From both sides

Sun Staff

Eddie Murray's name connotes clutch hits, consistent run production and the "Ed-die" chant that shook Memorial Stadium in the 1970s and 1980s. But it also connotes a cool, aloof figure who kept many at a distance.

His friends and former teammates and associates dispute that depiction, casting Murray, 47, as loyal, warm, principled and widely misunderstood.

"I have been with Eddie a long time," said Ron Shapiro, Murray's attorney and confidant since 1977, "and in terms of consistency of conduct and the goodness and totality of a human being, it's all there. I'm enriched by knowing him."

But many who dealt with Murray throughout his career have a hard time relating to such a vision.

"I still don't know what I did to make him angry at me," said ESPN's Tim Kurkjian, who covered the Orioles for The News American and The Sun and made hundreds of interview requests that were turned down by Murray over the years.

Which is the real Murray, the prickly enigma or the graceful gentleman?


"There is a private Eddie and a public Eddie, and they're different," said Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, one of Murray's closest friends for more than two decades.

The "Tale of Two Eddies" is a Baltimore sports soap opera, a mystery shrouded in speculation and happenstance.

There is, indeed, a "private Eddie," a mischievous, witty and relaxed man who lights up a room. That Murray was on display last month in Baltimore during a reunion of the Orioles' 1983 World Series championship team.

But years ago, Murray decided to shield that side of himself from the public. Naturally quiet and introverted, he was ill-suited to the fishbowl life of a public figure, then grew deeply distrustful of the conveyor of images — the media — after a 1979 article infuriated him.

His silence and the Orioles' fade to mediocrity and then despair in the mid- to late 1980s thickened a stew of negativity that included team management and fans.

Murray's supporters confirm the existence of a "public Eddie" who can be difficult.

"He can be moody," Hendricks said with a smile, "and he does carry a grudge. Sometimes people get the wrong impression. I've heard fans asking for an autograph, and he just basically blows them off. Then he laughs and says, 'Come over here,' and puts his arm around them and says, 'Give me that' [paper to sign]. He plays those games. Sometimes people get upset. I told him that. It doesn't faze him."

Murray declined to be interviewed for this article.

But Hendricks and others want it known their beloved "private Eddie" is as real as his luminous career statistics.

"He played for the Orioles for 12 years, and almost every day, either on his way to batting practice, or after, dressed in uniform, he would stop by the office to say hello and sit and visit," said Dr. Charles Steinberg, the Boston Red Sox vice president of public affairs, a Gilman School graduate who worked for the Orioles from 1976 to 1995.

"He had no interest in the baseball executives but total interest in the interns, the worker bees, the assistants. He just wanted to be part of the social group. He would sit around and serve as a matchmaker. One time the phone rang and he grabbed it and said, 'Public relations, this is Eddie.' No one would have believed it."

He was "a fun teammate, had a great sense of humor," said Mike Flanagan, Orioles vice president of baseball operations, who played with Murray from 1974 to 1987 in the minors and majors. Hendricks described him as "pretty good with a joke around the clubhouse" and "a mentor to a lot of young guys."

Quietly generous

Raised in a Los Angeles family of 12 children, Murray was also a significant contributor to numerous charities and causes, many involving education and children. He funded the Carrie Murray Nature Center in Baltimore's Leakin Park, which was named after his mother and is still open today. His foundation has supported Little League teams, African-American artists, the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and the Park Heights Street Academy, a progressive school for urban youth that is now closed.

"When he was in Cleveland [with the Indians], he saw someone collecting for a charity in the stands. and he went over and gave the guy a check," Shapiro said. "His comment was, 'If I read about that [in the paper], that check will bounce.' "

Julie Wagner, Orioles director of community relations and one of Murray's longtime associates, said, "Eddie has very quietly done very nice things for a lot of people."

Murray's public/private contradiction isn't hard to fathom, said Lee May, the former Oriole who was Murray's mentor in the 1970s.

"Eddie was never much for talking," May said. "He was just a quiet person who liked to be by himself and let his game do the talking."

Murray was more open with the media early on. As a young star on a championship team, life was good.

"Eddie could do no wrong in Baltimore for a long time," said Stan "The Fan" Charles, host of a sports talk radio show in Baltimore for almost two decades ending last year.

Barry Silverman, a longtime Orioles fan, recalls seeing Murray on Sunday nights at a Timonium nightclub.

"A lot of the players came out to hear some live music," said Silverman, 55, an advertising copywriter. "Eddie was like a big, happy kid with a smile on his face. He was a single guy, and people gravitated to him. He didn't keep anyone away. Didn't walk around with an attitude. He talked to everyone. That stone stare you saw later, it wasn't anything like that."

