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Murray's words touch all bases

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Eddie Murray may be a man of few words, but for 18 minutes yesterday, he poured out his heart to a crowd of 18,000 that showed up for the 2003 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center.

The former Orioles slugger, who was inducted with Montreal Expos and New York Mets star Gary Carter, chose his words haltingly at first, then found his voice as he looked back on his baseball career and the people who contributed to it.

"For every kid here today, I wish you could feel what I'm feeling," Murray said, "because I had a dream as a kid, and I actually lived that dream. It's unbelievable. I loved playing baseball. I still love this game."

The crowning moment of his impressive major league career came on a gray afternoon that promised rain but delivered only a light drizzle at the end of the 2 1/2 -hour ceremony.

Murray found himself batting cleanup again, the fourth honoree to speak at the open-air event. He followed longtime baseball writer Hal McCoy, jocular catcher-turned-broadcaster Bob Uecker and Carter in a program that tugged at the heartstrings but also delivered more than its share of comic relief.

If Murray seemed uncomfortable when he was summoned to the podium to receive the bronze plaque that will hang at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, he found a receptive audience heavy with Orioles fans eager to thank him for the 12 1/2 years he played in Baltimore.

"There's a nice little sea of black and orange out there," he said. "It's a wonderful thing."

The crowd included most of the large Murray family, dozens of former teammates and friends and a contingent of 439 players and parents from the Northwood Little League, who left Baltimore at 3:30 a.m. yesterday to reach Cooperstown in time to hear Murray include them in his speech.

Carter's induction pulled in fans from New York City and Montreal, both of which are within driving distance of Cooperstown. He also invited former President George H.W. Bush, who attended the ceremony with his grandson.

Everyone expected Carter to deliver an emotional tribute to his father and family - which is exactly what he did - but no one knew what to expect from Murray because of his long standing reluctance to speak in public.

He quickly disarmed the audience with a historical perspective on his strained relationship with the baseball writers who voted him into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

"When Ted Williams was here and inducted into the Hall of Fame 37 years ago, he said he must have earned it because he didn't win it because of his friendship with the writers," Murray said. "I guess in that way I'm proud to be in his company. I was never one much on words. For me, to focus a lot on the individual, that's not the way I learned to play the game. Baseball is a team game."

There was never any question that Murray deserved to go in on the first ballot. He is one of three major league players with more than 500 home runs and 3,000 hits (Willie Mays and Hank Aaron are the others), and he played more games at first base than any other player in history.

Even Murray, however, wondered how he would hold up emotionally when he delivered his speech. His voice cracked when he thanked his brother Charles for blazing the family trail into professional sports, but he remained composed as he reeled off a list of friends, coaches and business associates who played a part in his success.

"I thought he did a fabulous job," said close friend Cal Ripken. "I was feeling for him at first, but it turned out OK. He always was a clutch hitter."

Baltimore attorney Ron Shapiro, who has represented Murray throughout his career, agreed. "Eddie talked, and talked like he never talked before because he felt like he never felt before."

Teammates have long contended that Murray's taciturn demeanor is misleading.

"I'm just so happy for him," said former Orioles third baseman Doug DeCinces. "He was not only a great teammate and a tremendous ballplayer, but a great person. There are so many things he did that people don't know about."

Murray thanked everyone from his boyhood coaches to Orioles mentor Cal Ripken Sr. and Double-A manager Jimmie Schaffer, who went out on a limb when he converted Murray into the most productive switch hitter in major-league history.

He also had special praise for close friend Lee May, whom he replaced as the Orioles' regular first baseman in 1977, and Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks.

He also thanked Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and his family for bringing him "full circle" so he could hit his 500th home run in an Orioles uniform.

Though Murray left a coaching job with the Orioles to become hitting coach of the Cleveland Indians, there has been speculation that he will return to the organization in an on-field or front office role. Angelos, who attended the ceremony with his family and much of the team's front office staff, did nothing to dispel that notion.

"I think anything is possible with Eddie Murray. ... I might even say probable," Angelos said. "He's an exemplary individual, a great ballplayer and a great guy."

Murray was flanked on stage by 44 Hall of Famers, including Orioles Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer and Earl Weaver. The only Orioles Hall of Famer not in attendance was Expos manager Frank Robinson, who chose to remain with his team in Montreal for the finale of a big series against the first-place Atlanta Braves.

"The true Eddie came out in a lot of ways," Ripken said. "Not many people see that. There was a lot of emotion. I was proud. It was great to see. It made me cry a couple of times."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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