BY ROCCO CONSTANTINO
Can a Hall of Famer be underrated? How about a first-ballot Hall of Famer who no one will argue is among the five best power hitting switch hitters to ever play the game? Even when that player is in a club so exclusive that when he joined it, the only other members were Hank Aaron and Willie Mays?
Yes, it is possible for that player to still be underrated. If you haven’t figured it out yet, the player is Eddie Murray and we check in on that stellar accomplishment in this week’s installment of The Stud 400.
Murray got his 3,000th hit in 1995 and when he popped his 500th home run the next season, he joined Mays and Aaron in the exclusive 500/3,000 club. Since then, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Rafael Palmeiro have also accomplished the feat but that’s still mighty exclusive company to keep. Consider that guys like Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Barry Bonds and so many others are on the outside looking in, and you have to be impressed with the consistency of Murray’s production and power.
So is Murray underrated as a Hall of Famer? He had just 85.3% of the vote when he went in on his first ballot, which means about 80 voters left him off the ballot. Murray never won an MVP and the only time he led the American League in a major category was when his 22 home runs and 78 RBIs topped the junior circuit in a strike-shortened 1981. Take it for what you will, but his career WAR is below guys like Lou Whitaker, Robinson Cano and Bobby Grich. For our money at The Stud 400, Murray falls in the underrated category. By the time Murray came around, the game had only seen one switch hitter who had the power of Murray and his name was Mickey Mantle. Since then, really only Chipper Jones and Carlos Beltran compare. That’s some elite company to maintain and it’s time that Murray gets the respect he deserves.
Before we move on to this week’s edition of The Stud 400, here’s look at the last five entries as we count down the 400 greatest moments in Major League Baseball history:
315. 50th All-Star Game Celebration (1983)
314. Dave Winfield vs. George Steinbrenner (1990)
313. Mike Scott’s no-hit clincher (1986)
312. Albert Belle hits 50 homers, 50 doubles (1995)
311. Terry Cashman releases Talkin’ Baseball (1981)
And now, here’s Episode XIX of The Stud 400, featuring artwork by Will O’Toole.
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Joe Morgan traded to the Reds (1971)
Like all sports, baseball is littered with “what if” scenarios regarding trades, draft picks and injuries. We could probably compile an entire list of trades that shaped franchises for better or worse, so there will be some left out of The Stud 400. The Reds acquiring Morgan is one that will be included though. Aside from sending the sparkplug of the Big Red Machine to Cincinnati, the trade is known for one that was widely panned by Reds fans at the time. The team had a tough season in 1971, but was National League Champions in 1970.
To get Morgan, the Reds shipped Lee May and Tommy Helms to the Astros and that just about sent Reds fans into a frenzy. Morgan had been in the league for parts of nine seasons and hadn’t exactly set the world on fire. He was an All-Star for two years, but owned a .263 career average with 61 home runs through his age 27 season while striking out a ton for the time period. Cincinnati Enquirer writer Bob Hertzel had the great line that sending May and Helms to the Astros was like the United States trading Dwight Eisenhower to the Germans during World War II. What Morgan did provide though was speed and defense and surrounding him with All-Stars proved to be just the boost Morgan’s career needed. He was an All-Star each of his eight seasons in Cincy and won back-to-back MVPs and World Series titles in 1975 and ’76. The fans may have been pissed at the time, but, yeah, the Reds got this one right.
Eddie Murray joins 500 home run/3,000 hit club (1996)
When Murray connected for his 500th home run in 1996, he became just the third person to reach the 500 home run and 3,000 hit plateau, joining Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. What makes Murray’s case so special is that he did it as a switch hitter and quite frankly, no other switch hitter was really close. Mickey Mantle missed by about 600 hits, Carlos Beltran came up short in both categories as did Chipper Jones. No other switch hitter is even worth mentioning. When Murray retired after 1997, he was 8th all-time in RBIs, had the 11th most hits ever and 15th all-time in home runs. That, my friends, is elite.
Rick Monday saves the flag (1976)
When you talk about the best plays in baseball history, a few jump to the top. Most go right to The Catch by Willie Mays or Jim Edmonds diving version of it. A young Ozzie Smith had an incredible diving bare-handed play for the Padres and you can take your pick among the litany of diving plays at the hot corner by Brooks Robinson and Graig Nettles. The play that Monday made on April 25, 1976 is much different than those above, but is just as memorable and it didn’t even involve a batted ball. On April 25, 1976, after a Ted Sizemore pop out, two dopes jumped out of the stands at Dodgers Stadium with an American flag, some lighter fluid and matches. They laid the flag in the outfield grass and as they attempted to ignite it, Monday came racing over and swiped the flag off the ground, saving it from being burned. Monday, who served for six years in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, said, “If you’re going to burn the flag, don’t do it around me. I’ve been to too many veterans’ hospitals and seen too many broken bodies of guys who tried to protect it.” As the video board at Dodger Stadium said after the event, “Rick Monday…you made a great play!”
Hall of Fame Veterans Committee Vote (2021)
The Major League Baseball lockout created all sorts of animosity between fans and the sport with much of it pointed appropriately at Rob Manfred. Three days after the lockout, there was a brief respite from that. Some goodwill was being spread and tears were shed as we learned some longtime fan favorites were going to take their rightful place in Cooperstown. On December 5, it was announced that Bud Fowler, Minnie Minoso, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Buck O’Neil and Gil Hodges would all be enshrined in the Summer of 2022.
While all inductees were beloved by fans, O’Neil and Hodges’ enshrinement were met with particular joy as their exclusion from the Hall had drawn the ire of fans for decades. In the case of O’Neil, it was an even bigger relief because it had previously been determined that he—nor any other Negro League players—would not be up for enshrinement again. That all changed when Major League Baseball recognized the Negro Leagues as a Major League, opening the door for further consideration. Baseball fans had been pushing for Hodges in particular, but also Minoso and Oliva, as well. To have all four of them, along with Kaat and Fowler, join the Class of 2022 is one of the better feel-good stories to come out of Major League Baseball in recent times. Now it’s time to get Thurman Munson, Luis Tiant and Dick Allen in.
Josh Hamilton’s tear at the Home Run Derby (2008)
Yes, it was just an exhibition and Hamilton had some nice accomplishments in an otherwise troublesome career, but the show he put on at the 2008 Home Run Derby was nothing short of incredible. Taking place at Yankee Stadium in the final season of the iconic ballpark, Hamilton unleashed an assault on the Yankee Stadium bleachers and back wall that nobody had ever seen in the Home Run Derby under that format. Hamilton belted an unfathomable 28 home runs. At one point he hit home runs on 13 straight swings, with many travelling over 450 feet. Hamilton’s total broke the previous single-round mark of 24 which was set by Bobby Abreu in 2004. To put it in perspective, Justin Morneau and Lance Berkman tied for the second highest first-round total behind Hamilton’s 28 with eight homers apiece. Sure, there were some nice sendoffs as the old stadium closed its doors at the end of the season, but as far as absolutely electric moments, this was the final one that had the stadium absolutely rocking.