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Taking a Shot With Their 38s

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The Yankees of the early '60s had the M&M boys, namely Mantle and Maris. The Tribe of '94 has the M&M&M Boys, although it's something of a stretch to call three 38-year-olds "boys." They're pitchers Dennis Martinez and Jack Morris and first baseman-designated hitter Eddie Murray, each an aging free agent whom Cleveland general manager John Hart signed in the off-season.

The signings caused a number of baseball people to say "Mmm." That's because the three vets, while proven winners, are also reputed whiners. "My clubhouse could've absorbed one of those guys," says an American League general manager, "but three? John must know something I don't, but that's very possible since he was in the Baltimore organization when Martinez and Murray were there."

Hart obviously knew something in recent years when he traded for centerfielder Kenny Lofton, second baseman Carlos Baerga, catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., first baseman Paul Sorrento and. last December, shortstop Omar Vizquel. For his part Hart says, "Martinez, Morris and Murray are quality people. We want them to set an example for our young players because they have been there before."

Murray, by most accounts, set a terrible example for the Mets in his two years in New York. Few players get more bad press than Murray; few players think less of the press than Murray. But even his detractors had to give him credit for driving in 100 runs on a team that had been given up for lost by last May. And deal with it, baseball writers of America: You cannot in good conscience not vote for him when he shows up on the Hall of Fame ballot. Only Hank Aaron, with 19, has had more consecutive 75-RBI seasons than Murray (17).

In a perfectly civil conversation this spring Murray said, "The media painted me to be a bad guy in New York, and that's what everyone thought I was. I was talking to some people one day last year when this guy says, 'You know, you look just like Eddie Murray.' I said, 'Well, actually, I am Eddie Murray.' And he said, 'No, you're not. You're too nice to be Eddie Murray.' "

Cleveland fans need not worry that Murray will somehow cast a negative spell over young Indian stars like leftfielder Albert Belle, Lofton and Baerga. No, the faithful who will be filing into new Jacobs Field this year will have enough to worry about with the pitching. Much depends on which Charles Nagy takes the mound—the onetime ace who went 17-10 with a 2.96 ERA in '92 or the one who had a 6.29 ERA when an injured shoulder shut him down last May for all but the final game of the season. (It looked like the latter Nagy this spring.)

The Indians are the one team in baseball that everybody should root for, given their long history of futility and their recent history of tragedy. Hart and manager Mike Hargrove want desperately to put a winning ball club in the new ballpark—witness the 3M's. If Clevelanders are looking for signs—however obscure—to suggest that these Indians will indeed find passage out of the wilderness, they'll be comforted to note that (infielder Mark) Lewis and (starter Mark) Clark are on the roster.

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PHOTO

JOHN IACONO

Vizquel, at 26, is a relative youngster among the other newly hired hands.