His first day of spring training, and a World Series hero was reminded anew of the fleeting nature of fame. Batting practice was about to begin Wednesday morning in Holman Stadium, centerpiece of Dodgertown, but there was Mickey Hatcher, preparing to take a hike to an auxiliary diamond.
“Skip, we’ll be over at our field in the Everglades,” Hatcher informed Manager Tom Lasorda as he clambered through the grandstand.
“What’s the area code?” Hatcher said, repeating Lasorda’s shouted question and triggering a ripple of laughter from the tourists in attendance. “We don’t have one. No phones. No electricity.”
On this sun-kissed day, Hatcher was resigned to being a sideshow, a Stuntman in waiting. All eyes this morning were on the newest Dodger: Eddie Murray, No. 33 on scorecards yet to be printed, a prodigal sultan of swing come home at last.
Mustachioed and muscular, with only the trace of an expanded waistline, Murray picked up one of his 35 1/2-inch, 34-ounce bats and eased into the batting cage for his first cuts as a member of a big league team that doesn’t wear Orioles on the bills of its caps.
“Bunt two,” Murray called to Bill Russell, the Dodger coach who was pitching this round of batting practice from behind a protective screen.
Russell nearly froze in mid-delivery.
“You’re going to bunt?” Russell said. “You bat fourth and you’re going to bunt two?”
Even Murray had to chuckle at the absurdity of it.
“Well, I want you to know I haven’t bunted in 12 years,” Murray said.
And he didn’t begin Wednesday, either.
Rick Dempsey, familiar with Murray’s act from Baltimore, where they were Oriole teammates for 10 seasons, leaned on one side of the cage, a mischievous gleam in his eye.
“We have to let every pitcher in the National League know that Eddie Murray thinks they’re wimps,” Dempsey loudly announced. “Then, when they throw at him, that’s when you want to see Eddie Murray hit.”
Fred Claire had been waiting almost two years to see Eddie Murray hit as a Dodger, and though Murray’s first swings were more feeble than fearsome, the Dodger executive vice president made no effort to hide his elation.
“I can’t feel more positive about it,” said Claire, sounding comfortable in his third full season of running the club.
“Every sign is there for Eddie Murray to have a great season and a great career for the Dodgers. This is just Page 1 of hundreds of thousands of pages of his career as a Dodger.”
Claire said that the Orioles had offered the switch-hitting Murray to the Dodgers in Dallas during the winter meetings after the 1987 season, but had asked for too much in return for the Los Angeles native. And at the time, the Dodgers’ top priorities were to find a shortstop and a top-notch reliever, needs that were satisfied by the trade for Jay Howell and Alfredo Griffin.
But in both ’87 and ’88, Claire said, all of the Dodgers’ big league scouts--Mel Didier, Jerry Stephenson, Phil Regan, and Steve Boros--had plotted the first baseman’s play, and he even sent a minor league scout, Gib Bodet, to offer his perspective.
“I still remember Gib telling me: ‘Fred, this fella’s bat speed is tremendous,’ ” Claire said. “We had a pretty good summary--two years of background--on Eddie.”
A deal almost was made last August, Claire said, before the teams finally agreed last December, Murray coming to the Dodgers for relief pitcher Brian Holton, starter-reliever Ken Howell and top minor league prospect Juan Bell.
“He’s a winning player, a player who has been a force driving a team to a championship,” said Claire, citing Murray’s World Series experience in both 1979 and ’83. “He’ll be able to move right into a winning atmosphere here.”
Murray, who had arrived Tuesday evening, got his first taste of the Dodgertown atmosphere at breakfast, joining Lasorda at the manager’s invitation.
“He’s happy, really enthused,” said Lasorda, who isn’t exactly blase about adding a guy who has averaged almost 100 RBIs and 28 home runs a season.
“Murray’s the kind of guy I’m looking forward to seeing hitting the ball out of the ballpark. That’s what a No. 4 hitter is all about.
“I won’t say how many (home runs) I want him to hit. I just want him to hit as many as he can.”
Murray sounded more than willing to oblige, though he could have done without the media attention. Dempsey, who dressed next to Murray, wasn’t too thrilled, either, by the cluster of reporters that made it almost impossible for the catcher to get to his cubicle.
“I’m not going to let this screw up my day,” Dempsey said with mock gruffness. “And I’m here to protect Eddie.”
At 6-feet-2 and a listed playing weight of 224 pounds, Murray would hardly seem to require a bodyguard. But his term in Baltimore ended unhappily, with Murray on non-speaking terms with the media there. And when a reporter from Baltimore attempted to eavesdrop on Murray Wednesday, the player immediately clammed up.
“It was just time to go, the way things were going,” Murray said of his departure from the Orioles.
“I don’t know why things changed--I can’t tell you.”
Interjected Dempsey: “I could.”
One of a family of 12 children, Murray, who attended Locke High School in Watts and has a home in the San Fernando Valley, said he was delighted to return home.
“I think I’m going to have fun again,” he said. “The key thing is having fun when playing this game.
” . . . It’s going to be a learning experience, but I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge.”
This is one challenge, apparently, that Murray can’t wait to embrace. It has been years since he has reported so soon to spring training--customarily, he had waited at least until after his birthday, which this year falls on Friday, when he will turn 33. This time, though he’s no Oriole, he chose to be an early bird.
“Because I love the writers,” Murray said with a look that suggested otherwise. “I guess I’m getting so old it doesn’t matter anymore--or at least that’s what you guys say.”
Kirk Gibson was scheduled to arrive here Wednesday night, and plans to begin working out today, according to team officials. Shortstop Alfredo Griffin won’t arrive until Sunday evening, with permission from Executive Vice President Fred Claire, who said Griffin had some personal business to attend to. . . . Three players held up by visa problems in the Dominican Republic--pitcher Ramon Martinez, catcher Gilberto Reyes, and infielder Jose Vizcaino--also were expected to arrive Wednesday night.
Outfielder Mike Marshall, after a winter of working with weights, came into camp at 240 pounds, almost 20 pounds above his playing weight. Marshall said he intends to drop 10 pounds here, but would like to play at 230, with the extra 10 pounds presumably being muscle. . . . Outfielder Mike Davis, who has made it clear to the Dodgers that he wants a chance to play regularly somewhere, said he was coming into camp in great spirits. “Last year was a nightmare,” Davis said, “but it’s behind us. The way I remember it, I wake up, it’s October, we’re in the World Series. That’s the last I recall from that season.”
Jeff Hamilton relinquished his No. 33 to Eddie Murray and took No. 3, which had belonged to Steve Sax. Hamilton said he was offered the use of No. 6, which hasn’t been worn since Steve Garvey was here. Hamilton declined. “They said it was available, but maybe they weren’t thinking,” Hamilton said. “I said, ‘That’s OK, I’ll pass on it.’ ” . . . Infielder Mike Sharperson signed a one-year contract. Sharperson hit .271 in 46 games with the Dodgers. . . . John Shelby is 31 today.