Struggling Murphy a far cry from back-to-back MVP years


PHILADELPHIA -- We watch Dale Murphy struggle with the game this season and we don't think of the back-to-back MVP awards he won a decade ago. We don't remember the class with which he graced all around him. We don't reflect on his 398 career home runs and imagine him standing on the steps at Cooperstown one sunny day to have a great career memorialized in bronze.

Instead, we think of Willie Mays shuffling through one last, sad season with the Mets, his brilliance long since spent.

We think of Steve Carlton, already cut loose in Minnesota and San Francisco and Cleveland, getting rocked in his final desperate comeback attempt: an intrasquad game at the Carpenter Complex.

We think of Mike Schmidt bawling at a hastily called news conference in San Diego, forced to quit three Memorial Days past because his shoulder and his pride were wounded and because his batting average hovered just above the .200 mark.

These thoughts might seem stone-hearted one day after a doctor in Atlanta punctured Murphy's left knee with a needle, trying yet again to determine why the fluid keeps building up.

But what Dr. Joe Chandler found wasn't encouraging. He found "significant degeneration" of the articular cartilage. He said the process was "unusually rapid." The surgery took 90 minutes, longer than expected. Murphy, who was to have been treated as an outpatient, was kept overnight in Piedmont Hospital instead. He is expected to be sidelined at least four to six weeks.

Chandler conceded Murphy will experience pain and discomfort for the rest of the year. He acknowledged such a condition can, in some cases, be career-threatening. But he also said that many baseball players compete with a similar condition and that Murphy expects to come back this season and play on into the future.

We would like to believe that, but the facts are stacked against him. The facts are that he's 36, coming off the first season of his major-league career in which he didn't hit at least 20 home runs. The facts are that his knee has been used as a pincushion seven times since November and that one of history's most durable players already has been on the disabled list twice this year. The facts are that he is in the last season of a contract that pays him $2.5 million this season and, unless he somehow can conjure up a big second half while even the doctor says he'll still be hurting, there won't be a long list of teams wanting to sign him at the end of the year.

Imagine him trying out for either of the expansion teams next season, or showing up in the camp of an American League team looking for a designated hitter, armed with a minor-league contract and a dream that won't die.

On second thought, don't. We will try to remember Dale Murphy in his prime. But it's getting more difficult all the time.


Odds and ends zone: Cardinals reliever Todd Worrell, all the waback from 1989 elbow surgery, has held opponents scoreless in 17 of 18 appearances this year. Still, manager Joe Torre reserves save situations for Lee Smith. Worrell, who can become a free agent at the end of the year, isn't concerned. "The Cardinals have two closers. Everybody in the league knows it," he said. "It's really hard to predict what will happen. The only prediction I'll make is that Lee Smith and I won't be pitching on the same team next year."

* Giants right-hander Bill Swift made his first start last night since his worst outing of the season, when he gave up four earned runs and seven hits in five innings against the Phillies May 12 at Veterans Stadium. After that game, Swift (6-0) complained of shoulder stiffness. As a reliever last season, he pitched 90 1/3 innings for Seattle; he already has pitched 60 2/3 innings this season.

* After being called up by the Indians, left-hander KeviWickander proudly announced his intention of getting married at home plate of Cleveland Stadium last Monday, but the ceremony never came off. It seems Wickander overlooked a couple of minor details, like the blood test and the marriage license.

* The Reds are mystified by left-hander Tom Browning's U-turn. He went to the All-Star game last year with a 10-5 record and a 3.99 ERA. In 26 starts since, he's 7-12, 4.76. "He's still got good stuff," manager Lou Piniella said. "It's just a matter of location and concentration."

* From the Dumb-Injury-of-the-Week file: Monday, a few days after Giants manager Roger Craig said he would use right-hander Rod Beck (along with Dave Righetti, Jeff Brantley and Mike Jackson) in save situations, Beck visited a mall in San Jose. He sat down in a chair at the food court. When he was done eating, he couldn't stand up. The back spasms have prevented him from pitching since.

* That might be even worse than San Diego hitting machine Tony Gwynn slamming a car door on his hand Tuesday morning, but try telling that to Gwynn. "I know what people are thinking," he said. " 'Here's a guy making millions of dollars a year and he gets his hand caught in a car door? How stupid.' "

* California's Bobby Rose had a pinch-hit homer last year. He has one this year. Not only did they both come against Yankees reliever Steve Howe, but they also are the only home runs Howe has allowed over the past two seasons.

* The Cardinals are hanging on to second place even though injuries have kept them from having their full team on the field for even one game this season. That streak might continue a while longer. First baseman Andres Galarraga (fractured right wrist) was expected back last night and second baseman Jose Oquendo (shoulder separation) could return next week, but Pedro Guerrero could be headed for the disabled list with a sore shoulder.

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