The history of a nation can be chronicled by the signing of certain basic documents, such as, in the case of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation and Eddie Murray's Contract.

Sept. 4, 1985, is a date that will live in incredulity.

That's the day when the first baseman of the Baltimore Orioles signed a contract that will pay him more money per baseball game than the average American worker makes in a year.

Starting in 1987, Murray will make $2.6 million a season -- the highest annual salary of any player in the history of American professional team sports.

That's $16,049.32 a day.

Except, of course, for doubleheaders.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of full-time U.S. employes is $18,350.

That, however, only counts the 100 million who are fully employed. Another 20 million have part-time jobs and, if we add them in, Murray's pay per game easily surpasses their annual average.

A typical American worker makes about $350 a week. For Murray, that's tip money -- about what he makes for a checked-swing foul tip.

In all, Murray's new contract calls for $13 million over five years, including a $1 million signing bonus.

Other athletes in several sports have larger dollar figures next to their names, but those contracts are deferred over decades. All Murray's money will be in his hands by 1991. Also, a boxer or tennis player might earn more money in prizes or at one bonanza gate. But we're talking about guaranteed salary. Murray could break a leg and still get his.

When asked to discuss his new contract Tuesday night, Murray's response was perhaps as symbolic of this sporting age as his salary. He refused to comment and hid in the off-limits part of the Baltimore clubhouse until the coast was clear.

Murray, in a one-for-21 slump, only talks to the media when it suits him. Two weeks ago, when he hit three home runs and drove in nine runs in a game in southern California, his home territory, he spoke at length so his relatives could read about it.

Murray could not be reached by phone at his home yesterday. First, he was "in the shower," then, a few minutes later, "he just walked out the door."

The Murray signing also represents another American watershed.

For the first time, an athlete has a higher guaranteed annual salary than any American business executive.

According to Business Week's 1985 survey of the 25 highest-paid U.S. executives, an investment banker named David Tendler, cochairman of Phibro-Salomon, has a straight salary of $2.08 million a year.

In comparison, the chairman of the board of Ford Motor Co. gets $1.4 million. The poor chairman of IBM only makes $989,000. Murray will clear that before the June 15 trading deadline.

To be fair, let's note that businessmen tend to defer most of their wealth. Business Week really thinks that William S. Anderson, chairman of National Cash Register, is the top dog in the capitalist world. He gets $1 million in salary with another $12 million in long-term deals and stock options.

In other words, $13 million.

Same as Murray.

But then Murray's only 29 years old. He has time to invest.

"Quite honestly, I didn't think we'd ever see this day in baseball," said Orioles General Manager Hank Peters. "It's hard to comprehend what has happened."

In 1958, the American League home run champion (Roy Sievers) held out for a $26,000-a-year salary. In 1976, Reggie Jackson demanded $260,000 a year or he'd go free agent. Now, the decimal point has moved again, for the second time in a generation.

"In some ways, it's Catch 22," said Peters. "You do things that you know are not economically sound. But you also know that, economically, you can't do anything else.

"We're drawing over 2 million fans a year because we're winning. And we're winning because of stars like Murray. As long as we keep winning, we can pay the stars. On the other hand, if we don't keep them, we can't win and we can't draw well. So, we gotta keep 'em.

"But," said Peters, "what if we stop winning, even with the stars? We are close to the (payroll) limit now. Your long-term financial commitments precede knowing what kind of team you'll field. That's scary."

How could the Orioles hitch their future so firmly to one man's star?

Doesn't Murray have 15 errors this year? Doesn't he sometimes jog to first on easy outs? Isn't his career average (.298) mortal? Isn't he merely a middling leader in the dugout?

True. What outweighs it all is the fact that Murray does the most important everyday job in baseball better than anyone of his era. He drives in runs.

Since 1980, Murray has 116, 78, 110, 111, 110 and 105 RBI. The 78 total led the league in a strike year (1981) and would have projected to 120 for a full year. And the 105 for 1985 should grow to 125 by season's end.

To stretch a point for emphasis, we could say Murray is on the verge of driving in 110 or more runs for six straight seasons. How rare is that?

Nobody's done it since Ted Williams broke in with eight straight 110-RBI years, starting in 1939.

Since World War II, these are the leaders in 110-RBI seasons: Hank Aaron (nine), Harmon Killebrew (eight), Willie Mays (six), Frank Robinson (five), Jim Rice (five) and Eddie Murray with either five or six, depending on how you feel about 1981.

This month, we are ogling Pete Rose's climb toward 4,191 hits. Aaron's record for RBI (2,297) now seems almost as remote as Ty Cobb's hit record once appeared.

Don't bet that Murray, with 912 RBI in his first nine years, ever will challenge Aaron. It's a long shot.

However, in the year 1999, Murray will still be younger than Pete Rose is today. And, by then, he might own the Baltimore Orioles.