No. 64: Eddie Murray

Here’s a question: How good was Los Angeles’ Locke High School baseball team in 1973? Eddie Murray was the first baseman. Ozzie Smith was the shortstop.

* * *

In 1979, during the Baltimore-Pittsburgh World Series, New York Daily News columnist Dick Young wrote a column that changed Eddie Murray’s life. Young was the sort of newspaper sports columnist that doesn’t probably doesn’t exist anymore, a lot like the Robert Duvall character in “The Natural.” He began as a baseball writer and there he changed the rules by being one of the first to go to the clubhouse, to get inside dirt, to challenge convention.

“You’re gonna write the games most of the time,” he told Roger Kahn in The Boys of Summer. “Nothing you can do about that, and it ain’t bad. But anytime, you hear me, ANYTIME you can get your story off the game you got to do it. Because that’s unusual and people read unusual things. Fights. Bean balls. Whatever. Write them, not the game.”

It’s as if, in 1952, Dick Young already understood the Internet.

But most people remember him after his baseball days, as a general sports columnist. He was abrasive and arrogant, relentless and provocative, nasty and driven, loud and certain … and above all, powerful. When he was on the side of the right — as in his support for Jackie Robinson or his devotion to equality for women sportswriters — he could be downright heroic.

But at other times — like when he ran Tom Seaver out of New York or viciously attacked players he didn’t like with innuendo and smears — he was a destructive force. He was the most read sports columnist in America. And for Game 2 of the 1979 World Series, he decided to write about Ed Murray, who had gone three-for-three a homer in that game.

The bulk of the column about Murray was positive. It doesn’t seem to have been written as a hit piece — a Dick Young hit piece is hard to misidentify. But there was a section in there about Murray’s family and how they treated Orioles scout Ray Poitevint.

“(Poitevint) offers $20,000,” Young wrote. “He gets cursed at. He leaves. He goes back. He is called a thief, kicked out. This was by Ed Murray’s older brothers. They and Ed Murray’s mother do all the talking. Ed Murray, 17, just sits there, listening, not saying a word.” Then Poitevint is quoted saying that one of Murray’s brothers tried to run Poitevint over with his car.

Murray was devastated by the article. One, he said it wasn’t true. Two, he could not believe Poitevint would allow himself to be quoted saying those sorts of things about his family — to Dick Young no less, during the World Series no less. Three, he thought Young should have at least asked him about it before he printed a story like that. He felt utterly blindsided.

In truth, Murray’s thoughts were probably not that well organized at the time. All of it just seemed wrong, horribly wrong, and though he’d already been in the big leagues for three years this was an arctic blast into his face. He was already quiet, somewhat withdrawn, but he came to understand something that would guide him for the rest of his career: The writers will hurt you, if they get the chance.

Murray had been driven to play major league baseball going back to his earliest memories. He was nine years old and living in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles when the riots erupted in 1965. What he would remember most about that time was that his little league team, the Chiefs, had to find a new place to practice.

Baseball was everywhere for a kid in Los Angeles then. Murray was surrounded by fantastic baseball players, including his oldest brother Charlie, who made it to Class AAA, and his young brother Rich, who would play briefly for the Giants. But there were all sorts of future (and present) major leaguers. He played on a youth team with Chet Lemon, a wonderful player in his time. Dan Ford, who was a notable player for a decade, was there. Big leaguers George Hendrick and Bob Watson and Bobby Tolan were a bit older but would be around the neighborhood. And, as mentioned, he played on a high school team with Ozzie Smith. Two Hall of Famers in the same high school infield.

Murray, from his youngest days, had a reputation among them as the serious one, the hardest working one, the player who would have to get pushed out of the batter’s box or he would stay and hit forever.

He began switch-hitting as a kid — on the rare occasions when he struck out right-handed he would show up for the next at-bat hitting lefty — and he always treated hitting like his life’s work. You know that term “professional hitter?” Murray was a professional hitter long before he was paid to do it. Hitting was something to be done right day after day after day. After he became a big leaguer, an Orioles publicity man named Charles Steinberg put a photograph of a smiling Eddie Murray on the scoreboard before his at-bats. Murray insisted he replace it with a different photo, one of a Murray grimacing. Hitting, you see, was serious business.

And because it was serious business, Murray hit every single year. It was a funny thing — teammate after teammate commented about how terrible he would look in batting practice every day. And then the games would begin. They called him Steady Eddie in those early year, and the uniformity of his numbers still boggles the mind.

In 1980, he hit .300 with 32 homers and 116 RBIs.
In 1981, the strike year, his pace was .294 with 34 homers and 119 RBIs.
In 1982, he hit .316 with 32 homers and 110 RBIs.
In 1983, he hit .306 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs.
In 1984, he hit .306 with 29 homers and 110 RBIs.
In 1986, he hit .297 with 31 homers and 124 RBIs.

Again and again and again, Murray put up those same great numbers. There was such a brutal honesty in the way he went about his work — you got the sense that not only would a bad year be anathema to him but that TOO GOOD a year — say a sudden 40-homer season — would also offend his sensibilities. His greatness did not make room for flukes, positive or negative. It was as if his thinking was: “Hey, if I could hit 40 home runs in a season, I’d have done that last year.” Go to work, help the team, go home. Come back tomorrow and do the same.

Murray’s simmering feud with the media never cooled. He went 0-for-21 after that Dick Young story appeared in the World Series, and he heard people question his heart, and I guess he didn’t see any value in opening himself up to that world. He did not entirely shut off the media the way Steve Carlton did, but he rarely talked, and when he did he rarely said anything, and some reporters responded by describing him as surly and angry. This made him talk less, which made them write about his surliness more, which made him talk less.

In 1986, according to Cal Ripken’s book “The Only Way I Know,” Murray was upset when the team made it public that he was buying seats for kids as a way to give back to the community. He had wanted that (and all his generosity) kept quiet. Then he was upset when a private conversation he’d had with GM Hank Peters about getting contact lenses made it into the papers. This led to a lot of people making a lot of jokes about Eddie Murray’s eyesight.

“I found out,” Murray would say, “there are a lot of ugly people out there.”

Things were simmering. Then they boiled over. Owner Edward Bennett Williams was quoted saying that Murray needed to get in better shape. This was a direct shot at his professionalism, and that was too much. Williams apologized, and Ripken says the quotes were made off-the-record. But Murray wanted out of Baltimore. And soon after, he was traded to his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers.

