Eddie Murray, smiling so broadly that he was almost unrecognizable, bounded from the visiting dugout in the Baltimore twilight last Friday and pranced directly to the batting cage with glad tidings for some of his old Oriole teammates, such as shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. and Elrod Hendricks and Lee May, both now Baltimore coaches. "What's this?" asked Albert Belle, one of Murray's current teammates with the Cleveland Indians. "A family reunion?"
Murray's agent, Ron Shapiro, nodded knowingly as he watched that pregame gathering at Camden Yards. "There is a happiness in that face that I savor," Shapiro said. "It's in his eyes. Eddie has the most expressive eyes in baseball." Murray had good reason to have a glint in those eyes. After all, he was leading the American League in hitting (.422 through Sunday), playing first base and DH for one of the best teams in baseball and closing in on 3,000 career hits (2,957).
Then, suddenly, Murray narrowed those dark eyes into a chilly glare that could put frost on the infield grass. A television cameraman dared to invade Murray's personal no-fly zone. "Back off," Murray snarled.
"He has an amazing ability to turn himself on and off," Hendricks said later. "Yes, I know about his eyes. It was the first thing my wife and I noticed about him way back in the '70s. Most of the time his eyes tell the whole story."
Eddie Clarence Murray, 39, having long since wrapped himself in the thick insulation of a pathological distrust of the media, is left to convey the story of his wonderfully rich career through the expressions of his eyes. But they're not up to the job. Most of the time, they merely convey intensity in equal measure toward pitchers and reporters.
Says Jim Palmer, another of Murray's old Baltimore teammates and a former Oriole broadcaster, "He has the glare of Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction. They talk about [ Oakland A's pitcher] Dave Stewart's glare. Nobody can glare like Eddie."
When a Baltimore writer approached him last weekend seeking comments on Ripken, Murray leaned his head back, narrowed his eyes disdainfully and declined by replying, "I don't even know you." When approached by SI, Murray provided his more typical response, saying, "No thank you, sir," with the sincerity of a child turning down a helping of lima beans. The rejection included no eye contact whatsoever.
According to Indian officials, Murray recently also blew off USA Today, The New York Times, the entire press corps from Baltimore and a Cleveland television reporter whom Murray remembered as being guilty of once, while a student at Towson (Md.) State, working two or three Oriole games for the campus TV station.
As a mushroom cloud continues to hang over baseball, the game needs to promote any source of goodwill it can find. Ordinarily, the magic of a player's chasing his 3,000th hit would be just that sort of salve, but this year National Secretaries Week will get more recognition. Murray is on pace to reach the milestone by the All-Star break, but press conferences and diplomacy are not included in the package. When he does reach 3,000, Murray will do so as the least appreciated and least understood of the 20 players to get there and this at a time when fan anger toward players in general is rampant.
"One day the morning headlines are going to say EDDIE GETS 3,000TH HIT," says Indian coach Dave Nelson, "and to him it will be O.K., fine. The recognition doesn't matter to him."