Eddie Murray, wearing house slippers and a Brooks warmup suit, slid open a patio door and began a Rocky Balboa victory dance.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he sang while shadowboxing into a cool, wet southern California morning.
With spring training fast closing in, and after a winter of tennis and banquets, he clearly was frisky.
"This is going to be a good season," he said. "I can feel it. We've got a chance to score a lot of runs."
The season should be important in other ways, too, because more than ever before, the 1986 Orioles will be Eddie Murray's Orioles.
First, at Manager Earl Weaver's request, he will serve as team captain -- the first in franchise history.
Second, and partly because of the new role, he promised that his leadership will be less quiet. He intends to enforce a team dress code he said has grown lax the last two years. Also, after having success tutoring several young players, he plans to give his hitting advice whether he's asked or not.
If this does not sound like Eddie Murray, the quiet player with the melting glare, the player Jim Palmer once nicknamed Darth Vader, it is. Finally.
Carrie Murray's mischievous kid has grown up.
While Murray has been one of baseball's most respected players in the '80s, he also has been one of its least known. His teammates and friends know him as an intelligent, opinionated man, one with a quick wit and quicker tongue. But because he does not make many public appearances, seldom sits down for an interview and does his charity work without headlines, almost everyone else knows him by his 30-homer, 110- or 120-RBI seasons and stony glare.
A rare public appearance came last summer when he gave the city of Baltimore $500,000 to start an Outward Bound camp, asking only that the camp be named for his mother, Carrie, who died in December 1984.
Yet a few days ago, after first hesitating, he welcomed a reporter to his Los Angeles home and, between trips to fiddle with a VCR, talked almost four hours about baseball, family and future. Chat with him 10 minutes, and this much is clear: he loves baseball, talking about it, putting on the uniform and the pitcher-batter chess game.
As that love is clear, so is his abhorrence for other things: players who talk too much, coaches who care more about their egos than their teams, people who make excuses. Three years after the fact, he still rails about what he thought was unfair treatment of a former Oriole. He also hasn't forgotten the coach who yelled at a player who had just been sent to the minors: "Want me to leave you a ticket for the game?"
In the minors, he used to sing, "My Day Will Come." So will that coach's, he seems to say now.
Daddy, he remembers, was the one you didn't want to make mad. Mama gave most of the spankings, assigned most of the duties and ran the house. Mama established most of the rules, but when Daddy got mad, there was hell to pay.
At nights, it was Mama who gave the 12 kids their chores. One would set the table, another would do the dishes, another would sweep the floor. One of Eddie Murray's earliest recollections is of disturbing this routine.
"I wasn't in trouble, but I did like mischief," he said. "If someone else had a job to do, I'd start messing with them. Mama would yell, 'Okay, you're going to do that job yourself!' I'd do it and then start picking at someone else."
"All right, I saw that!" his mother would yell, and he'd have something else to do.
He once joked that half his junior high school friends ended up in jail, but says that may have been an exaggeration. None of the dozen Murray kids ended up in jail. The Murray kids raked leaves and cut grass and played ball. The Murray kids weren't street kids.
"I can remember thinking, 'I'd like to go to the show with those guys,' " he said, "but it was never an issue. When one of us went to the movies, we all went to the movies. We did everything as a family."
Everything included church, 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. every Sunday, then home for dinner -- roast and potatoes.
The importance of family is with him 20 years later, and when his mother's death was followed by the death of a sister last April, Murray was "devastated," a close friend said.
"Think of the closest family you know," the friend said. "I'll bet you the Murray family was closer than that. He's a strong, independent guy, but last season was tough for him."
Murray remembers, "Kids in my neighborhood got sidetracked, kids who had talent, but our parents didn't let us get sidetracked. I never once smoked a cigarette in my life."
He also remembers the Watts riots of 1965, not because his neighborhood was burning, but his parents' reaction.
"It was the first time I ever saw either of them scared," he said. "I'll never forget that. Always before, whatever they said was gospel. One thing you didn't do was question Mama or Daddy. If they told you to do something, you did it, but that was the first time they really didn't have an answer."
In the early 1960s, the coach at Fremont High asked the oldest Murray boy, Charlie, to come out for baseball.
"Charlie said he had to ask Mama," Eddie remembers. "We didn't do anything without asking Mama, and Mama just said no, which was the way she usually reacted to something like that."
This could have been the end of it had not one of Carrie Murray's brothers stopped by and heard the story, become upset and told her to let the boys have some fun. She relented and Charles played a year at Fremont, graduated and signed a contract with the Houston Astros.