Murray was a different player after he left Baltimore, more up and down. He hit just .247 and slugged .401 for the Dodgers his first year. The next, he hit .330, almost won his first batting title and slugged .520. He hit 27 homers and drove in 100 RBIs for the Mets in 1993, then had a .302 on-base percentage the next year for Cleveland, then hit .323/.375/.516 as a 39-year-old for the first Indians team in 40 years to reach the World Series.

But even if age and weariness made him less steady, he kept producing, kept adding to those career totals, and when he finished his career he had 504 home runs, 3,255 hits, more RBis (1,917) than any switch-hitter, more games played (3,026) than any first baseman and more sacrifice flies (128) than any player since they’ve began counting them in 1954.

He did all this even though he never hit more than 33 homers in a season, never approached 200 hits in a season, never drove in 125 RBis and never actually led the league in sacrifice flies. Murray’s great career was done day-by-day, waves beating against the shore, never a moment of celebration for himself. He never won an MVP but was an MVP candidate annually.

His public silence lasted his whole career and left many with the impression that Eddie Murray was hard to deal with. This is how too many people filled the silence. Murray he was almost universally loved and admired and even held in awe by his teammates.

“He didn’t care to give up his little secrets,” Mike Flanagan would say about him. “He was the best clutch hitter that I saw during the decade we played together.”

95 thoughts on “No. 64: Eddie Murray

  1. robert magee

    Murray actually had the highest BA in MLB the year he hit .330. Willie McGee, who won the NL battling title, was traded to A’s and hit just .287 for them. that brought his overall ave below Murray. Brett hit .329 in AL. great trivia question in there.

    National Lampoon had a recurring character called Red Ruffinsore who wrote a sports column based on Dick Young

    finally, loved the “Great Gatsby” reference.

    Reply
  2. Michael Green

    I believe it was Jim Murray who said that Murray was one of only two players he ever knew Vin Scully to dislike, the other being Mike Marshall, and I can tell you from listening to the broadcasts that you never would have known it. Murray unfortunately tarred the entire media with Dick Young’s brush, so to speak. But, that said, I think of the stories about how the professorial-looking Greg Maddux was a clubhouse lunatic. Image doesn’t matter so much as production. Eddie Murray truly was steady and did his job incredibly well, and so he should be remembered.

    I am reminded of the time that he was giving umpire Durwood Merrill grief. Earl Weaver came out and said, “Durwood, you cannot throw a player of this caliber out of the game!” Durwood replied, “In that case, Earl, let me try for a manager.” Also, the Orioles kept a list of who Weaver loved and hated each week, and Murray used to complain all the time–good-naturedly–because he was always Weaver’s favorite. That says a lot.

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  3. Blake

    When Murray was finally traded from the Orioles, they immediately got better, even though they hadn’t replaced his bat.

    There were stories at the time in Baltimore about how malevolent his clubhouse leadership had become. He was the unquestioned top dog in the Baltimore clubhouse — Ripken was the friendly, quiet guy — and he was always angry.

    A story I remember is that a new columnist for the Baltimore Sun or Washington Post, I forget which, wrote that when he showed up in spring training for the first time, Floyd Rayford told him he better change his shirt. “Eddie’s not going to like it,” Rayford said.

    It’s a shame that Murray had to be such an angry man. I remember the Dick Young column, and I also remember the O’s losing that series in 7 games when Murray stopped hitting. It’s all a shame, he was such a talented guy, and a sensitive one. But, please see the first sentence.

    Reply
    1. Karyn

      This sounds an awful lot like what Joe was talking about–that Murray got ripped in the press mostly because he didn’t want to talk to the press.

      Joe also says, “(H)e was almost universally loved and admired and even held in awe by his teammates.” That doesn’t sound like a guy who was always angry. Maybe he *seemed* angry to reporters, which is different.

      In 1988, the Orioles’ 2B, LF, and DH could not hit worth a lick. Their pitching staff was definitely subpar as well. In 1989, the new 1B OPS+ed 144. The everyday 2B and DH improved, and the new guy in left hit very well. The pitching rotation improved, and the bullpen took a huge leap forward. You can’t pin that on Murray’s departure.

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    2. Anon

      How could you post something so easily back checked – the Orioles had winning records from his rookie year through 1985, then a couple down years has last couple years and then improved all the way to. . . .a whopping 87, 76 and 67 wins the first 3 years after he left. Yeah, they really soared all the way to the upper echelon there.

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    3. Mark Daniel

      In ’88, the O’s pitching staff was last in the league in just about everything, with a team ERA+ of 86. The next year they improved to middle of the pack (#8 in team ERA). I suppose Eddie Murray’s anger caused the pitching staff to perform terribly.

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    4. David S

      Having lived in Maryland, I followed the O’s zealously since the mid-70s. I listened to Jon Miller, Mel Procter, John Lowenstein. I read the Baltimore Sun and WaPo. While I well knew about the Murray-press feud, I never once heard a teammate, coach, nor Weaver or Altobelli or Cal Sr. ever express anything but the highest regard for Murray’s character and sportsmanship. Not even Jim Palmer, who was never shy about expressing his opinion.

      What I remember is that, on the heels of the 21 game losing streak to open 1988, the press ran Murray out of town. The O’s replaced Murray with Randy Milligan and David Segui, leaving no real protection in the line-up for Cal. Finally, in 1992 the front office tried to properly replace Murray…and pulled the trigger on one of the worst trades in MLB history. Glenn Davis gave the O’s 185 games over three seasons, and a combined 22 HR and 85 RBI. For that, the O’s gave away Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling.

      Perhaps some semblance of an explanation for your accounts could be here: I read how Frank Robinson as team captain was a tough leader. His kangaroo courts were said to be especially so. But Frank and Eddie were enforcers of the “Oriole Way”. While Cal was less of a demonstrative leader, he was no less an ardent follower of the Oriole Way, and an enforcer by example. So, is it possible some teammate along the way described Murray as “malevolent.” Sure. But if it was a prevalent condition it would not be hard to find documentation for that, outside of media ax-grinding. (There are plenty of former teammates of Barry Bonds who are all too glad to describe what a jerk he was, and his dad for that matter.)

