EDDIE MURRAY has come home to the Baltimore Orioles. From the rapturous applause he received on July 22 when he came to bat in an Orioles uniform for the first time since 1988, Baltimore fans seem to love having him back. And Murray was even seen to smile as he tipped his hat following his 492nd home run in the sixth inning. Two nights later, he hit 493, tying Lou Gehrig for 15th on the all-time homer list, and another homer on Thursday put him in front of Gehrig.
Murray's return to the team for which he performed so marvelously for 12 years provides a good time to take an in-depth look at his remarkable career. Eddie Murray should be rated among the top five first basemen of all time. That's not because he has an effervescent personality. The claim is based on what he has accomplished in his 20 years in the big leagues.
We have heard too little (partly because of his refusal to talk to the media). Oh, he did receive some attention last year, as he became the 19th person in baseball history to accumulate 3,000 hits. (He is now 11th on the all-time hit list with 3,175). As of Thursday, he had more hits than any first baseman in history.
Few first basemen have attained the levels Murray, 40, has over a full career. For short-term achievement some others might seem superior. (In fact, he has been the starter in only one All-Star Game, losing out to a Cecil Cooper here, a Don Mattingly there, Mark McGwire or Cecil Fielder.)
Murray has never reached the heights of George Sisler, who hit .420 in 1922 and .407 in 1920, or Bill Terry, .401, in 1930. Hank Greenberg hit 58 home runs in 1938 and had 183 runs batted in in 1937. Don Mattingly had 145 RBIs in 1985 and hit .352 in 1986. Cecil Fielder hit 95 homers and had 265 RBIs in 1990 and 1991.
But it is the consistency and longevity of "Steady Eddie" that make him great. And he performed exceptionally in both leagues, averaging 94 RBIs a year in five National League seasons. He has 1,549 more hits and 163 more home runs than Greenberg, 699 more RBIs and 395 more homers than Sisler, 471 more runs and 982 more hits than Terry. He has 253 more home runs than Cecil Cooper and 769 more RBIs than Don Mattingly. He has 332 more home runs and 803 more RBIs than Keith Hernandez. Frank Thomas, 27, is a marvel. But he will have to average 105 RBIs a year for 12 years and 32 home runs for 10 years to equal Murray's current totals. The 32-year-old Fred McGriff would have to average 102 RBIs per year for the next 10 years to match Murray; Mark McGwire, 32, would have to average 107 RBIs for the same period. Meanwhile, Murray will add to his ledger.
Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx are the only first basemen whose careers clearly exceed Murray's statistically. Some might argue that Sisler -- a great fielder -- and Willie McCovey should be placed ahead of him. OK, but you can talk with confidence about Murray in the top five.
Consider. Eddie Murray has played more games at first base -- 2,412 -- than anyone in history, passing Jake Beckley, whose last game was in 1907. He has more assists (1,864) than any first baseman in history. He is second in double plays and third in putouts. Three times he has won the Gold Glove for his fielding.
Murray has passed Gehrig with more doubles (546) than any first baseman ever. He has 251 more than Gil Hodges, 193 more than McCovey, 88 more than Foxx.
When he hit his 494th home run and passed Gehrig, he became fourth among first basemen, behind Harmon Killebrew's 573 (Killebrew is in the Hall of Fame as a first baseman although he played only 40 percent of his games there), Foxx's 534, and McCovey's 521.
It is commonly pointed out that when Murray reaches 500 home runs, he will join Willie Mays and Hank Aaron as the only people to have more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Eleven times Murray has hit home runs from the left and right side of the plate in one game; Mickey Mantle did it 10 times. No one else is close. Murray has 18 grand slam home runs. Only Gehrig, with 23, has more. (Mantle and Stan Musial had 9 each, Mays 8; Ripken has 5.) Murray now has 1,874 RBIs, eighth on the all-time list. Among first basemen only Gehrig (1,995) and Foxx (1,922) have more. He already has 846 more RBIs than Ted Kluszewski, 600 more than Gil Hodges, 563 more than Mickey Vernon, 509 more than Orlando Cepeda, 319 more than McCovey, 290 more than Killebrew. His 996 RBIs in the 1980s led both leagues. He was tops in the American League in game-winning RBIs when that stat was kept from 1980 to 1988. He needs only 21 more this season to become the only person to reach at least 75 RBIs for 20 consecutive seasons.
As for runs: Murray has 1,591, third among first basemen in this century behind Gehrig and Foxx. Murray has 505 more runs than Norm Cash, 500 more than Greenberg, 408 more than Steve Garvey, 318 more than Tony Perez (who ought to go into the Hall with Cepeda long before Murray is eligible).
What a career! How nice that Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, two of the most consistent performers of the era, are reunited. How nice that they like each other. Ripken's tribute to Murray during the September celebration of Ripken's breaking of Gehrig's consecutive game record still echoes. It's a preview of their first-ballot elections to the Baseball Hall of Fame. They will be eternal teammates at Cooperstown.
Leon Howell is a free-lance writer and Oriole fan from Silver Spring.
Pub Date: 8/11/96