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Murray, Eddie 1956—

Eddie Murray 1956

Professional baseball player

At a Glance

A Baseball Family

Expectations Fulfilled

3,000 Hits and Counting

Sources

Eddie Murrays career is one of the most remarkable in major league baseball. Without ever calling attention to himself or his spectacular feats, he has claimed a place amongst the greatest hitters of all time. On June 30, 1995 Murray slugged his 3,000th hit, becoming one of the 20 most productive batters ever to play the game. He is also one of the most consistent performers in the major leagues, having played 150 or more games in a season 15 times while visiting the disabled list only once since 1973. Today, in the twilight of his career, Murray continues to draw respect for his hittingespecially in clutch situationsand for his leadership abilities as well. Sporting News correspondent Michael P. Geffner wrote: To think of Murray as anything other than a great player these days is not to have a dissenting opinion anymore but to be dead wrong, blind not only to the inner game but to an understanding of what truly raises baseball to something classic and beautifulwhen the game is executed purely and seamlessly. Which is Eddie Murray to a T.

Murray is well on his way to hitting 500 home runs, an achievement that would make him only the third player in history to get 3,000 hits and 500 homers. The other two players who have reached that goal are Hank Aaron and another Murray-type switch-hitter, Willie Mays. Murray has already compiled more runs batted in than immortals such as Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Reggie Jackson. He has more doubles than Babe Ruth and ranks second all-time for home runs by a switch hitter. And yet Murray has never won a Most Valuable Player award or one of those sneaker contracts that make athletes immeasurably wealthy. Murray rarely inspires you to breathlessness, noted Geffner. His game never has been one of knock- em-dead showmanship, but of delicious subtlety and nuance.... It is a game so blatantly understated, so incredibly unpretentious, that it has made Eddie Murray the most underrated and misunderstood player of his generation.

Recent seasons with the Cleveland Indians have helped to revive interest in Murray and his career. As the Indians advanced to the 1995 World Seriesthe teams first fall classic appearance since 1954Murray was seen as one of the driving forces behind the Indians season, a veteran who could impart his wisdom to younger players

At a Glance

Born February 24, 1956, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Charles (a mechanic) and Carrie Murray. Education: Attended California State University at Los Angeles.

Professional baseball player, 1973. Selected by Baltimore Orioles in third round of June 5, 1973 free agent draft; minor league player in Orioles organization, 1973-77; member of Baltimore Orioles, 1977-88; trated to Los Angeles Dodgers December 4, 1988; member of Dodgers, 1988-91; signed as a free agent by New York Mets, November 27, 1991; member of Mets, 1991-93; signed as a free agent by Cleveland Indians, December 2, 1993; member of Indians, 1993.

Selected honors: Named Appalachian League Player of the Year, 1973; named American League Rookie of the Year, by Baseball Writers Association of America, 1977; Gold Glove first baseman, 1982, 1983, 1984; member of American League All-Star Team, 1978, 1981-86; member of National League All-Star Team, 1991. Compiled 3,000th career hit June 30, 1995, while with Indians.

Addresses: Office Cleveland Indians, Jacobs Field, 2401 Ontario St., Cleveland, OH 44115.

while still producing results himself. In Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci called Murray an intelligent hitter whose knack for getting hits is heightened in clutch situations. More to the point, the reporter added: This is Murray too: a beloved teammate, a quiet leader, and a charitable and intensely private person.

A Baseball Family

Few people have ever had a childhood more perfectly suited to the sporting life than Eddie Murray. He was born in 1956, the eighth of twelve children of Charles and Carrie Murray. All of Murrays siblingsfour boys, seven girlsloved to play baseball. Their back yard in East Los Angeles was a baseball diamond, the garage a most demanding batting cage. A favorite game was Strikeouts. The batter would stand at the back wall of the garage and try to hit the ball out through a doorway 10 feet high and 12 feet widea tailor-made training ground for a line-drive hitter. The Murray brothers even played baseball when they didnt have a ball. Wed hit anythingbottle caps, the plastic lids off Crisco cans, Murray told Sports Illustrated. Wed be standing around in the yard with bats in our hand and see something on the ground. Wed say, I wonder if we can hit this? Laughing, he added: Once youve hit a Crisco lid, baseballs seem easy.

