Eddie! Eddie!

January 09, 2003

EDDIE MURRAY'S election this week to the Baseball Hall of Fame is a reminder that there are two national pastimes, one on the field and another off.

Without question, Mr. Murray, the switch-hitting first baseman who played 12 1/2 seasons with the Orioles, deserved his ascent to Cooperstown because of his achievements on the diamond.

That he only got the support of 85 percent of the sportswriters who control entry to the Hall reflects his now almost noble unwillingness to speak for himself in any way but his remarkably consistent high level of play.

For a player so protective of himself and his family, there's the tragic irony that on the day of this great honor he was attending his younger sister's funeral. He understandably reacted with a written statement, one that precisely distinguished between his career and his family and then noted that his joy at this professional accomplishment was overshadowed by personal anguish.

But, just as throughout the 21 years of his major-league career, Mr. Murray's numbers speak loudly and clearly. Only three players in baseball history have racked up 500 home runs and 3,000 base hits. Two, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, are among the game's gods; Mr. Murray is the third. He also is the only player to drive in at least 75 runs in each of his first 20 years in the game.

Mr. Murray was the very model of reliability and durability in a sport where sustained excellence no longer seems a driving aspiration. Sportswriters - and former Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams, who drove Mr. Murray away - may not have fully appreciated that at the time. But his teammates did.

In 1995, on the night he set the record for consecutive games played, former teammate Cal Ripken particularly thanked four people: his mother, father, wife and Mr. Murray.

"When I got to the big leagues," Mr. Ripken said, "there was a man - Eddie Murray - who showed me how to play this game, day in and day out. I thank him for his example and for his leadership."

So do we.

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