Murray all it took to make brief scouting career a hit

August 25, 1996|By John Steadman

It was as though Dave Ritterpusch had dropped off a turnip wagon. Others in the professional pursuit of scouting and signing young talent regarded him as inexperienced, naive and unqualified. He wasn't a vested member of the baseball fraternity, so his portfolio didn't draw attention. His background showed a degree in engineering from Lehigh University, service with the military and a term in the banking business.

So here he was as the new director of scouting for the Orioles in 1973, and he approached the role of processing players with an entirely different new perspective and varied technique. He dared to be different.

Ritterpusch had the idea that written motivational tests should be given to all prospects to supplement what the earlier physical reports stated regarding height, weight and abilities to hit for average, generate power, field, run and throw. What he wanted was something more insightful, a personal look inside the prospect.

And right there is the reason Eddie Murray became an Oriole. Rival organizations said he was lackadaisical, even lazy, but that was all wrong. Just cheap talk formulated among scouts as they offered opinions, scattering ideas that were purely subjective and rendering evaluations from seats in the grandstand.

What Ritterpusch desired, though, was something more in-depth, a chance to find out what was under the surface -- character, personality and ambition of the individual. Such an examination became available after a group of professors at San Jose State developed a tool to measure what they called athletic motivational inventory.

Ritterpusch was ready to avail himself of their services.

The information on Murray provided Ritterpusch with the most flattering and objective analysis he could have imagined. It was the antithesis of what most scouts had concluded, though the Orioles' Ray Poitevint, Bill Werle and Willie Moore were enthralled by his bat speed and long-ball capabilities.

"Eddie, despite what was being said, was highly ambitious and had a momentous desire to succeed," Ritterpusch explained. "This contradicted what the scouts, in general, believed about him. He was so composed, it turned off a lot of teams. But the test results on Eddie were so exceptional he was almost off the scale."

Ritterpusch believed -- and he was proved right -- that baseball relied too much on snap judgments, kind of buying a book for the flash of its cover rather than the text itself. Eddie Murray, not loud or the showboat type but conservative and reticent, became an extraordinary player for the Orioles -- the best in the history of the franchise. Superb with glove and bat, a strong arm, enough speed to steal a base, instincts and a competitive desire of great intensity. Plus, he hit with authority from either side of the plate.

"Let me read to you from the Orioles' 1973 psychological profile on Eddie that was written shortly after his 17th birthday," Ritterpusch said. "Here's what it says: 'Eddie Murray is an extremely stable individual with exceptional emotional control. Regardless of how stressful the situation becomes, he will think clearly and concentrate on his objectives.' "

That report was written about Murray before he played a game in the Orioles' minor-league system. Yet, in retrospect, it's as authentic as anything that could be formulated today, from the luxury of hindsight -- 23 years after he reported to Bluefield in the Rookie-level Appalachian League and went on to establish himself as a future Hall of Fame selection with 20 seasons of exceptional major-league production.

After the Orioles drafted Murray in the third round (the first pick in the draft that year was David Clyde, by the Texas Rangers), it was Ritterpusch's responsibility to get him signed. "I quickly learned he was the product of a wonderful home and his mother was a special kind of woman.

"She was a terrific negotiator. When we'd talk contract and she didn't like what I was saying, she'd remind me of how important it was he start college. Eddie got a $25,000 signing bonus, which was more than we paid our first two choices, a couple of pitchers named Mike Parrott and Jerry Guinn."

In a later assessment of the 1973 draft, Ritterpusch and Jim McLaughlin, whom he insists was vastly underappreciated for his contributions to the farm system, went over the lists of four other teams in an exchange of information.

"It was reciprocal," he recalled. "We traded our evaluations with the Yankees, Mets and Royals on the top amateur players in the country. The Yankees and Mets never even had Murray listed. The Royals had him 15th, but scratched out his name for some reason. Right now, as we talk, I can't think of the fourth team whose list we had."

The Murray pick showed that the "edge" Ritterpusch was looking for could be found if pursued with hard work and diligence. In the same draft, the Orioles acquired Mike Flanagan on the seventh round.

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