When Eddie Murray was 17, he was one of a thousand minor-league baseball players given a battery of psychological tests. If you want to know why 22 years later Murray is on the verge of 3,000 hits - just check those results.
How’s this for a future Hall of Famer? He scored in the 93rd percentile when it came to drive and desire to succeed. Then there is another part of Murray’s personality. Ever notice how he turns the same face to the world, be it after a home run or strikeout? Murray believes that baseball is played one game … one at-bat … even one pitch at a time.
You stay in character. Murray calls it keeping cool, and that also was measured by those tests he took back in 1973. Get this: Murray scored in the 99th percentile in the category of “emotional control.”
Murray said that was no big deal. His parents - especially his mother Carrie - drilled this into his head: “If you can’t control yourself, who can you control?”
Murray listened to his mother.
Orioles manager Earl Weaver didn’t know the results of Murray’s tests. In fact, he never even heard of Murray until January 1977, when reports from Orioles scouts were mailed to him about this kid Murray, who was assaulting pitching in the Puerto Rico winter league.
But Murray also was a first baseman, and the Orioles had Lee May at that spot. May had led the American League with 109 RBIs, and he hit 25 homers.
“Lee was in the prime of his career,” Weaver recalled. “Eddie came to spring training with us in 1977. He was only 20 years old. No one thought he’d make the team.”
After the 1976 season, the Orioles lost Reggie Jackson to free agency. “I was looking for another bat,” Weaver said. “So I gave Eddie a chance to play in our intrasquad games, and then in the first couple of exhibition games. I remember that we had a game where he hit one off the center-field wall in Miami, it was 420 feet from the plate.”
That night, the Orioles had a staff meeting. General manager Hank Peters and his scouts made up a cut list.
“Hank and those guys wanted to send Eddie down to the minor-league camp,” Weaver said. “I said, ‘Hank, we can’t do that. The kid hasn’t done a thing wrong yet. Why wreck his morale?’ I told him to wait a week.”
Peters is a patient man. While he was intrigued with Murray, he also saw a 20-year-old who had played only 54 games in Class AAA.
Weaver played Murray for another week, and he continued to hit. Then came staff meeting No. 2.
“Hank wanted to cut him again,” Weaver said. “I said I wanted to keep Eddie for another week. Then we had a third meeting, and they still wanted to cut him. Hank said, ‘Earl, I know Eddie has been great, but where are you going to play him? We can’t let him just sit on the bench.’ I told Hank that there was something special about Eddie, that he could come fast because he was mature for his age.”
Already, his “drive” and “emotional control” were serving Murray so well that Weaver couldn’t bear the thought of not having Murray on his team. Murray opened the regular season with the Orioles - as DH.
“You just don’t take the position away from a veteran like Lee May and give it to a rookie,” Weaver said. “So five times a week, Lee played first and Eddie was the DH. The other two days, they switched.”
By the end of the 1977 season, Murray was old enough to vote - and he also was the A.L. rookie of the year with 27 homers, 88 RBIs and a .283 batting average.
Meanwhile, Weaver tried different schemes to have both May and Murray in the field - so he could use the DH on a hitter such as Pat Kelly or Terry Crowley.
He talked to Murray about catching. Remember, Murray is a very bright guy - that also came through on those tests - and he told Weaver that he was too smart to wear the tools of ignorance. “I tried Eddie at third,” Weaver said. “I moved (Doug) DeCinces from third to second and played May at first.”
But playing all those guys out-of-position was a bit much, so Weaver canned the experiment after a week. By 1978, Murray had moved to first and May was the DH. The Orioles were contenders for the next decade.
“Eddie is the same basic guy now as he was when he came to us,” Weaver said. “That’s probably why he has played so well for this long.”