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Unembraceable Murray gets hug

Sun Staff

The Orioles today confirm the obvious. No one will ever again wear No. 33except Eddie Murray. Part celebration and perhaps part healing, the team andits longtime first baseman, current bench coach and future Hall of Famer willparticipate in the official retirement of Murray's jersey this afternoon atCamden Yards.

Earl Weaver will attend. So will Jim Palmer and Elrod Hendricks. Detailsremain sketchy, but the message is clear: Thank you, Eddie.

One of the most misunderstood players of his generation, Murray accepts anhonor from the same franchise that drafted and developed him then brashlyquestioned a desire that did not percolate for outsiders to see.Reconciliation came slowly, assisted by an enjoyable but brief return in 1996and furthered by his naming as Ray Miller's bench coach in November.

Miller still marvels at the adjustments that Murray made during a sureHall of Fame career that ended with 504 home runs, 3,255 hits, a record 1,917RBIs for a switch-hitter, a .287 career average and three Gold Gloves.

Now Murray is adjusting to a different life, that of coach overplayer, of being friendly without being friends. It is perhaps the mostdifficult transition of all.

"As a coach, you try to grasp people," Miller says. "Slowly but surely,Eddie is grasping a lot of people on this ballclub."

And today, in perhaps an overdue gesture, a city reaches to Murray.

It has been 10 years since then-owner Edward Bennett Williams criticizedMurray's desire during a rain delay. Ten years since a comfortablerelationship was stained.

"It hurt him. It hurt him deeply," remembers Frank Robinson, a participanttoday and the Orioles' second manager during the lost '88 season that becameMurray's last full year in Baltimore. "I think if it had happened somewhereelse he played -- Los Angeles or Cleveland -- it would have hurt, but not asmuch as it did happening here."

After 12 years with the franchise that had drafted him in 1973, Murraydemanded a trade and was dealt to the Dodgers. The bruises created byWilliams' criticism lingered and Murray retreated behind a curtain of silenceand suspicion.

"From there on everything went downhill," recalls Robinson. "The mediastarted jumping on that bandwagon and so did a lot of the public. Eddie is thetype of guy who doesn't lash out through the press. And he took it personally.He thought it was unfair. He never missed a game."

Former teammates say Murray hid the hurt behind a veneer of indifference.It both insulated him and cultivated misperceptions.

Murray was long seen as the ultimate teammate by those who inhabited thesame clubhouse and the ultimate non-participant by those outside it. Aprankster and cut-up with his teammates, Murray's relationship with much ofthe media soured before he left for the Dodgers. As he puts it, "You can'tfight a battle with people who've got all the ammunition and guns."

From afar he was described as aloof, even nonchalant. Those who playedwith him used other descriptives. "He was a leader," says Palmer, Murray'sHall of Fame teammate from 1977-84.

Palmer and Murray had their differences. After Palmer once publicly statedhe thought it was in Murray's best interest to pursue free agency, the twodidn't speak for two years. Palmer eventually apologized. He will never forgetMurray's contribution during the franchise's run at its last worldchampionship.

"In '83 Eddie missed seven games and we lost all seven," rememberedPalmer. "Cal [Ripken] won the MVP that year and he had an outstanding season.But everybody knew Eddie was the MVP."

Teammates, especially Ripken, came to admire him. Ripken learned theimportance of playing every day from him -- Murray played at least 158 gameseight times in his career.

"They are two guys who the only thing that's changed in their lives isthat they drive nicer cars and wear nicer clothes," Miller says. "Theirpersona around the ballclub has always been the same. They enjoy the game."

Murray does not crave attention. He will participate today but will notrevel in the spotlight. It goes against his philosophy that focus shouldremain on the group rather than the individual.

Asked whether he will choose to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as anOriole rather than as a Dodger, Met, Indian or Angel, Murray says simply, "Ihave no idea. That's not my decision."

Murray's inference is that he holds no sway over the Baseball Writers'Association of America who vote on enshrinement. Murray has seen others of hisera such as Tony Perez bypassed. He will not feel their pain.

"Don't let somebody else control your happiness. Look at Tony Perez.It's something he definitely wants. But I learned very early you don't playfor awards. You just go out and play. You go out and do the best you can. Thegratifying thing is to know what your peers thought of you the guys in thisroom, the guys across the field and the people upstairs.

"I enjoyed playing this game. Sometimes people said I laughed too much.Some say I don't smile enough. You can't please a lot of people. When I playedI had fun when I was out there. And anybody who played with me knows that."

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