Hats off to Murray, who hopefully will take the tip

May 06, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

When, pray tell, is his "Welcome Home" news conference? Or will Mr. Murray be granting one-on-ones, newspapers first, then radio and TV?

Just kidding, Eddie, JUST KIDDING!

TC If Israel and the PLO can reach agreement, then surely Eddie can make peace with Baltimore. Tonight's the night, folks. The ovation will be so massive, it will dwarf the Opening Day salute for Rafael Palmeiro, and (gulp!) make him feel like an out-of-towner all over again.

How will the Frown Prince respond?

The big moment will come in the first or second inning, when Murray steps to the plate, batting fifth for the Cleveland Indians. It will be his first regular-season appearance in Baltimore since 1988, his last season with the Orioles.

There are signs the Ed-Man is softening -- he's giving interviews at an alarming rate, and even doing curtain calls in Cleveland. A simple tip of the cap tonight would suffice. A wave of acknowledgment would be perfect. A smile -- to die for!

Now, Eddie doesn't want any fuss: We're constantly reminded that he's proud and private, "just regular," and all that. But no excuses this time. Mike Mussina, the Orioles' starter, can stand the disruption, before or after the at-bat. This moment is bigger than him, and a long time coming.

We're talking about the best hitter in Orioles history, the club's all-time home-run leader and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

That's right, first ballot -- even with the Baseball Writers' Association of America doing the voting. The political equivalent would have been Nixon getting elected by his enemies list, but never mind.

I plan to vote for Eddie the moment he becomes eligible, send him an autographed copy of my ballot, then stand in the front row at Cooperstown, yelling, "Speech! Speech!"

The man isn't simply a Hall of Famer.

He's becoming one of the all-time greats.

Think we're exaggerating? Murray needs 53 home runs for 500 and 151 hits for 3,000. Only two players in major-league history have reached both those milestones -- Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

Ted Williams would have done it, but he missed three seasons because of World War II. Frank Robinson fell 57 hits short, Babe Ruth 127. Stan Musial fell 25 homers short, Carl Yastrzemski 48.

Dave Winfield, 42, is the only active player close to joining the 500-3,000 club, but forget it -- he's 45 homers short and his power is declining.

Murray, 38, probably will collect his 3,000th hit next season. It won't be as easy for him to reach 500 homers, but this season he has hit six in 106 at-bats. If he stays productive, he has a shot.

And that's not all:

* With 19 RBIs in his first 25 games, Murray is on a pace for his 18th straight 75-RBI season, a major-league record from the start of his career. Only Aaron posted a longer overall streak -- 19 seasons, from '55 to '73.

* A home run this weekend would give Murray homers in 30 major-league parks. Frank Robinson holds the record at 32 -- and Murray can reach 33 if he hits home runs at Camden Yards, SkyDome in Toronto, the new Comiskey Park in Chicago and The Ballpark in Arlington.

* Finally, even though he's now a designated hitter, Murray is the all-time games-played leader at first base. He has played more games at first (2,368) than Lou Gehrig played in his entire career (2,164).

Oops, almost forgot that he has hit 17 career grand slams, that he has homered from both sides of the plate a record 11 times, that he has the most RBIs of any switch-hitter in history -- including Mickey Mantle.

With Eddie, you don't want to leave anything out, lest he suspect another media conspiracy.

Countless fans in Baltimore still track his accomplishments. Most forgive his lethargic play in his final years with the Orioles. Most even forgive him for forcing one of the worst trades in club history (where have you gone, Brian Holton?)

All they want -- all they have ever wanted -- is for their affection to be returned.

Tonight's the night. Eddie couldn't return for the final game at Memorial Stadium in 1991 -- the Los Angeles Dodgers were eliminated from the pennant race the day before the season ended, and to get to Baltimore, he would have needed to fly all night and miss the Dodgers' final game.

Thus, a perfect opportunity for reconciliation was lost, but now another one awaits. Wouldn't it be something if Murray announced this weekend that he'd choose an Orioles uniform for his Hall of Fame plaque if elected to Cooperstown?

Salute the crowd tonight, Eddie -- tip your cap, wave your hand, whatever strikes your mood.

Not because we're suggesting it -- heaven forbid.

Reach out, because after all these years, it's the right thing to do.

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: Cleveland Indians

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Indians' Dennis Martinez (0-3, 4.29) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (5-1, 2.89)

Tickets: 800 remain, not including 183 bleacher seats and 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.

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