A lengthy ESPN feature story published earlier this year posed the question this summer, “Where Have You Gone, Dale Murphy?”
The same question could be asked of many Latter-day Saints who have played Major League Baseball. After their time under the stadium lights is in the past, it is often difficult to keep track of baseball players as the majority seem to gradually fade from public view after retirement. This does not, however, erase what they accomplished on the diamond and it certainly doesn’t erase the memories fans carry from the stands of watching their favorite players play “America’s Pastime.”
In an effort to find out who the most memorable Latter-day Saint baseball players are, we posed the question, “Who are the all-time greatest Latter-day Saint MLB players?”
Hypothetically speaking, if you were making a list of all-time greatest Mormon MLB players, who would make your list? #twitterstake #Mormon — Morgan Jones (@mojo7795) August 14, 2018
Readers responded with more than just names. Some provided their statistic WAR (Wins Above Replacement), some shared how different players were connected, and multiple people commented on the quality of Dale Murphy’s character. In no particular order (except for the most-requested Dale Murphy), here is your all-Latter-day Saint MLB team:
Before Dale Murphy was ever MVP of the U.S. baseball’s National League, he was playing on the Atlanta Braves’ farm team in Greenwood, South Carolina, with another MLB great Barry Bonnell when the two began to have religious conversations. Bonnell introduced Murphy to the missionaries and baptized him after the 1975 season.
Eight years later, Dale Murphy’s face graced the cover of the July 4, 1983, issue of Sports Illustrated, and the headline of the feature story read, “Murphy’s Law Is Nice Guys Finish First.”
“Here’s a guy who doesn’t drink, smoke, chew, or cuss,” Steve Wulf wrote. “Here’s a guy who has time for everyone, a guy who’s slow to anger and eager to please, a guy whose agent’s name is Church. His favorite movie is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. He’s a wonderful ball player.”
In the words of ESPN’s Wright Thompson earlier this year, “You either idolized Dale Murphy or you don’t remember much about him.”
Murphy hit 398 home runs during his 18-year career and is one of four outfielders in baseball history to win back-to-back MVP honors.
The only current player on this list, Bryce Harper is one of the biggest names in Major League Baseball today and is preparing to enter free agency next week. Harper’s face was also seen on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but his appeared there before he was ever drafted first in the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft. Harper, a native of Las Vegas, made his debut for the Washington Nationals in 2012 and immediately made an impact on the diamond. When his contract expires, Harper is expected to become the highest paid player in MLB history. Two years ago, when asked by the Washington Post about his decision not to serve a mission, Harper replied, “Coming up to the draft and trying to make that decision, I always thought that my Heavenly Father upstairs always just wanted me to be a walking Book of Mormon, you could say. I knew I could touch a lot of people’s lives playing and trying to be the best Mormon that I can be on and off the field.”
In December 2016, Bryce Harper and his wife, Kayla, were sealed in the San Diego Temple. Recently, the couple shared photos on Instagram about their opportunity to meet President Russell M. Nelson and Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf during general conference weekend. The slugger didn’t shy away from sharing his feelings about the experience.
Image from @kayy.harper Instagram
"President Nelson had me in shock," Bryce wrote on Instagram. "He had an overwhelming feeling around him of the Spirit. He walked into the room and I immediately teared up and began to think if it was even appropriate for me to be in the same room as this man because of how incredible he is. He came over and shook my hand, my wife’s hand, and family’s hands and we talked for a couple minutes. By the end I couldn’t help but think when this man talks it is the truth. It is the word of God & everything that I want to be part of."
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First baseman Wally Joyner was a BYU standout drafted in the 3rd round of the 1983 MLB June Amateur Draft. He went on to play 16 years in the major leagues during a career that both started and ended with the Los Angeles Angels (formally the California Angels). In 1986, Joyner was selected by fans for the All-Star Game, the first rookie in history to be voted into the game. Joyner made headlines earlier this year when his 40-acre Mapleton, Utah estate was listed for $7.9 million. The estate includes a 40,000-square-foot barn with 22 stalls and an 18,600-square-foot riding ring. He has also invested and appeared in several Latter-day Saint films, including The R.M. and The Singles Ward.
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Jack Morris played for two seasons at BYU before going on to his Major League career. He is remembered for pitching a 10-inning 1-0 shutout against the Atlanta in Game 7 of the World Series, earning him an MVP award, according to an article in the Deseret News. Morris was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2018. In his acceptance speech, Morris gave the glory to God. “I believe in the human heart and human spirit, and no analytics can define them. There is no telling what you can accomplish if you have the will and desire to try. God blessed me with a gift and it was meant to be shared with others. My life in baseball has been an incredible journey, and I am grateful for everything. I want to thank you again for sharing this wonderful day with me. Praise be to God,” he said before closing his remarks.
