Kind words for Murray, the man of few words

AN OLD FRIEND of Eddie Murray's has already penned the former Oriole's induction speech for this summer's Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony. The ballots were released Sunday, and results of voting will be made public on Jan. 7.

In Boston, where Charles Steinberg is the vice president of public relations for the Red Sox, there will be no sweeter day in baseball than when Murray assumes his place among the pantheon of immortals - the switch-hitting first baseman's embattled public persona be damned.

Maybe this is Steinberg's calling, casting new light on a rocky 25-year marriage between Eddie Murray and the world. Murray may not care. Steinberg does.

He was an 18-year-old intern out of Gilman when the 21-year-old rookie Murray was a budding star with the Orioles in 1977. It was the kid's job to get Murray to talk to the press, to help sell himself and the club, but Murray would have none of it.

"Media relations were not his specialty. I'd say, 'Eddie, come on!' and he'd just tell me, 'It's not your fault. It's OK. That's just the way I am,' " Steinberg said this week.

When Murray is inducted into the Hall of Fame next year, his friends will be there to do what should be done. They'll tell most of us that we do not know the real Eddie Murray; we've never glimpsed the man behind the player who joined Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as the third major-leaguer to collect more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

That's what friends are for: to tell the world in ways you can't, or won't, about what makes you so special.

The question hanging over these proceedings is whether anyone can sufficiently soften the surly public image Murray chose to project during one of the most stellar, productive and, unfortunately, puzzling careers ever. More interestingly, will Murray finally let the world in, too?

Darth Vader, after all, is what fellow Oriole and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer used to call Murray's public mask.

In a year in which Barry Bonds' sour public persona could barely be dented during an otherworldly World Series run, maybe it's fitting Murray is about to get his moment in the Cooperstown sun.

"He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, but I'm sure he's anxious," Mike Flanagan said.

"Once when we were talking, he asked me, 'Think I'll get it?' But it's such a done deal. He was the greatest switch-hitter, the greatest clutch player I ever played with. It's a done deal."

Even Murray has been known to joke about the irony of having all the people he used to rabidly avoid (or worse) now holding his baseball immortality in their hands.

"A few years ago, I told him he'll make it in on his first ballot, and he said, 'Yeah, right. With those guys? No way,' " former teammate, coach and friend Elrod Hendricks said.

"Those guys" are Baseball Writers' Association of America members, very few of whom ever got a word out of Murray, especially after Murray was burned in a column by New York writer Dick Young during the 1979 World Series. Murray never forgot.

In 1986, when a hamstring injury led to a spate of critical articles questioning Murray, the first baseman was walloped again. Despite all the rookies and minor-leaguers he invited to stay at his home, despite his steadfast professionalism about never asking for a day off, Murray's once-popular stature at Memorial Stadium and in Baltimore eroded to the point that he asked to be traded.

"They literally ran him out of town. Here he was, a future Hall of Famer who had won all those Gold Gloves, and there were writers [rallying behind] Jim Traber, a local kid who had one outstanding month. That turned fans against Eddie. I told him, 'You don't deserve this.' And to tell you the truth, after he left Baltimore [after the 1988 season], I was a little relieved for him," Hendricks said.

Some of what came later for Murray took the sting out of that bitter Baltimore divorce. He came back to hit his 500th home run with the Orioles in 1996 and help lead them to the American League Championship Series.

The year before, Cal Ripken singled out Murray to acknowledge he was the one who showed Ripken about professionalism, about being ready to play every day. Murray was as much about the Oriole Way as anyone, with tremendous influence on those 1977 to '83 teams.

But the public relations effort will be renewed with Murray's Hall of Fame days fast approaching. Anyone who amasses the numbers Murray did may not need affectionate words to smooth his way into Cooperstown, but his friends are eager to soften the image.

"In 1985, it was my job to put the big picture of him up on the Diamond Vision board. I put a warm, friendly, smiling picture of him up there. I wanted everyone to know the man I knew," Steinberg said.

"Eddie comes into the office and says, 'Charlie, you've got to change that and make it look meaner.' I told him I thought it was nice. He said, 'Nice? I want that pitcher to look at me up at the plate and I have a scowl. And when he turns around to center field for relief, he'll see a picture just as mean. That way he'll know: There's no way out.' With Eddie, it was always about winning," Steinberg said.

It's probably a good thing Steinberg is ready to wax poetic on Murray's behalf. Murray's friends know it's all on them.

"The last time I talked to him about the induction ceremony, he told me, 'It will probably be the shortest speech in history,' " Hendricks said, laughing.

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