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    5. Bookbook

      When the M’s finally replaced Griffey and A-Rod (and Randy Johnson), they immediately won 116 games. I guess it does take a team of 25 guys, after all.

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    1. denopac

      Underrated based on what exactly? First ballot HoFer, RoY, 8 time AS, 8 times top 10 MVP, 3 GG. I’d say he got his fair share of recognition while he was playing.

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  4. Rick Talisman

    The Orioles had a winning record in each of Eddie Murray’s first nine seasons, going to the World Series twice and winning once. Eddie was an unquestioned leader on those teams, beloved in the clubhouse, and he only missed about 33 games in nine years. While I don’t hold Eddie blameless for his sulky attitude after Edward Bennett Williams accused him in 1986 of not getting back in shape quickly enough after the first trip to the DL of Eddie’s career, he had every right to be mad about that episode. Prior to then, he was frosty with reporters but beloved in the clubhouse. I have little doubt that the clubhouse was negatively affected by his demeanor from that incident in 1986 to 1988 when he was traded. At the same time, that was just a very bad team. The ’89 Orioles made a near-miracle run with a lineup full of new faces — Randy Milligan replaced Eddie, but that team also had significant contributions from Craig Worthington, Phil Bradley, Mike Devereaux, Steve Finley and Bob Melvin, none of whom were on the ’88 team, as well as several new pitchers. So, it is not as simple as saying the team got better when Eddie left. They changed a lot of players, had one good year, then reverted to being a bad team for a couple more years. Murray was traded back to the O’s in mid-1996 and played a key role in getting them back to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. Most Oriole fans have forgiven Eddie for his 2+ year “dark period” and he is remembered as a great Oriole who played a key role on many great Oriole teams.

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  5. obsessivegiantscompulsive

    This was a wonderful article, par for the course, for an excellent writer. Thank you, I greatly enjoyed reading about Murray, who I didn’t know much about, other than the general specifics of his career and that his brother had played for the Giants (and we could have used an Eddie Murray level player then….).

    Keep up the good work, and hope you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

    Reply
  6. bellweather22

    Two players, both Firstbasemen:

    Player A – .287/.359/.476; OPS+ 129; WAR 68.2; DWAR -12.8 (21 Seasons)
    Player B – .292/.378/.534; OPS+ 156; WAR 58.7; DWAR -16.5 (15 Seasons)

    Player A is Eddie Murray. Player B is Dick Allen.

    Murray has that narrative going… 500 HRs, most HRs by a switch hitter, etc. But his peak was very low. 7.0 WAR was his best season. If you take out the narrative & the counting numbers gathered over a 21 season career, and just look at his advanced stats, at best, he’s a borderline HOFer. He didn’t even fight first base to a draw. He was a demonstrably terrible fielder. Certainly not the 64th best player of all time. The case isn’t there and it isn’t because the sportswriters didn’t like him.

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    1. denopac

      Sorry to nitpick, but I think you meant most RBIs by a switch hitter. The switch hitting home run king will come much later in the series.

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    2. Brent

      Bellweather22:

      Isn’t there a positional adjustment to dWAR, making it nearly impossible for any 1Bman to have a positive dWAR? For instance, Don Mattingly, he of the 9 Gold Gloves, had a career -6.8 dWAR

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      1. JeffSol

        There must be. Keith Hernandez, widely regarded as the best defensive 1B ever, has a career dWAR of .6. Also, the peak comment is true, but that’s not who Murray was, as Joe describes. On the other hand, because of the consistency, Murray’s prime is strong. If the 1981 strike wouldn’t have happened, Murray would have averaged over 5.0 WAR for a 10 year period. I think Allen has a legit argument as well, but just because. Murray never had THAT year, he was consistently excellent for a decade.

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        1. Cuban X Senators

          Right, Murray’s accumulating a lot of negative dWAR by playing a lot at a position where it’s almost unavoidable to have negative dWAR. If you factor playing time, Pete O’Brien was better, Keith Hernandez, Wally Joyner and then you really can’t pick out anyone of his era who fielded the position better than Murray.

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      2. bellweather22

        I didn’t realize this. The only first basemen if could find with positive dWAR were Keith Hernandez, Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols. JT Snow managed to post a zero. But still neither Murray nor Allen’s defensive numbers resemble decent.

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  7. Brent

    Karyn: Are you suggesting that dumping Eddie’s attitude wasn’t worth 33 games in the standings, as intimated by the original poster? Now, I will say that the new LF (Phil Bradley) was indirectly there because of Murray’s departure (he came from the Phillies in a trade that involved one of the players the Orioles had just got from the Dodgers in the Murray trade) and the new 1Bman (Milligan) obviously was playing 1B because Eddie was gone. But yeah, it was really the improvement in the pitching, especially the bullpen (led by rookie Gregg Olsen) that led to the 33 game improvement.

    Totally agree with your supposition that it was the perception of reporters that he was angry that was fed to the fans, which may not have accorded with the realities of the locker room.

    Reply
    1. Karyn

      Yes, I am suggesting exactly that. If the rest of the team was so hampered by Murray’s attitude that getting rid of him was the major reason for them having a 33-game upswing the next season–they were a bunch of middle school girls, and not professional ballplayers.

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  8. bellweather22

    The Top 100 posting pace has slowed considerably. We’re 37 Days in and Joe has posted 37 players. One per day. Originally I was forecasting a late Feb completion date base on Joe’s initial pace of greater than 1.5 per day. Now, the pace currently projects a March 15 completion date. Mid spring training.

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  9. RandomGuy (@RandomGuyStuff)

    Sidenote: Dr. Charles Steinberg is actually a fascinating baseball story Joe. Not sure by this piece if you’ve ever met him, but I had the opportunity to hear him speak to a small crowd at school a few years back. He apparently worked for the Orioles as a kid, and then went to dental school. That didn’t take and he went back to the Orioles. He was instrumental in the Orioles organization and the revitalization of the city where Camden is. He then went on to the Padres and again played a big role there. In fact he brought on a young Theo Epstein while with the Padres and he supposedly convinced Theo to not only go to law school, but also make sure that he spent time with the scouting department. When Steinberg was hired by the Red Sox, he brought Theo along with him… He seems like the Forrest Gump of baseball.