Vern Law was dubbed “The Deacon” by his teammate Wally Westlake as a replacement for a nickname he didn’t love: “Preacher.” Law recalls, “I said, ‘Wally, I don’t go around preaching. I’m here to play baseball. . . . I’m active in church, I do hold these offices, and I attend church as often as I possibly can. I expect to be the very best I can, living the principles that I’ve been taught in my life.’ And Wally said, ‘What about if I just call you “Deacon?”’ and I said, ‘That’s fine’ because I held that office years ago.” The nickname stuck and was used by umpires and announcers, and Law said in a 2015 documentary that fans still request that he include the nickname when signing autographs.
Law’s major league debut was interrupted after his first season as a result of serving in the military from 1951-1954. However, Law returned to the league, and in 1960 he led the Pittsburgh Pirates to defeat the New York Yankees in game 7 of the World Series. He pitched and won two games in that World Series. He was awarded the Cy Young Award as a result of his performance.
In 2017, the Deseret News ran a column about a Pittsburgh Pirate fan whose interest in Law led him to investigate the Church. “I read all I could get about each player. Vernon Law was a favorite. I was not LDS, but I took note of what writers said about his character and values. It caused me some interest in the Church, and, along with other things, it caused me to contact the Church for information. A couple of years later, I was baptized, married in the temple. I always wanted to contact Vernon Law to let him know about the power of his example. . . . I may have joined the Church without him, but I do know if he had not set a good example, I would all likely have never looked into the Church,” the fan wrote.
Image from Wikipedia
Rumored to be the silhouetted batter in the MLB logo, Harmon Killebrew was known as “The Killer.” Over the course of his 22-year career (1954-1976), he smashed 573 home runs, the second most of any righthander in American League. In 1969, Killebrew was awarded the AL MVP Award. He also led the league six times in home runs, three times in RBIs, and was named to 13 All-Star teams, according to Wikipedia. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.
In 1973, an article in The Ensign cited Killebrew’s having been featured in a nationally syndicated publication called Family Weekly. The article specifically highlighted Killebrew’s focus on his family and the family home evening program. “There’s nothing more challenging and rewarding than helping a youngster mold his life into that of a mature adult. After all, someday I’ll retire from baseball, but I’ll always be the father of my children. And if I fail with my family, nothing else matters,” Killebrew was quoted as saying before elaborating on the concept of FHE.
He said, “On those evenings we can discuss each other’s personal aspirations. We can solve family difficulties as a group, not as a know-it-all father handing down decisions. We hold family councils, and there we work out the rules of our household. A child is much more apt to obey a rule if he helped to set it.”
Killebrew passed away in 2011 of esophageal cancer at age 74. Following his passing, Sports Illustrated writer Steve Rushin paid tribute to the player. He wrote, “In the end, that dignity and humility were what endeared Killebrew to Minnesotans. They will serve as his signature—along with his actual signature, which was the cleanest in baseball. When he went into hospice care, several Twins and ex-Twins said Killebrew admonished them as young players for the sloppiness of their signatures. The fan that waits for a player's autograph, Killebrew believed, should be able to read it.”
Image from MLB.com
After his 17-year baseball career that included the most home runs by a second baseman in MLB history (377) and being named the National League MVP, Jeff Kent competed on the reality show, “Survivor: Philippines.” A convert to the Church, Kent, who is best-remembered for his success as a San Francisco Giant, made headlines in 2008 for donating $15,000 to back Prop 8, a California proposition that banned same-sex marriage. The five-time All-Star’s son, Colton, is currently a freshman infielder for the BYU baseball team. “We’re a typical Mormon family,” Colton told the Deseret News earlier this year. “My mom didn’t go to BYU, either. When she and my dad started dating, she took the missionary lessons and converted.”
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Barry Bonnell is the reason Dale Murphy is a Latter-day Saint, which might be reason enough for inclusion in this list. During a 2009 fireside, Murphy recalled often seeing Bonnell reading a book on their team bus.
“One night, Murphy asked him what he was reading and was told the Book of Mormon. Discussion that night ranged from "Have you been baptized?" to "Have you ever wondered if there are prophets on the earth?" Murphy said he had never really thought about those things but somehow felt that all this sounded familiar and felt good. After that evening, Bonnell told Murphy that he had a couple of guys he'd like Murphy to meet. And so it began with the "two gentlemen in suits," the Deseret News reported. Bonnell would later baptize Murphy.
But Bonnell had an impressive career of his own and the Toronto Blue Jays’ website posed a similar question to the one asked about Murphy in a 2003 article titled, “Where’ve you gone, Barry Bonnell?”
