As the Baltimore Orioles gathered in Miami for their second full-squad spring workout, Eddie Murray, a day late, went from locker to locker, shaking hands with teammates, old as well as new. Some 200 miles away, Jim Rice of the Boston Red Sox was out performing his morning ritual, a 1�-mile jog, on the grass at Winter Haven's Chain O' Lakes Park.
As relaxed as those two scenes may seem, for Murray, 32, and Rice, 35, who have hit more homers and driven in more runs over the past 10 seasons than any other players in the American League, these are times of trial. Each is being asked by his team's fans—and, to a lesser extent, by his team—to prove again that he's a $2 million player. Each became an exile in his home park last year, scourged, booed and singled out as the reason for his team's position in the second division. "The memories of the fans and media are getting shorter all the time," says Frank Robinson, the Orioles' assistant general manager. "And when a man's making the money Murray or Rice is making, there are no acceptable excuses."
"I don't think I should have to prove anything," says Rice, "but if that's what the fans and the press want, fine. I'll prove I'm not dead and that I do care. All I ask is the same opportunity I got as a rookie." And as if he were a rookie, he reported to spring training along with the pitchers and catchers. Upon arriving, he announced that his knees, which had been surgically repaired during the off-season, felt better and that he wanted to earn his salary—he'll get a total of $4.4 million for this season and next—by doing more for the Red Sox than simply serving as a designated hitter.
His words on the latter subject made the front page of
The Boston Globe
. Callers to radio talk shows took Rice to mean that he was refusing to be a DH and was demanding that manager John McNamara relegate Mike Greenwell, Todd Benzinger or another of Boston's talented young outfielders to that role. Rice says he was misunderstood. "I wasn't telling McNamara where to play me," he says, "but I still want to try to be an all-around player. I still have pride. I still care. I thought that I was starting the spring off positively."
For his part, Murray has mostly kept quiet this spring. "I don't want to stir up the past," he said last week in explaining his silence. "I'm trying to get a fresh start and see if things can be better."
Last season both men were also subjected to unmerciful second-guessing by radio talk show callers. "When you've done what they've done and start earning $2 million, it's hard to ever fulfill expectations," says Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks, a close friend of Murray's. "Then fans want to forget what an Eddie Murray or a Jim Rice has done and give their jobs away. That's something no veteran player can ever understand—even if it's harmless fan talk."
Rice says he doesn't want to be traded and promises a better year now that he's healthier. Murray's pain, on the other hand, is of the spirit, and it has not entirely gone away. He asked to be traded in August 1986 and still would be happy to leave Baltimore. "We used to say, 'It's great to be young and an Oriole,' " says Murray. "Well, it stopped being that way. It got to where I was playing angry, and that's no way to live or play."
For the first nine years of his career, Murray could do no wrong in the eyes of Baltimore fans. "When it came time for my contracts, I never talked about leaving," he says. "All I wanted was to play for the Orioles." Of course, during those years, 1977 through '85, Baltimore averaged 93 victories a year and won two pennants while Murray averaged 30 homers and 108 RBIs and batted .298. Says Hendricks: "Players and fans got to thinking that winning was the norm, so naturally they believed the Orioles were special. This is especially true of Eddie. He doesn't want cars or land or fame. All he wants is to win. People don't understand that it tears him up when the Orioles don't win."
When Murray injured his left hamstring in July 1986 he realized for the first time that being a team's highest-paid player could be a burden. Neither the fans nor the front office showed much patience with him. He was ordered to exercise the leg on a particular kind of rehabilitation machine. "I kept asking, 'Are you sure this is the right thing?' " he says. "It was killing me."
The injury worsened, and Murray went on the disabled list for the first time in his career, missing 24 games. Before then, he had never missed more than 11 games in any season. While he was hurt, Murray's friends say, he also began to worry that Baltimore's farm system was deteriorating and that the team was picking up players who didn't fit the traditional Oriole mold. He was bothered that Oriole pitchers like Tippy Martinez were, in his view, being burned out, then discarded. Murray heard that general manager Hank Peters thought he wasn't giving his best efforts. Then, owner Edward Bennett Williams publicly questioned Murray's attitude. "That hurt me deeply," says Murray.