Dispensing with any further suspense, the Los Angeles Dodgers made the trade that represented weeks of work for Executive Vice President Fred Claire and years of waiting for Eddie Murray.

Sunday, the first day of baseball's winter meetings, the Dodgers sent minor-league shortstop Juan Bell and relief pitchers Brian Holton and Ken Howell to the Baltimore Orioles for first baseman Murray, 32, who returns to his hometown of Los Angeles being billed by Claire as a player certain to wind up in the Hall of Fame.Murray, who has hit more home runs in his 12-year career than any switch-hitter except Mickey Mantle, said that he could care less about Cooperstown, although he's developing those kind of credentials: .295 batting average, 333 home runs, 1,190 RBI, more than 2,000 career hits.

He just sounded happy to be out of Baltimore and headed back home, where he was one of four players from his Locke High School team to make the big leagues.

"It got to a point where I tried not to ride the roller-coaster of it," Murray said from Baltimore in a conference call Sunday night. "As far as I was concerned, (the trade) was going down three years ago. . . . The talk around here seemed like forever. I was always being traded to one place or the other.

"But I'm excited. I'm tickled to death."

And so, obviously, were the Dodgers, who finally appear to have filled the void for a power-hitting first baseman left six years ago when they let Steve Garvey get away. They'll pay a steep price for Murray, who stands to earn $8 million in the next three seasons, but the financial burden will be shared in part by the Orioles.

Under the terms of Murray's contract, he is to receive $1.57 million in deferred salary in annual increments of $135,000 for 20 years, beginning in 1992. The Orioles apparently agreed to pick up $1 million of that deferred money.

"If you look at the middle of our lineup, with (Kirk) Gibson, Murray, (Mike) Marshall, (John) Shelby and more production from Jeff Hamilton, we've got people who can create a lot of excitement," Claire said.