Consistent is the word that perhaps best describes the performance of Eddie Murray throughout his Hall of Fame career. Having most of his peak seasons between 1977 and 1988, just prior to the period in baseball that has come to be known as The Steroid Era, Murray never posted any truly outlandish offensive numbers. He led his league in a major statistical category only three times in his 21 major-league seasons, and his season high for home runs (33) is the lowest of any member of the 500-homer club. Murray also never won a Most Valuable Player Award. But he finished second in the balloting twice, and he placed in the top ten in the voting another six times. One of only four players in baseball history to surpass both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Rafael Palmeiro are the other three), Murray hit more home runs (504) over the course of his career than any other switch-hitter, except for Mickey Mantle (536). And Murray’s 1,917 runs batted in place him first on the all-time list among switch-hitters. An outstanding clutch-hitter throughout his career, Murray hit a total of 19 grand slams, leaving him behind only Lou Gehrig, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez on the all-time list. He also compiled a lifetime .399 batting average in bases-loaded situations and homered from both sides of the plate in the same game a record 11 times. Still, Murray’s quiet and uncharismatic demeanor often prevented him from receiving the credit he so richly deserved during his playing days for being among the game’s elite players.
Born in Los Angeles, California on February 24, 1956, Eddie Clarence Murray played little league baseball as a youngster in the Watts section of Los Angeles, where professional sports were viewed largely as a preferred way of escaping life in the ghetto. The eighth of twelve children, Murray attended Locke High School in L.A., where he batted .500 as a senior while playing alongside fellow future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith in the infield.
After being selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the third round of the 1973 amateur draft, Murray spent the next four years honing his skills at the minor league level before finally making his debut with the Orioles at the start of the 1977 campaign. The 21-year-old rookie spent most of his first season serving as the team’s designated hitter, although he also occasionally filled in at first base for slugging veteran Lee May. Murray ended up playing in 160 games for the Orioles (one of six times he appeared in as many as 160 games), clubbing 27 home runs, driving in 88 runs, and batting .283, en route to capturing A.L. Rookie of the Year honors. He assumed the starting first base job the following year, hitting another 27 homers, knocking in 95 runs, batting .285, committing only five errors in 157 games at first, earning his first nomination to the All-Star Team, and finishing eighth in the league MVP voting.
In subsequent seasons, Murray continued to display the tremendous consistency that eventually became his trademark. He averaged 28 home runs and 101 runs batted in over the course of the next ten seasons, hitting more than 30 homers, driving in more than 100 runs, and batting over .300 five times each during the period. Murray performed so consistently over that 10-year stretch that he hit between 28 and 33 home runs seven times, knocked in more than 90 runs on seven separate occasions, and failed to bat over .290 only twice, posting marks of .284 and .277 the other two times. He was at his very
best from 1980 to 1985, a period during which he hit at least 29 home runs and bettered the 100-RBI mark in all but the strike-shortened 1981 season. He also batted over .300 four times during that stretch, with his finest seasons coming in 1982, 1983, and 1985. In the first of those years, Murray finished runner-up to Milwaukee’s Robin Yount in the league MVP voting by hitting 32 homers, knocking in 110 runs, and batting .316. He placed second in the balloting to teammate Cal Ripken Jr. the following year, when the two players combined to lead the Orioles to the world championship. Murray hit a career high 33 homers, drove in 111 runs, batted .306, and scored a career best 115 runs. He had another exceptional year in 1985, finishing among the league leaders with 31 home runs, 124 runs batted in, 111 runs scored, and a .297 batting average. Murray also led the American League with 22 homers and 78 RBIs in the strike-shortened 1981 campaign. Murray’s outstanding defense at first base earned him three consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1982 to 1984, and, by placing in the top five in the league MVP voting five straight years (1981 to 1985), he joined an exclusive list of players that also includes Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Barry Bonds, and Albert Pujols.
In spite of his tremendous success on the field, Murray rarely received much in the way of publicity, due in large part to his unwillingness to share his thoughts with the members of the media. Longtime teammate Mike Flanagan discussed Murray’s avoidance of the press when he said, “Eddie just didn’t like to talk about what he did. He didn’t care to give up his little secrets.”
Flanagan also expressed his admiration for his former teammate by saying, “He was the best clutch-hitter that I saw during the decade that we played together. Not only on our team, but in all of baseball.”
Cal Ripken Jr. is another who holds Murray in extremely high esteem, identifying his former teammate as being the player who, perhaps more than anyone else, influenced him in a positive way early in his career. Ripken revealed, “When I first came to the big leagues he (Murray) really helped me out and showed me the way. His professionalism – and the way he was there for his team and ready to play – really had an impact on me as a young player.”
Ripken went on to say, “Eddie was a huge part of the success of the Orioles for a lot of years. He was a great player and a great teammate. He went out and did his job every day.”
Still, after 12 successful seasons in Baltimore, it seemed that Murray needed a change of scenery. While still an extremely productive player, he failed to post the same sort of numbers between 1986 and 1988 he compiled in any of the previous six years. Murray’s enthusiasm for the game seemed to be fading, prompting the Orioles to trade him to his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers for three players following the conclusion of the 1988 campaign.
Murray had three solid seasons for the Dodgers, posting a major-league best .330 batting average in 1990. Yet, he failed to win the batting title that year since Willie McGee compiled a mark of .335 for the Cardinals before being traded to the American League’s Oakland A’s late in the season.
After becoming a free agent at the end of 1991, Murray signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets. He performed well in New York, driving in a total of 193 runs for one of baseball’s poorest teams over the course of the next two seasons. Murray spent the next three years in Cleveland, helping the Indians capture the 1995 A.L. pennant, before returning briefly to Baltimore and then winding down his career with the Angels and
Dodgers in 1997. Murray subsequently announced his retirement, ending his 21-year career with 504 home runs, 1,917 runs batted in, 1,627 runs scored, 3,255 hits, a .287 batting average, and with more games played at first base than any other player in major league history. Murray surpassed 30 homers five times, hitting at least 27 long balls another five times. He knocked in more than 100 runs on six separate occasions, scored more than 100 runs three times, and batted over .300 seven different times. Murray appeared in eight All-Star Games and, although he never won the MVP Award, he received the most lifetime votes of any player who failed to be so honored.
After retiring from the game as an active player, Murray returned to the Orioles as a coach for four years. He then served as a batting instructor, first for the Cleveland Indians, and then for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He gained induction to the Hall of Fame during his time in Cleveland, being elected by the members of the BBWAA in his first year of eligibility, in 2003.
Upon learning of his election to the Hall of Fame, Eddie Murray revealed his innermost thoughts to the media for the very first time, saying in a prepared statement:
“I am thrilled by the tremendous honor of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and joining the other greats of the game. For those with whom I shared space on the playing 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.”