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  10. otistaylor89

    This is a joke, right? Eddie Murray the 64th Greatest Player Ever? In any league?
    I don’t get it. He was a very good player for a long time, but he didn’t exactly strike me as being one of the best 10 players in baseball at any time while he played.
    I know it’s a popularity contest, but he started one All-Star game in his career. For most of his prime his team was pretty mediocre and he didn’t really raise the level of play any higher.
    I just don’t get people’s fascination with this guy.

    Reply
    1. Gareth Owen

      He retired with the 8th most RBIs ever, and 16th most homers, and top 30 runs scored.

      He was a top 5 MVP 5 straight years. I think that’s a compelling case for being one of the best 10 active players any of those years.

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      1. otistaylor89

        He also played in the 6th most games, had the 6th most ABs, the 7th most plate appearances in MLB history.Look at the years outside the 5 years he was in the Top 5 in AL MVP voting and I see a lot of “meh”. He played almost every game for a long time and that will get you a lot of RBIs, runs, hits and HRs, but it doesn’t make you a superstar – something I would expect to see at #64.

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        1. Guest

          @Otis Taylor: it’s possible that you have the causation precisely backwards, that having lots of those stats allows you to play all those games for all of that time.

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          1. bellweather22

            Mmmmmm no. Durability caused him to get all the games and ABs…. Which allowed him to compile lots of good counting numbers. But, the advanced metrics aren’t so kind as I pointed out in an earlier post.

            Nobody has said he wasn’t a good player. Nobody has even said he’s not a HOFer. He’s just not close to the 64th best player all time.

          2. Guest

            @bellweather22 that’s right. and had Bob Hamelin only been more “durable” he would have been given more PAs and reached , eg, 3000 hits and 500 HRs.

          3. otistaylor89

            The man played over 20 years, with probably 7 very good to great years. I’ve seen enough of Miguel Cabrara to believe Eddie Murray shouldn’t be in the same conversation as him and he’s well down the list. Actually, I would McCovey and even Cepada over Murray, a guy who was never a dominate player like the others.
            Maybe it’s just me….

          4. Guest

            @Otis Taylor: But McCovey and even Cepada “played almost every game for a long time” so probably it’s unfair to list them, too. True HOFers should be able to get 3000 hits and 500 home runs in seven seasons or less, otherwise they just seem like compilers to me. It’s why Jerome Walton’s 1989 Upper Deck card is the only unanimous member of the HOF.

  11. Geoff

    I realize we’re no longer permitted to question the merits of any of Joe’s selections, but the selection of Murray, particularly this high, is somewhat baffling. How can Palmeiro be ranked 18th on the current HOF ballot, below Joe’s stated cutoff line (bet. McGwire and McGriff), but rank Murray as the 64th greatest player in history? Murray and Palmeiro are extremely similar to each other, close enough that it’s easy to make a case for either as the better player. I think the primary reason Murray fared better in the MVP voting was simply that voters in the 80′s were even more HR/RBI focused than they are now, as their best seasons are quite comparable and neither really had an exceptional peak. I made my predictions for the remaining 69 players, which included 64 locks and another 27 maybes, in the Duke Snider comments. The maybes included Frank Thomas and Jim Thome, both of whom I think are a notch above Murray.

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    1. wordyduke

      I guess I missed the part that says commenters can’t question Joe’s opinions. But it was brave of you to go ahead and question this placement of Eddie Murray anyway.

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      1. Geoff

        I was being facetious, as there seems to be an uproar (along with a reminder that WAR isn’t everything) every time someone writes anything that conflicts with Joe’s rankings.

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    2. Matt

      I think all of these comparisons to Palmeiro, coupled with complaints of Eddie’s placement (and selection at all), are really bizarre considering the usual brilliance of Joe’s readership. Yes, both guys have comparable rate & counting stats, but keep in mind the MASSIVE gap in the run-scoring environment across the leagues during Murray’s 10 peak years (≈’77-’87) and Palmeiro’s (≈’88-’98), not to mention the fact that half the games played during Murray’s peak were in Memorial Stadium, which was MUCH more pitcher-friendly than either OPACY or Arlington were during Palmeiro’s peak.

      And this is impossible to know for certain, but I think most people assume Murray played his whole career without using (steroid/non-amphetamine) PEDs, while we know for a fact that Palmeiro used (knowingly or not) at least once.

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      1. Geoff

        Matt, I’m not sure how to even respond to that post, except to say that Palmeiro’s career OPS is 50 points higher than Murray’s, so clearly calling them extremely similar requires some adjustment for context. I’m just going to repost something Joe wrote a few weeks ago, which I think is especially relevant here:

        “There is nothing like a good baseball argument. But to have a good baseball argument, you need both sides to bring with them at least a beginner’s idea of what the argument is about. I remember when I was doing all sorts of work comparing Dan Quisenberry and Bruce Sutter — I mean, I broke them down game-by-game, inning by inning, it took me weeks and weeks, dozens of spreadsheets — and at the end people would email me by saying: Did you happen to notice that Sutter had more saves than Quiz? … Really? Saves? Why didn’t I think of that?

        That’s what this is like. Sabermetricians are spending countless hours breaking down the game, developing theories, testing those theories, improving their stats, finding boxscores from every game for 100 years, going through millions of play-by-plays, probing every premise … and then someone comes along and says, “Hey, you know, they scored more runs in 1995 than in 1968, you might want to consider that.” That doesn’t help.”

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  12. bl

    This is exactly why I love this series. Eddie Murray played right during my prime youth watching years and I never gave him his due. Of course, being from Boston, he would never be as great as Jim Ed. But obviously he was better, longer. I wouldn’t rank Murray 64th, but so what, I’m happy to read the story. You rank ‘em, I’ll read ‘em; agree or disagree I’ll smile and learn something.

    Reply
    1. Pedeyrules

      I’m also a Boston fan and I seem to remember Murray hitting a two run double almost every game. I also love this series and enjoy most of the comments. I just wish we were all sitting in a bar watching a game while arguing over who was better, Jim Ed or Murray.

      Reply
  13. Herb Smith

    My favorite “Murray brothers” story is about how they used to play baseball in their garage with bottle caps. Obviously there was some reason for the success they had; one bro went to Triple A, another made the bigs, and Eddie was a first-ballot HOFer.

    Eddie said that after years of trying to hit spinning bottle caps, squaring up a baseball wasn’t so tough.

