The Greatest Summer Ever: Eddie Murray
Steve Eby | On 11, Aug 2012
Each week through the 26 weeks of the 2012 regular season, DTTWLN will profile and break down the roster of arguably the most exciting sports team that Cleveland has ever seen; the 1995 Cleveland Indians. The ’95 Tribe won 100 games in a strike-shortened 144 game schedule, won their first Central Division title and made the playoffs and World Series for the first time since 1954. Six players made the American League All-Star team, eight players batted .300 or better, and the pitching staff had the lowest ERA in the American League. The players have been ranked from the most important to the Tribe’s success to the 26th. This week breaks down #8 Eddie Murray.
When Eddie Murray signed with Cleveland as a free agent on December 2, 1993 (the same day that the Indians signed Dennis Martinez), it was clear that the future Hall of Famer was on the down side of his career. Questions came pouring in on how much the 38 year old first baseman could help a young team that already had Paul Sorrento returning with two years of starting experience under his belt. Was Murray durable enough to handle the rigors of a 162 game schedule? Could he still provide the thunder in the middle of a lineup that was expected to be good? Would Eddie take a back seat to the other budding superstars that the Indians had on their team? Would the all-time leader in games played at first base be comfortable becoming a full time designated hitter? Could a guy who was not outspoken provide the kind of leadership that the young Tribe sorely needed?
Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.
“Steady Eddie” quieted the critics quickly by putting up numbers and having a calming influence on the young but talented Indians team in 1994. Murray batted .254 with 17 homeruns and 76 RBI while playing in 108 games of the strike shortened 1994 season. He helped lead the Indians to a 66-47 record which placed them in second place, one game behind the Chicago White Sox, when the labor issues cancelled the season on August 12. Heading into 1995, the Indians picked up Murray’s option but had to be wondering how much more gas that the 39 year old had in his tank.
As it turns out, Murray had plenty of fuel. On a team full of All-Stars and thunderous hitters, Eddie still found a way to stand out. There were seven other hitters that batted .300 or better for the Indians in ’95 and Murray outhit them all. Eddie batted .323 to lead the mighty Indians in average and to prove all of the doubters wrong. The .323 clip was the second highest mark of Murray’s career and the best since he led the National League in 1990 when he batted .330 for the Dodgers.
All Murray did all season was hit and hit and hit. He had rally starting hits, clutch hits and big homeruns all year and he continued to be a calming influence on the young, powerful lineup.
The most memorable hit for Murray came in Minnesota on June 30 against the Twins. Murray was sitting on 2,999 career hits and was 0-1 with a walk when he batted in the sixth inning. Albert Belle had led off the inning with a double and the game was tied at one. Murray, batting left-handed against Twins right-handed starter Mike Trombley, grounded Trombley’s 0-1 pitch, a cut-fastball, into the hole on the right side. Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch was shading Murray up the middle and dove to his glove side but was unable to get leather on the ball. The ball scooted on the Metrodome turf into right field. Murray had grounded a single into right field for the 3,000th hit of his career, becoming only the 20th person in Major League Baseball history to reach that mark. With his historic hit, Murray also became the third member of the 3,000 hit club to reach the mark wearing a Cleveland uniform (joining Nap Lajoie and Tris Speaker). Cleveland is the only city to hold this distinction. Murray’s teammates poured onto the field and celebrated with Eddie, led by Dave Winfield who was the last player to reach 3,000 hits. The Indians went on to win the game by a 4-1 score.
Murray’s single in June may have been his most memorable, but it was his performance on September 8 that was the most important. On that Friday night the Indians hosted the Baltimore Orioles, just two nights after Oriole legend and future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. The night was special for Ripken because it was the first game that the Orioles played since the night Cal broke the record, but it was a special night for the Indians as well because their magic number was sitting at one. With one more victory, the Indians would clinch the first Central Division title in club history and secure a spot in the American League playoffs for the first time since 1954.
The game had all of the pomp and circumstance that it deserved, as the Indians played a tribute to Ripken before the game on their scoreboard’s JumboTron. At the home plate meeting where the lineups are exchanged, Ripken represented the Orioles and the longtime Oriole Murray represented the Tribe. The two former teammates shared a handshake and an embrace before heading to their dugouts. Both the scoreboard tribute and the lineup exchange were touching tributes to a true baseball legend, but the Indians had a job to do and Tribe fans had waited long enough for this night to arrive.
A sold out crowd of 41,656 packed Jacobs Field hoping to witness Indians franchise history that night. The Indians started veteran Orel Hershiser to try and clinch the division that night, but the Indians task would not be easy as Baltimore countered with their ace Kevin Brown. Indians fans gave Ripken a well-deserved standing ovation when he took the field in the bottom of the first, then immediately booed him when he snagged Kenny Lofton’s line drive to retire the Tribe’s leadoff batter.
