Oriole great Murray joins Hall of Fame first time up

Election is overshadowed by younger sister's funeral

January 08, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Longtime Orioles first baseman Eddie Murray never embraced the spotlight, but his 21-year major-league career shined so brightly that there was never a serious doubt that he would be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Murray was named on 85 percent of the 496 ballots cast by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America in voting announced yesterday and will be inducted in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 27 along with catcher Gary Carter, the only other player to receive the minimum 75 percent of the vote required for induction.

Carter, 48, who played most of his career with the Montreal Expos and New York Mets, was named on 78 percent of the ballots after falling just short of induction last year. Murray faced no such uncertainty. He was considered a virtual lock to become the 38th player to get his Hall of Fame plaque on the first try after, becoming only the third player in baseball history to amass more than 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.

There would be no celebration, however. Murray's great moment was overshadowed by the death of his younger sister Tanja on Thursday at the age of 38 from kidney disease.

He attended her funeral in Southern California yesterday and acknowledged his conflicting emotions in a statement delivered through Hall of Fame officials during an afternoon conference call.

"I am thrilled by the tremendous honor of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and joining the other greats of this game," Murray said in the statement. "For those with whom I shared space on the field and in the clubhouse, I share this honor with you.

"Unfortunately, I cannot speak with you today because of the passing of my younger sister, Tanja, after her long-fought battle with kidney disease. Although I dedicated my professional career to the game, I have dedicated my life to my family. The elation I feel by being recognized for my achievements on the field is overshadowed by the anguish of losing someone so dear to me."

Murray, 46, is expected to take part in a Hall of Fame news conference along with Carter next week in New York.

No other candidate came close to the 372 votes necessary for induction. Reliever Bruce Sutter was named on 54 percent of the ballots, outfielder Jim Rice on 52 percent, outfielder Andre Dawson on 50 percent and first-time candidate Ryne Sandberg on 49 percent.

Murray clearly was the star attraction on this year's ballot. The only other players in major-league history with more than 500 home runs and 3,000 hits - Hank Aaron and Willie Mays - are recognized as two of the greatest legends of the sport.

"He was a Hall of Fame player," said close friend and teammate Cal Ripken. "He was a superstar, and he deserves this. He proved it over and over with the sheer numbers."

His 504 home runs and 1,917 runs batted in made him one of the most prolific switch-hitters of all time. He hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game a record 11 times and also holds career marks for sacrifice flies (128), games played at first base (2,413) and assists by a first baseman (1,865). The three-time Gold Glove winner helped lead the Orioles to the World Series in 1979 and to their last world championship in 1983.

His 19 career grand slams rank second only to the 23 hit by New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig.

"His numbers are obviously Hall of Fame ones," said former Orioles manager Joe Altobelli. "Maybe what a lot of people don't know is how good he was defensively, on cutoffs, relays, bunt plays. He was just well-rounded and prepared himself to play every day."

The only question was the number of votes Murray would receive. Contemporary players of his stature generally have been named on more than 90 percent of the ballots, but Murray's difficult relationship with the news media apparently cost him a few dozen votes.

"I think Eddie was often misunderstood," Ripken said. "He was not always comfortable with the media, but he showed me the way to be a professional and I give him credit for that."

If he wasn't warm and fuzzy with the writers, he was highly respected by his teammates and well-regarded in the community.

"People misjudged him," said ex-teammate Tippy Martinez. "He was really concerned about others. He was just a humble guy. As far as accolades go, his attitude was, `This is my job. It's what I'm supposed to do.'"

Murray broke into the major leagues in 1977 and quickly established himself as one of the most dependable run-producers in the sport, but his relationship with the Orioles front office soured after then-owner Edward Bennett Williams publicly questioned his desire during the 1986 season.

"He was `Steady Eddie' for all those years," said Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks. "Unfortunately, we had an owner who was a fan and believed all the stuff he read or Eddie would have played his whole career here like Cal and Brooks [Robinson]. He felt it was time to go after that, and it was sad."

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