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  14. Anon

    the line about 3,000 hits without approaching 200 in a season had me curious. The lowest single season hit totals for 3,000 hit players:
    Rickey 179
    Murray 186
    Cap Anson 187 (who shouldn’t count since he did it in a 125 game season)
    Yaz 191
    Winfield 193

    I blew through those pretty quick so correct me if there are errors. Everyone else had at least 1 season over 200 hits. Murray had between 171-186 hits an astounding 12 times (& it would have been 13 in 1981 but for the strike)

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  15. R. Mutt

    Related but tangential: If you fielded a team comprised solely of players who had 0 WARs for the season, how many games would the team be expected to win?

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    1. Jake Bucsko

      I forget now, but there are actually a couple teams in baseball history that have a collective team WAR that is in the negative. Two of them were Philadelphia Athletics teams from the 40s or 50s, I think.

      The 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks came pretty close. Their team oWAR was 0.1, and their team pitching WAR was 5.9…but Randy Johnson had an 8.5 by himself. Basically the 04 DBacks were a AAA team plus the Unit.

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    2. Mark Daniel

      It’s actually around 48 wins. Fangraphs and Baseball Reference recently came to an agreement that a replacement level team would have a .294 winning pct, and this is now true for both sites.

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  16. Rick R

    As all those sac flies suggest, Murray was one of the greatest situational hitters in baseball history. If you needed a fly ball, he would give it to you. If you needed a single, he would go for that. He tried to drive the ball when the opportunity presented itself. He didn’t strike out much, and as a switch-hitter, it was hard to get good match ups against him. That’s why people who treat RBIs like some sort of phony stat get me aggravated. All those 100 RBI seasons didn’t just fall into Murray’s lap. He earned them with consistently professional at-bats. If I absolutely needed a run, there isn’t a hitter I’d rather have up at the plate with a man on third and less than two outs than Eddie Murray.

    He certainly was surly towards the media though. I remember a rare on-field interview he gave after reaching some sort of milestone, and even when you tried to compliment him he took it badly. Whether that infected clubhouses is hard to say, but he was a key player on a lot of good teams, including 3 that went to the World Series, so it couldn’t have been too bad.

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    1. bellweather22

      I love players with clutchiness. Oh, and grittiness. Gotta have that too. Oh, and magicians with the bat who know exactly what kind of hit to deliver and to what field in every situation. What’s a guy like this doing out of the top 10?

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      1. Guest

        That’s hilarious. You mock “clutchiness” and “grittiness” but above you say that Murray achieved his statistics because of “durability.” So I guess that means if David Eckstein had been born with “durability” rather than “grittiness” he would have surely been a first ballot HOFer!

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        1. Karyn

          I’ll mock clutchiness and grittiness. Murray’s a Hall of Famer, all right, but not because some perceived ability to hit better in clutch situations.

          Reply
          1. Guest

            I agree. But he’s also not a HOFer because of “durability” — that word is used by the unthinking just as is clutchiness and grittiness. Jeff Francoeur could play for 40 seasons — some kind of durabilitiness record — and he would not amass 3000 hits or 500 home runs.

        2. buddaley

          I think you are oversimplifying the point. Nobody is saying that his excellent record is due entirely to longevity or durability. He accumulated terrific numbers because he was a terrific ball player.

          The point is that durability was a factor. Don’t compare him to Eckstein or Francouer. Of course they would not compare. But, for example, suppose Hank Greenberg had the same longevity and durability? Or DiMaggio? Don’t you think either might have accumulated the same totals?

          In my view, durability is a skill, and Murray should be credited with it as a plus. But that does not mean that his “greatness” is in the same category-or of the same nature-as those players who were less durable but more productive on a season to season basis.

          Reply
        3. bellweather22

          Murray played more than 150 games all but three years up through his age 40 season. One of those three years he played 137 games. That led him to have the 6th most at bats in MLB history and helped him compile some very nice counting stats. So I just quantified durability for you.

          If you want to use my prior comment, then be honest that I also wasn’t debating that he was a HOFer or the implication that durability without talent wouldn’t alone create good counting stats. I was just debating that he should be ranked this high…. Especially based on advanced stats which rank him well below non HOFer Dick Allen….who won’t even sniff this list.

          So, now it’s your turn to quantify Murray’s clutchiness and grittiness.

          Reply
          1. Guest

            Yes. And the reason Bob Hamelin didn’t play in more than 150 games all but three years up through age 40 is because Bob lacked durabilitiness. He had fetching eyewear though. He didn’t lack in eyeweariness.

          2. Guest

            One more about longevitiness. The season that Eddie Murrary hit his 500th homer run — age 40 season, mind you, when players are nothing but “compilers” — he ended the season with 22 home runs. Seems pretty pedestrian, right? But look at the Royals. The team has been around for 45 years. In those 45 years, there have been 24 players in team history who have hit 22 or more home runs in a season while playing for the Royals. Granted, those 24 did it on 53 occasions (54 if you count the year Dean Palmer hit 22 spread across two teams.). But still, Eddie Murray, at age 40, did something that less than 8% of all Royals players who have had at least 22 PAs have ever done. The point being: You are giving way too much credit to longevitiness.

            And yes, here is the list, in no particular order, number in parenthesis being the number of time they hit 22 or more home runs.

            tartabull (3)
            mayberry (5)
            frank white (2)
            hal mcrae (1)
            amos otis (2)
            sweeney (5)
            brett (7)
            beltran (4)
            balboni (4)
            billy butler (1)
            bo (4)
            alex gordon (1)
            willie akins (1)
            dye (3)
            gaetti (1)
            raul ibanez (1)
            jeff king (1)
            bob oliver (1)
            al cowens (1)
            dean palmer (1)*
            hamelin (1)
            miguel olivo (1)
            craig paquette (1)
            chili davis (1)

            *he hit 22+ another year while with the royals but total was split between
            two teams

      2. Rick R

        Mike Flanagan, a smart pitcher who only played with him every day for a decade, said he he was the best clutch hitter he ever saw. He is the all-time leader in sacrifice flies. He has the 10th most RBI’s of any player in history despite never hitting more than 33 homers in a season. It was because he was not only a good hitter, he was a smart hitter. If there was a runner on third with less than two out, he knew what to do. He didn’t whiff. He hit it in the air. He got the guy home. If you’re down by two late in the game and you need baserunners, you want to hit a single, you shorten up your stroke and try to hit it on a line. If you want to drive the ball—maybe because there’s runners on—you know what pitches in what situations and against what pitchers you can unload on and take a big swing with more of an uppercut. Not every hitter—not even every great hitter—has this ability. He was no defensive whiz or daring baserunner, but Murray was a pro’s pro at the plate, and just parroting “there’s no such thing as clutch hitting” without realizing there are endless variables as to what constitutes valuable at bats in different situations that don’t resolve neatly into some stat so you can say Player A is an 8.73 and player B is an 8.72 therefore Player A is clearly superior is the laziest sort of thinking imaginable. If you watched the games—like Mike Flanagan did for 10 years—you would know what we mean when we say that Eddie Murray was a clutch hitter as well as a great hitter. He stayed within himself and tried to do what was needed in a given situation. He didn’t always succeed, but he always had good at-bats. If I wanted a home run, maybe I’d pick Mickey Mantle, but if I needed to drive a runner home from third, I’d pick Eddie Murray every single time.

