First pitch a throwback for O's

Eddie Murray: Though he will be wearing the opposing team's uniform, the former Oriole and new Hall of Famer will make the ceremonial first pitch at Camden Yards.

Opening Day

March 31, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Orioles will defy convention today when newly minted Hall of Famer Eddie Murray throws the ceremonial first pitch to Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. before the 2003 season opener against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards.

It is not a common practice to extend that honor to a member of the opposing team, but the Indians' hitting coach obviously is a special case. Murray also graces the cover of the Orioles' 2003 media guide, so it's almost as if he never left.

"It's great the treatment I've gotten from them," Murray said. "I have never stopped thanking the Orioles for getting me back ... for trading for me in '96. I just wish we could have accomplished even more than we did that year."

The Orioles accomplished plenty that year. They won a wild-card playoff berth and reached the American League Championship Series. Murray hit his 500th career home run at Camden Yards, embellishing his slam-dunk Hall of Fame numbers and closing out his Orioles career on a much more upbeat note than the first time he left Baltimore.

This year's developing team probably won't accomplish a great deal, which explains why Murray has been so prominent in the early-season buildup.

The former first baseman and designated hitter seemed very much at home yesterday, cracking a few jokes at an afternoon news conference and stopping by to see friends in the Orioles clubhouse. The prospect of his July induction in Cooperstown, N.Y., is beginning to sink in, though it will always be tinged with the pain of burying his sister on the day after his election was announced in January.

"It wasn't good," he said, "but things get easier with time."

Perhaps it was even more difficult because of the important role Murray's family played in his great success in the major leagues. He learned to play baseball from his older brothers and sisters, who never let him get away with being the youngest kid on the playground.

He also enjoyed the benefit of growing up alongside some other future major leaguers, including Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, in his baseball-rich neighborhood in Los Angeles.

"You ended up growing up playing with a lot of players who ended up in the major leagues," he said. "I just think it was a great, unique situation where you could never feel you were all that great because the team was so great."

Murray would grow up to become only the third player in baseball history - along with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays - to accumulate at least 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.

"It's nice to be in that neighborhood," Murray said, "but those guys have another neighborhood. It's called six [600 home runs] and three [3,000 hits]. When you look at what Hank Aaron did, with 755 home runs and 3,000 hits, it's just amazing."

Time heals a lot of wounds. When Murray was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 1988 season, it would have been hard to imagine his relationship with the team would ever be repaired to the point where he would be the guest of honor at Opening Day.

The Orioles reacquired him in 1996 and hired him as a coach after he completed his playing career the following season. His strained relationship with late owner Edward Bennett Williams gave way to a much more friendly one with current owner Peter Angelos.

Murray prefers to focus on the early part of his Orioles career - when he broke in under Earl Weaver and reached the World Series in 1979 and '83 - rather than the difficult seasons that led to his unhappy departure.

"Nothing will ever top my first eight years here," he said. "We've had some rough times, but nothing will top those eight years."

Cooperstown has been a foregone conclusion for a long time, but Murray still seems a little sheepish about the company he will keep when his plaque is mounted among those of baseball's other greats.

"It's a great feeling to be in there, when you really stop and think about it," Murray said. "When you don't consider yourself a particularly strong person, and then to be able to generate enough power with speed and timing to hit 500 home runs ... that's something you never think about. You don't think about 3,000 hits either. You just try to do the best you can."

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