The Murray family was changed forever.
"Charles bought them a station wagon with his bonus money," Eddie recalled. " . . . his way of giving something back to the family. I remember thinking, 'Someday, we'll see Charlie on television.' The station wagon probably opened Mama and Daddy's eyes. It also gave them a chance to go see their family in Mississippi, Tennessee and Chicago."
The station wagon represented something else for all the Murray boys -- a career.
"It opened our eyes to something we could do," he said. "We were all good. When I was 10, I was playing with 15-year-olds. I remember one year, I couldn't get the MVP award because I was too young."
In baseball as in life, Murray adopted the philosophy he saw exercised at home and it has marked his career.
"I never thought I was that good because I was taught not to think that way," he said. "It was never a 'me' thing. It was a team game, and the team was what was important. I honestly didn't think about my own talents, even when coaches were trying to get me to play with older boys."
Some of those older boys included Chester Lemon, now the Detroit Tigers center fielder, and Ozzie Smith, the St. Louis Cardinals shortstop. But through the baseball and the school, the consistent thing in his life remained family: seven sisters, four brothers and parents.
"They didn't even let us out in the neighborhood that much when we were young, because our family was so big we could play with each other. We'd get box scores out of the newspaper and you had to go down the batting order and hit for each guy. If he was a right-hander, you had to hit right-handed and so forth."
Eventually, all the boys signed pro contracts, Richard, Venice and Leon with the San Francisco Giants organization and Charlie with the Astros.
"Charlie had more talent than any of us," Murray recalled. "He could throw, run and hit for power, but he was raw because he didn't have much coaching. Then the Army got him in the middle of his career. I was lucky. I had a super coach in Little League. You wouldn't believe the fundamentals we learned. I was learning things at 10 that some guys don't know when they're in the minors."
He starred in basketball and football at Los Angeles' Locke High School, and in 1973, the Orioles made him a third-round draft pick. Hello, Bluefield, W.Va.
He remembered his days in the minors as "the first time I saw prejudice. Blacks lived on one side of the tracks, whites the other. There were restaurants where blacks couldn't eat. I did a lot of growing up in a hurry."
He remembers an overnight bus trip when he sat up front with the bus driver and heard the radio say something about a cross burning (this was 1974, no less).
"Deke, where is that they're talking about?" Murray asked the driver. "Oh, about 13 miles from here," he was told.
He and two Latin American players lived in a boardinghouse run by a black woman, and even though he was angry, he wasn't obsessed by racism.
"I didn't harp on it," he said. "I decided to make the most of it. I remember one game we played the Phillies' A-ball team in South Carolina. Lonnie Smith was on the team. I got called every name in the book, and the umpire at first base said, 'Don't say anything because they might be carrying rifles.' I looked in the stands and there were guys wearing striped overalls, and I tried to pick out a guy with a rifle.
"The funny thing is that Lonnie said they were nice to him most of the time. It was a strange time, though. Some of these teams hadn't had more than one or two blacks a year until about this time. I remember one white guy telling me he'd never seen a black guy before he got to rookie ball, and the first one he met was no role model." (Murray refuses to name the player.)
Of all the Murray boys, Eddie was the one who took to the game naturally. In his first three minor league seasons, he made all-star teams at three levels.
When he joined the Orioles in 1977, he was being groomed to replace 1976 RBI champion Lee May -- and May knew it. "I didn't know what he thought of me," Murray said. "He told me to shut up once, and three days later, he asked why I wasn't speaking to anyone. I said, 'Well, you told me to shut up.' He laughed, and I laughed."
May and Murray became fast friends, and in the years that followed, Murray has taken new and young Orioles under his wing, having some move temporarily into his Phoenix, Md., home and others go to lunch with him on the road.
He is the first to tell you that the Orioles of the '70s aren't the Orioles of the '80s. Murray, shortstop Cal Ripken and catcher Rick Dempsey are the only regulars left from the '83 championship team, and the club that relied so heavily on its farm system has signed four expensive free agents the last two years.
"It did used to be like family, and it's not that way anymore," Murray said. "We've got too many outsiders to be family, guys who come from other organizations and did things their own way. Some of them have been 'me' guys and not 'we' guys. That's not the Orioles.
"We've got some guys now who can't take a joke, and what's family anyway? It's eating together, playing together and laughing together."
He stops and crushes an iced-tea can in his hand.
"That doesn't mean we can't win," he said.