        Reply
        1. Guest

          Not to get all dark here, but Mike Flanagan committed suicide, so maybe we shouldn’t spend much time here dwelling on his mental impressions.

          Reply
        2. Geoff

          I feel like this is just Poz-baiting, but I can’t help myself.

          Is there any evidence of this mystical skill Murray supposedly had, or was it only visible to Mike Flanigan, hardcore 1980′s Orioles fans, and Murray Chass? I appreciate you conceding that Murray didn’t always succeed in clutch situations, but I was surprised to see when I, you know, checked B-R that Murray performed almost exactly the same in clutch situations as he did the rest of the time.

          I know it’s annoying, but all of the info you need to check stuff like this is available, and if you did, you’d see that it was total bunk. It’s great for people to share different perspectives and contribute to an interesting debate, but anecdotal nonsense about the quality of Murray’s at-bats in clutch situations is just adding noise to the conversation.

          Reply
          1. Rick R

            You’re taking it as a given that people can accurately quantify something as clutch hitting, when there are too many variables to even measure. There are some indicators, like all those sacrifice flies and RBIs, but a clutch hit isn’t really defined by ordinary metrics. Gary Carters bases empty single with two out and the Mets down by 2 in the 9th inning of Game 6 is the embodiment of a clutch hit, but you wouldn’t know it by the stats. Kirk Gibson had one at-bat in the 1988 World Series, but it arguably made him the MVP of that World Series, and is worth a thousand at bats in other situations. Cal Ripken hit a home run on the day he passed Lou Gehrig for the consecutive games record, giving fans all across the country a reason to cheer for something other than Ripken appearing in the line-up—an incredibly clutch hit that will never show up anywhere in the stats.

            Last year’s Miguel Cabrera/Mike Trout debate is the embodiment of the clutch hitting mystique. Mike Trout had the WAR, the VORP, whatever stat you want to name, but had precious few meaningful hits. In the last series against the Rangers, when the Rangers were playing for their playoff lives and the Angels got to have one chance to play in important games by being the spoiler against their arch rivals, the Angels were swept. Trout walked a few times, had some scratch singles (and stat heads love that OBP), but did little else, and in the one chance he had to win a game for the Angels, batting in a tie game in extra innings with a man on third and less than two outs, he popped up. Meanwhile, Cabrera hit home runs in the ninth innings to tie games, home runs in extra innings to win games, including back-to-back games off Mariano RIvera (with one of them coming dramatically after he’d fouled a pair of pitches off his foot and he was hobbled). These were hits that didn’t just win games, they in effect won dozens of games, but giving the team huge psychological lifts and reasons to believe they were never out of a game at any time so long as Cabrera was in their lineup. You can’t possibly judge the magnitude of these at bats by going, Cabrera went 1 for 1. The Tigers rallied around Cabrera all year long in ways that the Angels never did around Trout, even though Trout had a legitimately great year. All those clutch hits by Cabrera were the difference, and the place it ultimately shows up in is the Win/Lost record. Joe had a great post about Barry Larkin having that kind of season for the Reds, even though his WAR wasn’t in the League leaders. Why he or anyone else who watches the games can’t see this because they are mesmerized by some made up number by a statistician is beyond me. Watch the games and THINK FOR YOURSELF.

          2. buddaley

            But there are statistics to measure those clutch hits. Again, nobody is denying the existence of clutch hits. Of course they exist. The issue is whether it is a repeatable skill for some players.

            The evidence for such a concept is weak or non-existent. We should expect excellent hitters to drive in critical runs more often than lesser hitters, and by and large they do. But rarely is there a significant difference between their performance in clutch situations and their overall performance.

            There are some exceptions, even for certain players over a long career. That does give us pause in being absolute in our views, but it does not disprove the likelihood that identifying some players as particularly clutch is built on mythology, not fact.

            Referencing specific examples-anecdotes-is simply irrelevant to any serious discussion. Bucky Dent, and especially Brian Doyle, were weak hitters, but in 1978 each got a series of clutch hits that drove the Yankees to the championship. Doyle hit .438/.438/.500 in that series (and .391/.417/.435 that post-season) while Dent hit .417/.440/.458 in the series and of course hit the home run in the playoff game.

            Meanwhile, Nettles, a far superior hitter to both, hit .160/.160/.160 in the World Series. Does that anecdote tell us anything about the clutch ability of those players? No more than some comparison of Trout and Cabrera down the stretch one year.

          3. Carl

            Hi Geoff,

            There is LOTS of statistical evidence of the mystical “clutch” skill that Murray had and Flanagan witnessed. From BR.com:

            1) Lifetime OPS for E. Murry .836

            High leverage – OPS .872 (i over 2,700 PA, so not a SSS)
            Medium Lev – OPS .843
            Low leverage – OPS .809

            So he hit almost 10% better in high vs low leverage.

            2) By inning – what inning was Murray’s highest OPS? Answer – the 9th.

            3) By month – what was Murray’s best month of hitting over his career? Answer (w a .906) in Sept/Oct.

            Conclusion – Eddie Murray hit better in the clutch than when not in the clutch.

          4. Geoff

            Carl,

            Leaving aside my biggest objection to the clutch hitter myth, which is the idea that someone should be praised for playing to their best abilities only on in key situations rather than criticized for failing to live up to their potential the rest of the time, let’s address these points one at a time:

            <>

            Hitters as a group perform better in high leverage situations, since pitchers are throwing from the stretch and the fact that runners are on base by itself is a negative indicator for the pitcher vs. bases empty. Is that 10% (actually, 9%) actually an anomaly?

