The Washington Post, April 12, 1977
It’s difficult to properly contextualize the excitement surrounding Matt Wieters’ MLB debut. Perhaps there should be an anticipation statistic, one that factors in draft position, prospect rank, attendance at the player’s first home game, team’s number of consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance and/or number of consecutive losing seasons, available media outlets in existence, etc.
By any measure, the Wieters debut would be at or near the top of Baltimore’s “Notable O’s debuts.” This week’s Flashback Friday revisits the Oriole debut of one such notable player, Eddie Murray (see photo 4 in the “Notable O’s” linked gallery).
As evidenced in Tom Boswell’s writing (excerpted above), it’s fair to say the expectations for Murray weren’t the same as they are for Wieters.
The Orioles drafted Murray in the third round of the 1973 amateur draft and signed him on July 1 of that year. After four minor league seasons divided between the Bluefield (1973), Miami (1974), Asheville (1974 and 1975), and Charlotte and Rochester (1976), Murray started his Hall of Fame career in Baltimore on April 7, 1977, before 31,307 fans at Memorial Stadium.
Murray, batting from the five spot, finished the day 1-for-4, with a seventh inning infield single off of Bert Blyleven. He struck out once in a game that Jim Palmer and the Orioles lost to the Rangers 2-1 in 10 innings. Think the game was different back then? Consider that both starting pitchers tossed all 10 innings.
Murray’s first home run came seven games later during a 3-for-4 day that carried the Birds to a 4-3 victory over the Indians. If anyone tells you they were there for Murray’s first home run, ask for proof; only 6,466 fans attended the Monday evening contest at Memorial Stadium.
Murray’s Opening Day performance followed a spring training where he tallied a two-run homer against the Braves (March 18), a sacrifice fly off of Luis Tiant (March 23), and a three home run, six RBI performance against the University of Miami (March 31). During the March 18 Braves game Murray became the ninth player – in what was then a 27-year history – to hit a ball over Miami’s center-field fence.
Texas swept the Birds to open the ’77 season, but Baltimore took seven of its next eight, including a six-game winning streak, to right the ship. Overall, the team won 97 games to tie Boston for second in the AL East, 2.5 games behind the Yankees. Ninety-seven wins weren’t enough to qualify for the playoffs much less win the sizable division.
For his part, Murray played 160 games in 1977, the third most in the American League, with 611 at-bats, the league’s ninth-highest total. Murray used those at-bats to tally a .283 batting average with 27 home runs and 88 RBIs. He was named American League Rookie of the Year, earning 43 percent of the vote to second-place Mitchell Page’s 32 percent of the vote. (Page was out of baseball following the 1984 season.) Andre Dawson took the National League’s Rookie of the Year award.