“Thus passes the glory from the world.” At the end of Patton, George C. Scott in voiceover as the great general in repose says, “For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars were given the honor of a triumph, a tumultuous parade.” As they walked the parade route amid great fanfare, “A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting."
For Jim Murray, who first began reading about the Romans when, as a sickly child he was given the gift of books and history while recovering in bed, the lessons of Rome, of the British Empire, of Hitler’s attempt to conquer, of Stalin’s 30-year reign of terror, of the “grand experiment” that was his beautiful America, a land he loved with a passion; well, he knew that “all glory is fleeting.” His parochial school lessons, the priests warning, “Pride goeth before the fall,” of man’s ultimate downfall in a sinful world, had given him the wisdom and discernment to understand man’s relationship with God, which was based on this most-fleeting little adventure on Earth, a mere grain of sand when measured against eternity and ultimate Truth.
Oh, how they had come and gone. Ruth, larger than life, masher of the most gargantuan of shots, felled by age, dead by cancer a few years later. Gehrig, gone in the wink of a young girl’s eye. Koufax and Drysdale, princes of the city, sore-armed and retired. Big D, handsome and articulate, dead before his time. Tyson, the champion, felled by his own self-destructive forces.
Yes indeed Mr. Murray had seen them all. His glory was not so fleeting. He arrived in the City of Angels 44 years earlier, bright-eyed, happy to leave the old neighborhood where some G.I.’s mother might wonder why the 4-F “Murray boy” ran around healthy and happy while her own flesh and blood was sleeveless or worse.
Here he was in 1998, still banging away on his typewriter. Well, a word processor, actually. Unlike so many of the dinosaurs, Murray adapted to spell check and cut-and-paste, and why not? But it had been fleeting. There was Gerry and her “big beautiful eyes” working the piano in a Fairfax district tavern. There were Teddy and Tony, and Pammy, and the “baby in the family” Ricky, now gone.
Otis Chandler? Come and gone. John McKay, John Wooden? Come and gone. Walter O’Malley? Come and gone. My God, Peter O’Malley, come and gone, and with him the Dodgers of their glory years, gone seemingly for good.
Scully and Murray. Murray and Scully. Rushmores of the press box. Both historians, educated men of letters, both well aware that despite their longevity, in the scheme of things for them too “all glory is fleeting.”
On the morning of August 16, 1998 Los Angelenos woke up as usual. A hot summer day. Some coffee, a donut, cereal, some fruit. The L.A. Times. A routine unchanged.
Jim Murray’s column, just like most days since 1961. There it was: “You Can Teach an Old Horse New Tricks.” It was about the successful jockey Chris McCarron. Typical Murray; funny, incisive. In celebration of a Free House victory at Del Mar, he wrote, "He's not a What's-His-Name anymore. He's a Who's Who . . . The bridesmaid finally caught the bouquet. The best friend got the girl in the Warner Brothers movie for a change. The sidekick saves the fort." Then his last written words: “Anyway, it’s nice to know getting older has its flip side.”
Linda accompanied Jim to Del Mar race track near San Diego, spending the afternoon in the hot sun. The day the column appeared, they made the laborious drive back to Los Angeles. The trip can entail much traffic, a check-point near the San Onofre nuclear plant, a battle to get through rush hour in Orange County, the infamous “south bay curve,” and then airport congestion. They finally made it home after a long drive.
"We were home and he looked at me and said, 'Linda, something's not right,' ” she said, "And he was gone."
It was a heart attack. He had been battling poor health for the better part of six years. He was a wreck, but he was still around. There was this odd, strange quasi-feeling that he was a survivor who was never going to leave. Logic tells us this is not possible, but to quote from the Gospel According to Matthew “. . . all things are possible.” At least they are with God.
But Jim was mortal and on August 16, 1998 he left this “mortal coil,” William Shakespeare’s way of explaining the release from life’s tensions to a dreamy, gauzy peace beyond.
The great Jim Murray was gone. His second wife, Linda McCoy-Murray; three children, Pam Skeoch, Ted and Tony; two granddaughters and a stepson survived him.