Murray was a star baseball and basketball player at Locke High School in Los Angeles. He dreamed of playing baseball professionally, and his ambitions hardly seemed out of reach. Three of his brothers, Leon, Venice, and Rich, all signed with the Giants and played in the minor leagues. Eddie himself was scouted by a number of major league franchises. Interestingly enough, many scouts thought the laconic Murray lacked the necessary intensity to play professional ball. Naturally nonchalant, he was perceived as lazy and unmotivated by some. The Baltimore Orioles felt otherwise. They gave Murray a 190-question psychological exam measuring such traits as desire and composure. He scored especially high in self-control and ambition. After protracted negotiations with the Murray family, Baltimore signed Murray in the summer of 1973 and gave him a $25,500 bonus. He was 17-years-old.

Murray spent the next four seasons progressing through Baltimores farm system. In his first year as a professional he batted .287 in the Appalachian League, but rather than hurry him on to higher levels, the club officials moved him up just one step each year. By 1975 he had landed on a double-A team in Asheville, North Carolina, and it was there that he began to experiment with lefthanded hitting. Once again he called on his childhood lessons to help him as a switch-hitter. In the yard, wed pretend to be different players in major league lineups and bat righty or lefty, depending on who they were, Murray explained in Sports Illustrated. Whatever the case, he made the transition smoothly, hitting a double in his first left-handed at-bat.

Expectations Fulfilled

After a strong showing in spring training, Murray made the Baltimore Orioles in 1977. He broke into the lineup as a designated hitter, because the team already had a solid first baseman in veteran Lee May. Murray lost little time establishing himself as the big leaguer the Orioles had predicted he would become. In his rookie year he batted .283 with 27 home runs and 88 runs batted in, good enough to win him Rookie of the Year honors from the Baseball Writers Association of America. The following season he took over duties at first base, and a superstar was born.

Over twelve seasons in Baltimore, Murray topped the team in home runs seven times, was the r. b. i. leader nine times, and was named team Most Valuable Player seven times. He was a driving force behind the Orioles 1979 American League Championship and was the acknowledged team leader when Baltimore won the 1983 World Series. In that Series, Murray hit two home runs in the decisive fifth game against Philadelphia, helping the Orioles to take the Series crown. He was so popular in Baltimore that crowd chants of Ed-die! Ed-die! echoed for blocks around the stadium whenever he came to bat.

Off the field Murray was renowned for his refusal to speak to the press. His personal avoidance of the media began in 1979 when a New York columnist wrote a disparaging article about Murrays family, right during the World Series. Murray was so upset by the piece that it seemed to affect his play as the Orioles were defeated by the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games. After that the mercurial Murray declined almost every interview opportunity. I dont need to see my name in the paper every day, he explained in a rare Sports Illustrated profile. I only care what the other players know of me. I let my baseball do the talking.

His baseball proved to be one terrific talker. Not only was Murray a consistent threat at the plate, he won Gold Glove honors at first base in 1982, 1983, and 1984. He was also meticulous in his preparation for each competition, stretching carefully so as to avoid injuries. Through his 12 seasons with the Orioles, he visited the disabled list only once, for 24days, in 1986. Otherwise he rarely missed more than 10 or 11 games each season. While visiting teams despised him for his intelligent hitting and fierce competition, his Oriole teammates found him accessible and helpful, both on and off the field. Cal Ripken, for instance, told the New York Times he missed Murray in the Oriole lineup a lot... like when youre really struggling and need someone of his prominence to lean on a little bit.

Unfortunately, the Orioles fortunes declined in the mid-1980s, and both the fans and the front office began to question Murrays level of contribution to the team. In 1986, just a year after Murrays mother and sister both died suddenly, Baltimore owner Edward Bennett Williams publicly scolded the player for doing nothing. In response, Murray asked to be traded. Eventually the matter was smoothed over, but Murray continued to be disappointed with an Orioles system that he felt was not what it had once been. After the 1988 season, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitchers Brian Holton and Ken Howell and shortstop Juan Bell.

