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Trade Puts the Pinch on Murray

Angels: Four-player deal with White Sox moves veteran from designated hitter to bench.

May 19, 1997|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Eddie Murray has certainly had better days than Sunday, when he learned before the Angels' 5-4 victory over Milwaukee that he was being moved from designated hitter to the bench.

On Sunday, the Angels completed a trade with the Chicago White Sox, bringing outfielder Tony Phillips and catcher Chad Kreuter to Anaheim for left-handed reliever Chuck McElroy and catcher Jorge Fabregas.

Phillips becomes the leadoff hitter the Angels have sought since the season began. But he'll do most of it as the designated hitter--which has been Murray's slot.

Murray now becomes a pinch hitter, and will DH once a week.

"I put myself into this position," Murray said after the game. "If you're not swinging well, you're not swinging well. I've just been struggling."

It wasn't a youth move. At 38, Phillips is only three years younger than Murray. Nor was it a salary issue; In today's climate, the difference between Murrray's salary ($750,000) and Phillips' ($1.8 million) is negligible.

To top it off, there was no guarantee from General Manager Bill Bavasi that either player fits in the team's plan beyond this season. "I can't speak to that yet," Bavasi said.

But for the moment, Phillips, a switch-hitter like Murray, is playing better. His .305 average is 86 points higher than Murray's. Both have two home runs. Murray has one more RBI (10) than Phillips.

"I'm glad [Manager] Terry [Collins] told me straight up what was happening," said Murray, referring to his Sunday morning meeting with Collins and Bavasi. "Even if I was doing what I and they expected . . . who knows if they still make the trade?

"I know Tony, and he's is going to help this team."

Still, Murray was asked, wasn't it difficult to be asked to sit? As one of the few players with more than 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, he seems a lock for the Hall of Fame.

"It's not an ego thing," Murray said. "I've never considered myself as great. I've just always tried to go out and do my job."

Phillips stressed he was not here to "replace" Murray. "How can you?" Phillips said. "I'm just glad to be part of this team, and I will do whatever they ask."

Collins admitted he was "uncomfortable" about having to tell Murray about the trade.

"It was the hardest thing I've had to do, trying to tell that to a guy who will be in the Hall five years from his last at-bat," Collins said. "At the same time, there are 24 other guys I have to be responsible for."

Bavasi said he still considers Murray important to the team. "We feel he still has ability," Bavasi said, "but he is struggling right now, and I couldn't turn down a chance to improve the team.

"He said he will adapt to whatever role he has. But, admittedly, he is in a curious position. I do root for him, and [the rest of the team] feels the same way."

Murray said he will not cause any problems with his new role, nor will he change his approach to playing. "It's up to me to keep myself ready," he said."

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