TEMPE, Ariz. — It's not often you can tune into the Classic Sports network to watch a 1979 baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees and see a guy whose locker is next to yours.
And it's not often you can begin a clubhouse conversation with a teammate by saying, "Yeah, I remember going to a game in elementary school and you were. . . . "
But this is the time warp many young Angels are in this spring, now that 41-year-old Eddie Murray, one of three members of the prestigious 500-homer, 3,000-hit club and a lock for baseball's Hall of Fame, is in their midst.
Pitcher Chuck Finley, an 11-year veteran who is 34, was a freshman in high school when Murray broke in with the Orioles in 1977. Gary DiSarcina, the 29-year-old shortstop, was in Little League. Mike Holtz, a 24-year-old relief pitcher, was in kindergarten.
More? Murray played his first major league game three weeks before Atlanta outfielder Andruw Jones was born.
"He's a legend, I'll tell you that," Angel pitcher Allen Watson, 26, said. "I used to go to Yankee Stadium as a kid and watch him when he was with the Orioles. . . . I was a big Yankee fan and I used to hate him. I'm sure I was cursing him and throwing stuff at him.
"It's amazing to think that now I'm on the same team, that I'll look over and he could be playing first base for me. He's kept in incredible shape. It's like he's never aged."
Murray, a switch-hitter with a .288 lifetime average, 501 homers and 1,899 RBIs, could have retired over the winter with few, if any, regrets.
After returning to Baltimore last summer and hitting his 500th homer in Camden Yards on Sept. 6, there would have been a certain closure to his career, ending in the city where it began, where he won a World Series championship in 1983, and where he joined an elite trio--Hank Aaron and Willie Mays are the others--with 500 homers and 3,000 hits.
But here he is with the Angels, reviving his designated hitter's swing for season No. 21 and tutoring young Darin Erstad on playing first base, all for one simple reason.
"If you weren't having some fun, you wouldn't be here," Murray said.
And make no mistake, Murray is having a blast. He still has a laser glare and he's still suspicious of guys carrying note pads and tape recorders, but he also has a booming laugh that has resonated through the Tempe Diablo Stadium clubhouse this spring.
"Some people say I'm the most miserable SOB in the world, and some people say I laugh too much," Murray said. "So you can't please everyone. But if you can't have fun in here, there's no sense being here."
Talk to any of Murray's teammates or coaches, or front-office officials from the teams he has played for, and they all say the same thing: Murray is a great clubhouse influence.
"If he sees something that needs to be addressed, a player who is down, a problem between some guys, he's at the stage of his career where he takes it upon himself to do something about it," Angel Manager Terry Collins said. "There's not much he hasn't been through."
Murray says he doesn't go into a new clubhouse with the intention of improving team chemistry. It just sort of happens.
"I don't try to do any one thing," he said. "I just know that the best way to get something out of someone is to create a decent environment."
For many years, that environment--at least, the area closest to Murray--did not include reporters. Upset over a New York tabloid column written about him in 1979, Murray went more than a decade without speaking for publication, greeting interview requests with a polite, "No thanks." He remained a mystery to fans, an enigma to reporters.
But he has eased up on that stance ever so slightly in recent years, speaking to writers who cover his teams and granting occasional interviews.
"I've talked to people who won't screw me over--it's a matter of not trusting everyone," Murray said. "The media thrives on negative things, so why bother with it? Why deal with it? My job is to go out and play, and I don't let a whole lot of things distract me."
That seems to be the case. A quote from an Oriole psychological profile on Murray described him as "an extremely stable individual with exceptional emotional control. Regardless of how stressful the situation becomes, he will think clearly and concentrate on his objectives."
The study was conducted shortly before Murray's 17th birthday, in 1973.
Stability has been the hallmark of Murray's career. He has never hit more than 33 homers in a season, but he has had 75 of more in every season. As for those stressful situations, they never seem to faze Murray.
He has a .284 average with 73 doubles, 56 homers and 582 RBIs with runners in scoring position in the last nine years, and a remarkable .413 lifetime average with the bases loaded. Former teammate Mike Flanagan last year described him as "the greatest clutch hitter in the last 20 years."