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Baseball '89 : A Preview : He's Back at Home Where He Belongs

April 02, 1989|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

After 30 years and 6 months of operating a forklift for the Oriental Rug Company in East Los Angeles, Charles Murray is retired now.

"I had trouble with my feet," said Murray, 65, who left Mississippi in 1946 and still lives in the same house on 108th Street, between Avalon and San Pedro, in which he raised a family of 12 children.

"I worked every Saturday and most Sundays, too," Charles Murray said. " When I retired, my feet stopped hurting."

It hasn't been easy for a man who lost an eye when he was a boy of 11. He built a garden for a neighbor and when he went to get paid, a man twice his age tried to take some of Charles Murray's money. The man threw a staple at him, the kind they use to nail barbed wire fences with, and it had stuck in Charles Murray's eye.

But Charles Murray and his wife, Carrie Bell Murray, the bride he brought with him from Mississippi, carved a decent life for themselves and their children, seven daughters and five sons.

All of the Murray boys played baseball. One of Charles Murray's sons, Eddie Murray, made it to the big leagues.

"I tried my best," Charles Murray said. "We had lots of kids. I just saw to bringing up my kids without them being hungry. I think I did it, me and my wife. I did the work. She did the raising."

Four years ago, Carrie Bell Murray, died, leaving a void that her husband still feels today.

"She . . . it's still very difficult for me that she is gone," Charles Murray said. "When all of us were together, we were a happy home."

A couple of months after his wife died, his youngest daughter, Tanja, just a few days shy of her 20th birthday, died as well . . . of a broken heart, Charles Murray suspects.

"She loved her mama so much," Charles Murray said. "After Mama died, me and her were staying at home. Gosh, she'd come to the table and look out there and see the water dripping from my eyes onto the plate--gosh, I could hardly eat without that woman--and she'd say, 'Daddy, you're going to die. Mama's gone. Now try and get better.'

"Then she'd go in her room and close the door. She took ill, and then she just lay down and died. I worried for all my children, then."

But just as Charles Murray carried on, so did his other children.

And now, his son, Eddie, is coming back home, home to play first base for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

When the Dodgers play their first game of 1989 in Dodger Stadium, Charles Murray hopes to have a seat behind home plate, watching the team that he had embraced as his own from the time they moved to Los Angeles, 30 years ago, three years after the birth of his son, Eddie.

"When he's in town, he comes and sits with me, all day," Charles Murray said. "I'm proud of him then.

"I'm glad he's with the Dodgers. I hope he's satisfied. He looks like it. I hope he's real satisfied."

The Dodgers were not only satisfied, but ecstatic on a Sunday afternoon last December, when they acquired Murray from the Baltimore Orioles. For the price of a relief pitcher, Brian Holton; another pitcher who had failed to establish himself as a big leaguer, Ken Howell; and a 20-year-old prospective shortstop, Juan Bell, the Dodgers had acquired one of the most productive hitters of his generation.

The 1989 Elias Baseball Analyst, produced by the same numbers-crunchers who compile statistics for major league baseball, calls Murray the most underrated superstar in the game, and makes a forceful case.

Since Murray joined the Orioles in 1977, he has played in 1,820 games, the highest total in the majors in that time and 32 games more than his nearest competitor, Dave Winfield.

Over that same 12-year period, only three players have more runs batted in than Murray, who has 1,190 RBIs: Jim Rice, Winfield and Mike Schmidt. Only Schmidt (411) and Dale Murphy (334) have hit more home runs than Murray (333). And only Rice, of the hitters mentioned above, can match Murray's lifetime average of .295.

Consistency? Murray has never hit below .277, nor above .316, and his home run total--except for the strike season of 1981 and an injury-plagued 1986--has always ranged from 25 to 33.

But it is in the clutch that Murray has excelled. He has a lifetime average of .297 when hitting with runners in scoring position, and in a category created by Elias called Late Inning Pressure Situations with two outs and runners in scoring position, his average jumped to .378.

As one further barometer of his ability to hit under pressure, Elias cites his average when the bases are loaded: He is hitting .409 (61 for 149) with 14 grand slam home runs.

"When a game is on the line, there's no one I'd rather see up there," said Elrod Hendricks, who played with Murray and is now a coach with the Orioles, not to mention a close friend of the Dodger first baseman. "Even when he's not hitting, I want to see him, because he'll rise to the occasion.

"It got to the point where you just expected it. You took it for granted."

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