A few days before the beginning of spring training in 1986, Eddie Murray invited a reporter into his Los Angeles home, and for three hours, between trips to adjust a VCR and open cans of Lipton tea, he talked about the loves of his life -- his family, his friends and the Baltimore Orioles.
It was a revealing and rare look at a private man in a public occupation and, that day, Murray said among other things he was proud to be named the Orioles' first captain and intended to make it more than a title.
Always a great player, he said the new title would allow him to do more than play, specifically enforce the club's dress code, be more forceful in tutoring young players and act as a conduit between then-manager Earl Weaver and the players.
If any of this was a surprise, it shouldn't have been. Murray grew up with the Orioles in an era when the clubhouse had a family-type atmosphere, one where players not only played together but dined together and raised their families together. One of his earliest memories was of seeing Weaver chewing out a player, then watching as star first baseman Lee May walked behind Weaver and asked the player, "Are you okay?"
He was equally impressed when he was brought to the major leagues in 1977 as May's eventual replacement. In what could have been an awkward situation, Murray not only was accepted by May, but taken under his wing.
After May left the Orioles, Murray assumed some of that role, taking younger players to lunch on the road, letting them live with him while they searched for apartments and being available to talk about pitchers, base running, clothes, transportation or life.
Murray seemed to relish the responsibility and joys of being an Oriole, and in the spring of '86, with a new five-year, $12.7 million contract in his pocket, he had never seemed happier.
He had given $500,000 of his new contract to start an Outward Bound camp for kids because, he said, "Someone once did the same for me," and also because "Baltimore has been good to me." He had even begun to think about staying with the organization as a minor league hitting instructor "because I've seen I can help certain guys."
That would have been an appropriate extension for a relationship that had, not only respect and admiration, but seemingly a lot of love.
Asked recently about that time only 19 months ago, Murray said, "A lot has changed. Things said then may not be true now."
Murray declined to be interviewed on the record for this article, but people who know him paint a far different picture of Murray in 1987. From a happy, content employe, his friends say Murray has gone to a bitter, angry man, obsessed with leaving Baltimore and the Orioles. On Sunday, some of that bitterness surfaced when he complained in a rare television interview about fans booing at Memorial Stadium.
Murray's friends say he once favored the California Angels as a possible new team, but now if the Orioles approached him with a trade to Texas, Atlanta or Cairo, he'd probably accept.
Since that day in 1986, he has been booed at home, criticized by team owner Edward Bennett Williams and even heckled in the Memorial Stadium parking lot after games. Publicly, the Orioles have had nothing except praise for him, but privately, one of their scouts recently called him "unmotivated."
General Manager Hank Peters attributed Murray's comments Sunday about the fans to frustration about losing. But, Peters said, "we've had a great run during Eddie's career here. We have won an awful lot of games. When the going gets tough, you can't always bail out." Peters also told the Associated Press he wants to meet soon with Murray and his agent, Ron Shapiro, "to sit down and discuss this thing."
Murray's troubles began last summer when he was having his first subpar season, and the Orioles were headed for their first losing season in 20 years. Playing with a bad hand and forced on the disabled list because of a pulled hamstring, Murray missed 25 games and ended with career lows in home runs (17), RBI (84) and hits (151).
But after having strung together nine seasons that probably assured him a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he seemed stunned by the reaction to one down year, especially since he had played hurt.
And as some fans were turning on him, so too were his employers. The day of no return probably came a couple of months ago when, sources say, Murray was told -- directly or indirectly -- to stay away from outfielder Mike Young "because you're a bad influence." Similarly, he heard that an Orioles official had advised catcher Floyd Rayford "to find a new role model." In place of Murray, was the implication.
In a team meeting in Minneapolis, sources say, Peters told his players some of their skills were declining and some weren't trying. When it ended, Murray, according to sources, turned to a teammate and said, "Was 75 percent of that about me?"
"Try 90," said the teammate.
What's more, sources say he has been told at least twice by team officials that he hasn't been traded "because no one wants you."
