JoeBlog, I learned something new about Eddie Murray, who is indeed the gift that keeps on giving the whole year 'round. In his most recent post, Joe Posnanski illustrated the wonders of the 162-game regular season by examining some of the more outstanding statistics through the first one-tenth of the 2011 campaign. Every year, a handful of hitters really catch fire for the first few weeks, and because they were starting from zero we goggle at their .459 (Matt Kemp) or .429 (Joey Votto) batting averages and wonder if they can keep it up and follow Ted Williams into the record books. Jumping off of that point, Joe wondered whether hitting .500 over the first 16 games of any given season would be attainable for a less-than-great hitter. He ran the numbers and found that only seven guys have ever done it; six are in the Hall of Fame, and the seventh is former Tiger Bob "Fats" Fothergill, who hit .325 with a 115 OPS+ from 1922-1933.
One of the six Hall of Famers was our own Eddie Murray...at least according to Joe. My lying eyes and Eddie's 1982 Game Log say that #33 was actually batting .468 at the 16-game mark, which is still pretty damned spectacular. He was at .509 after 14 games, though. But back to the 16-game stat line:
.468 AVG/.507 OBP/.855 SLG/1.362 OPS, 29 H/62 AB, 9 R, 7 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 5 BB, 6 K.
You read that correctly - 13 extra-base hits in 16 games. He had eight multi-hit games, which included an 11-for-17 string in games two through five. He went 5-for-5 in the nightcap of an April 17 doubleheader at Chicago, but all five were singles and the O's lost 10-6.
That brings me to the most remarkable thing about Eddie's early 1982 tear. Through those first 16 games, the Orioles went 5-11 while their cleanup hitter was feasting on the opposition. They were dead last in the A.L. East. How did that happen? A look at the box score of Game 16 (a 5-1 win vs. Oakland) shows that only Murray, Al Bumbry (.290), and Rich Dauer (.327) were batting higher than .235. The worst offender was rookie third baseman Cal Ripken, Jr., whose .340 OPS (.120 AVG/.120 OBP/.220 SLG) was significantly lower than Eddie's batting average. Junior would bottom out at .117/.131/.217 on May 1 before putting it all together with a .326 average for the rest of that month en route to his Rookie of the Year selection. But in April, the Birds had to weather a nine-game losing streak in which they were outscored by a total of 49-29.
Of course you know the rest of the story. Earl Weaver's teams famously heated up along with the weather, and the final club of his first managerial tenure was equal to the task. They ripped off winning records in every subsequent month, peaking with a stretch of 17 wins in 18 games from August 20-September 7. They did not spend a single day after April 10 in first place - not until a win over front-running Milwaukee in the season's penultimate game pushed them into a tie with the Brewers, setting up a winner-take-all contest in Game 162. That, however, would seem to be a blog entry for another day...