Unembraceable Murray gets hug City, team make amends to misunderstood ex-slugger


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

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

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

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

Now Murray is adjusting to a different life, that of coach over

player, of being friendly without being friends. It is perhaps the most difficult 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 criticized Murray's desire during a rain delay. Ten years since a comfortable relationship was stained.

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

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

"From there on everything went downhill," recalls Robinson. "The media started jumping on that bandwagon and so did a lot of the public. Eddie is the type 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 the same clubhouse and the ultimate non-participant by those outside it. A prankster and cut-up with his teammates, Murray's relationship with much of the media soured before he left for the Dodgers. As he puts it, "You can't fight a battle with people who've got all the ammunition and guns."

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

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

"In '83 Eddie missed seven games and we lost all seven," remembered Palmer. "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 the importance of playing every day from him -- Murray played at least 158 games eight times in his career.

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

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

Asked whether he will choose to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as an Oriole rather than as a Dodger, Met, Indian or Angel, Murray says simply, "I have 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 his era 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 play for awards. You just go out and play. You go out and do the best you can. The gratifying thing is to know what your peers thought of you the guys in this room, 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 played I had fun when I was out there. And anybody who played with me knows that."

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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