The troubles began when New York Daily News columnist Dick Young wrote about Murray on Oct. 10, 1979, a column that also ran in The Evening Sun. Murray read it in the clubhouse before Game 1 of the 1979 World Series.

"Things were never the same after that," Shapiro said. "I saw a change, and there was no going back."

Young's piece was a mostly positive account of Murray's background and talents, but several paragraphs about Murray's family angered him. Orioles scout Ray Poitevint was quoted saying Murray had been difficult to sign as a third-round draft pick in 1973 partly because his family had become hostile at times during negotiations. Some of Poitevint's comments hinted at racial tensions. The comments were printed without rebuttal from Murray's family.

Poitevint later told Shapiro that Young had embellished his remarks, according to Shapiro. When Murray and Shapiro complained to Young, Young wrote in a November column that Murray "takes strong exception" to Poitevint's version.

Poitevint didn't respond to recent inquiries from The Sun. Young died in 1987.

What was the truth? The negotiations were indeed difficult; Poitevint made 17 trips to Murray's home before landing the signature. But Dave Ritterpusch, who was the Orioles' scouting director in 1973 and now is Flanagan's assistant, said the tenor of the negotiations wasn't accurately reflected in Young's column.

"I was dealing with Mrs. Murray on the phone when we were negotiating," Ritterpusch said, "and the negotiations were difficult, but only because Mrs. Murray was maybe the greatest natural negotiator I ever came across. But there was no hostility and certainly no racial overtones. None of that. I was disgusted when I read Ray's comments [six years] later."

The article shattered whatever faith Murray had in the media. He was rarely belligerent to reporters but usually refused interviews.

"There was a presumption of distrust, and there had to be a winning of trust [for him to talk]," Shapiro said.

Inheriting the spotlight

His increasing discomfort with the media mattered little in the early 1980s. The Orioles were still winning with media-savvy players such as Jim Palmer, Ken Singleton, Al Bumbry and Flanagan.

"Eddie was 'the man' on the field, but he was in a cocoon as long as those guys were here. He didn't have to say a word," Hendricks said.

That ended as the Orioles fell from the high of 1983 to the low of an 0-21 start in 1988. As the veterans left, replaced mostly by money-first free agents, Cal Ripken and Murray emerged as team leaders and potential clubhouse spokesmen.

"The spotlight turned to him, and that made him uncomfortable," Steinberg said. "He was happiest when he was one of many players working in harmony, Singleton and May and Ripken and the rest as a unified group. He just wanted to be one of them. … The team was his passion.

"When you left him out there to be the star, that violated the principles of family and teamwork upon which he had been raised," Steinberg said.

Murray's reticence became more noticeable. He couldn't bring himself to take part in the standard after-game repartee.

"One night, he hit a home run and someone asked, 'What pitch did you hit out?' Typical stuff," Hendricks said. "His response was, 'Why don't you ask the guy who threw it? I have to face him again.' Then he pointed to Ken Dixon and said, 'Why don't you talk to this kid? He just pitched a great game.' Eddie didn't say it angrily, but he walked away and the writer got so mad."

The situation intensified in 1986 as the Orioles experienced their first losing season in almost two decades. A hamstring injury sent Murray to the disabled list for the first time in his career and slowed his production. Displeased, Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams called a team meeting and complained the best players needed to step up. During an impromptu news conference on Aug. 20, he stated Murray needed to stay in better shape and produce more.

"Williams had gone on my radio show the night before and said these things," recalled Charles, who had been among the first to criticize Murray, "and the next night, the writers came to his box to talk to him about it during a rain delay. When the game was postponed, the comments became the story of the day. Headlines. Eddie hated it. It was a turning point. Once Williams criticized him, he essentially turned off [personally] for the rest of the time he was in Baltimore."

To some, Williams' comments appeared to have racial underpinnings. His questioning Murray's commitment to fitness was interpreted as calling Murray lazy, raising an offensive racist stereotype.

Williams apologized. He died in 1988, but Murray held onto his hurt feelings. "Eddie felt mistreated by Williams," Shapiro said.

The owner's comments turned Murray's pros and cons into Topic A of the local sports scene. Murray was a talk radio staple and the subject of many newspaper letters to the editor. Race was part of the dialogue.

"Eddie's situation became … an ugly pivot point for a lot of racial attitudes," Charles said. "I know Eddie heard terrible things."

Indeed, he did.

"Sitting in the stands, I heard some awful comments," Silverman said. "The guy took a lot of abuse. Some was racial and some was harassment. Players are supposed to have to take that, but some of it was over the line."

He regained his power in 1987, hitting 30 homers, but the media and fans scrutinized his every move. As the star of a team whose fans were unaccustomed to losing, he was criticized for everything from his effort and attitude to his defense.

