Bronze sculpture will be a fitting reflection of Eddie Murray

The Orioles' most prolific hitter was a polarizing figure for media, fans

  • Eddie Murray greets fans during the National Sports Collectors Convention last week. He'll have his sculpture unveiled beyond center field at Camden Yards on Saturday at 5:15 p.m.
Eddie Murray greets fans during the National Sports Collectors… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
August 11, 2012|By Zach Helfand | The Baltimore Sun

When Eddie Murray's sculpture is unveiled at Camden Yards this afternoon, if the sun catches the bronze just so, onlookers might get a glimpse of themselves in the reflection.

It's fitting for the Orioles' most prolific hitter ever. Writers, and even some fans who didn't like Murray's personality, projected their own bitterness onto him for his entire career.

For the fans who didn't care what they read, only what they saw, they'll have their Eddie. They can cheer the man today, and later they can bring their kids to the statue, point and say, "There's one of the best switch hitters to ever play the game."

Three thousand hits, 500 home runs. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Rafael Palmeiro. And Eddie Murray.

"It'll never be done again," said Brooks Robinson, whose last year with the Orioles was Murray's first. The writers -- most of them anyway -- and the old owners and the critics have their Eddie, too. Fittingly, bronze doesn't speak. You can throw your stones and barbs at it, but it'll remain, a legend.

"It's always kind of weird to hear 'legend,'" Murray said. "But to have a statue done, it is a tremendous honor."

For a player who often came off as gruff, Murray was surprisingly sensitive.

The article in the New York Daily News during the 1979 World Series, in which Orioles scout Ray Poitevint alleged he was mistreated by Murray's family while trying to sign him, hurt Murray. Still ticks him off. At the time, the hurt and the anger were plain to see. After the article ran, Murray went hitless in his next 21 at-bats and the Orioles lost the World Series in seven games.

So Murray steeled himself. He stopped speaking to the media with any regularity, said he couldn't trust them. Sure, he still had his allies. He said he went to one reporter's wedding. But he put up walls and hardened himself to those outside the clubhouse, and like bronze, that barrier grew hard. He didn't read the newspapers, and soon he didn't care.

By the 1983 World Series, Murray's 0-for-21 finish in 1979 had been forgotten. Murray had developed into one of the best clutch hitters in the game. The anger didn't consume him anymore; it fueled him.

"If he didn't like you as a pitcher, or you did something to make him mad, you weren't going to get him out," Orioles teammate Bill Ripken said.

In the 1983 Series, Murray played with an injured wrist. He still hit two home runs in his first two at-bats in Game 5 to clinch the title.

The criticism never ended, though. In 1988, after a rough season for the Orioles, owner Edward Bennett Williams put much of the blame on Murray for not working hard, a common complaint among Murray's critics. Murray met with Williams -- he still won't talk about that meeting -- and, stung, Murray eventually requested a trade.

He went on to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians and Anaheim Angels in his Hall of Fame career. He had loads of talent, but he also understood baseball on a different level than most. It's a knowledge built by his intelligence and honed during years playing on Los Angeles ballfields with his 11 siblings and future stars such as Ozzie Smith. Murray could remember pitchers' tendencies and the pitches they threw him in previous series. Baseball spoke to him.

"Eddie was smart like a fox," said former Orioles pitching coach and manager Ray Miller. "Just totally in control. If Eddie was ever fooled, really fooled by a pitch, I think it was intentional."

Against pitchers with good breaking balls, Miller said, Murray would occasionally miss the first breaking pitch intentionally and make a scene of flailing and laughing at himself.

"Then go right back and sit on a breaking ball and get it again and hit it nine miles," Miller said.

Publicly, at least, Murray let baseball do the talking for him. When it did, it yelled.

Murray hit 504 home runs in his career and totaled 3,255 hits. He never had fewer than 15 home runs or 76 RBIs in any full season. He won three Gold Gloves, played in eight All-Star games and had seven seasons with a .300 average or better.

And he never won Most Valuable Player.

That's probably because Murray was perceived by some as sluggish in the field because he looked so casual. Teammates will point out that Murray's voice was often the loudest on the diamond, directing where to throw the ball and when.

It bothered some that Murray didn't always slide to break up a play or run out every base hit, but Ripken said manager Earl Weaver usually preferred it that way. He wanted his slugger in the lineup, not on the disabled list.

In batting practice, Murray battled a similar stigma.

"His batting practice was not very impressive," Orioles teammate Jim Palmer said. "I just remember early on, watching Eddie hit batting practice, and I go, 'Oh, this is not good.'"

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