If Murray is more comfortable with his place as one of baseball's elite performers, it may be because he appears more comfortable with himself. He'll turn 30 Monday, and there are flecks of gray in his hair. He confesses to fighting a weight problem and said that for the first time he might take batting practice before reporting to spring training.
He has a steady companion these days and admits to wanting a family. And with what amounts to a six-year, $14.2 million contract in his pocket -- he'll make $1.2 million this season, then start a five-year, $13 million contract in 1987 -- he has begun shopping for land on which to build his dream house. He likes a spot in Palos Verdes and says the Pacific view is breathtaking. But the price is high -- better than $1 million -- and he's unsure.
Far from Watts, his life today is more than comfortable. Talking to a reporter, he stands in back of a sprawling 20-year-old home tucked a hundred yards up a winding driveway in Woodland Hills, not far from Beverly Hills.
He has a heated swimming pool, lighted tennis court, Jacuzzi, big screen television and a large, breezy kitchen where he occasionally prepares his own spaghetti or pork chops. His tastes in furniture run toward black silk bedspreads and dark oak dining room tables. If a home makes a statement about a person, this home says the owner is meticulous. Videotapes are stacked neatly in a back bedroom, the dark wood floors polished.
"Who's the housekeeper here?" Murray asks incredulously. "I'm the housekeeper. I was raised doing this kind of stuff."
At 30 and with those nine seasons under his belt, Murray's popularity in Baltimore has come to rival that which Brooks Robinson enjoyed. He wears a gold necklace that brags, "Just Regular," but in the last nine years, he has been anything but.
A Detroit reporter recently examined the statistics of 264 big league hitters to determine baseball's best everyday player this decade. He examined seven categories -- hits, runs, home runs, RBI, batting average, runs produced and at bats needed to produce a run. Only two players ranked among the leaders in every category -- Murray and Milwaukee's Cecil Cooper -- and Murray had consistently better numbers than Cooper, placing first in RBI and runs produced, fourth in hits, sixth in runs, fourth in home runs, 11th in batting average, third in at bats needed to produce a run.
Murray also leads all big league players in annual MVP award votes this decade, but has never won it.
"For my money, he's the best player in the game today," Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson said. "Other people may disagree, but if you're asking me what player I'd want up there to win a game for me, it's Eddie Murray."
"There's no way I can tell you how much I owe him," the Orioles' Mike Young said. "He has been like a brother and a friend to me."
"That man is our leader," pitcher Storm Davis added.
Weaver must think so, too, because last summer he asked Murray to serve as the Orioles' first captain. Murray refused, thinking he wasn't the right man for the job. "I'll check back with you in spring training," Weaver told him.
When Weaver checks back, Murray will accept.
"I got to thinking about it," he said, "and I think I can help some people. I've found that people listen to what I say, and some of them say it helps. People make the game too complicated. Jim Frey former Orioles coach and current Chicago Cubs manager used to drive me crazy. He'd say, 'You need to pick up the spin on the ball.' I'd say, 'Jimmy, I've got a half-second just to see it.' He'd say, 'Were you looking inside or outside for that pitch?' I'd say, 'Jimmy, there ain't that much home plate.'
"The thing is, everything about hitting comes down to confidence. You have to believe you can hit the pitcher. You see a guy come up, and if he hits the ball hard a couple of times up, he sets a tone for the whole year. You see him not hit it, and you can almost see the doubt in his mind. I think I'm getting smarter, and I can help people."
He's speaking his mind in other ways, too. In mid-January, he stood in front of a Baltimore banquet audience and announced, "We're going to win it in '86."
"The last two years have been tough," Murray said. "We were out of the race, but it's hard to say, 'Well, I'll get mine.' That's not what the game is about. I want to go to the World Series, and I don't care who gets the credit."
He is vague about his future. Financially, his last two contracts, worth close to $20 million, have set him and his family up for life.
He says the challenge of raising kids "like my Mama and Daddy raised us . . . is something I intend to do. I don't know what's happening in other families, but this one is going to continue the way it always has been."
And lately, he has had other paternal stirrings. At the Pizza Hut All-Star softball game a couple weeks ago, he tutored Seattle's Phil Bradley on the batter-pitcher mind game. Last season, he was asked -- and gave -- advice to the Mariners' Alvin Davis and other young players.
He said he has found helping others to be so much fun that he can see himself remaining in the game in some kind of teaching capacity -- all this from the guy who once went days without even speaking to his teammates.
"It never appealed to me before," he said, "but now that I've started talking about it and see people have results from things I've said . . . That could be fun."
Carrie Murray's mischievous kid is growing up.