No. 33 hitting No. 500 here is only right

July 21, 1996|By JOHN EISENBERG

The trade itself certainly isn't remarkable. The Orioles are dumping Kent Mercker and the Indians are dumping Murray; two players who haven't played up to expectations this year.

The chances are slim that either will have a profound impact on their new teams. The Indians are going somewhere with or without Mercker. The Orioles are going nowhere with or without Murray, who turned 40 in February and hits mostly singles now.

The Orioles' desire to bring Murray back is based more on romantic stirrings than trying to make up ground in the standings.

The club likes the idea of seeing him hit his 500th home run in an Orioles uniform. He needs nine more.

Murray likes that idea, too, likes it enough to waive his no-trade clause.

Proving, if anything, that time does heal all.

For those with short memories, Murray left here eight years ago on terrible terms.

That he would want to come back was a laughable notion for the longest time.

When he left here after the 1988 season, traded to the Dodgers for three players, he was at war with the press and didn't care for management. He had ripped the fans in a Home Team Sports interview on the last day of the 1988 season.

Although he wouldn't talk to reporters, it was evident that he felt misunderstood, unappreciated, unfairly singled out for criticism and all those staples of modern jockdom.

It was a shame, because the Memorial Stadium fans had adored him and cheered him for years. Most still did. But he wasn't happy, to say the least.

When I went to the Dodgers' spring training site to report on his arrival there the following spring, he refused even to speak while I was in the circle of reporters around him.

As soon as I walked away, he resumed talking.

He was one angry, resentful, switch-hitting first baseman.

Now he wants to come back?

Maybe someone told him that none of the reporters from those days was still around.

But, hey, his return is rooted in sentiments far larger and more meaningful than any old hangups from the old days.

It's about his legacy as a ballplayer.

He hit 333 home runs as an Oriole, far more than he did for the Dodgers, Mets and Indians. He was a seven-time All-Star as an Oriole. He won his only World Series ring here. He embodied the Orioles when Cal Ripken was a pup. He taught Ripken how to be a major-leaguer.

When he goes into the Hall of Fame, he should go in as an Oriole. It's only right.

Coming back now makes that a happier proposition.

It gives his relationship with the Orioles and the city the right kind of closure.

The other way was all wrong.

Of course, the whole idea is for him to hit his 500th home run as an Oriole this season, which won't be easy. He has to hit nine in the 67 games the Orioles have left. Better get going. The Orioles won't bring him back next year.

Manager Davey Johnson probably will pencil him into the lineup as the full-time DH, which should help his chances. Whether that makes baseball sense is debatable. The Indians have taken away his at-bats against right-handed pitchers. He just wasn't getting it done anymore as a left-handed hitter.

He does have 12 home runs this season, but, in all, only 22 of his 88 hits are for extra bases. Three-fourths of his hits are singles.

And he is hitting just .213 with runners in scoring position.

Clearly, this isn't the bold, Pat Gillick-style move the Orioles needed to revive their thinning playoff chances.

It's basically a ceremonial trade that might provide some emotion and impetus, but not enough to make a difference.

Don't complain. It's becoming obvious that the Orioles shouldn't make a big, bold move this year. They would have to give up genuine value to get useful players in return, and it's silly to give up value to try saving a season such as this.

Face it, this club just isn't good enough, particularly if Brady Anderson is out for a while.

If the Orioles go ahead and trade Bobby Bonilla, they should trade for prospects or young major-leaguers.

Trading for veterans to fill holes in '96 is a waste of time.

That means, of course, that trading Mercker for Murray is basically a waste of time, except that there are extenuating circumstances.

Trading Mercker is trading nothing. He's a bust; it's amazing the Orioles didn't trade him to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

More importantly, bringing Murray back to Baltimore is a sentimental gesture intended as a make-up handshake with one of this city's greatest stars in any sport.

It is the rightful move in that sense, utterly appropriate.

Even those of us who warred with Murray can recognize that.

Murray among elite

All-time Oriole

Eddie Murray ranks among the Orioles' all-time leaders in numerous categories:

Stat .... .... .... No. .... .... Rank

Games .... ... .... 1,820 ... ... 3rd

bats .... ...... 6,845 ... ... 3rd

Runs ....... ...... 1,048 ... ... 3rd

Hits ....... ...... 2,021 ... ... 3rd

Doubles .... ...... 351 ..... ... 3rd

Home runs .... .... 333 ..... ... 2nd

Total bases ... ... 3,421 ... ... 3rd

RBIs ...... ... ... 1,190 ... ... 3rd

Extra-base hits ... 709 ..... ... 3rd

Batting average ... .295 .... ... 4th

Walks .... .... .... 856 .... ... 5th

RBIs ... ... .... 166 .... ... 2nd

Career numbers

Where Murray ranks among baseball's all-time leaders:

Stat .... .... ..... No. .... ... Rank

Runs .... .... ..... 1,578 ... .. 40th

Hits .... .... ..... 3,159 ... .. 11th

Doubles ... .... ... 541 .... ... T-14th

Home runs ...... ... 491 .... ... 16th

Grand slams .... ... 17 ..... ... T-3rd

RBIs .... ...... ... 1,865 ... .. 8th

Extra-base hits .... 2,059 ... .. 16th

Walks .... ..... ... 1,291 ...... 24th

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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