The Miseries of Eddie Murray might run the entire season. When one calamity ends, another pops up, or causes the Oriole first baseman to do just that. About the time it was determined that, yes, he would live, that what once had been so frightening could be cured with a few days off, somebody misplaced what helped him command a $5 million contract before age 25.
Which is why Murray went to considerable trouble the other night explaining how he turned a 36-inch bat into a 35-inch bat, without a saw.
"With this," he said, pointing to a smaller version of the doughnut-shaped weight nearly everybody slips onto his bat for on-deck swings but discards at the plate.
This doughnut weighs scarcely more than what you may be munching right now, and in fact belongs to teammate Benny yayala. It fits snugly onto the bat handle and against the knob.
"You still get the heaviness and the good wood of a big bat," Murray said, "and you're able to swing." Worry free. There is no chance for the hands to slip, as might happen if Murray simply choked up an inch on his bludgeon.
Murray is rich enough and famous enough to command a 35-inch bat with the hitting surface of a fraternity pledge paddle, and would have a dozen at the ready in any other season. In this one, it seems, his stunning homer and RBI numbers are not going to come without a fight.
During spring training, Murray was flying higher than any Bird until he began having sporadic headaches. Then he spit up blood now and then, and had severe chest pains.
"At first," he said, "I thought maybe it just was a sore arm, like I'd thrown a ball wrong or taken a bad swing. Once it got into both shoulders, the pain was so bad I couldn't play. And then to have a doctor tell you he's not sure what's wrong, it gets a little scary."
"You see a 25-year-old man who's hardly ever missed a game in his life standing on first base in Chicago holding his chest in pain and it gets a whole lot scary," said Pitching Coach Ray Miller.
That was in mid-April, and, ironically, about the time it finally was determined that Murray was suffering nothing more serious than a viral infection. He missed the remaining three games of the series with the White Sox and the first two games of a home stand.
Murray's health improved dramatically; his batting average stayed anemic. At one pont, a two-for-12 stretch actually raised it slightly. This from a man who seemed almost machine-like his four years in the majors, to somehow have been programmed to hit about .291 in 160 games, with an average of 32 doubles, 28 home runs and 100 RBI. The only statistic that decreased rapidly was strikeouts, from 104 his rookie year to 71 last season.
All of a sudden, in Mid-April, obviously vigorous again, one of the most brilliant young players in baseball had trouble hitting half his weight.
"Part of the reason was my hands," he said. "When I missed that week, my hands got blisters all over 'em from swinging again. You can't fully swing a bat with blisters."
Neither can you swing comfortably when your favorite bat has disappeared. Somehow, his order vanished and, of course, there would be a strike at the bat factory. He begged and borrowed from teammates, but their weapons had handles too thin for his oversized hands.
Not quite desperate, although with little to lose, Murray grabbed one of the models he once used but had put away in favor of something shorter. Then he went to work with Ayala's donut and created almost what he had been searching for all along, and ordered months ago.
For more than a week, pitchers have been searching for a way to get him out. In six games, he went 15 for 28, with two homers and eight RBI, and raised his average 110 points, to .243. Before Monday, he had four three-hit games in a row.
If a man in a slump might miss a beach ball on a tee, a hitter of Murray's stature on a tear could smack a whiffle ball in a wind tunnel. He was understandably anxious for the rain to stop half an hour before the A's and O's went at each other Monday night.
"If you're going good," he said, "you even hit a guy you normally don't do well against. You wait back, attack the ball and get it instead of fouling it off. When everything's there, you want to be up there swinging."
Murray was full of enthusiasm near his locker when the clubhouse door burst open and Coach Elrod Hendricks walked in with some dear friends of Murray's. His bats.
"Where'd you find them?" asked Murray, his face flowing even brighter as he fondled one of the mahagony-colored bats and took a few half-swings.
Apparently, Murray and Murray's special bats had been within several yards of each other all along in Memorial Stadium. The order had been filled but the bats had gotten lost in a storage area across the hall from the Oriole clubhouse.
Murray's life seemed full of sunshine at last. Robust, he was reunited with what helped him earn that fat five-year contract he signed the day after last Christmas. And the weather was clearing. He was going against unbeaten Matt Keough, but had always done well against Oakland.
What could possibly interrupt such bliss?
A festering fuss with an umpire.
Murray struck out swinging his first at bat and was sent from the game about as quickly as anyone ever his second. He was loitering too long outside the box to suit Durwood Merrill after continuing a disagreement that began two hitters before. Merrill ordered Keough to pitch, called what Murray was not ready to hit a strike and then ejected him almost before he could turn and squarely face the ump.
In Texas about two weeks ago, Merrill, the third-base ump at the time, had distracted Murray enough for him to yell from home plate to shut up. Several O's thought this was Merrill's revenge.
Murray bolted from the clubhouse almost with the final pitch. Only someone possibly destined for a year that might seem like some white-water-rapids journey by the time it ends could have such an experience. There was a way to sour his night, after all, and Murray had found it.
Tonight, Murray used his doughnut bat the first two trips, whiffed and flied to center. Had it run dry of hits? Whatever, he switched to one of his new-found bats, got acquainted during another swinging strikeout and then sent a prodigious right field homer 20 yards short of leaving the entire stadium for the go-ahead run of a 6-5 Oriole victory.
This night he could see nothing to counter his joy. Yet.