There was a time when the world, or at least the baseball-loving part of the world that lies on the Patapsco River, loved Eddie Murray.
And he loved them, too, in his own, private way.
Time and familiarity cooled the relationship between Murray and Orioles fans, but when the first baseman returned to play a game in Baltimore yesterday for the first time in three years, he found that although the love may be gone, a healthy dose of like lingers for him.
Appearing with the New York Mets, Murray received the first standing ovation at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, when he strode to the plate in the first inning.
And when Murray drove in the first run at the ballpark with a sacrifice fly to center, the crowd of 31,286 at yesterday's exhibition cheered him warmly as he trotted back to the dugout.
"There's only a handful of fans that rejoiced when Eddie left," said bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks. "The true baseball fan knew what Eddie did for the city and for this team."
"A lot of people in this town still love Eddie Murray," said Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey, who was given a warm response in the eighth inning when he made his first plate appearance in a Baltimore uniform since 1986.
Murray went 1-for-3, grounding to short twice and hitting a single off the right-field wall in the eighth inning.
He was thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double on a throw from right fielder Chito Martinez.
Afterward, Murray, who did not talk to Baltimore reporters at the end of his 12-season stay here, declined to answer questions about the game or the crowd's reaction.
Murray, one of four Baltimore players whose uniform has been retired, smiled, signed a few autographs near the Mets dugout and chatted with a few fans early on.
But Murray didn't acknowledge the standing ovation or the salute to his Baltimore career on the JumboTron outfield video board at the top of the second inning.
"Some people mistake his unwillingness to talk as negative, but that's a part of his professionalism. That's the way he is," said Ron Shapiro, Murray's agent.
Shapiro added, "He cares about a lot of people, but he doesn't wear his caring on his sleeve."
Murray has donated funds to a Baltimore recreation center that bears the name of his late mother, Carrie, and recently underwrote an exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Before the game, Murray met with some of his former teammates.
"He just came over and said hello," said pitcher Mike Flanagan, Murray's teammate from 1977 to 1987. "He's a friend. A friend first before he's a ballplayer."
Dempsey added: "He just wants to come over and be pals. He never wants to get into the politics of the game. He's a big part of the tradition here. I was hoping he could come back here. It would be right."
Instead, Murray, who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 1988 season and spent three years there, then signed with the Mets in the off-season for two years.
Given the prickly nature of his relationship with Baltimore fans, one might have thought that Murray would sit out yesterday's exhibition.
"I don't think he's that kind of person," said Flanagan. "I think he'd play the game just to show that he's a professional and that he's put this behind him."