When Eddie Murray was told earlier this week that he had just become the first player in major league baseball history to hit two home runs right-handed and one left-handed in the same game, his expression hardly changed.
"That's nice, man," murmured the Baltimore first baseman.
When, the next night, Murray doubled off the fence, the scoreboard flashed the message: "Murray has just driven the Orioles' last nine consecutive runs over three games."
"Yeah, that's okay," Murray later said quietly.
Was he excited by his streaks or his record?
The young Murray looked genuinely puzzled, his large brown eyes peering out quizzically from under long lashes.
"Don't you know," he said, "we play again tomorrow night?"
If any young player in baseball has the ideal temperament for his sport, it may be Murray. At 23, he carries the weight of batting cleanup for baseball's best team as though it were a feather. He is both the youngest Oriole and the most imperturbable -- its clutch infant.
If one jewel is prized more highly in baseball than any other, it is consistency -- the ability to produce excellent performance not for days but for years.
Murray has not yet shown greatness. He has shown something which, in the long run, may be even more valuable -- the knack for turning in almost identical statistics year after year.
Call him "Easy Eddie" or "Steady Eddie" of just "Earl's Son" as the Birds do, Murray is just one statistical leap away from valid comparisons with players like Aaron and Rose. Already, he seems on the road to a career on the distinguished order of Al Kaline.
His first season, Murray (.283, 27 homers, 88 RBI) was rookie of the year. As a sophomore, Murray (.285, 27, 95) was second in the American League in total bases and was the O's MVP. Now in his third season, Murray (.287, 21, 83) seems on the way to improving those Big Three vital statistics once more.
The only numerical goal that he will admit caring about -- 100 RBI -- seems within reach after his recent explosion.
"I only have one idea about the game," said Murray. "I want to improve in every phase every year. I don't set numbers. I just do better and let 'em take care of themselves."
The utterly phlegmatic Murray, who has ignored injuries and played in 452 of the Birds' 453 games the last three years, has doggedly improved in every area of the game.
From a fielder of no repute, he now is on the verge of joining the Gold Glove ranks, having run up a streak of more than 800 errorless chances at one point. For range and scooping throws, he may be the league's best.
"I've never seen any first baseman cover so much ground," said Manager Earl Weaver, who polishes Murray like he would the Hope diamond.
Murray has cut down his strikeouts every season while gradually drawing more walks, amassing more total bases and scoring more runs. Coach Frank Robinson vows he will soon be a perennial .300 hitter with 30 homers and 100 RBI.
Murray, a creature of stats, seems like some huge, inexorable inch worm that crawls forward each season. Since Murray never battled left-handed until he was 20, his progress is startling.
At the plate, Murray's only weakness -- a light one, obviously -- has been junk: slow curves, change ups, slop.
"Just like Aaron as a kid," said Robinson. "When he learns to love it, Eddie'll be impossible to pitch to."
The watershed day may be at hand. All three of Murray's homers Wednesday were off change ups.
"I just sat on the slop," he said, meaning he waited for mushballs.
The next night, Murray did the same thing, getting three more hits, and said, with a rare grin, "They just won't learn."
"This might be a week that Eddie will remember a long time," said Weaver. "We don't want to aggravate him by telling him what pitches to look for. He has to learn for himself."
The source of Murray's success, the key to his personality, is self-evident to all who knows his family. All five Murray brothers from Los Angeles have signed pro baseball contracts. The game's values -- durability, stoicism under pressure, endless polishing of skills -- are Murray's values.
"Eddie's loved everything about the game from the days when we hit rocks with sticks," said Leon Murray, an elder brother who dwarfs the star Oriole.
"He has no problems, no wife, no children. He's not in a big rush," said Leon. "He's only got one boss -- our mama. What she says goes. There are no hard heads in our family. None of us have ever been wild or bad. We"ve all got steady jobs and none of us has ever spent a minute in jail."
Murray has, however, learned a fundamental lesson from watching the creers of three older brothers fizzle. "We had a lotta little downfalls," said Leon. "Eddie avoided them."
"Some people just got to get hurt. You can see it. They either run into walls on the field, or they run into 'em off it," said Eddie, Eddie, as his brother stood nearby nodding agreement.
"The easy way is the only way. Avoid problems," said Murray. "I might be the weakest of the five brothers. But I didn't run into the problems they did. One had a bad manager, another hit 37 homers one year and eventually quit when he didn't move up through the minors fast enough.
"You gotta push things away in the game that bothers you and upset you and keep you from your goal. It almost happened to me, I think. I got mad the year I wasn't sent up to AAA when I thought I should be. It wasn't fair.
"It was hard to swallow, 'cause it's your pride. But sometimes, you got to swallow. Otherwise you get on the club's bad foot. And that's the beginning of the end."
Each season, Murray has become less insular, less on guard. The mask of hard cool that he learned to wear in Watts has gradually melted under the influence and example of the dignified Frank Robinson, the equally stoic Lee May and the open and eloquent Ken Singleton.
Where other young stars, who arrived with a don't-tread-on-me mien, have gone progressively into their shells, Murray has pleasantly come out of his. The bands of children, relatives of Orioles, who appear in the O's clubhouse, invariably migrate to Murray, who delightedly takes charge of them.
"Go buy me a Big Grape," Murray will say, sending a towhead to the Birds' free soda machine. "Hey, here's Steve. Everybody knows Steve," he will greet an ecstatic 10-year-old.
Soon everybody will know Steady Eddie, Earl's favorite son.