Tim Kurkjian was on an airplane on his way to Florida for spring training in February 1986, his first year covering the Baltimore Orioles for the Baltimore Sun, when a fellow beat writer called him over and introduced him to Floyd Rayford, a reserve third baseman who also happened to be on the plane.
Rayford sized up Kurkjian and blurted: "Eddie's not going to like you."
Kurkjian, already nervous about covering Eddie Murray, about whom he had heard horror stories from other reporters, replied: "Why not?"
"Because your head is too big. Eddie doesn't like guys with big heads."
Suddenly terrified, Kurkjian excused himself and rushed off to the airplane lavatory to examine his head in the mirror, as Rayford and the other reporter had a laugh at the rookie's expense.
"Right then," Kurkjian, now with ESPN, said recently, "I should have known I was in for all kinds of problems with Eddie."
True enough, Kurkjian's dealings with Murray during his three years on the Orioles' beat were similar to those of other writers: Long stretches of silence, a couple of verbal confrontations, an occasional interview granted and lots of unease.
When Murray stands at the podium today at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and delivers his speech at his induction ceremony, it most likely will represent more words than many in the media have heard out of his mouth in all their years around him. He enters the Hall on the first ballot, just the 38th player in the game's history to do so, and goes in with 504 home runs, a .287 career average and 1,917 runs batted in.
Murray sometimes could be quiet around teammates -- many of whom, including Cal Ripken, have called him the best teammate they ever had -- because he was less a vocal leader than a by-example one; when he did speak up, it carried great weight.
But his silence to reporters represented something else -- a great level of distrust that began to build near the start of his 21-year career (121/2 seasons of which were spent with the Orioles) and grew as he got older, until it became an ugly, self-perpetuating cycle of antagonism on both sides.
"Eddie's a great guy," said Rick Dempsey, who played with Murray for 10 years. "The media didn't understand Eddie from the beginning. Eddie had no ego in his game. He didn't want the press. He didn't want people talking about him. He felt self-conscious being interviewed in front of teammates. When he cut it off, the media took it personally and started digging at him and writing things about him. They took offense. And after a while he built a barrier around himself."
"Eddie is not a malicious person," said Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, Murray's teammate in Baltimore from 1977 to '84. "For whatever reason, he felt his privacy and the ethics of fair play were violated, so he took it out on the media and allowed the media to distort the person he was. Some people would say he overreacted to it, but I'm not blaming him."
But how can a person be a beloved friend to his teammates, but a boor to those whose jobs required them to come in contact with him as well? Could he have been a great guy and a bad guy at the same time, or was one side wrong about him?
"I say he's a great guy," Palmer said. "But I could understand why other people would not think so, because of some of the things he did."
The teammates "know him better than we do," Kurkjian conceded. "So they must be right."
Both sides agree that there were two incidents that turned Murray against the media.
The first occurred during the 1979 World Series, when a New York tabloid columnist wrote about the resistance scout Ray Poitevant faced from Murray's family in getting Murray signed out of Locke High School in south central Los Angeles in 1973 for a $20,000 bonus. The column painted an unflattering portrait of Murray's family, something Murray never forgave.
"All of a sudden, this was in the national spotlight," said Bill Stetka, who covered the Orioles from 1979 to 1986 for the now-defunct Baltimore News-American and who now serves as the team's public relations director.
"Eddie said, number one, it wasn't true, and number two, don't knock my family.
"That was one of the things that really got Eddie to clam up."
The second incident occurred during the 1986 season, when the late Edward Bennett Williams -- then the Orioles' owner -- expressed dissatisfaction with Murray's performance to reporters during a rain delay. Murray soon demanded a trade, but the Orioles did not oblige until after the miserable 1988 season, during which the team lost 107 games.
"I just wish people would understand that not everybody seeks notoriety," Murray said this January during a news conference following his election to the Hall on his first ballot. Asked about his silence, he said, "I couldn't win that fight. It's not a level playing field."
Undoubtedly, Murray was (and still is, in some regards, as the hitting coach of the Cleveland Indians and a prospective big-league manager) a complicated figure. Rather than looking for absolutes -- bad guy or good guy? -- it is more helpful to examine the vast gray areas in his personality.
"There was a part of Eddie that always had to be angry," said Richard Justice, who covered the Orioles for The Washington Post from 1984 to 1990 and now writes for the Houston Chronicle. "It was either the umpires, the media or the front office. Mostly, it was the media."
Justice remembers once writing an unflattering story about Murray and later being tapped on the shoulder by bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks on a team flight. "The captain [Murray] wants to see you in the back of the plane," Hendricks said.
When Justice went back there, Murray held up Justice's story in The Post, then made a slashing motion across his throat.
"For a long time, he was my go-to guy -- every day," Justice said. "But I've seen him do things to people that you just wouldn't do."
"At one point with me, he said he had talked to some people who know me and decided he trusted me," Stetka said. "But even then, it wasn't like I could go up to him and get any good postgame quotes. He didn't like to talk about details. He didn't like to talk about himself."
Just as some would dispute the assertion that Murray was always rude to the media, others question whether he was always a great guy in the clubhouse, as his teammates almost universally claim.
"I think back to the end of his Orioles career when he was so sour," said Ken Rosenthal, who covered the Orioles for the Sun from 1987 to 1990 and was a columnist when Murray returned to the Orioles in 1995.
Rosenthal argued that the "Why Not?" Orioles of 1989 -- who shocked baseball by contending for the division title all the way to the final weekend of the season following a 107-loss season the year before -- would not have been possible if Murray were still on the team.
"He wasn't the first player who ever went sour when the team crumbled around him," said Rosenthal, who now covers baseball for the Sporting News. "But in 1988, I thought he was a negative on the club, from a personality standpoint. Now, there were mitigating factors, so you can't entirely blame him. But he set the tone, and a cloud lifted when he was gone."
After the December 1988 trade to Los Angeles, the Dodgers' PR staff set up a conference call with the Los Angeles media. Murray insisted no Baltimore reporters be allowed on the call, but somehow a group of Orioles beat writers got the phone number and gathered around a speakerphone in a hotel room to listen in.
"I thought to myself, I've never heard this guy talk like this -- in paragraphs," Rosenthal said. "It was stunning to hear. If he had chosen to talk, he would have been one of the all-time greatest talkers in the game, because he was so smart."
It speaks to the respect Murray engendered that even the writers who were constantly snubbed by him harbor no ill will toward him. They understand his silence was born of an overwhelming quest for privacy, not malevolence. They understand what it means to be beloved by one's teammates; no one ever said that, for instance, about Albert Belle.
"I was more cognizant of being fair with Eddie than with any athlete I've ever covered," Kurkjian said. "I wanted to make sure I handled him properly because I didn't want to give him a reason not to speak to me.
"And in end, he didn't speak to me anyway."