Frank ranks, but Eddie is O so close

September 10, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,SUN COLUMNIST

A year ago, we debated who was the greatest Oriole of all time, Brooks Robinson or Cal Ripken.

To assess Eddie Murray's place in club history, it's best to shift the premise and consider whether he is the greatest hitter to wear an Orioles uniform.

Not the greatest player.

The greatest hitter.

As a player, he clearly ranks second to Frank Robinson, and maybe even behind Brooks and Ripken, because he was a defensive standout for only the first part of his career.

But as a hitter, he's right there.

Brooks might be the greatest Oriole because he was a Hall of Fame player who spent his entire 23-year career in Baltimore.

Ripken might be even greater because he's everything Brooks was, plus a better hitter and the player who broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record.

But Brooks never hit like Frank or Eddie, and Cal hasn't, either.

Frank was an Oriole only six seasons, but he helped transform the franchise, leading it to two world championships and four American League titles.

Eddie played his first 12 seasons in Baltimore, left after forcing the club into a bad trade, then returned nearly eight years later to hit his 500th home run.

The greatest Oriole?

No.

But the greatest hitter to wear the uniform?

Close.

Eddie probably won't hit as many home runs as Frank (586) or finish with as high a career batting average (.294).

He already has 261 more hits -- Frank missed 3,000 by only 57 -- but through Sunday, he also has nearly 1,000 more at-bats.

The two arguments that favor Eddie are his two most appealing characteristics as a hitter -- his consistency and run production.

Eddie is the only player in major-league history to produce 19 straight 75-RBI seasons from the start of his career.

Forget 500 homers and 3,000 hits -- that might be his greatest accomplishment.

Frank started off with 12 straight 75-RBI seasons and had 16 overall, but his streak was interrupted in 1968, largely because of injuries.

He finished his career with almost the same number of RBIs in almost the same number of games as Eddie had entering this season.

Their doubles totals also are comparable. Frank had more than two times as many triples, and almost twice Eddie's amount of stolen bases.

A more complete player?

Certainly, given his play in right field.

A more dangerous offensive player?

Probably -- he offered a superior blend of speed and power, played in a more pitching-dominant era and remains the only player to win MVP awards in both leagues.

But here's the thing with Eddie -- he has compiled Hall of Fame numbers even though he never won an MVP award, never led his league in home runs or hits during a full season, never had a 35-homer or 200-hit year.

His critics will argue that his achievements are merely a reflection of longevity. Actually, they're more a measure of his consistency, perhaps the quality treasured most by his managers and teammates.

It doesn't matter if Murray needed more games than any of the first 14 to hit 500 homers.

He isn't a pure slugger; nor is he a pure average hitter. If anything, he's a pure RBI man, a career .411 hitter with the bases loaded and second to Gehrig all-time with 18 grand slams.

Unlike Frank, he's also a switch-hitter; he's homered from both sides of the plate in a game a record 11 times.

If you want to dismiss his 500 homers as an inevitable product of a 20-year career, fine.

But who's going to do it next?

Andre Dawson follows Murray on the active list with 437 homers, but he's retiring at the end of the season.

Joe Carter (355) and Ripken (348) are next, but neither is likely to reach 500. Barry Bonds (329) probably has the best chance -- he's only 32.

But will Bonds stay healthy enough and hungry enough to reach that plateau? The latter question is particularly relevant in the big-money era. And injuries are no small factor, either.

"This may be the last time this happens," said David Vincent, a leading home run historian. "I'm not convinced anyone else is going to reach 500."

Vincent estimates that Mark McGwire (325) would be at 430 or 435 if not for injuries and work stoppages.

But will young sluggers like Albert Belle (238), Ken Griffey (232) and Juan Gonzalez (211) even last long enough to make a run at 500?

The point is, Eddie has stayed healthy, appearing on the disabled list twice in his career. And he has maintained his desire to play -- heck, he'll probably return next season at 41.

Put it all together, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The writers who vote would be mistaken to portray him as an offensive version of Don Sutton, a pitcher who has failed three times to make the Hall despite 324 victories.

Frankly, Sutton also deserves to be in Cooperstown. Longevity and consistency should be viewed as positive attributes, not negative.

Murray is special because he has been so good for so long.

The greatest Oriole ever?

No.

The greatest hitter to wear the uniform?

He's right there.

Eddie vs. Frank

Eddie Murray and Frank Robinson are considered the two greatest Orioles hitters. Here is how they stack up against each other (stats through Sunday): .. .. .. .. .. .. .Murray .. .. .. .. ..Robinson

Games .. .. .. .. .2,952 .. .. .. .. .. ...2,808

At-bats .. .. .. .11,103 .. .. .. .. .. ..10,006

Average.. .. .. ... .289.. .. .. .. .. .. . .294

Runs .. .. .. .. ..1,607.. .. .. .. .. ....1,829

Hits .. .. .. .. ..3,204 .. .. .. .. .. ...2,943

Doubles .. .. .. .. .550 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..528

Triples .. .. .. .. ..35 .. .. .. .. .. .. ...72

HRs .. .. .. .. .. ..500 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..586

RBIs .. .. .. .. ..1,888 .. .. .. .. .. ...1,812

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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