Of Murrays three seasons in Los Angeles, the most memorable was 1990, when he hit .330 with 26 home runs and 95 r.b.i. In 1991 he achieved free agent status and signed with the struggling New York Mets. Over two seasons with that team he batted in 193 runs, but his presence did little to improve New Yorks fortunes. Murray was once again a free agent in 1993 when he signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Cleveland Indians. The man who signed him, Indians general manager John Hart, well remembered Murray. Hart had been a third base coach for the Orioles. I was tickled that no one else wanted him, Hart explained in the Sporting News. Because I knew what he could do for us.... I wanted him around my young players. If theres anybody a young player should watch, I thought, its Eddie Murray. Hes a great model of baseball behavior.

3,000 Hits and Counting

Murray quickly proved that he could do more than just provide leadership to the younger Cleveland Indians. He helped the Indians to dominate during the strike-shortened 1994 season, and through the first 16 games of the 1995 season he batted at a .422 clip with 27 hits in 64 at-bats. Murrays strength has always been hitting in clutch situations, when that trademark nonchalance masks a cunning ability to stay cool and manipulate a pitcher. New York Yankees third baseman Wade Boggs told the Sporting News: Eddie has just always been one of those lay in the weeds guys. He comes out just long enough to really hurt you, then goes back into hiding again.

The 1995 baseball season held many highlights for Murray. First, on June 30, he stroked his 3,000th hit, a single off Minnesota Twins pitcher Mike Trombley. With that hit Murray joined an elite club that includes the likes of Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Dave Winfield. Characteristically, Murray underplayed the achievementalthough he did on this occasion speak to the press. My approach has never been to reach any goals like a No. 3,000, he said in the New York Times. Never looked at it that way.... Records are not what Ive focused on.

Just a few weeks later, the whole nation watched while Cal Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles broke one of baseballs longest-standing recordsthe one for most consecutive games played held by Lou Gehrig. Ripken made an emotional speech after breaking the record, thanking his parents and just one colleague: Eddie Murray. I get all the credit for my game streak, but a lot of how I approach the game was influenced by Eddie, ... because when I came along, he kind of took me under his wing, Ripken told the New York Times. Thats always been important to him, to be in the lineup every day because in a long season youre going to need the wins.

Winning has always been paramount to Murray, so he was most pleased in 1995 about the Cleveland Indians successful drive to the World Series. The Indians had not appeared in a World Series since 1954, but with a combination of young talent and strong veterans such as Murray, they skimmed over all the opposition in the American League. As opponents in the World Series they drew the Atlanta Braves, a team that had vast experience in post-season play. Atlanta pulled to a two-game lead in the best-of-seven series and held the Indians to a tie through nine innings in Game Three at Cleveland. Enter Eddie Murray. After going 0-for-5 in his previous plate appearances, he strode up to bat in an 11th inning clutch situationand delivered in his usual workmanlike manner. His single brought in the winning run in the 7-6 Indians victory and kept the team from falling into an embarrassing deficit. Although Atlanta went on to win the Series, the Indians did not get swept.

Murrays next goal-that-is-not-a-goal is 500 career homeruns. With his usual number of at-bats, he could accomplish that feat in 1997 or 1998. If he does, he will join only two other playersAaron and Maysin the category of 3,000 hits and 500 homers. Murray has no plans to retire, and thanks to his years of careful conditioning, he is still playing relatively injury-free. His final destination will be the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, but he is not in a hurry to get there. He would rather continue to play. Murray told the Sporting News that he has never chased the numbers or the prestige of induction into the Hall of Fame. I think, like any kid, my goal was to get to the major leagues, he said. ... I dont like setting numbers. Numbers, I think, add pressure to the situation. He concluded: I like to attack the season as a whole. You try to do better than you did the year before. If you do, so be it. If you dont, so be it. I can live with myself knowing Ive done the best job I could possibly do. His job isnt finished yet.

Sources

Books

Professional Sports Team Histories, Volume 1: Baseball, Gale, 1994, pp. 123-43.

The Sporting News Official Baseball Register, 1995 edition, Sporting News, 1995.

Periodicals

New York Times, May 10, 1992, p. L5; May 15, 1995, p. Cll; July 1, 1995, pp. A27, 29; October 25, 1995, pp. Bll12.

Sporting News, July 3, 1995, pp. 1013.

Sports Illustrated, June 21, 1982, pp. 3440; March 14, 1988, pp. 3037; May 22, 1995, pp. 5658, 60.

Mark Kram

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