            <>

            Actually, it’s tied for highest with…the 1st. And his second lowest OPS was the 8th, while his third lowest OPS is in extra innings. Guess those wouldn’t really count as “clutch.”

            <>

            All players (as a group) do best in Sept/Oct due to talent dilution as a result of injured players getting shut down, more frequent rest, sept. call-ups, etc. This is the reason we see more no-hitters in Sept. than any other month.

            <>

            Conclusion — If you cherry-pick the right stats, you can make them tell any story you want, even if that story doesn’t survive even a slightly more rigorous analysis.

          5. Geoff

            Hmmm…using left and right arrows to highlight Carl’s bullet points seemed to cause some formatting problems. How the heck do you italicize something?

          6. Carl

            Hi Geoff,

            Fascinating give and take here. I enjoy it and hope you do as do the other readers + Joe.

            * Not sure I can agree with you on your point that “hitters as a group do better in Sept/Oct…” – I ran a series of reports in BR.com and in 2013, MLB teams had the lowest OPS in Sept/Oct. In 2012, the lowest was March/April and second lowest was Sept/Oct. In 2011, highest was August and second highest was Sept/Oct. In 2010, Sept/Oct was the lowest.

            * Also not sure about the high leverage comment, wherein you say “all hitters do better in high leverage”, or why high leverage would be statistically different than medium leverage. Higher leverage tends to mean men on base, but it also means the opponent’s closer tends to be on the mound, and closers’ era’s are lower than middle relievers and average starters (otherwise they wouldn’t be closers),

          7. Geoff

            Agreed…I love discussions like this.

            I should have been more clear in my first point…the overall league performance doesn’t change much in Sept./Oct., but since the overall level of play is lower the best players tend to perform better and stand out more relative to the league.

            High leverage may include situations in which a closer is on the mound, but it also includes many situations (7th, 8th, extra innings) in which a team’s worst relievers are on the mound. I don’t actually know how this comes out in the wash, but it’s not obvious to me that on average you’re facing higher quality opposition in higher leverage situations.

            One thing that’s worth noting is that being a switch-hitter is especially valuable in the context of modern relief pitcher usage. A comparison of Murray and Palmeiro highlights this, as Murray was able to play at what I would describe as his normal level of excellence in the 9th inning, while Palmeiro was at his worst, most likely because he was facing lots of situational lefties.

  17. Cuban X Senators

    It’s funny to see the evolution in perception of Murray. In 1985 he was thought to be the thinking fan’s MVP candidate. (Power and walks!) The first time I read about clutch hitting being a myth it was a Bill James article (in Sport Magazine? maybe Inside Sports) in the early 80s. He said (in a quote I’ve since heard a dozen times about ten different players) clutch hitting doesn’t exist, unless with Eddie Murray.

    Clutchiness was actually part of what Murray was appreciated for between his rookie season and the end of the Oriole dynasty. . . and it was actual. At least in so much as this: He stepped it up every September. (You could look it up.)

    Was it replicable? Was it a skill? It doesn’t appear to be for most mortals. But Murray’s record is/was his record, and it helped him in MVP votes, it gained him appreciation, it added some mystique. And then it happened again the next year.

    My favorite Eddie Murray fact is that during those years of “Dallas” being huge he wore a necklace with a “JR” on it. Asked what it meant, he said “just regular.”

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      Clutchiness in Sept. I looked it up and Sept indeed was Murray’s best month. So, is that clutchiness showing itself, or something else? Well, another thing to notice is that April was Murray’s worst month and each month after either was equal or better than the prior month. July was better than June, August was better than July and Sept was better than August. So, is that clutchiness or some other factor that led Murray to play better as the season progressed? Was he out of playing shape in April and progressively improved through the season? Was his durability a factor, where most players were wearing down while Murray did not? I don’t know, but assigning clutchiness as the root cause to consistently better Septembers is pretty sketchy.

      Other measures of clutchiness:

      Overall: .287/.359/.476
      RISP: .292/.392/.497
      2 Outs RISP: .262/.391/.464
      Late/Close: .282/.371/.494
      High Leverage: .294/.365/.507

      Not bad…. But I see more consistency in those situations rather than clutchiness. Maybe he choked less than other players, I don’t know. But clutchiness?

      Reply
      1. invitro

        Interesting. Aren’t Weaver’s Baltimore teams noted for the same thing… a steadily improving team, with a dynamite September record?

        Reply
  18. Mike G

    When I first saw that Murray was ranked here, I was in agreement with Joe…I remember him from the early 80s and he was definitely considered one of the top batsman in the game. But just a little bit of investigation shows that he was the original Palmeiro. These guys are the nearest comps to each other for a reason – both rank about the same in WAR and Grey Ink. Murray probably had a better peak, but Palmeiro was better for longer.

    It would have been interesting to see how Palmeiro would have fared had the PED question not been out there.

    Reply
  19. invitro

    Murray clearly doesn’t belong this high, and probably not in the top 100 at all. But like Killebrew and Greenberg, and well, just about everyone else, this ranking agrees with Bill James’ ranking. James had Murray at #61, and the ESPN 100 had him at #65.

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      And that’s odd to me. The guys who love advanced stats the most seem to disregard them when it comes to Murray. Some sort of narrative is in play, I just don’t know what it is. Durability? Consistency? Clutchiness? Earl Weaver liked him? Not sure.

      Reply
  20. JimV

    There have been many discussions about clutchiness just in Joe’s various blogs. If I remember one of the more comprehensive ones, the general concensus was that being “clutch” wasn’t a measurable skill, but in fact it meant that someone was consistently good whether the situation was high or low leverage. Simply saying that if you were a .300 hitter, you would be a .300 hitter in the first inning and the bases empty and a .300 hitter in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game with a runner on second. You don’t shy away from big situations and they don’t overwhelm you. Seems to me this is exactly what Murray’s career stats show (and the opposite of someone like ARod for example) – he wasn’t Willie Mays or Babe Ruth, but if you needed someone to put a ball in play or drive in a run, he was as consistent as anyone at doing it very well. Does that put him in the top 100 players of all time? I don’t know, but I will just enjoy reading the posts.

