#4 - Eddie Murray, 1B (1977-1988, 1996)
The really great ones don't need a whole lot of seasoning. Eddie Murray made the Opening Day roster in 1977 at the age of 21 and never looked back. He won the Rookie of the Year award, one of six Orioles who have done so. That came on the strength of a .283/.333/.470 batting line that included 29 doubles and 27 home runs. Sometimes there are ROY winners who win and it's because he was good for a rookie. Eddie was just plain good.
How often do we hear about doubles power or home run power that's supposed to develop as a player matures? Eddie came with all of that right out of the box. He had at least 20 doubles in all of his 12 full seasons as an Oriole and had 20 or more home runs in 11 of the 12 seasons. That even includes strike-shortened 1981, when he only played 99 games. He still had enough time to hit 21 doubles and 22 home runs.
From a brilliant rookie year, he went on to be one of the best hitters in the American League over the next decade. Over the next eight seasons, he had Most Valuable Player award votes each year, finishing no lower than 11th. This included a streak of five straight seasons - 1981 to 1985 - in which he finished in the top five of the voting. He was the runner-up twice. One of those years was 1983, when he finished second to teammate Cal Ripken. Man, no wonder they won the World Series.
In that five year stretch of top five MVP finishes, Eddie batted a combined .304/.390/.530. He drove in 100 runs or more in each year that wasn't cut short by a strike. He hit for power and average and got on base for good measure. That was good for a 155 OPS+. No one else in Orioles history has had a stretch like that. You know pitchers of the time knew he was good, too. They walked him intentionally 78 times over those five years, topped by an astounding 25 times in 1984.
On Baseball Reference, a player's stat lines are occasionally enhanced with bold or italics to let you know when they led their team or their league in a particular category. The career numbers have gold, bold italics when a player leads all players who ever played in MLB. Eddie has the distinction of hitting more sacrifice flies than anyone else has ever done. He hit 128 over his 21-year career, 77 of which came in an Orioles uniform. That is pretty cool.
Unfortunately, no discussion of Murray's time in Baltimore is complete without a mention of the fact that he was essentially run out of town. This happened over 25 years ago now, long before I had any kind of deep awareness of baseball. It's hard to imagine that the now-docile media contingent was ever capable of running a bad player, manager, or GM out of town, let alone a superstar. What were they doing?
Around the time of Murray's induction into Baseball's Hall of Fame in 2003, Mike Preston wrote a column in the Baltimore Sun in which he argued that Murray was run out of town by racist attitudes. He makes note of an anecdote from August 1986 in which then-owner Edward Bennett Williams proclaimed that Murray "needed to stay in better shape and produce more." Murray batted .305/.396/.463 that season and was named to the All-Star team. What might have possessed the man to say something so ridiculous, I simply couldn't say.
Preston's column also says that racial epithets were hurled at Murray by the home crowd in the mid-to-late 1980s. That's a sad stain in Baltimore sports history. It's hard to imagine something like that happening now, either. That wasn't so long ago. It was within the span of my lifetime. In some ways, we have come far.
Murray was traded to Los Angeles following the 1988 Orioles season of disaster. He was 32 at the time, and while he wasn't producing at the excellent level from when he was 25-29, he was still a good player. He played in 161 games for those cellar-dwelling O's and batted .284/.361/.474. Had to get rid of him, sure!
As it turned out, the O's might have been able to use a Hall of Fame-caliber player the next season. What if Murray had been the first baseman and Randy Milligan the designated hitter instead of Larry Sheets? We will never know.
Some years passed and an Orioles team in the playoff hunt was in need of a slugger for the stretch run. That was 1996. He was 40 by then, closing in on 500 home runs. He played in 64 games for those Orioles. That last hurrah for Baltimore saw him bat .257/.327/.439, nothing special, but enough to help. He happened to pick a night at Camden Yards to log this milestone:
Whatever enmity was supposedly there from some segment of Baltimore fans or media in 1988 seems to have been gone by the time of this celebration, when he joined the 500 home run club. He is one of only four players to have both 3000 hits and 500 home runs. He got 2084 of the hits and 343 of the home runs as an Oriole.
The last at-bat he ever took as an Oriole came in Game 5 of the 1996 American League Championship Series. He homered off of Andy Pettitte in that at-bat.
Like all of the top five of our greatest Orioles, Eddie won a World Series championship with the team. His runner-up MVP season was a big part of why the Orioles were in the 1983 postseason at all. He had a pair of home runs as the Orioles sealed the victory in Game 5 of the World Series.
The O's honored the 25th anniversary of that 1983 championship team on a random July night in 2008. Probably not many people came out to watch that terrible baseball team, although $5 upper reserve 1983 pricing was a nice deal. Before the game, the crowd was treated to an appearance by many of the players who spent time on that team. When Eddie came out, the crowd broke out in cheers: "Ed-die! Ed-die! Ed-die!" I never even knew he had his own cheer. It got a little dusty up there in the upper deck.
Eddie's thirteen Orioles seasons spanned parts of three decades. He finished with the second-most offensive Wins Above Replacement in Orioles history, behind only Cal. He played the fourth-most games (1884) and logged the third-most plate appearances. He's third in categories like runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, times on base, and RBI. He trails only Cal in home runs.
Whatever happened that led to his departure, Eddie is one of the all-time baseball greats. He was enshrined in Cooperstown in 2003. Even if you never saw him play, or barely remember it, you can puff out your chest and say, "Yeah, he was an Oriole." His number 33 will never be worn again by an Oriole and his statue stands forever out beyond the bullpens at Camden Yards. He is one of ours.