The Greatest Summer Ever: The Steady Influence
Steve Eby | On 02, Jun 2015
Throughout the 2015 season, Did the Tribe Win Last Night will take a look back at the 1995 Cleveland Indians for the 20th anniversary of their fourth pennant winning season. Included will be historic game recaps, headlining stories and a ranking of the team’s most influential players that truly made 1995 The Greatest Summer Ever. Today looks back at the importance of Hall of Famer Eddie Murray.
“When I got to the big leagues, there was a man – Eddie Murray – who showed me how to play this game, day in and day out. I thank him for his example.”
–Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr.
Ever since the beginning of his career, Eddie Murray was having an influence on the teammates surrounding him. Murray was always the consummate professional, the pro’s pro, the father figure…the steady one.
Steady Eddie led the 1983 Baltimore Orioles to a World Series title over a decade before he became a Cleveland Indian and for 20 Major League seasons, Murray found a way to play hard nearly every day. When Murray signed on with Cleveland on December 2, 1993, the Indians got more than just a Hall of Fame talent. In fact, perhaps none of the many, many talents on the 1995 Indians were as important as Murray.
“All (the Indians) needed was leadership,” Dennis Martinez said. “I guess Eddie Murray was one of the best guys that could take over this team, and he did. He took them under his wing.”
Martinez was signed to a free agent contract on the same day as Murray. The Indians were young, exciting, extremely talented and heading into a new ballpark. The time was perfect to add a couple of savvy veterans to the mix.
“We had said all along that we were going to try to develop our core players,” Manager Mike Hargrove said, “and when we felt like we had a chance to contend, we would try to trade for or sign a couple big time free agents that would help us to get over the top and contend. We did that when we signed Dennis Martinez and Eddie Murray.”
Murray continued his impressive, Hall of Fame career in 1994 by slugging 17 homeruns in the strike-shortened campaign. He drove home 76 runs and added 21 doubles in just 108 games.
“The hitter that impressed me the most was Eddie Murray,” Murray’s longtime teammate Martinez said. “He was one of my teammates that grew up with me in the Orioles organization. He was such a unique hitter. That guy hit the ball so far…like I never saw before. He was amazing. To me, he was the most impressive guy I ever saw.”
In addition to his role as the fifth hitter and fastball-mashing DH, Murray took over during the 1994 and 1995 seasons as another coach and mentor on the bench. In a clubhouse that was always raucous, the soft-spoken Murray was the single voice that everyone in the clubhouse followed. When Murray spoke, everyone listened. Along with the veteran Martinez, Murray proved to be just what the doctor had ordered for the young Indians team.
“The guys they brought in here just fit in awesomely. Dennis Martinez and Eddie Murray, those were the two pieces that we needed,” pitcher Charles Nagy said. “They got us over the top. The veteran influence and watching their work ethic…just watching the day to day stuff.”
Murray’s influence had an enormous impact on the Indians immediately, as the team went from the Mistake by the Lake to contenders in ’94 and eventual American League Champions in ’95. The message from Murray was simple: be consistent and it’s all about winning.
“I think he taught us how to play the game right,” first baseman Paul Sorrento said. “He taught us how to play the game hard. He was a great teammate and taught us the importance of winning. He brought a presence that winning is what it’s all about. It’s all about winning. Everybody should be doing their job and pulling for each other. Not only did he talk about it, he also showed it on the field. He was a great player, obviously, but his leadership skills were awesome. He just taught us the team concept, I thought.”
In addition to being a short-term solution to the Indians middle of the order and bench mentor, Murray’s influence stuck with his teammates long after his departure in 1996. He had shown the Indians how to win, yes, but some of the young talent was turning in Hall of Fame-type careers in large part due to Murray’s guidance and advice.
“Eddie Murray once said something to me that I never forgot about playing,” third baseman Jim Thome said. “I asked him what he thought had been the biggest key to his success and he said longevity. They guys that played and have iconic numbers, guys like Hank Aaron, they have had longevity and health. You have to be blessed enough to be healthy. You don’t get better as you get older, but you make the best of what you’ve got.”
Murray’s best seasons may have behind him by the time he got to Cleveland for the mid-90’s rejuvenation, but he seemed to get rejuvenated himself because of the success of the 1995 team. Murray led the uber-talented Tribe with a .323 batting average and slugged another 21 homeruns during the season in which he also collected his 3,000th career hit. His 2.4 WAR was his highest since the 1990 season that he spent with the Dodgers—not bad for a 39-year old.
After being traded back to Baltimore in 1996 because his lack of playing time was causing a clubhouse uproar, the 41-year old Murray played one more season back in his SoCal home with both the Angels and Dodgers. After retiring, Murray’s influence continued as he eventually became a coach—this time officially—and spent some more time impacting young Indians hitters.
“My greatest influence came from Eddie Murray, who was my hitting coach at the time,” early-2000’s outfielder Jody Gerut said. “He really gave me the courage and guidance to put things on the line and just go for it at the plate. A lot of what I teach to kids now I got from Eddie and I’m very grateful for that.”
Murray’s importance on the Indians success in the mid to late 90’s cannot be argued. At 39, he may not have been the most talented player on the field anymore, but he sure got the most out of what he had left in the tank. More importantly, however, Murray also got the most out of everyone around him and that is what his Cleveland legacy will always be.
Photo: Getty Images