluggers.
Although Murphy came up as a catcher and later was used at first base, the Braves play him in the outfield because of his range, because he never threw out many runners as a catcher, and because they already have too many first basemen. But it's his bat that Atlanta may someday bronze like baby shoes.