The criticism was often viewed through a racial lens. For instance, some fans saw Murray's weak batting practice performances as lackadaisical, fulfilling the stereotype Williams had conjured with his comments.

Only years later did Flanagan learn that Murray used batting practice to work on improving his few hitting weaknesses, such as flicking outside pitches through the infield for singles to left field.

"He knew he could hit the ball out of the park, so he didn't work on that," Flanagan said. "Eddie was misunderstood in many ways like that, but he never explained himself, so the misunderstandings lingered."

Angry about the criticism, Murray became even more reclusive with the media.

"I went to him almost every day and asked if he was talking, and he would say, 'No, not today,' " ESPN's Kurkjian said. "Most days, he was polite. … And some days he did speak, but you never knew when."

'We weren't used to losing'

In hindsight, the Orioles' demise probably played a larger role in Murray's testiness than was perceived.

"We had Cal and Eddie and we couldn't do anything; the supporting cast had gotten very old. But Eddie was the focus," Flanagan said. "It was, 'Why can't you do it all by yourself?'

"I wasn't here at the very end when he got real bitter, but it was headed in that direction when I left [via trade in August 1987]. It was hard to watch, because he wasn't going to defend himself. He was just going to take it and withdraw and become more bitter."

Barry Silverman said: "He was the most obvious symbol of the team after the manager, so he was in line to take the heat. We weren't used to losing, and he was expected to hit a home run every time up. With Eddie being a sensitive guy who internalizes things, you know it hurt him."

Many fans still supported him, but some sounded boos at Memorial Stadium.

"It was a small group of suit-and-tie guys, and they were tough," Hendricks said.

Murray stewed. He no longer tipped his cap when fans gave him ovations, and then, on the day of the last home game of the 1987 season, he lashed back in a Home Team Sports interview with Rex Barney. He said Memorial Stadium had become "an ugly place" to play because of the critical fans, and "it's amazing what one or two or three bad apples can do to a whole ballpark."

Barney asked if the fans were treating him fairly. Murray replied, "I don't know what they expect of me. Obviously, I'm not doing it."

He added: "It might be time for me to move on. Sometimes you feel you've worn out your welcome."

His comments, which made headlines, may have been spoken out of frustration at the end of a long losing season.

"I spoke to Eddie at my cousin's wedding in 1988 and asked if he felt he was getting run out of town [by the fans and media], and he said, 'No one is running me out of town. I just don't think the Orioles are committed to winning anymore,' " said Elias Dorsey, a longtime Orioles fan and retired deputy commissioner of health for Baltimore City.

Murray continued to produce on the field, hitting .280 with 58 home runs and 175 RBIs in his last two seasons in Baltimore.

"He could tune everything out," Hendricks said.

Off the field, the "private Eddie" was mentoring the next generation of Orioles, players such as John Shelby, Floyd Rayford and Mike Young.

"Those guys loved Eddie," Hendricks said. "He'd take them out after a ballgame, show them what to eat, how to do things. He was always well-loved by his teammates."

But his relationships with the media, fans and management had reached a nadir, and Murray was ready to leave. A December 1988 trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers started the second phase of his career.

Over the next decade, he played for the New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, Orioles again, Anaheim Angels and the Dodgers again. At each stop, he spoke little, if any, to the media, enhancing his reputation for silence. But he was embraced in the clubhouse.

"Fred Claire [the Dodgers GM who traded for Murray] later told me he wanted Eddie for his talent but didn't know what to think of him because he was so private," Shapiro said. "But Fred said Eddie became a very important ingredient in the mix there. And the same thing happened in Cleveland. There is a side of Eddie that endears him to an organization because of the way he approaches the game. He sees his team as an extension of family."

Those feelings about family contributed to the public/private dichotomy. Murray was upset by Young's column because he saw it as an attack on his real family. And the collapse of his extended family — the Orioles — was the backdrop for the problems that arose in the 1980s.

It's unlikely Murray's public persona would have been a major issue if the Orioles had kept winning.

"He can talk about [not getting along with] the media all he wants, but in my opinion, what really hurt was he became frustrated when he saw the Orioles had gotten away from what had made them successful," Steinberg said.

Thus, it was in keeping with his priorities that he chose to exhibit his warm private side to the public last month at the reunion of the 1983 Orioles. That championship was Murray's ultimate team moment.

Stan Charles, who now lives in North Carolina, noted Murray bantering with Michael Reghi and Jim Palmer on a cable broadcast during the reunion weekend.

"He was fantastic," Charles said. "I think we all knew all along that he was like that behind the scenes. But he was a very shy guy and he got thrust into a tough situation, and no one saw that side of him for a long time."

Sun staff researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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