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Murray Played Injured, but Biggest Hurt Was Inside

March 15, 1987|THOMAS BOSWELL | The Washington Post

MIAMI — Let's get Eddie Murray's side. Then, let's try to see how the Baltimore Orioles and the highest-paid player in baseball history might go about putting their feud, almost a year long, behind them for their mutual benefit.

Assume for a moment, just to get in a proper frame of mind, that you worked 13 years for an organization. You had been exemplary--the standard for your profession. Hard working, consistent, unselfish, an example to co-workers, not one to air dirty laundry.

Then one day, the business has problems and gets criticism. The boss catches heat. Everybody's edgy, dodging blame. For the first time, you have a problem, too. Basically, it's not your fault; but, suddenly, your reputation is being dirtied with innuendo.

Those on your team take the trouble to discover the real problem. Playing hurt and not playing hard can look a lot alike. You've been playing through injuries since spring training. By July, two fingers are so sore you can't hit a home run in batting practice, much less a game. But you stay in the lineup. With men in scoring position, you slap your way to a .370 average.

Shouldn't somebody say thank you?

"I didn't tell anybody," Murray said Monday. "But guys on the team like (Mike) Flanagan and (Scott) McGregor, they watched and figured out I was playing hurt."

Unfortunately last summer, as bad became worse--"it felt like free fall"--two things happened that the thin-skinned Murray may never forgive and only partly forget.

First, owner Edward Bennett Williams criticized him--mildly, but publicly. And, in Murray's mind, without all the inside facts. That was a huge miscalculation with Murray.

"You learn real early in this game you can't listen to outsiders," Murray said. "That's just something you have to carry with you. Fans and press go side to side. Depend on what they think and you set yourself up for a big fall. So, I don't worry about what anybody else thinks. I do things the way I want to do 'em.

"I care what the people in this room think of me," added Murray, meaning teammates right up to the owner. "If I'm right with them, it's okay."

Murray almost always is "right" with his team. "We're supposed to be here at 5 p.m. every day. For 10 years, Eddie has always been here at 4," Flanagan said. "He does the extra in everything."

Williams' sin, in Murray's eyes, was that despite his clubhouse talk--"Williams says we're a family, how much he cares about us all," Murray said--the owner did not go the extra mile that he should have walked for true family.

"The owner reacted like a fan. He could have found out (about Murray's injuries) from the trainer. Or he could have asked me."

The worst thing you can be to Murray is a fan--in the front-running, emotional, know-nothing sense. Also, if you use the word "family" to Murray, you better mean it, because that's the most important word in his vocabulary.

After seven years as owner, after installing a bed in Memorial Stadium so he can see more games, after caring so much about his Orioles that lawyer friends scratch their heads, Williams thinks he's paid his dues and considers himself a baseball man. "He isn't yet," Murray said. "I've had to tell him."

There was more last summer. The team asked Murray to take a stress test. It reinjured his hamstring. Not only hadn't the club trusted his veteran judgment and his desire, they cooked up an exercise that hurt him worse.

So, Murray asked to be traded.

Others might have spoken out. But Murray buys the clubhouse logic that the owner always wins in the media. "You don't fight the owner," he said. "Even with me not saying anything, tell me what happened. Was I criticized? Or did it feel like a party with somebody being ridden out of town?"

On top of this, add Major Problem No. 2. After his trade request, the Orioles told Murray that, because of his salary and the new era of financial conservatism, nobody would want him.

The three words Murray heard, and hears still, were, "Nobody wants you."

"Oh," he said, eyebrows raised, "nobody wants me. Oh, OK . . . It's things like that that make me glad I've never been to arbitration. The things that are said, you know it's supposed to be just business, but they feel personal."

Some people are very different. With Murray, you take or leave the whole package. He's stubborn. He carries a grudge. He makes few accommodations.

For instance, nag as the Orioles have, he does not work out much in the winter and comes to camp chubby. It's worked for him. He doesn't want to hear that it's his fault if McGregor does the same and deteriorates with age.

Last week, Williams offered Murray his hand. One of the hotly debated topics here is whether, or how, Murray accepted it. Did he look away? Did he give a limp paw? Did the two big Eddies, who must co-exist in the same small Birds nest, actually shake at all?

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