Former Baltimore Orioles first baseman Eddie Murray, a man of two swings, many accomplishments and few words, was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame yesterday in his first year of eligibility. Murray will be joined in the Cooperstown Class of 2003 by catcher Gary Carter, who finally made it on his sixth try.
Murray, a switch-hitter who spent 121/2 of his 21 major league seasons with the Orioles, became the 38th player to be elected to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility. He was named on 423 of the 496 ballots (85.3 percent) cast by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, while Carter was named on 387 ballots (78 percent). To be elected, a player must be named on at least 75 percent.
Murray's joyous news coincided with a somber occasion, as he was in his home town of Los Angeles yesterday attending the funeral of his younger sister, Tanya, who died Jan. 2 at the age of 38 from kidney disease.
"I am thrilled by the tremendous honor of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame," Murray said in a statement, "and joining the other greats of the game. For those with whom I shared space on the playing field and in the clubhouse, I share this honor with you. . . . Although I dedicated my professional career to the game, I have dedicated my life to my family. The elation I feel by being recognized for my achievements on the field is overshadowed by the anguish of losing someone so dear to me."
Among those falling short this year were first-time-eligible candidates Ryne Sandberg (49.2 percent) and Lee Smith (42.3 percent), and holdover candidates Bruce Sutter (53.6 percent), Jim Rice (52.2 percent) and Andre Dawson (50 percent).
Among the players who failed to receive the 5 percent necessary to remain on the ballot were former Orioles Sid Fernandez (two votes, .004 percent) and Mickey Tettleton (0 votes), and the late Darryl Kile of the St. Louis Cardinals (seven votes, 1.4 percent), for whom the eligibility rule requiring a five-year waiting period from the time of retirement was waived this year.
Carter, who becomes just the 13th catcher in the Hall of Fame, spent an agonizing five years waiting for Cooperstown to call. A year ago, his wife, Sandy, organized a huge party for election day, only to learn that Carter had fallen just short of the required 75 percent.
"I thank God for allowing me to be patient," Carter said during a conference call with reporters yesterday. "Last year was tough. Now those five years feel like they went by in about a day."
Asked about Murray, his teammate in 1991 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Carter touched on all the key points Murray's colleagues invariably make about a man known far better by his teammates than by the media and the public.
"He was the consummate professional," Carter said. "He was the type of guy who just didn't want the accolades. He didn't want to express the way he felt through the press. He really just wanted to go about his business. He just wanted to play the game. For that one year, I realized why Eddie Murray is a Hall of Famer."
Of all Murray's credentials for Cooperstown, none stood out as much as this one: He amassed 504 home runs and 3,255 hits, joining Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as the only players with at least 500 and 3,000, respectively. He and Mickey Mantle are the only switch-hitters in the 500-home-run club.
The 73 voters who excluded Murray from their ballots undoubtedly penalized him for the lack of truly dominant seasons on Murray's resume. He never won a Most Valuable Player award. He is also the only member of the 500-home-run club without a 40-homer season; his career-high was 33 in 1983.
However, Murray, who will turn 47 next month, may have been the most consistently outstanding player in history. He drove in at least 75 runs in each of his first 20 major league seasons, something no other player has done.
He was also durable, playing in at least 150 games in 15 seasons; only Pete Rose did so more times.
"Every year you could count on 28 to 33 homers," said former teammate and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer. "You could count on him to play every day. You could count on him to stabilize the clubhouse. Did he dominate his era? Maybe not. But he was as consistent or steady for 20 years as anybody who ever played. That's how you get 500 homers and 3,000 hits. There wasn't a lot of flash. He just got the job done."
Still, the most often heard criticism of Murray is his public demeanor.
Always a private person, his relationship with the Baltimore/Washington media seemed to grow more icy every year, as Murray, according to some of his teammates and associates, believed he had been burned by reporters on several occasions.
As a result, Murray granted few interviews and was dismissive of the media in general, while the media in turn called him a malcontent, a label that followed him through the rest of his career and into his career as a coach for the Orioles and, currently, the Cleveland Indians.
His former teammates, however, describe a far different person.
"It makes me sad to see how Eddie is misunderstood by some of the fans and members of the media," said Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., a virtual lock to be in the Hall of Fame class of 2007. "The Eddie that I know always put his team ahead of everything else and went about his business in a manner that all players should follow. On the field he was dangerous both offensively and defensively and he was one of the greatest clutch hitters that I ever saw."
"He didn't want to give away his secrets" to the media, said former teammate Mike Flanagan. "The man in the clubhouse was a role model and all a teammate could ever be."
Palmer, like most living Hall of Famers, will attend this year's induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., and found one positive aspect in Murray's disdain for the spotlight.
"At least we won't have to worry," Palmer joked, "about any long speeches."
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