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Here’s How Murray Can Help Angels

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Downey’s California:

--As baseball teams go, the Angels haven’t had much luck. Their trophy cupboard is bare. They play the World Series with the same regularity Chris Farley plays “The Phantom of the Opera.” For 36 years, the Angel clubhouse in October has been so quiet, you could hear a pennant drop.

However, the more I see of this season’s club, the better I can picture a breakthrough. Perhaps these guys are not a season or two away. They might be ready to make a run at it, right now. If their youthful studs can stay in one piece--particularly Jim Edmonds, who plays hardball the way Dick Butkus played football--Anaheim could end up in the playoffs. No, really.

But for this to happen, the Angels are going to need all the help they can get. They carry 12 pitchers, out of necessity. They could use a third catcher, with a kid named Todd Greene currently the terror of the Pacific Coast League. They need useful bench players, right down to the 25th man, as Manager Terry Collins tinkers and juggles and compensates for injuries.

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And that’s where I feel the Angels have a ticklish situation, because their theoretical 25th man isn’t useful at all.

Eddie Murray is going to the Hall of Fame. He should start now.

I think it would be wise of Murray, who is 41 and wiser than most in baseball flannels, to call it a career. His employers have so much respect for Murray that they would hate to outright release a player of his stature. But they have to think about the team, which means they have to give preference to players who can play.

Murray’s tools are shot. His bat is slow, he can’t field the way he once did--the Angels put outfielders at first base, rather than use Murray there--and an infrequent pinch-hitter is a luxury few American League teams can afford. On some clubs, a 25th man can at least pinch-run, but Murray’s wheels are gone too. The old, great Oriole just ain’t what he used to be.

Publicly, the ballclub can’t come out and say it.

The Angel manager, Collins, when asked about Murray’s future, replies diplomatically, “I can’t answer that. And the reasons are Jim Edmonds and Darin Erstad. They have health concerns. If we have to disable either of them, Eddie may be a big part of things still. I still think Eddie can help us out there, in certain situations.”

Being a wise old baseball owl himself, Collins wouldn’t dream of saying anything less about Murray, who has earned his proper respect. Murray has hit more than 500 home runs. He has more than 3,000 hits. He will make Cooperstown on the first ballot.

But it’s time to pull the plug.

On the disabled list because of tendinitis in his wrist, Murray is eligible to be activated. He hasn’t been. The unlucky Angels have been so hard up at first base, they have used catcher Jim Leyritz and third baseman Jack Howell there, as well as Edmonds and Erstad. I can’t recall a pennant-contending club so thin at this position. (Mark McGwire, come on down.)

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This kid catcher in the minors, Greene, as of a few days ago had 23 homers in 56 games, with a batting average of .370. Those were numbers worthy of an Eddie Murray once, but that’s ancient history. To win a pennant, the Angels need every hot bat they can get.

I always hate to see one of the greats go, but wouldn’t Murray rather write his own ending, voluntarily, than have it done for him? I never enjoyed watching Willie Mays play for the New York Mets, the way he did. I do not enjoy watching Eddie Murray ride a bench.

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--Hey, Oscar De La Hoya: I know boxers are supposed to do roadwork, but you don’t have to run across a freeway.

--I didn’t watch the Tyson-Holyfield fight. I spent all my pay-per-view allowance on Farrah Fawcett.

--Stojko Vrankovic may not be a household name, but then again, no Clipper is.

--I predict that when he gets up there, Stanley Roberts will be mistaken for one of the Twin Cities.

--What’s up with the Detroit Pistons? First, they get Grant Hill. Now, they take Charles O’Bannon. I remember when Detroit would rather have bad guys.

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--Not only do I enjoy watching women’s pro basketball on the Lifetime cable network, but I believe before this season is over, Lifetime will turn the entire league into a made-for-TV movie starring Jane Seymour or Valerie Bertinelli.

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