Murray is unhappy about being an Oriole, lets teammates know it every day or so and apparently will not be happy until he is traded.
Meanwhile, the Orioles apparently would be glad to accommodate him, except that the $10.4 million remaining on his contract scares many teams away. Worse, among the teams that would take the contract -- the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, for instance -- there doesn't appear available the good young pitchers the Orioles so desperately need.
But as the Orioles prepare to begin yet another winter of uncertainty, one of their most important decisions again will concern whether they'll have to grant Murray's wish, even if it means getting less than they believe he's worth.
It appears they will, because few of the people who know Murray believe the situation is ever going to get better.
"He just can't let it go," one teammate said. "I've talked to him about it. We've all gone through bad times, and my attitude is to forget it. Everyone makes mistakes. Eddie disagrees. He felt like he tried to do everything right and was playing hurt last summer and still got criticized. As far as his being happy with the Orioles, I don't see that as being possible."
At the same time, the Orioles appear to be as unhappy with Murray as he is with them. Privately, they say his refusal to work out during the winter is finally catching up with him and point to his slow start and sporadic production as evidence.
What is so incredible about all of this is that he seems to be the same player he always has been. Despite the worst start of his career, he is hitting .285 and has 27 doubles, 30 home runs, 73 walks and 91 RBI.
That is about what he has always done. The numbers for his first 10 years are staggering, not just because of the totals, but because of the consistency. He probably has written himself a ticket to the Hall of Fame without once leading the American League in a single major offensive category over a full season.
In his eight healthy full seasons, Murray averaged 30 homers and 107 RBI, and the graph of his career is almost a straight line. He has never had fewer than 25 homers or more than 33. From 1982 through 1985, his statistics were eerily consistent: 32, 33, 29 and 31 homers and 110, 111, 110 and 124 RBI.
"Name any player in the game, and he hasn't done what Eddie has done," said Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks, a close friend of Murray. "George Brett, Keith Hernandez, Jim Rice . . . They've never put together a string of seasons like Eddie has. Eddie has never had a bad season."
For 11 years, Murray also has made other contributions. If he was silent on the field, he was funny and talkative in the clubhouse. If he didn't talk much to reporters, the public knew him in other ways. He visited sick children, he bought blocks of tickets for poor kids and made them feel special.
If he was the richest Oriole, he didn't flaunt it, driving a small Dodge or a van and wearing conservative suits or jeans and sneakers. In a rare expansive mood, he once told a reporter that people who led with words were phonies. People who led with deeds, he said, were real.
His example has been that of a player who plays every day through little aches and a lot of big ones; a single man who is devoted to one woman and has begun to talk of having a family; and a team man.
"I'm not an 'I' person," he said. "I'm a 'we' person. One of our problems is that we've got too many 'I' people, so let them do the interviews."
His friends say it's impossible to understand his changed feelings toward the Orioles without first understanding his background.
He came from a middle-class neighborhood of the Watts section in Los Angeles, and in his world, there were no gray areas. There was right, and there was wrong. One of 12 children, he was raised by strict, religious parents.
The Murray family played sports together, went to movies together and took vacations together. They raked leaves, mowed lawns, washed dishes, swept floors and made up beds as a family. Twenty years later, the influence of that upbringing is still apparent. He does not curse, has never smoked a cigarette and can measure his consumption of alcohol by the thimble. Despite his wealth, he lives rather modestly, owning a comfortably large home in the Baltimore suburbs and another in Los Angeles.
If there was a negative to this upbringing, it was that he left Watts suspicious of strangers, apparently unable to trust anyone he doesn't know well. Also, people who cross him may not get a second chance.
Murray apparently believes that Williams crossed him last season when he said the star first baseman had done "nothing." More than a year later, Murray is still angered by that comment and has shown no signs of forgiveness. Williams was not available to comment.
Murray continues to put on the Orioles uniform every day, but has told enough people often that he no longer feels like an Oriole, no longer feels a part of the Orioles. Recently, a friend tried a conversation-breaker, making a joke about the big season he was having.
"It's just a business now," he said sharply. "Just a business."