- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2003

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Perhaps Eddie Murray should get two plaques when he’s inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame today.

One would be for the Eddie Murray the public knew — the stoic player who refused to talk to reporters and shunned the spotlight while collecting 3,255 hits, 504 home runs and 1,917 RBI in 21 major league seasons.

The face on that plaque would be expressionless.

“I never wanted the fame,” the former Baltimore Orioles first baseman said. “That’s just not me.”

The other plaque would be for the Murray his teammates knew — the leader who embraced rookies when they first came into the clubhouse, took them out to dinner and showed them how to be a major league ballplayer. That Murray loved to talk baseball for hours and never put himself above his teammates, even though he was far better than most of them.

That plaque could simply be in the shape of a heart.

“On a personal level, and as a human being to people who are inside his inner circle, there is not a better guy than Eddie,” former teammate Rich Dauer said.

Said another former teammate, Ken Singleton: “Eddie was the best player I ever played with. He was the best clutch hitter. He was a great teammate, too. He was totally misrepresented at times by the press, which is unfortunate, because I think both sides missed out. He is a funny guy to get along with, but he was by far the best. Rip [Cal Ripken] was good, but Eddie was the best.”

So these two Murrays will be in conflict today when the 47-year-old takes the stage at Cooperstown, becoming just the 38th first-ballot Hall of Famer. The public Murray will have to find a way to get through the speech and the attention, while the private one will feel a sense of accomplishment for achieving enough to join Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and other greats of the game in the shrine.

The switch-hitting Murray broke in as the American League Rookie of the Year in 1977, when he batted .283 with 27 home runs and 88 RBI. He never achieved what the aforementioned players did in any given season; the most home runs he hit were 33. However that didn’t keep him from collectively and consistently working his way into the company of Aaron and Mays and becoming the only players in baseball history to hit 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.

“You never think about hitting 500 home runs,” Murray said. “You never thought about 3,000 hits either. It was just a matter of trying to do the best I could every year. That was the way I approached it. You didn’t set numbers — you just tried to attack the year as a whole.”

Said Murray of his statistical relationship with Aaron and Mays, “OK, I belong in there, but they have another neighborhood called 6 and 3, [600 home runs, 3,000 hits] that is what is awesome. Look at Hank Aaron’s stats. You take all those home runs away from him, and he still had 3,000 hits. That is pretty awesome.

“I think what made me the player that I am is to accept the failures of this game,” he said. “You are going to make seven outs in 10 at-bats, and somebody will still come up and call you great. I am a student of the game, and [Mays and Aaron] were about as good as it gets.”

And yet, Murray’s greatness may best be measured by his former teammates’ testimonies. To a man, former Orioles point to Murray’s ability to produce in the clutch — a measure of his heart.

“If my life depended on a run being driven in, Eddie Murray would be the only guy I would want up at the plate,” former Baltimore pitcher Mike Boddicker said. “He was the best clutch hitter I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t have to be a home run, but he would bring that run home when you needed it.”

Said Dauer: “Eddie was probably the greatest all-time hitter in a clutch situation that will ever play the game. If there was a guy that you needed something, whether it was a three-run home run or a single, this was the guy you wanted there. He even won games for us just by being out there on deck. He was that much of a quality player.”

As flattering as that praise is, it can’t compare to Cal Ripken’s reverence. On the night in 1995 when future Hall of Famer Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games played, he thanked four people in his speech: his father, Cal Sr.; his mother, Vi; his wife, Kelly; and one former teammate.

“Dad and Mom laid the foundation for my baseball career and my life, and 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 said, as the sellout crowd at Camden Yards roared in approval. “I thank him for his example and for his friendship. I was lucky to have him as my teammate for the years we were together.”

Murray grew up in South Central Los Angeles and played baseball with many talented players, including fellow Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. However, baseball was a family thing for Murray, one of seven brothers.

“More so than anybody, it was probably my brothers who contributed to me growing up as a ballplayer,” said Murray, who credited his older brother Charles with teaching him the nuances of the game. “We didn’t go easy on each other. I was right in the middle. You end up growing up on teams with a lot of guys who ended up in the major leagues. It was a great, unique situation because you never really thought you were that great because I thought our team was great — when you are playing with Ozzie Smith ever since you are 9 years old, and playing with the likes of Chet Lemon and Darrell Jackson and Larry Demery and Gary Alexander and my brothers.”