Both pitchers started out on fire, pitching scoreless baseball through two and a half innings. The only blip on Hershiser’s radar was a first inning walk to Rafael Palmeiro, and the only one for Brown was a second inning double by Murray. The Indians gave their fans something to cheer for in the bottom of the third.
Tribe catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. got the Tribe rally started by getting hit by a 2-2 Brown pitch with one out in the inning. Lofton followed Alomar by grounding a single in the hole on the right side, moving Sandy to third with one out. Omar Vizquel batted next and came through for the Indians by lifting a sacrifice fly to centerfield, scoring Alomar and giving Cleveland a 1-0 lead. The Indians were not finished with this inning yet, however.
With two outs, second baseman Carlos Baerga lined a single into right-centerfield, moving Lofton to third. Brown pitched carefully to the red hot Belle and walked him to load the bases, bringing up Murray. Eddie worked the count to 3-1 before coming through with the biggest hit of the Indians season. Murray grounded a single past Brown and back up the middle that scored both Lofton and Baerga. Belle stopped at second and the Indians suddenly had a 3-0 lead. Jacobs Field was rocking and October baseball was within sight.
The Orioles were a veteran team who were not going to go quietly though. The O’s answered back in the top of the fourth by scoring a run off of Hershiser when Bobby Bonilla grounded into a double play with runners at first and third, bringing home the speedy Curtis Goodwin.
With the Indians holding a 3-1 lead, both Brown and Hershiser danced in and out of trouble for the next few innings. In the bottom of the fourth, Alomar hit a single and stole second base to move a runner into scoring position. A Lofton groundout ended the Tribe’s mini-threat and the inning. Baltimore also threatened in the top of the fifth when Hershiser lost some control. After getting the first two batters out, “The Bulldog” walked two straight Orioles before getting a groundout from future Indian Brady Anderson.
The next inning, the Indians worked Brown again without any results. Vizquel led off the fifth with a walk but was erased on a double play off of the bat of Baerga. Belle followed with another walk leading to Murray’s third at bat. Murray laced a single over the head of Baltimore second baseman Bret Barberie moving Belle to second base. The single was Eddie’s third in three at bats for the evening. Brown was able to work out of the jam again when third baseman Jim Thome flew out to end the inning.
The score stayed 3-1 into the seventh inning when Baltimore got a run closer. After Ripken flied to Lofton to start the inning, designated hitter Harold Baines smacked a one out double into left field. Hershiser then got catcher Chris Hoiles to strike out for the second out of the inning, but Jeff Huson grounded a double down the right field line, scoring Baines. Lefty Paul Assenmacher relieved the tiring Hershiser and was able to get out of the inning with the 3-2 lead intact.
Brown and Baltimore reliever Mark Lee set down the Indians scoreless in the seventh, and Assenmacher set down the O’s in the eighth with help from righty Julian Tavarez. Lee and Armando Benitez combined to pitch a perfect bottom half and Tribe skipper Mike Hargrove turned the game over to his closer Jose Mesa.
The Jacobs Field JumboTron flashed “#49 – Jose Mesa – Senor Slam” which faded into a picture of a stop sign. Mesa entered the game with 39 saves in 40 chances, the first 38 coming in a consecutive, record-setting fashion. His 40th would be tough to come by, however, because due to lead off the top of the ninth was one of the most clutch players of his era, Ripken.
The crowd at Jacobs Field was on their feet and loud from Mesa’s first warm up pitch. Ripken worked Mesa to a 1-1 count before smashing a groundball toward shortstop. The Gold Glover Vizquel gobbled up the ball and fired it over to Sorrento.
The next batter up for Mesa was Baines. A future Indian, Harold Baines was a “professional hitter”, a power threat and a 16-year veteran. Baines put the scare of a lifetime into Mesa, Hargrove and the sellout crowd when he launched Mesa’s 1-1 pitch deep toward the right-centerfield gap. Wayne Kirby, who had come in as a defensive replacement in the top of the ninth for Manny Ramirez, raced under it and the ball stuck in his glove.
Next was Ohio native Chris Hoiles. Hoiles was able to work a five pitch walk, delaying the clinch that Cleveland had waited over four decades for. As Hoiles trotted to first, Huson strode to the plate. A gapper would tie the game. A homerun would give the O’s the lead. An out would give the Indians the crown.
