Rumble in Bronx: O's take on Yanks Murray shakes it up in clubhouse

Al East Showdown

September 17, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The Orioles clubhouse has a new epicenter and it goes by the name of Eddie Murray. The tremors he emits in all directions assume many different forms and magnitudes.

There is the humor, of course, the verbal shock waves he'll direct at anybody, humor that leaves 20-year-old outfielder Eugene Kingsale indistinguishable from national icon Cal Ripken. Which is the point, of course -- everybody's in this together.

"Eddie can stir it up," said pitcher Alan Mills, smiling. "That's all I'm going to say. The man can stir it up."

There is Murray's general optimism, his upbeat nature, his constant words of encouragement on the bench. There are his suggestions, constructive criticism delivered in a positive way. There is his Hall of Fame career, the 500 homers.

There is his production, the important, extra-inning sacrifice fly that beat the Chicago White Sox last week. There is his history: He's been a winner, with the Orioles, in Cleveland, three appearances in the World Series.

"Since Eddie's been here," said closer Randy Myers, "we've had less whining and moaning about individual stuff, and more concentration on the team, and Eddie's had a lot to do with that."

The Orioles clubhouse has a new epicenter and it goes by the name of Eddie Murray, who leads them into the crucial three-game series in New York that begins tonight, with ace Mike Mussina pitching against Yankees right-hander David Cone. The Orioles are three games out of first.

The week Murray rejoined the Orioles, they fell 12 games out of first place, their record dropped to 51-52. But they've won 31 of their last 46 games, eight of their last nine, and while so many other things have fallen into place -- the bullpen is improved vastly, the trade for sluggers Todd Zeile and Pete Incaviglia has helped -- Murray's arrival has been a major factor in the rebirth of the 1996 Orioles.

"When he got here," said Mussina, "it excited all of Baltimore, and the team. He brings experience, stability, knowledge. Intangible stuff.

"There were people here who were being looked up to, and Eddie provides someone for them to look up to. . . . It gives Cal, [Bobby] Bonilla, [Rafael] Palmeiro and myself to an extent, someone to look up to."

Mussina recalled Rick Sutcliffe's influence on the pitching staff when Sutcliffe played with the Orioles, how Sutcliffe served as a mentor. "It's a nice thing to have," Mussina said. "When people are looking up to you, it's nice to have someone for you to look up to."

Myers talked about how professional Murray is, how serious he is in his approach to winning. "He understands his role with this club," Myers said, "and he prepares the best he can to do that role as well as he can. He knows what it takes to win."

Murray seems to say something to just about everybody every day, an approach that draws in players who were remote from their teammates in the past. Manny Alexander, for example.

Alexander said Murray has encouraged him to stay in shape and be ready whenever or wherever he finally gets a chance to play. "He knows what I've been through this year, and he's been through a lot," said Alexander. "He tells me just to keep working hard. You never know when they're going to need you. He tries to make everybody happy on the team. He talks to us a lot."

During games, Murray walks up and down the dugout, telling his teammates to stay positive, talking to other hitters about what they might expect from a reliever who just entered the game, or to bench players to help them anticipate when they may enter the game.

Kingsale said, "He's just a great leader. He's awesome. He gives us so much energy to play ball, and he keeps us up the entire game."

Murray has made a major tangible impact -- the day he became the Orioles' designated hitter, Bonilla moved to the outfield for good, and has driven in 53 runs in the last 53 games.

And Murray, whether he knows it or not, has served as something of a diplomat between the players and manager Davey Johnson, easing tensions that have existed since May, when Johnson first raised the idea of moving Ripken to third base.

Constructive criticism from the coaching staff hasn't always been welcome this season. But constructive criticism from Murray, a respected peer, is something entirely different. Same message, different messenger.

"He's like having another coach," said pitching coach Pat Dobson. "He talks to the players about their at-bats, about their approach to hitting or base-running, or what they should be thinking about in certain situations.

"He is very vocal and constantly trying to get guys to get their rears in gear. I know he's talked to Brady [Anderson] about a base-running mistake he made, and Bobby about his approach to hitting. Coming from him, it's just another player saying what they should've done. He's brought a lot of intangibles that statistics don't show."

One statistic does. Thirty-one victories in 46 games. The Orioles have a new epicenter, and it goes by the name of Eddie Murray.

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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