But Murray in particular had a special love and respect for the game that came out in his preparation. When a pitcher fooled Murray and got him out, Murray would sit in the dugout and observe him and try to pick up the patterns of the pitcher.

“He studied pitchers as well as anyone I’ve ever seen,” said Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, a close friend. “The only one I had seen before who came close was Frank [Robinson]. … That was what made [Murray] so great. He knew the pitchers better than they knew themselves. He loved hitting with guys on base. [That doesnt] just happen by accident. And he would share this with teammates. Eddie would tell them, this guy is holding his glove a certain way with a guy on base, how high he lifts his leg. He was probably the greatest clutch hitter I’ve ever seen. He studied the game. He knew the game.”

It takes passion to make that kind of commitment — something Murray was accused of lacking. That accusation led to his bitter departure from Baltimore after the 1988 season.

After five straight seasons of 100 or more RBI, Murray, slowed by injuries, dropped to 84 in 1986, 91 in 1987 and 84 again in 1988 — each a losing season for the Orioles. The once-proud franchise, winner of the 1983 World Series, was in decline, and Murray took much of the blame. He was criticized by the media and, most importantly, owner Edward Bennett Williams questioned his effort.

Murray was hurt by that accusation and his relationship with the franchise and its fans deteriorated. Dec.4, 1988 will be remembered as one of the darkest days in Orioles history. On that day, Murray was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitchers Ken Howell and Brian Holton and infield prospect Juan Bell.

Murray spent three years with the Dodgers, two with the New York Mets and two with the Cleveland Indians. He became a bat and clubhouse leader for hire. But despite the falling out with the Orioles, he still felt a strong connection to the Oriole Way — a teaching method throughout the organization that emphasized playing correctly and intelligently and one that helped Baltimore post baseball’s best record over three decades.

To owner Peter Angelos’ credit, he brought Murray back to the club via trade in the middle of the 1996 season. Murray helped propel the club to a wild card and a berth in the American League Championship Series. The move also allowed Murray to hit his 500th home run in an Orioles uniform at Camden Yards on Sept.6, 1996, against the Detroit Tigers — one year to the day after Ripken broke Gehrig’s record.

Murray spent his final season of 1997 with the Anaheim Angels and another brief stint with the Dodgers. He came back to Baltimore as a coach for four seasons before taking a job as hitting coach for the Indians last year. His No.33 was officially retired by the Orioles in June 1998 on “Eddie Murray Day” at Camden Yards.

“I never stopped thanking Peter [Angelos] for the trade that got me back here in 1996,” said Murray, whose Hall of Fame plaque will depict him in an Orioles cap. “That was a time when the club was struggling, and I think we could have done a lot more that season than what actually came out. It turned around after I got here, but that season could have been something special. I thought we had an opportunity to overtake the Yankees [who defeated the Orioles in the ALCS in the infamous Jeffrey Maier series].”

Murray’s baseball heart always was in Baltimore — even after it was broken.

“The Oriole Way was a special way of playing,” he said. “Everyone did their job, and we cared about each other. That was fun. That was what it was all about.

“Nothing will ever top my first eight years here,” added Murray, obviously leaving out the painful final four years. “There were some rough times, but those first eight years, I can’t imagine anything topping them.”

Today’s induction probably won’t either.

His induction may be too much of an individualistic achievement for Murray’s taste. The whole atmosphere likely was changed when Murray’s younger sister, Tanja, died of kidney disease at the beginning of the year. The day his election was announced — he was named on 85 percent of the ballots from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in his first year of eligibility — he was at his sister’s funeral. He will still share today’s glory with his family, and perhaps show the fans who turn out in Cooperstown the Eddie Murray that his teammates knew.

“One thing I hope doesn’t happen,” Murray said. “I don’t want to hear that ‘Ed-die, Ed-die’ chant. That could be emotional. That would blow everything.”

Actually, it would be a clutch moment — Eddie Murray revealed.

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