“The thing that made me most unhappy was that he was no longer in the Sunday Times,” recalled Bill Caplan. “I read his last column and that Monday I got a call and it was the bad news. Somebody from the paper called and it was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ He suddenly got sick, it was a shock, and I called his widow. I called Linda and cried like a baby. I said, ‘I apologize, I’m trying to give you comfort,’ and she said, ‘I understand,’ because she knew the effect Jim had on people.
“Bill Dwyre arranged the memorial at Dodger Stadium. They had several speakers. Dwyre spoke, but Jerry West was the only one who was not very articulate. Afterwards we repaired to the Dodger Stadium club, what Allan Malamud used to refer to as ‘the after’ for food and conversation.”
“When he did pass away, I was working for the Mayor of Los Angeles,” recalled Councilman Tom LaBonge. “He could not attend the memorial at Dodger Stadium, so I had the honor of representing the city at the memorial, among many special people, including Vin Scully. He’s much missed.
The writer who loved metaphors and symbols, who lived in a time and place and for an institution filled with symbolism – American Exceptionalism, California Dreamin’ and the paper that built on those dreams, the promise and fulfillment of L.A., the world of sports as playground of the New Rome, much of it played in a place called the Coliseum – when he passed away it symbolized the passing of the L.A. Times. Otis Chandler left in increments, each with the promise that he was still involved, it was still his paper. The paper changed its structure, its corporate culture, it politics, lost panache in the 1990s, but they still had Jim Murray! It was the Yankees still featuring DiMaggio, Mantle, even at the end.
There were other significant events. Otis wrote his letter to the troops to protest the Staples Center fiasco, and sports editor Bill Dwyre likened that to Patton rounding up his troops for a final mission. But it fizzled out. Otis and the rest of the Chandlers took the money and ran. Bye-bye. The Tribune Company bought them. A shell of their old self they were after that.
Now Murray was gone and the paper was left to their own devices, a world of Tribune Companies and various “news groups,” a world of Katherine Downings, John Puerners, Jeffrey Johnsons, David Hillers and Eddy Hartensteins. A world of journalism school graduates possessing better smarts and literary knowledge than Otis Chandler, but not one-10th of his common sense.
“Nobody runs the L.A. Times anymore,” said Councilman LaBonge. “You can read it as fast as the Daily News, there’s no local control, and it’s gonna be tougher in the future for newspapers. There’s been a transformation of people who don’t respect newspapers.
“Politically they don’t have as much weight as they used to. They ‘want it now.’ I use this in speeches I make, it applies to the Times. It must look like a farmer in the field getting up at four to check his crops. If someone is critical of he and his harvest at nine, then he thinks it’s time to harvest now. We want the harvest at the beginning instead of giving it time. Without growth we’ll miss those writers and leaders.”
Sic transit Gloria.
If after what Bob Erberu, Shelby Coffey III, and Mark Willes did to the Los Angeles Times, anybody wanted to still call it the “greatest newspaper in the world,” only Jim Murray’s employment and column gave any hope to the phrase. With his passing went any semblance that they were anymore.
But life went on. Sports editor Bill Dwyre faced a daunting task. How do you replace Jim Murray? You do not, of course. The paper had bred their fair share of talented comers: Scott Ostler, Mike Downey, Randy Harvey, Bill Plaschke, just to name a few. All perfectly good sports writers. Ostler, and maybe Downey, had the potential for greatness. The others did not.
After Murray left, Dwyre had his chance. Talented scribes sent him resumes, writing samples. Dwyre stuck to the company line: “The Times hires from within and only from major metropolitan dailies.” Some real talent was presented to him. He did not hire it. He would reward tenure, longevity, experience. These are not always the reservoir of great talent. Sometimes hunger deserves to be rewarded.
Over the years, many were called, none measured up. Inheritance of the “Murray column” is attributed to Plaschke. It was like a football team, trailing by three points, driving for the goal line with a chance to win. Instead of going for victory the Times kicked a proverbial field goal to tie. Plaschke was safe. He did not spur controversy. Nice enough guy. Play it down the middle. Boredom.
In 2006 Plaschke wrote a column about Murray’s widow, Linda McCoy-Murray, and her creation of a foundation to memorialize her late husband while providing scholarships for deserving journalism students. The real purpose of the column, however, was to explain his position as Murray’s successor. It came off as an apology. Titled “Murray's impact still is plain to hear,” he wrote that when he inherited The Column his name changed from Bill Plaschke to "You're No Jim Murray."