After playing both baseball and basketball for Ohio State, Bonnell played for 10 years in the Majors and was known for his ability to close out games with game-winning hits. But his time as a player was cut short when he contracted “Valley Fever,” which led to early retirement when he was just 33. But Bonnell, the father of five, never looked back, going on to become an airline pilot, fantasy book author, and a bishop.
Image from Mormon Wiki
Perhaps the most entertaining fact about Bruce Hurst is that after his team lost in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series, Red Sox fans have pointed out that the letters of his name can be rearranged as “B RUTH CURSE.” But the reality of the situation is that Hurst pitched incredibly well during the series in Game 1 and Game 5. Unfortunately, the Mets made a miraculous comeback in Game 6 to force Game 7, and despite Hurst’s only giving up one hit in five innings, the Mets won.
Had the Red Sox pulled out the victory in Game 6 or Game 7, Bruce Hurst would’ve been the World Series Most Valuable Player. The Dixie State College baseball field is named in his honor. In 2008, he returned to the Red Sox as a pitching instructor and was named as special assistant for player development.
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In a July 2017 Players’ Tribune article, Kansas City Royals player Jeremy Guthrie, who is best-remembered for his play during the 2014 season when he started two games during the World Series, announced his retirement explaining a draw to be home with his family. While the decision to retire did not come as a huge surprise after his 13-years in the Majors, a larger surprise came one year later when Guthrie accepted a call to serve as a mission president for the Church in the Texas Houston Mission. Guthrie, who served a full-time mission as a young man in Spain, told the Deseret News that he and his family were excited to serve. "This is the next three years of our lives. . . . I am living proof that the Lord likes to work with the simple and weak sometimes,” he said. “But hopefully I can be someone who learns well and more importantly, is able to find his direction through the Spirit in all the many tasks that will be placed before me as a mission president."
Guthrie has continued to utilize his strong social media presence since arriving in Houston, often posting about his experiences as a mission president. “My first day on the job w/ these 2 excellent missionaries was wonderful,” Guthrie wrote on July 2. “Really praying for those who accepted invitations this afternoon.”
Image by SD Dirk from Wikimedia
Roy Halladay was raised in the Church and was undoubtedly one of the best Latter-day Saints to ever take the mound. In fact, at one point, Halladay was considered the best pitcher in Major League Baseball. He pitched the 20th perfect game in the history of the league in 2010, recorded 2,000 strikeouts during his career, and won the Cy Young Award in both the American and National Leagues, one of just six pitchers to accomplish the feat. However, Halladay’s life tragically came to an end when he died in a plane crash on Nov. 7, 2017, after the plane he was piloting went down in the Gulf of Mexico.
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The player Bruce Hurst wanted to be like? Dennis Eckersley. "I wanted to have Eck's style on the mound," Hurst told Sports Illustrated. "My first day of spring training, I called home to tell everyone I'd played catch with Dennis Eckersley. The other day I found my '81 baseball card, and I saw that I had grown a mustache to look like the Eck. Once I got to know him, I realized how complex and decent he is. He was always there to help me through some very rough times. He understood adversity and knew how to deal with it. When he was traded by the Red Sox to the Cubs [in May 1984], I actually sat down and cried."
Eckersley, who has openly struggled with alcohol issues and reportedly was not active in the Church for much of his life, and Hurst may seem like an odd duo, but the two became close friends during their time with the Red Sox. Eckersley was known for his ability to be a closer and is one of just two pitchers in MLB history to have both a 20-win season and a 50-save season.
Eckersley is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and can frequently be heard as a part-time color commentator for the Red Sox.
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Being the son of a legend can be tough but Vance Law handled the pressure well. The younger Law not only played in the Majors for 11 years but he made the National League All-Star team in 1988. But Law’s career in baseball didn’t end as a player. The BYU three-time All-Western Athletic Conference shortstop, who also started on the basketball team, returned to his hometown as head coach of the Cougars’ baseball team in 2000.
Honorable Mention: Justin Su’a
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This former BYU All-American pitcher was never drafted into the pros, but Justin Su’a is headed to this year’s World Series, earning a place in this list. Su’a is the Red Sox’s mental skills coach, and he works to help athletes prepare mentally for big games. The former Latter-day seminary teacher attributes his ability to help others improve their mentality to the peace he has found in living the gospel.
“For me to truly be at my best, I need to be sure that I am living in harmony with what I know to be true,” Su’a told the Deseret News in 2017. “My best self is a person who does have the Spirit, who is reading scriptures, who is trying to be the best husband and father that I can possibly be. . . . From praying to magnifying my calling at home to still having family home evening and praying with my family, that is everything for me and that’s what ultimately helps me be the most effective that I can possibly be.”