Fame shame: Some voters' snubs leave a foul taste

January 08, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

WE KNOW EDDIE Murray could be a grouch -- to the media, not to his teammates or coaches, who seem to universally revere Murray's professionalism. But how do we describe the 73 baseball writers who failed to vote for Murray as a first-ballot Hall of Famer?

Maybe Murray was right about sportswriters. We can't be trusted.

That is certainly one way to read the voting results of the 2003 Hall of Fame inductees, announced by the Baseball Writers' Association of America yesterday.

Only the switch-hitting first baseman Murray and catcher Gary Carter passed through baseball writers' purgatory into the immortal realm, but there is something slightly foul about this winter's balloting.

Murray became the 38th player elected in his first year of eligibility. Some would argue that 85 percent is an impressive and comfortable margin, because the requirement for election is that a player's name appear on 75 percent of the ballots.

Still ...

With undeniable numbers in a career that parallels exactly two Hall of Famers (Murray is the third player to hit more than 500 home runs and amass more than 3,000 hits, with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron), Murray couldn't drum up a more unanimous affirmation. Even taking into account that no one gets more than 95 percent of the vote (Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver), the votes for Murray were low.

Perhaps there are some seamheads out there who can justify not voting for Murray, although there doesn't seem to be a valid statistical explanation. Not with 504 homers, 3,255 hits, 1,917 RBIs as Murray's final line.

He is called the greatest switch-hitter ever. Only six players in history drove in more runs than Murray. From 1980 to 1985, he placed sixth or higher in the Most Valuable Player voting, finishing second to Cal Ripken in 1983, when everyone understands that Murray led the Orioles to their last World Series title.

What makes the voting results more odd is that Murray amassed most of his numbers in the first 10 years of his career, before baseballs were compressed into golf ball-like orbs, rocketing from bandbox ballparks at the speed of light.

Murray's worthiness was established as far back as 1987, when former Sun baseball writer and current ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian penned a story that framed Murray's Hall of Fame pace.

Kurkjian had a little help from Marylander Brian Ault, a research analyst who then worked at Anne Arundel Community College.

This week, Ault sent another letter to The Sun, reminding card-carrying baseball writers here to remember Murray -- and remember him well.

A self-avowed "numbers nerd, ardent Orioles and Eddie Murray fan," Ault had compiled stats back in 1987 comparing Murray's first 10 years in the major leagues with some Hall of Fame members.

What Ault found in those stats from 1977 to 1986 was that Murray stood tall among luminaries such as Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, Mays and Mickey Mantle. Even through just Murray's first 10 years in the big leagues, only five Hall of Famers had driven in more runs than his 1,015.

And still Murray is not on the ballot of 73 voters?

It makes a person wonder whether some voters could not look past the surliness Murray aimed at them. If so, that is a shame, because that is no reason to have attempted to deny Murray entry to the Hall.

It also makes a person wonder what it would have been like if, back in 1986, former Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams had not decided to hold an impromptu, pre-game gab session with the press in which Williams, assessing blame on why the former champion Orioles were foundering, took aim at Murray.

It turned out that night's game was rained out and the reporters, scrambling to find a story, ran with Williams' ill-advised rip job. An already suspicious Murray added the fodder to his arsenal, let the situation simmer, demanded a trade from Baltimore and further bolstered his public persona as curmudgeon.

It is a legacy against which Murray's sterling production cannot completely reconcile. The Hall of Fame voting tells that tale.

To this day, it remains an intriguing dichotomy:

How come everyone inside baseball has such a strong, fond, respectful take on Murray, while outsiders (reporters and some fans) judge Murray as a chronic grouch?

"Eddie epitomized the Oriole Way, the professional way to handle things," Ripken said yesterday.

"I knew growing up, hearing [about the Oriole Way] from my dad and in the minor-league system, but I didn't witness it until I saw him," Ripken said.

In 2007, Ripken likely will join Murray as a fellow first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Ripken chose a different path from Murray: accommodating the media, using his more outgoing personality to achieve hero status. Still, Ripken said that toward the end of Murray's first tenure in Baltimore, fingers were unfairly pointed at Murray and, in a perfect world, Murray would have stayed in Baltimore.

"He understood and had a sense of responsibility to his job. He understood what it meant to be in the middle of the order, whether he was 0-for-50 or not, just like he understood when he was on first base, the anchor of our defense. When he was there, everything was right," Ripken said.

"I would like to have seen him be on the O's for all his career."

Well, now Murray is an Oriole not just for life, but also for eternity, despite some curious snubs.

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