A 1988 Donruss Dale Murphy, the first baseball card that I remember owning.
Why we like him: If you are an American boy who was born south of Kentucky and east of Louisiana between 1978 and 1983, there's a 99% chance you thought Dale Murphy was the single greatest human being in the history of the universe during your childhood. I know I certainly did. Murphy was the lone elite player for some pretty dreadful Braves teams during the 1980s. He was the winner of back-to-back MVP awards in 1982 and 1983 and really the only player in major league history who could make the "'80s blue" Braves uniforms look decent.
If Dale Murphy isn't a player worthy of the Hall of Fame, then there's really no point in having a hall of fame at all. During the eight-year stretch of his prime in 1980-1987, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more dangerous hitter anywhere in the league. He was a consistent presence in the home run leaders list year after year, leading the league in homers in 1984 and 1985. He even swatted 44 dingers in 1987. He was also a steady RBI man, leading the league in 1982 and 1983, and consistently batted just under .300. Despite beginning his career as a catcher, Murphy finished his career with five Gold Gloves for his play in the outfield, and when you make a list of the best all-around outfielders of his era, there's no way you could leave him out.
Murphy finished his 18-year career with a .265 average and 398 home runs and retired at the age of 37 back when 398 home runs was still impressive. Had he hung around to hit two more, he may have gotten a little more consideration from the Hall of Fame voters, but in my opinion, he's more than worthy. He was one of the best players in baseball who happened to play for a bad team in Atlanta during an era of offensive impotence that featured scores you'd usually only see in soccer.
Here's a story just to give you an idea of what Dale Murphy meant to kids back then: On the day my little sister was born, I went to the grocery store with my dad. I was six years old and just starting to realize how much I loved baseball. While we were checking out at the cash register, my dad saw me eyeing a pack of '88 Donruss baseball cards (the single ugliest card design ever, I think), and being in a good mood, he told me I could get a pack. I was pumped. Dale Murphy was even on the box holding the packs. Before we even got out the door, I excitedly ripped the pack open, eager to see who I got. The very first card on the top in the pack was Dale Murphy. I think I stared at the card the entire way home without having a clue as to what the stats on the back even meant. I was so stoked I wrapped a rubber band around the cards with the Murphy on top and took the whole pack to school with me the next day. My teacher asked me if I had any exciting news to tell the class from the day before, clearly wanting me to tell the class that my little sister was born. Instead, I held up the cards and said, "I got a Dale Murphy." That pretty much says it all.
Ladies and gentlemen, Dale Murphy, Ballplayer.