Murray's place in history: consistent Year by year, he builds Hall of Fame career

September 10, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

When baseball historians discuss Eddie Murray's career, one word frequently comes up.

Consistency.

One solid season after another. Murray's path to greatness.

He's never hit 35 home runs in a season. He's never driven in 125 runs in a season. But Murray is now the 15th member of the 500 home run club, joining baseball's all-time home run king, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays, the game's third-leading homer hitter, as the only players in history with 500 career homers and 3,000 hits.

Exclusive company for sure, but when his playing days are over and Murray's plaque is on the wall at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., where will he stand among baseball's immortals?

Bill James, baseball historian, researcher and author, said Murray may be the third-best first baseman to play the game, behind only Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx.

James said a group of six first baseman vie for the position behind Gehrig and Foxx -- Murray, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Cap Anson, Johnny Mize and Hank Greenberg.

"I can see an argument that Murray is the strongest of the group," James said. "He has more good years than any of them, but his best years are not as good as some of theirs. He's also probably the best fielder of his peer group. I don't think any of those players had a more consistent career than Murray. Murray doesn't have great years like Foxx and Gehrig. That explains why they're at the top. To me, that kind of offsets his 500 home runs and 3,000 hits."

James said it's a tossup between Murray and Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader, for the honor of the second-best switch-hitter in history. Mickey Mantle is generally viewed as the greatest switch-hitter, and his 536 homers are tops among those who hit from both sides of the plate.

But Murray is the leading run producer among switch-hitters, and he's second in hits and homers.

Gehrig and Foxx hold the record for consecutive 100-RBI seasons with 13, and James said when Murray drove in 88 runs as a rookie, he thought the young Oriole would be the player to break that record.

As it stands, Murray has six seasons of 100 or more RBIs.

"Certainly, he's been consistent enough to do it and he's lasted long enough to do it, but he never came close," James said. "I remember a reporter calling me in 1981 and asking which player's legacy would be hurt most by the strike, and I remember focusing on Eddie Murray. But he has 12 years with 90 or more RBIs. That's an awful lot of good years there."

Murray has the most career homers among players who nev- er hit 40 in a season (Stan Musial is second with 475). He is the only member of the 500 homer club without a 35-homer season. He is one of 10 players to amass 450 homers and 100 stolen bases in his career.

Murray also ranks in the top 15 all-time in hits, RBIs, total bases, at-bats, games and doubles. His 18 career grand slams are second only to Gehrig's 23.

"He's had an amazingly long and productive career," said Chuck Korr, a baseball historian and history professor at the University of Missouri. "He always stayed in shape. He is a pro in the best sense of the word. He works at his craft. Few can match his long-term consistency.

"There's no question he's one of greatest hitters ever, but on the other hand, he's clearly not going to have the fame of someone who had one fantastic year, like a Roger Maris."

Murray's reserved attitude and strained relationship with the media could limit his fame as well. Murray's endorsements are few. In Baltimore, he was overshadowed by Cal Ripken, and he stayed clear of the media blitz in New York and Los Angeles.

"I think what we're facing realistically is that Eddie Murray is going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but among the top 15 sluggers, I don't think he's really going to press anybody at the top for notoriety," said David Voigt, author of the three-volume book "American Baseball." "But he's in select company. He'll be underrated. He was never flashy, but he was always competent and he was always durable."

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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