Eddie Murray, smiling so broadly that he was almost
unrecognizable, bounded from the visiting dugout in the
Baltimore twilight last Friday and pranced directly to the
batting cage with glad tidings for some of his old Oriole
teammates, such as shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. and Elrod Hendricks
and Lee May, both now Baltimore coaches. ``What's this?'' asked
Albert Belle, one of Murray's current teammates with the
Cleveland Indians. ``A family reunion?''
This is an article from the May 22, 1995 issue
Murray's agent, Ron Shapiro, nodded knowingly as he watched that
pregame gathering at Camden Yards. ``There is a happiness in
that face that I savor,'' Shapiro said. ``It's in his eyes.
Eddie has the most expressive eyes in baseball.'' Murray had
good reason to have a glint in those eyes. After all, he was
leading the American League in hitting (.422 through Sunday),
playing first base and DH for one of the best teams in baseball
and closing in on 3,000 career hits (2,957).
Then, suddenly, Murray narrowed those dark eyes into a chilly
glare that could put frost on the infield grass. A television
cameraman dared to invade Murray's personal no-fly zone. ``Back
off,'' Murray snarled.
``He has an amazing ability to turn himself on and off,''
Hendricks said later. ``Yes, I know about his eyes. It was the
first thing my wife and I noticed about him way back in the '70s.
Most of the time his eyes tell the whole story.''
Eddie Clarence Murray, 39, having long since wrapped himself in
the thick insulation of a pathological distrust of the media, is
left to convey the story of his wonderfully rich career through
the expressions of his eyes. But they're not up to the job. Most
of the time, they merely convey intensity in equal measure toward
pitchers and reporters.
Says Jim Palmer, another of Murray's old Baltimore teammates and
a former Oriole broadcaster, ``He has the glare of Samuel
Jackson in Pulp Fiction. They talk about [Oakland A's pitcher]
Dave Stewart's glare. Nobody can glare like Eddie.''
When a Baltimore writer approached him last weekend seeking
comments on Ripken, Murray leaned his head back, narrowed his
eyes disdainfully and declined by replying, ``I don't even know
you.'' When approached by SI, Murray provided his more typical
response, saying, ``No thank you, sir,'' with the sincerity of a
child turning down a helping of lima beans. The rejection
included no eye contact whatsoever.
According to Indian officials, Murray recently also blew off USA
Today, The New York Times, the entire press corps from Baltimore
and a Cleveland television reporter whom Murray remembered as
being guilty of once, while a student at Towson (Md.) State,
working two or three Oriole games for the campus TV station.
As a mushroom cloud continues to hang over baseball, the game
needs to promote any source of goodwill it can find. Ordinarily,
the magic of a player's chasing his 3,000th hit would be just
that sort of salve, but this year National Secretaries Week will
get more recognition. Murray is on pace to reach the milestone
by the All-Star break, but press conferences and diplomacy are
not included in the package. When he does reach 3,000, Murray
will do so as the least appreciated and least understood of the
20 players to get there and this at a time when fan anger toward
players in general is rampant.
``One day the morning headlines are going to say eddie gets
3,000th hit,'' says Indian coach Dave Nelson, ``and to him it
will be O.K., fine. The recognition doesn't matter to him.''
``I don't know,'' Ripken says. ``I remember talking to him about
it on a trip to Japan in 1984. I looked at his numbers then and
just kind of doubled them and said, `You ever think about 3,000
hits?' He just said, `Doesn't matter.' He didn't blink an eye. I
said, `You'll get them easy.' But he wouldn't respond. You know
what? I don't know if I believed him then, and I don't know if I
believe him now.''
Murray, who also had 463 home runs after hitting his fifth of
the season in Cleveland's 3-1 win over Baltimore on Sunday,
could finish his career with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, twin
towers of achievement accomplished by only two other players,
Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. He has driven in more runs than
Reggie Jackson, hit more doubles than Babe Ruth and racked up
more total bases than Ted Williams and has done so while playing
in 2,722 of his teams' 2,826 games, or a nearly Ripkenesque 96%
attendance rate. ``He was one of the biggest influences on my
career early on,'' says Ripken. ``From Eddie I understood how
important it was to the team to be in the lineup every day.''
