"Ed-die!" chanted again in Baltimore -- the way it always should have been

Peter Schmuck
Contact ReporterThe Schmuck Stops Here

The rain would not come for another hour, so Hall of Famer Eddie Murray had to settle for bathing in the affection of his close friends and the large gathering of fans who crowded into Legends Park to see his statue unveiled on Saturday.

Maybe time does heal all wounds.

There was no hint of the unhappiness that led to Murray asking out of Baltimore in the prime of his career. There was nothing during the either unveiling ceremony or the rain-delayed on-field presentation to indicate that there was any interruption in the honeymoon between "Ed-die! Ed-die!" and the fans who peppered him with that chant several times.

That's okay, because it probably should never have been interrupted. Murray should have played his entire career here — like Brooks and Cal and Cakes — but the owner (Edward Bennett Williams) and the local media got too critical, some of those cheers turned to boos, and Eddie probably was a little too proud and sensitive to let it pass. That's what helped create the gap in his Orioles career between 1988 and his return eight years later, but that's all water under the infield tarp.

He came back in 1996 to hit his historic 500th home run at Camden Yards and entered the Hall of Fame as an Oriole. Now, he has been permanently enstrined in the new plaza behind center field at Oriole Park — an honor he has known about for more than a year and one that still left him struggling to find the right words to describe.

"You knew it was coming, you see it the other day and you look at it and you still get a little speechless," Murray said during a news conference following the unveiling ceremony. "And seeing it sitting out there and with the rest of them and knowing that that's where it's going to stay and everybody is going to get to come by and look at it ... that's going to be all right."

The ceremony was shorter than some of the earlier unveilings, partly because boyhood friend Ozzie Smith and early Orioles confidant Charles Steinberg were under orders from Murray to "keep it brief." Both spoke glowingly of his loyalty as a friend and commitment to his team.

"Little did we know we know playing on those rock fields in Southern California in our youth that it would culminate in a day such as this,'' said Smith, who is generally regarded as the greatest defensive shortstop of all time. "I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a teammate before this greatness was realized ... I've never seen anyone more determined, more confident when the game was on the line. Possessing the ability to rise to the occasion when it meant the most is a special talent and skill set."

Murray thanked just about everyone who was in attendance and poignantly thanked a few who couldn't be — including his great friends Lee May and the late Elrod Hendricks and his late minor league mentor  Cal Ripken, Sr.

He also made sure to thank manager Earl Weaver , who rushed him into the Orioles lineup against the objections of the front office.

"Earl, thanks for fighting for me,'' Murray said from the podium. "That first year I came up, he had to fight for me to make the club, but I made him look good."

Louis Angelos represented the Angelos family and the Orioles front office as he has in each of the first four ceremonies and laid out the particulars of Murray's great career, from his American League Rookie of the Year award in 1977 to his eight All-Star appearances to the fact that he is one of only four players in major league history to accumulate at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs (the others were Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Rafael Palmeiro).

Majority partner Peter Angelos has not appeared at any of the public ceremonies, choosing to let his youngest son become the face of ownership for the season-long observance of the 20th annniversary of Oriole Park and the Legends Celebration Series.

The fact that the owner has kept such a low profile should not surprise anyone. He came under intense criticism for his lengthy speech the night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record in 1995, so he could be forgiven for fearing that his presence at these ceremonies might deflect attention from the honorees.

Peter and Georgia Angelos did attend the luncheon in honor of Murray on Saturday afternoon.

Murray, like the other Hall of Famers who have been similarly honored, made a point of thanking the Angelos family for its generosity in commissioning the statues, though he insists he never envisioned himself in bronze.

"As kids, when we played in the yard, we just played,'' he said. "Maybe you thought about playing on TV or you might be able to get a house, but that maybe was the max of what you might do."

Much of Murray's family was in attendance, and he credited his brothers and sisters for helping him grow into the great athlete who would lead the Orioles to two World Series appearances and gain induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2003.

"I'd like to thank my family,'' he said. "That's where I learned to play. They didn't let you win. They made you learn to compete."

Murray's other family — the one growing each month in Legends Park — will add it's fifth member in three weeks when Ripken's statue is unveiled Sept. 6, the anniversary of his 2,131st consecutive game in 1995 and also Murray's 500th homer in 1996. The statue of Brooks Robinson, who also was in attendance for Saturday's unveiling, will complete the Legends Celebration on Sept. 29.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.

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