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Murray Blasts Into History With His 500th Home Run

Baseball: On anniversary of Ripken's record game, he joins Aaron and Mays in an exclusive club.

September 07, 1996|PETER SCHMUCK | BALTIMORE SUN

BALTIMORE — Eddie Murray's timing was impeccable. On the one-year anniversary of Cal Ripken Jr.'s historic 2,131st consecutive game, Murray launched his 500th home run and became only the third player in baseball history to reach both 500 homers and 3,000 hits.

Murray turned Camden Yards into a carnival when he hit a first-pitch fastball into the right-field bleachers off Detroit Tiger pitcher Felipe Lira in the seventh inning to end the suspense that had been building since he hit his 499th homer at the Kingdome in Seattle last Friday. He had hit his last two on the road, but came came back to the city where he began his illustrious career to reach another milestone on one of the great statistical odyssey's of all time.

Only Willie Mays and Hank Aaron have reached both of the sport's most revered offensive milestones.

Murray's moment came on a rain-soaked night with barely half of the seats still occupied after the start of the game was delayed for 2 hours 20 minutes, but the 25,000 or so diehards who stayed until Saturday morning had enough lung capacity to give him a long and rousing ovation.

He circled the bases under a shower of sparkling confetti and was mobbed by his teammates at home plate as the end theme from "Star Trek, The Next Generation" blared. The ovation lasted 8 1/2 minutes and Murray took a couple of curtain calls as the Orioles unfurled a large banner in center field that read "Congratulations Eddie 500."

The sometimes-taciturn Murray clearly reveled in the moment, his face aglow in the Orioles dugout. He even came out and shook hands with several fans and friends before the game continued.

Murray's home run tied the score, 3-3, and it was 4-4 after 11 innings at press time.

The date was particularly significant because Ripken paved the way for Murray's return to Baltimore with the speech he made to the sellout Oriole Park crowd after he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record last Sept. 6. He named Murray as one of the greatest influences on his career, and later made no secret of his desire to play alongside Murray again.

That became a reality when General Manager Pat Gillick traded left-hander Kent Mercker to the Cleveland Indians to bring Murray back to Baltimore after a 7 1/2-year absence. He left under bitter circumstances, but returned just in time to reestablish his baseball roots in the city where he developed into one of the most productive hitters in the history of the game.

There was room to wonder at the time of the trade whether the Orioles were only reclaiming Murray in the hope that his 500 chase would divert attention away from the club's dismal performance, but the deal worked on every level. His presence bolstered the bottom third of the lineup and helped the Orioles stage a dramatic second-half turnaround, which actually diverted attention away from his individual quest.

The Orioles began the weekend only a game behind the Chicago White Sox in the wild-card race and still in range of the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East. That, according to Manager Davey Johnson, is no coincidence. He said early on that Murray would bridge the club's leadership gap and help the Orioles create a winning chemistry.

The last player to reach 500 homers was Philadelphia Phillie slugger Mike Schmidt, who took his historic swing April 18, 1987, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year. The last American League player to do it was Reggie Jackson, who hit his 500th on Sept. 17, 1984, and arrived in Cooperstown in 1993.

Murray will be there soon enough. He ranks among the baseball's all-time leaders in virtually every relevant offensive category. The only question is whether he chooses to return for the 1997 season. He may not be the same hitter who terrorized American League pitchers in his first incarnation as an Oriole, but he had enough left this year to hit at least 20 homers for the 16th time in 20 years.

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How Murray Rates

A look at Eddie Murray's standing in the major offensive categories: *--*

Category Total Rank Games 2,939 9th Hits 3,202 11th Runs 1,606 35th Home runs 500 15th Home run % 4.51 93rd RBI 1,888 8th Doubles 548 13th Triples 35 * Walks 1,308 25th Strikeouts 1,479 24th Slugging % .480 88th On-base % .365 * Avg. .289 *

*--*

*--Not in top 100

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