    Reply
    1. buddaley

      The reference to Rodriguez is inaccurate. Look at his splits, and you will see in most kinds of “clutch” situations his performance was in line with his overall greatness. It is true that in 2 out/RISP his numbers, while good, are worse than overall. And somewhat true also about late and close situations. But in tie games, in 1 run games and in high leverage situations, his numbers are about the same or slightly better than overall.

      Interesting too that in the 9th inning he has his worst numbers (.836 OPS) but in extra innings his numbers are better than overall (.946 OPS).

      Reply
  21. Patrick Hogue

    Here is my ranking of 1B/DHs. I don’t have a full top 100 but I’d guess that McCovey is the last guy from this list to make my 100.

    1 Lou Gehrig
    2 Albert Pujols
    3 Jimmie Foxx
    4 Jeff Bagwell
    5 Johnny Mize
    6 Hank Greenberg
    7 Frank Thomas
    8 Willie McCovey
    9 Jim Thome
    10 Eddie Murray

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      This is a solid list, as long as you’ve decided to ignore 19th century players entirely, but if Kid Nichols makes Joe’s list, there really isn’t any justification for leaving Anson (and perhaps others) off it.

      Reply
      1. Patrick Hogue

        Geoff, my informal cutoff is 1893 when they moved the mound to its current distance. I also think the the quality prior to that was probably quite a bit lower. So I include guys like Nichols and Delahanty but heavily discount guys like Old Hoss, Keefe, Brouthers and Anson.

        Reply
  22. hardy callcott

    One of the most impressive home runs I ever saw was by Eddie Murray against Roger Clemens in Clemens’ MVP season in 86. Dead center field, probably never went more than 12 feet off the ground the whole way. It was a laser beam – may have been the hardest-hit ball I ever saw.

    Reply
  23. hardy callcott

    Btw, Murray won three Gold Gloves at first (I know not always the best evaluation of fielding), and was consistently in the top two or three in fielding percentage and putouts. He was average at going to his right on grounders – but Baltimore had great middle infielders so they didn’t ask him to do that. He fielded foul ground very well; every year he got a few line drives that would have been over other first basemen’s heads as doubles, and – most important – he was excellent at digging out errant throws from other infielders. Lots of those would have gotten by (say) Boog Powell, and they account for Murray’s great putout numbers.

    Reply
  24. Murray: Present

    Just because Murray had outstanding longevity (which by the way is a good thing) doesn’t mean his peak is somehow lacking.

    From 1978-1986, among MLB first basemen who qualified for the batting title, Murray ranked 2nd, 5th, 4th, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 3rd in OPS+ and rarely missed a game. He also ranked 2nd in 1990.

    From 1981-1985, he was second in baseball in OPS+ trailing only Mike Schmidt.

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      I think this discussion has gotten a bit out of hand, as I’m pretty sure that *nobody* here is arguing that Murray wasn’t a great player. He had several MVP-type seasons and was very good for a long time. I would say he’s sort of the offensive equivalent of Tom Glavine.

      The question is really around whether he’s one of the top 100 players of all-time. I’m pretty sure no one would have strongly objected to him being ranked 98th, but being ranked this high (given the first 36 selections and those already ranked higher than Murray) means that some really great player is getting left off the list. We obviously don’t know who it will be, but I know that I would have no trouble with 62 players that I’d rank higher than Murray. To wit:

      Hank Aaron
      Pete Alexander
      Cap Anson
      Jeff Bagwell
      Ernie Banks
      Johnny Bench
      Wade Boggs
      Barry Bonds
      George Brett
      Rod Carew
      Steve Carlton
      Gary Carter
      Oscar Charleston
      Roger Clemens
      Roberto Clemente
      Ty Cobb
      Eddie Collins
      Joe DiMaggio
      Jimmy Foxx
      Lou Gehrig
      Bob Gibson
      Josh Gibson
      Ken Griffey Jr.
      Lefty Grove
      Rickey Henderson
      Rogers Hornsby
      Chipper Jones
      Al Kaline
      Babe Ruth
      Randy Johnson
      Walter Johnson
      Al Kaline
      Nap Lajoie
      Greg Maddux
      Mickey Mantle
      Pedro Martinez
      Eddie Mathews
      Christy Mathewson
      Willie Mays
      Joe Morgan
      Stan Musial
      Mel Ott
      Albert Pujols
      Phil Niekro
      Mel Ott
      Satchel Paige
      Cal Ripken
      Frank Robinson
      Jackie Robinson
      Alex Rodriguez
      Ivan Rodriguez
      Pete Rose
      Mike Schmidt
      Tom Seaver
      Warren Spahn
      Tris Speaker
      Frank Thomas
      Honus Wagner
      Ted Williams
      Carl Yastrzemski
      Cy Young
      Robin Yount

      There are a bunch of other guys I could add, including Yogi/Piazza, Feller/Koufax, Niekro (the most underrated player ever IMO), etc.

      Here’s the way I look at these rankings: If I’m a Major League GM with a 20-year guaranteed contract and there’s a franchise draft with every player in baseball history available, what would my pref list look like (assuming players would perform roughly the same relative to their peers). There’s no way I’d take Murray’s career over any of the guys listed above, and I think it’s marginal whether he’d even make the top 100.

      Reply
  25. AJ

    Murray batted .399 with the bases loaded for his CAREER! Some of you naysayers are obsessed with this WAR crap when you had to see him play to appreciate his greatness. Like some said, he was as good a situational hitter as there has ever been. The Sporting News did a piece in 1985 about how pitchers rated him by far the most feared hitter in baseball. Murray didn’t hit cheap homers, he hit ones that mattered. He drove the ball where the Orioles needed him to. He also was a great clubhouse man. Always took in rookies and call-ups in his house and taught them. One of the smartest players ever whom Reggie Jackson once said, “he makes me proud to be a cleanup hitter.” Also, in 1983 when Cal Ripken won the AL MVP (O’s also won the WS that year), Murray got 24 of 25 votes by teammates for O’s MVP. The only vote for Ripken was by Murray. That’s the way he was. You naysayers have absolutely no clue what you are talking about. Seriously, staring at stats don’t tell the whole story, and yet his stats are pretty damn amazing. Take away the strikes and lockouts and he would be the only other player to join Hank Aaron in the 500 HR, 2,000 RBI and 3,000 hit club. So either way, you naysayers are just plain ignorant.

    Reply

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