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E.M. Swift
June 01, 1987
The Orioles have been terrorizing American League pitchers with a record home run barrage
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June 01, 1987

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The Orioles have been terrorizing American League pitchers with a record home run barrage

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Dwyer, who lives in Tinley Park, Ill., started lifting in the off-season two years ago under the supervision of Phil Claussen, the strength and fitness coach for the Cubs. Claussen also supervised Carlton Fisk's weight-training program in 1984. The next year Fisk hit a career-high 37 home runs. "I asked Pudge one day, 'What gives with the homers?' " recalls Dwyer, "and he gave me this guy's name." Dwyer began lifting four times a week last winter and gained 15 pounds to increase his weight to 193 this season. "The idea is that with strength comes bat speed, and with bat speed comes power," Dwyer says. He has slacked off his strength program since the start of the season, partly because the Orioles don't have any free weights in their sparsely furnished weight room.

"We don't believe in strength coaches and all that stuff," says Peters.

Baltimore did not begin its Ruthian antics until May 8 at Chicago's Comiskey Park. That's where the home run streak started. The wind was blowing out, and the Orioles blew the White Sox out by scores of 7-6, 15-6 and 6-4, hitting 12 homers in the process. Larry Sheets, the oxlike Baltimore leftfielder who usually bats eighth and currently leads the team in hitting with a .337 average, parked one blast on Comiskey's rightfield roof. The only other Oriole ever to do that was Boog Powell. The next day in batting practice all the Birds were shooting for the roof. "If Sheets can do it, anybody can" became the players' rallying cry.

Murray failed to clear the ancient canopy, but he broke out of his slump with a vengeance, becoming the first major leaguer to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in consecutive games. During the record-setting 14-game stretch, Murray hit nine homers, batted .397 and drove in 21 runs. Lynn also caught fire, stroking seven dingers in 11 games (he missed three games of the streak with a bruised left shoulder) and driving in 14 runs. Dwyer had six homers, Sheets five, Terry Kennedy four, Knight and Cal Ripken Jr. two, Ken Gerhart, Lee Lacy and Dave Van Gorder one each. Ten players got on the bandwagon, but there was no question in any of the Orioles' minds as to which one got it rolling.

"What turned this club around was when Eddie Murray started hitting," says Rip Jr., who at week's end led the league with 37 RBIs, one more than Murray had. "When he gets hot he carries the whole ball club."

Since he started hitting, Murray seems happier, too, though one can hardly be certain. He recently told a friend, "I'm going to pretend to be happy for the rest of the year." Anyone's happiness is difficult to gauge, but in Murray's case it is especially so, because he prefers not to talk to the press. "He's got a lot of phobias," says another friend. "Don't take offense. He won't talk to pitchers, either."

Murray's discontent began last year, when, for the first time, his home run production slipped below that of the league leaders. Hampered by a hamstring injury that forced him onto the disabled list for the first time in his career and by a less publicized and vaguely defined problem with his left hand, Murray hit only 17 homers after averaging 29 in his first nine years. "I'm going to go out and get my two singles today," he would tell friends grimly on his way to the field. Still, he produced reasonably well, batting .305, driving in 84 runs and leading the team with a .366 average with runners in scoring position. But the three-run homers were missing, and because Murray wasn't whining publicly about his hand problem, he was criticized. "He's done nothing," Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams said in August.

The charge stung Murray, who considers himself the true Oriole. Three days later he asked to be traded, but nothing came of his request. When he was asked to put together a list of cities in which he would consider playing, Murray, a native of Los Angeles, balked. He wanted to play in Baltimore. In 1985 he gave the city $500,000 to fund an Outward Bound Camp program in the memory of his mother, Carrie. Each year he buys 50 upper-deck box seats for underprivileged youngsters. "Eddie has done a lot for a lot of people in this city." says Peters. "He's a good human being who loves his privacy."

That's apparently not good enough for Baltimoreans—some might say Balti-morons—who saw Murray dragging down a yearly salary of more than $2 million while struggling at the plate. They felt his salary gave them ample reason to boo, even though he had been the most consistent run producer in the American League for a decade. "What's happened to Baltimore fans is the Orioles have spoiled them over the years," says Peters. "They expect a winner. I don't know that they're singling out any one player." Murray didn't help his own cause by showing up two days late for spring training this year or by being thrown out at third standing up early in the season as he tried to stretch a double into a triple on the Royals' Bo Jackson.

But, funny, now that he has raised his average 85 points in the past three weeks to .259 and is hitting with power once again, no one is chiding him about his weight anymore. The fact is, Murray is the hoss who can carry the veteran Orioles. And his teammates revere him. When rumors persisted during the home run streak that Dwyer, not Shelby, would be traded to the Dodgers for Niedenfuer, Murray walked into Rip Sr.'s office and asked him to clear up the matter. "Rip says he wouldn't do that to you," Murray told Dwyer upon emerging. End of rumors.

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