Hall appears on deck for O's Murray

First-ballot selection expected for `greatest switch-hitter ever to play'

Sister's death lessens his joy

504 home runs, 3,255 hits put team leader with elite

January 07, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Longtime Orioles first baseman Eddie Murray is expected to take his place among baseball's immortals today when the Baseball Writers' Association of America announces the results of this year's Hall of Fame election.

Murray, who played 12 1/2 of his 21 seasons in Baltimore and helped lead the Orioles to their last World Series title in 1983, must be named on 75 percent of the ballots cast by tenured BBWAA voters to earn induction in his first year of eligibility.

That should be no problem for a player who amassed 504 home runs and 3,255 hits and played more games at first base than anyone else in major-league history.

The game's slam-dunk Hall of Fame candidates generally are named on about 90 percent of the ballots.

"I know it's a biased opinion, but I believe Eddie is the greatest switch-hitter ever to play the game," said Orioles vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan, a teammate of Murray's from 1977 to 1987. "He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It's just a question of what the percentages are."

If only Murray were in a position to enjoy the moment. His sister Tanya, 38, died of complications from diabetes last week, and Murray will attend her funeral today. He will not be available to take part in the Hall of Fame conference call scheduled for this afternoon or tomorrow's news conference in New York.

Murray was the clear headliner on this year's ballot, but fellow first-timers Lee Smith, Fernando Valenzuela and Ryne Sandberg also should get significant consideration along with last year's No. 2 vote-getter, Gary Carter.

Carter, a catcher for the Montreal Expos and New York Mets, narrowly missed induction when he was named on 72.7 percent of the 472 votes submitted a year ago. He is considered the most likely candidate to join Murray at the induction ceremony on July 27 in Cooperstown, N.Y., but Murray is the only player on the ballot who doesn't have to sweat out the announcement.

"I watched a player who throughout his career had tremendous impact on the teams he played with - both on the field and in the clubhouse," said Baltimore attorney/agent Ron Shapiro, who has represented Murray as a player and coach. "It all added up to the fait accompli that he would get into the Hall of Fame."

Murray broke into the majors in 1977 with 27 home runs and 88 RBIs. He was named American League Rookie of the Year by the BBWAA that year, but his relationship with the media would sour as he established himself as one of the most consistent offensive producers in the game.

He shunned the media for much of his career, but his strained relationship with baseball writers doesn't figure to have a significant effect on the election results.

"I think his relationship with the press is misunderstood," Flanagan said.

"Eddie just didn't want to talk about what he did. I think he was just so focused on the game, it was, `You saw it, go ahead and write it.' The man in the clubhouse was a leader and a role model and all a teammate could ever be."

The numbers certainly bear that out. Murray is one of only three players in major-league history to hit more than 500 home runs and accumulate more than 3,000 hits. Hank Aaron, the all-time home run leader, and Willie Mays, considered by some the best all-around player ever, are the others.

Though he never won an American League Most Valuable Player Award, Murray finished among the top five in the BBWAA balloting five consecutive years from 1981 to 1985.

He also is credited with helping shape the career of close friend and Orioles teammate Cal Ripken, who lauded Murray as one of his chief role models when he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record.

Murray holds numerous major-league career records, including most games with home runs from both sides of the plate (11), most game-winning RBIs (117), most sacrifice flies (128), most games played by a first baseman (2,413) and most assists by a first baseman (1,865). He won three consecutive Gold Gloves from 1982 to 1984.

He delivered one of his finest seasons in 1983, hitting .306 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs to help carry the Orioles to the world title, but he finished second to Ripken for American League MVP.

In the late 1980s, Murray's relationship with the Orioles' front office and the local media deteriorated, and he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He spent five years in the National League with the Dodgers and New York Mets before returning to the AL with the Cleveland Indians.

He returned to Baltimore for a half-season in 1996 before ending his playing career with stops in Anaheim and Los Angeles in 1997. Murray returned to the Orioles as a coach for four seasons.

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