500th is spontaneous joy to O's Front office had planned for moment, but players were caught off guard

September 08, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

The Orioles front office planned the festivities surrounding Eddie Murray's 500th home run a month ago; from the streamers at first base, to the video clips on the scoreboard, to the graphics of Murray's face on the scoreboard.

The players, coaches and manager did not have that luxury.

Those Orioles eagerly anticipated the game when Murray would become the 15th player in history with 500 home runs and the third player in history with 500 homers and 3,000 career hits.

But no one knew when that day would come. So, at 11: 47 Friday night, when Murray sent a line drive over the groundskeepers shed in right field and into the bleachers, the celebration that took place was truly spontaneous.

So spontaneous that Scott Erickson dropped a plate of food to join the on-field bedlam and Rafael Palmeiro was inspired to herd his teammates on the field like a bunch of teen-agers in the College World Series.

The players and coaching staff rose from the bench, walked to the dugout steps and watched the ball's flight. Then everyone greeted Murray at home plate.

"When he hit the ball, I was pretty sure it was going out," Cal Ripken said yesterday. "I just wanted to see the ball go all the way out. I think in some weird way we've all been anticipating it and expecting it. With the rain delay, and it seemed like it wasn't a full house because of the weather, you lowered your guard for just a minute and didn't think it would be that particular at-bat.

"All of a sudden it happened so quickly, I don't think a lot of people were thinking about it. It was a big home run for the team [tying the game], but my immediate reaction was 500 home runs."

Brady Anderson sat on the bench for a few seconds to preserve the moment in his memory. Anderson wanted to have the ability to recall the pitch, the situation and Murray's home run trot. He also wanted to give Murray his space and sensed the slugger wanted to get the celebration over with.

But by the time Murray rounded third base, a mass of Orioles had gathered at home plate.

"I think Rafael jumped off the bench right away," Anderson said. "He was the first one that really knew. He went on the field first and was telling us, 'Let's go.' We didn't know what we were supposed to do on a 500th homer. Do you run out like a college game or just wait for him on the bench? We all would've run out there eventually, we just wanted to make sure it was out, you know."

Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla sent Ripken on his victory lap after breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak a year ago. This time Palmeiro was already on the top step before the ball had reached the warning track and Bonilla was the first player waiting for Murray at home plate.

"It was a historical moment and I just reacted to the moment," Palmeiro said. "When he hit it, I knew it was going out. I tried to organize the celebration. I tried to get the guys out there. I thought I was pretty successful."

Erickson was the last Orioles player to join the huddle. He and injured outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds were in the clubhouse when Murray hit the home run. Erickson sprinted by Hammonds, who couldn't run as well with his sore knee.

"I was in the clubhouse," Erickson said. "I was starving. I dropped everything and sprinted to the field. We were watching it on TV. As soon as he hit it, I dropped my plate all over the floor. Better late than never. I got to home plate before [Murray] did, or at least it was close."

Orioles manager Davey Johnson was Hank Aaron's teammate in Atlanta when he broke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, and Johnson said only that experience rates higher than what transpired at Camden Yards Friday.

Detroit Tigers starter Felipe Lira bears the distinction of throwing Murray his 500th home run. Lira was jogging around the warning track yesterday afternoon while Murray was waiting by the cage to take batting practice.

Lira stopped when he saw Murray and came over to congratulate him. They shook hands, exchanged a laugh, then parted ways.

"It was a horrible pitch -- a split-finger that did nothing," Lira said of the pitch that became home run No. 500. "That's a big number to be next to my name. If I throw that pitch 100 times, 99 would go out. He got me."

For Murray, yesterday was just another day at the ballpark. He rarely spoke about or promoted his charge to 500 homers or 3,000 hits, and now that he's reached the milestones, Murray still doesn't have much to say.

"Basically, I'm just glad it's over," Murray said before last night's game. "It's no big thing. You just go back to playing and hopefully we'll win some games. You just go about your business."

The business of hitting 500 home runs and compiling a Hall of Fame career.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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