- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Eddie Murray got a raw deal yesterday. On the day he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he was mourning the loss of his sister.

One of the greatest honors a ballplayer could ever receive forever will be tied to one of the greatest tragedies a brother can ever experience.

It would be hard to come up with a more bittersweet day. Eddie Murray put a high price on being a ballplayer. He worked hard at his craft, harder than most who put on a uniform, and was determined to play the game the way it is supposed to be played.

"He studied pitchers as well as anyone I've ever seen," said Baltimore Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks, who knows the former Orioles first baseman better than anyone left in the organization. "If Eddie got out, he would come back to the dugout and think about the pattern of the pitcher. Sometimes he would figure out the pitcher's patterns before the pitcher would realize it himself. That is what made him so great. He knew pitchers better than they knew themselves."

He also put a high price on the value of family and friends. Murray shut the press and public out, but he embraced those who were close to him. "On a personal level and as a human being to people who are inside his inner circle, there is not a better guy," former Orioles teammate Rich Dauer said.

Yesterday, though, he could not share the satisfaction of taking his place among the great players in baseball history with his inner circle. Instead, he had to share a tragedy.

"I am thrilled by the tremendous honor of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and joining the other greats of the game," Murray said in a released statement. "For those with whom I shared space on the playing field and in the clubhouse, I share this honor with you. Unfortunately, I cannot speak with you today because of the passing last week of my younger sister Tanja after her long-fought battle with kidney disease. Although I dedicated my professional career to the game, I have dedicated my life to my family. The elation I feel by being recognized for my achievements on the field is overshadowed by the anguish of losing someone so dear to me. Once again, thank you for this incredible honor, and I appreciate your understanding during this most difficult time."

Murray, currently the hitting coach with the Cleveland Indians, deserved better, just as he unequivocally deserved to be elected yesterday to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility, getting 423 out of 496 votes. He is one of those rarest of people in a profession those so good at what they do that they do it their way. Their work is so good that their place in their profession cannot be denied.

Murray was so good at playing the game that he didn't have to play the game. He was hostile to the media the very people who held his place in Cooperstown in their hands most of the time, a war that supposedly began when the late sports columnist Dick Young wrote something about his family that offended Murray. There was also the perception that the media in Baltimore helped fuel the flames that drove Murray from town when he was traded from Baltimore to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988.

Once, when myself and a few other reporters who knew him from Baltimore went over to the visiting clubhouse to talk to him in his last season with Anaheim, a teammate walked by Murray's locker and saw he was talking to us. "It's OK," Murray said to the teammate. "They're the nonpoisonous kind."

Whatever we snakes felt about the way Murray dealt with us, we could not ignore his greatness. He was one of only three players in the history of the game the others being Hank Aaron and Willie Mays who had 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, finishing his 21-year career with 504 and 3,255, respectively. Only six players drove in more runs than Murray's 1,917 RBI, and he set a record by driving in 75 or more runs in 20 straight seasons. Yet he never led the league in home runs nor RBI, and, remarkably, he never won a Most Valuable Player honor.

If you talk to his teammates, there was no more valuable player or teammate than Eddie Murray.

"Eddie was the best player I ever played with," Ken Singleton said. "He was the best clutch hitter I've ever seen. He was a great teammate, too, and he was totally misrepresented at times by the press. That's unfortunate because I think both sides missed out. [Cal Ripken] was good, but Eddie was the best."

Remember, it was Ripken who, on the greatest night of his career, the night he broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games, credited Murray as one of the four most influential people in his life. "When I got to the big leagues, there was a man Eddie Murray who showed me how to play this game, day in and day out," Ripken told the crowd that night.

Maybe this is what they should put on Murray's plaque in Cooperstown. It comes from a teammate a pitcher, someone who knew hitters well and faced some of the best. "If my life depended on a run being driven in, Eddie Murray would be the only guy I would want up at the plate," Mike Boddicker said.

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