The beauty of Murray's career is its unspectacular consistency.
In 19 seasons with the Orioles, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the New
York Mets and the Indians he has never hit 35 home runs in any
year, never led his league in any offensive category over a full
season, never won an MVP award. He has had fewer 100-RBI seasons
(six) than Gil Hodges and will have the lowest personal best for
hits in a year (186) of any man to reach 3,000 hits.
He is, as Indian general manager John Hart says in homage to
Murray's spray hits, ``still the master of the flare'' -- a
sobriquet that doesn't conjure the majesty of, say, Sultan of
Swat. But that's Murray: an intelligent hitter whose knack for
getting hits is heightened in clutch situations.
This is Murray too: a beloved teammate, a quiet leader and a
charitable and intensely private person. He's been known, on his
way home from a ballpark, to stop unannounced at a Little League
game to talk with youngsters. During the 1992 season, when the
Mets wanted to nominate Murray for the Roberto Clemente Award,
with which baseball honors a major leaguer for his public
service, Murray politely declined to provide the club with his
charitable involvements. When the Mets then obtained the list
from Shapiro -- it ran several typewritten pages -- Murray
became upset. He wanted no recognition for those efforts. Now
there is the bright illumination of 3,000 hits casting Murray in
the limelight, which he dislikes.
``Eddie came up around some star players, where he didn't have
to be the focal point,'' says Hart, referring to such former
Orioles as Palmer, May and Ken Singleton. ``I think that's where
he's most comfortable.''
And now, Shapiro says, Murray has found ``the perfect fit'' in
Cleveland because ``it is a town that didn't have any
expectations or predilections. No one started out asking why he
didn't get along with the press. They let Eddie be himself.''
According to Shapiro, Murray's distrust for the media began with
a column the late Dick Young of the New York Daily News wrote
after the second game of the 1979 World Series. The column told
of how, several years earlier, an Oriole scout who had been
trying to sign Murray was harshly treated by members of Eddie's
family. (Murray went 0 for 21 after the column appeared.)
By most accounts, though, that distrust deepened drastically
after Edward Bennett Williams, the late owner of the Orioles,
ripped Murray in 1986 for ``doing nothing.'' That was the season
in which, after years as an American League powerhouse,
Baltimore finished last in the AL East; Murray missed 24 games
because of an injured hamstring and was still grieving over the
deaths of his mother and sister the year before. Two days after
Williams's outburst, Murray asked to be traded. The
confrontation left Murray open to pervasive press and fan
criticism that attacked even his apparently relaxed playing
style. (Murray's teammates had nicknamed him Tired early in his
career.) Fans bristled at the way he crossed his arms at first
base and the typically unsoiled condition of his uniform at the
end of a game.
``It's not just the media,'' Hendricks said last Saturday before
heading for a dinner with Murray. ``As close as we are,
sometimes he'll say, `I don't want to talk to you.' He'll call
my house and say, `Get off the phone. I want to talk to your
wife.' That's just the way he is.''
In 1993 Indian DH Dave Winfield, then with the Minnesota Twins,
slumped as he neared 3,000 hits, in part because he was
distracted by the tremendous attention it received. ``I
guarantee you, that won't happen with Eddie,'' Winfield says,
laughing. ``It's too late. He's taken this stance against the
media for so many years, he's not going to change now. As long
as he does his job, that's enough for him.''
After all, Murray is a man who harrumphed, ``No comment,'' on the
occasion of the Orioles' retiring his number 33 in 1989. He will
get to 3,000 hits on his own terms. ``It's good to see him get
there and still be a force in the middle of the lineup,'' Ripken
says, ``just the way you remember Eddie.'' That is what matters
most. That is what puts a gleam in those dark eyes.