The first pitch was a fastball for strike one. With drummer John Adams leading the claps from the left field bleachers, the second pitch of the at bat was tapped up into the air. It was a lazy popup that was headed toward Thome at third base. It was drifting into foul territory, but it was obvious that it was going to stay in play. As the ball was still rising, Mesa pointed straight up at the ball floating to the sky. Alomar jumped out of his crouch in excitement. The fans that had been waiting for so long took a deep breath as the ball reached its peak and fell toward the Earth. For those in attendance, the ball seemed like it hung in the air for an eternity. The ball then landed in Thome’s glove.
Three outs. Finally.
Jacobs Field went crazy as the Indians finally had something to celebrate. It had been 41 years since the Indians had won anything worthwhile, and the “streak” was now over. The Tribe players sprinted toward Thome, who held his glove and the ball high in the air in celebration, and gave each other well deserved hugs and high fives. Just as it had so many times at Jacobs Field during 1995, the words “WE WIN!” were plastered across the scoreboard. Only this time it was followed by another graphic…one that said “CLINCH!” At long last, the Cleveland Indians were American League Central Division Champions.
The raucous crowd gave their newly crowned Indians a standing ovation that lasted close to a half hour. Grown men, grown women and young children cried tears of happiness as they had finally witnessed their Tribe win something meaningful. The Indians had clinched their division in the 123rd game of the season, the quickest a team had ever clinched.
As fireworks blasted into the nighttime sky, the players and coaches for the Indians put on their new Central Division Champions tee-shirts and hats. They were handed a flag to raise and fly proudly on the centerfield flagpole that sits perched atop the scoreboard. The players raised the banner up toward the sky as Garth Brooks’ song “The Dance” played over the Jacobs Field speaker system. “The Dance” was a favorite song of former Indian Steve Olin, who was killed tragically two years earlier in a boating accident during spring training. The song had been played at Olin’s funeral over two years prior and as the song blared and the banner raised, Olin’s former teammates, who were overwhelmed with emotion, cried.
After the on field celebration, the Tribe players and coaches went back into the clubhouse to pop the champagne. Fan favorite Kenny Lofton stayed back, grabbed a microphone, and told the Tribe faithful that “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” Outside of the Jake, car horns blasted in celebration…the Indians were champions.
Lost in all of the hoopla and celebration was the amazing game turned in by the Indians 39-year-old designated hitter. Murray went 3-4 with a double and drove in two of the Tribe’s three runs. His single up the middle that scored Lofton and Baerga way back in the third inning was the biggest play of the game…heck, maybe the biggest play of the season. Murray did exactly what he was brought to the shores of Lake Erie to do; keep his cool and come through in the clutch. Murray did just that throughout his entire tenure with the Indians.
Murray’s 1995 season ended up with a .323 batting average, 21 homeruns and 85 RBI. In the playoffs, Eddie stayed “steady” by batting .385 in the ALDS against Boston, .297 against Seattle, and .232 in the Fall Classic versus Atlanta. Murray hit a homerun in each series and drove in nine runs for the postseason. Not bad work for an old man.
Murray resigned with the Indians in the offseason for the 1996 season. In a bit of a surprise move, the Tribe traded their steady veteran back to the Baltimore Orioles in July in exchange for pitcher Kent Merker. On September 6, 1996 (exactly one year after Ripken’s record setting night), Murray launched his 500th career homerun in Baltimore off of Detroit pitcher Felipe Lira. Murray became only the third player to collect 3,000 hits and 500 homeruns in his career, joining baseball legends Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Rafael Palmeiro became the fourth member of this exclusive club when he collected hit number 3,000 in 2005.
During the 1996 playoffs, Murray helped lead the Orioles in a stunning ALDS upset over his former team, the Cleveland Indians. For the series, Murray batted .400 against his former teammates as Baltimore beat Cleveland in four games.
After the ’96 season, Murray signed as a free agent with the Anaheim Angels. Murray struggled through 46 games with the Halos before being released in August. Less than a week later, Eddie signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers and finished the ’97 season and his career wearing Dodger blue.
After retiring, Murray returned to the Indians organization as the Indians hitting coach in 2002. Murray was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 where his plaque shows him wearing a Baltimore cap. Because of an underachieving offense, Murray was fired from his job as Tribe coach in June of 2005. Murray signed on as the hitting coach for the Dodgers in 2006, but was let go from that job during the 2007 season.
Next Week: Jim Thome
#26 Dave Winfield
#25 Mark Clark
#24 Wayne Kirby
#23 Alan Embree
#22 Alvaro Espinoza
#21 Herbert Perry
#20 Ken Hill
#19 Jim Poole
#18 Chad Ogea
#17 Sandy Alomar
#16 Tony Pena
#15 Eric Plunk
#14 Paul Sorrento
#13 Paul Assenmacher
#12 Omar Vizquel
#11 Charles Nagy
#10 Orel Hershiser
#9 Julian Tavarez