Ed-die deserves second shot from O's fans

Ken Rosenthal

November 22, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

This weekend he's in town to participate in the Winterfest for Literacy, a baseball autograph and memorabilia show to benefit the Ripken Learning Center. Next week an exhibit he underwrote for $20,000 opens at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Eddie Murray hasn't played for the Orioles in three years, but he remains part of this community. The city rejoiced over Cal Ripken winning the American League MVP. It would be nice if just once it could celebrate Murray in like fashion again.

This isn't a plea for Murray to return to the Orioles -- please, no more first basemen. But the affection for Ripken, and the devotion to retired greats like Brooks and Frank Robinson, only points out the sadness of his exile, both in body and spirit.

It's time to forgive and forget. No one expects Murray to hold a conciliatory news conference. No one expects the Orioles to contrive a day in his honor. This is about thoughts, not actions; sentiments, not deeds. It's time: Murray, 35, is a free agent entering the final phase of his career.

For 12 years in Baltimore, he was "Ed-die, Ed-die," but by the end he was completely disenchanted, with the fans, the media, the front office. In 1987 he called Memorial Stadium "an ugly place." A year later he was traded to Los Angeles.

Today he's gone, but not forgotten. Just two months ago, fans voted Boog Powell over Murray as the first basemen on the Orioles' all-time team. It was a mean-spirited snub, but it reflected the strain of Murray's final years with the club.

The racial element in all this is impossible to dismiss, for Murray is black and most fans who attend Orioles games are white. Still, other black players have been popular in Baltimore -- from Frank Robinson to Ken Singleton to Randy Milligan.

Anyway, the whole matter might have been put to rest if Murray had returned for the grand finale at the stadium. But typical of this star-crossed relationship, circumstances got in the way.

It's always something. Murray might never have desired a trade if the late owner Edward Bennett Williams had treated him with the same heightened sensitivity the current front office shows its latest slugging first baseman, Glenn Davis.

Likewise, the fans might still revere him unconditionally if only he had dropped the Frown Prince persona and met them halfway -- through media interviews, public appearances, shows of emotion, whatever ways he preferred.

Yet, in his own way, Murray did his share. He donated more than $250,000 in 1985 to establish an Outward Bound Camp program in Leakin Park in honor of his late mother Carrie. He still contributes to the program, giving nearly $50,000 this year.

By financing the Jacob Lawrence Exhibit at the art museum, he'll enable Baltimoreans to view the works of perhaps the greatest ** Afro-American painter. He also supports a local education fund, and his appearance at the Ripken Winterfest will raise money to help adults learn to read.

"I still get letters from people telling me they appreciate how much Eddie is doing," said Murray's agent, Baltimore attorney Ron Shapiro. "Maybe someday there will be a larger community recognition of what he contributed not only on the field, but off the field.

"I view this as something that can only happen with the passage of time. Probably Eddie doesn't think about it much anymore. He's gone on with his life. As the museum contribution shows, he still feels something for this city."

That's why it's a shame he couldn't return for the final weekend, a love-in if there ever was one. Murray's friend, Charles Steinberg, first told him of the Orioles' plans last November. According to Steinberg, Murray laughed and said, "You really think you can pull all those guys back?"

Steinberg, the club's director of productions, lobbied Murray again when the Dodgers visited Philadelphia in May. He kept in touch, and the club actually made up a uniform so Murray could participate in the "Field of Dreams" sequence. It would have been something, seeing Murray run -- all right, jog -- to first base.

Problem was, the Dodgers weren't eliminated until the day before the season ended. Steinberg thought about calling to suggest Murray catch a red-eye. But he figured Murray, with 19 homers and 96 RBIs, would want one last chance to boost his numbers before free agency. As it turned out, he didn't play the final game.

"Would he have come back? That's everyone's question," Steinberg said. "I don't think anybody knows the answer, including him. Would he have wanted to? Definitely. No doubt in my mind. It was a celebration of all the fun times. It would have had a great healing effect."

That healing might still occur, perhaps as soon as next season, if Murray signs with an American League club like Toronto. He remains a force, as his major-league high 993 RBIs in the past 10 years attest. The question now is whether he'll permit his Hall of Fame plaque to depict him in an Orioles uniform.

Frank Robinson, for one, believes a reconciliation is possible. "As you're a little bit further from a situation you sometimes can see it better," he said. "I think the city and the fans here are very forgiving. They understand Eddie now more than then what Eddie was going through.

"I don't think a majority of people were here against Eddie, just a small segment. As a whole, the city embraced Eddie, and will again. I think he will come to terms with the situation. I think he will be looked up to and take his place as one of the premier players in the organization."

It's time.

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