From teen to now, Ripken's been Murray fan

May 06, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Half of his life ago, Cal Ripken was a long-locked high school kid hanging out in the Orioles' clubhouse at Memorial Stadium.

In that summer of '77, Lee May occupied first base for the Orioles, which left no place but designated hitter for a young, switch-hitting, can't-miss rookie prospect from Los Angeles. You you spend some time in the clubhouse between at-bats, preparing for your next trip to the plate and trying not to drive yourself nuts.

For Eddie Murray, then 21, the DH job meant he didn't have to waste any more time abusing Triple-A pitching. All of 54 games were more than enough to prove seasoning wasn't necessary.

For Ripken, approaching his 17th birthday, having a rookie DH who had learned so much from his father in the minor leagues meant having a new friend.

"I was playing amateur ball in the summer in Baltimore," Ripken said. "Eddie was the DH and he had a lot of time on his hands. I got a chance to know him a little then and he was always very nice to me.

"Then, when I went to my first big-league camp, he was very supportive, very friendly. Looking back, maybe he saw something in his own situation. Lee May had taken him in, and Eddie took it upon himself to make me feel comfortable."

Is it any wonder Murray and Ripken bonded so easily? For both men, baseball always has been second only to family. And if you were going to play baseball, you might as well play it right, play it the way Rip Sr. taught them to play it.

And play it every day.

Murray hit .283 with 27 home runs and 88 RBIs that summer on his way to American League Rookie of the Year honors. So much has changed since then. Last season, playing for the Mets, Murray hit .285 with 27 home runs and 100 RBIs. So little has changed since then.

Murray comes to Camden Yards tonight with the Cleveland Indians, carrying 2,849 hits and 447 home runs in his bag of bats.

After hitting a franchise-record 333 home runs in 12 seasons for the Orioles, Murray spent three seasons in Los Angeles, two with the Mets in New York.

Murray is back at DH for good and back in Baltimore, though only for a few days. Ripken expects his old friend to receive a warm welcome from the fans at Camden Yards.

"He's been away for a while, but in my memory, he's an Oriole," Ripken said. "He grew up as an Oriole and it's unfortunate he didn't get to do for 20 years for the Orioles what he did for 12. I think he's appreciated by most, underappreciated by some, maybe misunderstood by some. There is no taking away all he did for the Orioles."

For a time last winter, Orioles owner Peter Angelos advocated bringing Murray back to Baltimore, but general manager Roland Hemond favored having Harold Baines at designated hitter, Rafael Palmeiro at first base.

"Secretly, you would hope you could be reunited," Ripken said. "But realistically I didn't follow it that closely. I try not to pay too much attention to rumors in the winter. But yes, secretly, I was hoping that even after all the time that has passed we could go back to how it was when I first came up."

Ripken and Murray spent seven full seasons as teammates, the first four on winning teams, the last three for losers.

"When we started losing, fingers started being pointed at him and some started being pointed at me," Ripken said. "It just seemed to get out of hand with him."

And Ripken always wondered why.

"You could never criticize him for his effort," Ripken said. "You couldn't fault him for his desire to win, his desire to go out there and be in the lineup every day. And he never was a negative influence in our clubhouse. That's a fallacy.

"His work ethic was great. He was in the lineup all the time. He was a winner and he was a leader. A lot of people knocked his leadership ability, but they didn't see the things I saw. If there was a problem, he would pull you aside and wouldn't want anyone else to know. If there was a problem that needed to be dealt with, Eddie would deal with it quietly, behind the scenes. Everyone respected him for doing it that way."

Mostly, when Ripken thinks of Murray, he thinks of him with a bat in his hands.

"When I became the third hitter, Eddie made it easy for me," Ripken said. "My job wasn't to deliver the big hit. My job was to get on base and put the game in his hands. That's how I looked at it. He was such a clutch performer and he still is."

Coming into this season, Murray had a .427 lifetime batting average with the bases loaded. He had played in at least 150 games in 15 seasons, second only to Pete Rose's 17.

"Everybody talks about how many games I've played in, but Eddie is the same way, he feels that same obligation to be in the lineup every day, no matter who's pitching," Ripken said.

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