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Jun '11 27

Old World Pastime – On Eddie Murray and Baseball Emotions

John Miller, a Belgian-American journalist, and a player/coach for the Brussels Kangaroos, is in his fourth year of writing Old World Pastime, a take on baseball as lived in 21th century Europe.

In “Dollar Sign on the Muscle”, his classic on baseball scouting, Kevin Kerrane tells a revealing story about Eddie Murray, the (mainly) Orioles all-time great switch hitter.

In the early 1970, Eddie was a top prospect at Locke High School in Los Angels. Ozzie Smith was a teammate. He was, at 18, much like the man he would become – quiet, steady, unemotional.

To many Major League scouts, writes Kerrane, he appeared not to care.

The Orioles saw it differently. At the time, they were pioneering new scouting techniques, including a psychological test. It showed that this young firstbaseman cared a great deal, but that his high motivation and aggressiveness were masked by an even higher degree of emotional control.

Eddie cared. He just didn’t show it.

Baltimore picked Eddie Murray 63rd overall in the 1973 draft. It was a steal. He would become one of three players with 3,000 hits and 500 homeruns. More importantly to his fans, and I am a big one, he would be unbelievably consistent. For 20 straight seasons, he hit at least 10 homeruns, but never more than 33.

And, 12 years after he was signed, on one July day, he would hit to a deafening chant of “Ed-die, Ed-die” in Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium, to an audience who included a seven-year-old boy living in Belgium and visiting his Maryland family.

Ironically, the supercharged emotion of that moment taught me exactly the wrong lesson about how to play baseball.

If I had to change one thing about myself as an amateur player and coach, it would be to be more like Eddie. From the time I was a seven-year-old T-ball player in the Brussels Sports Association, I have had a difficult time not feeling frustration in defeat and ecstasy in triumph. I admire players and coaches who accept outcomes as irreparable truth, without succumbing to passion.

I am going to see plenty of emotion next weekend, while I direct the second Belgian Little League championships in Hoboken, a suburb of Antwerp and home of the Pioneers.

For the second year in a row, I am the commissioner and will oversee a tournament of four teams: Flanders East, Flanders West, Brussels and Wallonia. The winner will go to the European championships in Kutno, Poland. I am still a believer in Little League for the sheer fun and the sharp aliveness that it cooks up for its players, parents and coaches.

But if I could change anything, it would be, somehow, to impart on the players the perspective that wins need not essential to happiness and losses proof of failure and deficiency.

I don’t have a team to coach full-time anymore, but, when I have thoughts like this, they often turn into a short speech or message I would bestow on my team if I had one.

Here’s the speech: “You want to be great. That is your goal. Want to be great. Strive to be great. Work to be great. Do it every day. But accept the outcome. It is OK if you’re not great. It is actually perfectly 100% more than OK. You’re still a good person, a great person. But it’s not OK not to try. Have dreams, but understand that learning to accept reality is just as important.”

I would hope that, if I believe this and transfer it to my players, that, step by step, they would learn that most difficult lesson of baseball. The one that Eddie Murray was born knowing. That emotion is fine to drive us before the play, but not useful afterwards. That we are who we are, and our play is what our play is, and that we must always accept truth without emotion and look to a better future.

That is my dream, my 3,000 hits.

What’s your best coaching speech? Tell me at oldworldpastime@gmail.com

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