COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Eddie Murray's first major league mentor had a seat close to the stage at yesterday's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. So did the guy who lost his position when Murray took over as Orioles first baseman late in his rookie season.
This wasn't some strange coincidence. This was actually the same person.
"I was from a school," May said, "where you take care of the young kids."
The pupil blossomed into a superstar, and May couldn't wait to come to Cooperstown this weekend and join several former Orioles teammates in watching Murray take his place with baseball's greats.
May sat in a black-and-white-striped shirt underneath a cloudy sky at the Clark Sports Center, waiting for the ceremonies to begin. He recalled a time in 1977 when he walked past Murray's hotel room in Chicago and saw a room-service tray wit h some lettuce and a half-eaten hamburger bun.
"I told him, 'If you're going to hit home runs, you're going to have to get off that hamburger diet,'" May said. "So I took him out for a steak dinner.
"Then, when he got his first big contract, he couldn't wait to take me out to dinner."
Those things meant the world to Murray. After getting drafted in 1973, he had risen through the Orioles' farm system and arrived at spring training four years later as a long shot to make the big league team.
As the story goes, May was standing with Pat Kelly in the outfield early that spring, watching Murray take batting practice. Kelly turned to May and said, "Man, the ball is jumping off that kid's bat. Better hope he doesn't play first base."
Then May watched in horror as Murray put down his bat and picked up a first baseman's mitt.
It's a good story, but May said he had actually been charting Murray's progress in the minors through The Sporting News. May had been the Orioles' first baseman - and a productive one - the previous two seasons, hitting 45 home runs and driving in 208.
But he was 13 years older than Murray, and the transition seemed inevitable.
Both of them made the Opening Day roster, and manager Earl Weaver opened the season using May as the first baseman and Murray as the designated hitter.
Then, Murray started getting occasional chances to play first. Jim Palmer and some of the other pitchers started telling Weaver they preferred having Murray at first base.
By 1978, Murray was the everyday first baseman and May spent the next three seasons as the Orioles' designated hitter.
"Lee could still play," Murray said. "But it was awesome ho w he and his family never changed toward me. Even on bus rides, he was trying to teach you things about playing the game, about how to get ready to stay here now that you're here."
By the time May saw Murray take the podium yesterday, the crowd had wiped a lot of tears.
Hal McCoy, the longtime Cincinnati Reds beat writer for the Dayton Daily News who was elected to the Hall's writers' wing, spoke about how he'd overcome the urge to quit after strokes to both optic nerves left him legally blind.
Hall of Fame
Sharing greatest stage
Mentors like May aren't forgotten as Murray recounts road to top; 'I learned from good teachers'; Aside from Orioles, composed honoree salutes family in speech
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