“It was a name carefully scrawled at the bottom of scented letters from elderly women and drunkenly shouted into my voice mail from middle-aged men,” he wrote.
“I have heard it shouted from the rafters at Staples Center and whispered in the back aisles of Staples stores. I have felt its accusatory wrath from Coliseum steps to mausoleum parking lots . . .
“If my presence has truly caused Jim Murray to turn in his grave as much as readers claim, well, then, the poor soul has barely had a moment of eternal rest, and for that, I am truly sorry.
“But, as for my new name, I am not.
“It is, I believe, a distinct honor to be called ‘You're No Jim Murray.’
“Because, after all, it is the only time in my life that I will be mentioned in the same sentence with the greatest sportswriter in history . . .
“Jim Murray was our Babe Ruth . . . our Michael Jordan . . . our Muhammad Ali, once being hailed as ‘the greatest sportswriter of all time’ by, well, Muhammad Ali . . .
“And to think, two of his most memorable columns were not about sports: the death of his first wife, Gerry, and the loss of his eyesight.”
Plaschke recalled columns that, upon his passing, filled an entire Times sports page with letters about them. One reader, Tracy Odell of Rossmore, spoke for thousands when she wrote, "I have only one request of the L.A. Times. Leave Jim Murray's space in the newspaper empty and pray for reincarnation."
“Request granted,” wrote Plaschke.
“I'm on the front page of the sports section three or four times a week, sweating and stretching and doing my darnedest to reach into the hearts and minds of the most sophisticated sports readers in this country.
“But, no, I'm no Jim Murray.
“And, yes, that space will forever remain empty.”
It was not Plaschke’s fault that the sports section of this once-hallowed newspaper became the average, the mundane, the every day, any more than it was Gene Bartow’s fault that he was not John Wooden or George H.W. Bush’s fault that he was no Ronald Reagan. Sometimes a Mickey Mantle succeeds a Joe DiMaggio, a Steve Young takes over for a Joe Montana. Not this time.
“There was no replacing Murray at the L.A. Times, you can’t replace a Murray, a Scully or a Chick Hearn,” recalled Fred Wallin. “It’s impossible to find somebody like that. Somebody else may have talent, but it’s not possible to be in the class of Murray. That doesn’t happen in very many lifetimes.
“There’s a ‘dumbing down’ of sorts with words, with these ‘shock jock’ talk hosts who don’t have to write at the same level. They want to be mean, but he was funny. These guys today think it’s funny, though they think it is when it’s just mean. I kept entire Times sport sections like when O.J. was awarded the Heisman.”
The old excellence, the astonishing, the great, was replaced by adherence to mediocrity. A fellow named T.J. Simers was given a column. Nobody yet has figured out what he is trying to accomplish or say. His stock in trade is iconoclasm and sarcastic criticism of the powers that be written in dot-dot-dot manner. This can be a powerful tool. A Pulitzer can be won on such an approach, but the ability to carry it out it is a very difficult margin. Simers does not have that ability. He seems to have only alienated teams and powerful people and, for that matter, a fair number of readers. If Simers was supposed to be some kind of an answer to Murray, whoever made that analysis did not accomplish the task.
Perhaps the Times, like other once-great newspapers, is just waiting it out until the people who remember the great days of yore die off and a new generation of readers unaware of true greatness just accept the new standards. Excellence replaced by the second rate.
“I get up early in the morning,” said Jerry West. “There used to be a rush for me to get the paper and read Jim Murray’s column. There’s no rush today. I’ll tell you that.”
The odd thing of all this is that all this mediocrity supposedly is being produced by the most educated, intelligent generation of all time. The journalism schools, the film schools, the drama schools, the communications programs, the graduate business institutes; everybody goes to college today. But when the “ink-stained wretches” ran newspapers they were better. When the big screen was dominated by former Marines and roustabouts like Robert Mitchum and Steve McQueen, films were larger than life, better than what is being produced today by pampered, self-indulgent stiffs who have studied acting since childhood. The directors? They used to be guys who served with George Patton, like Franklin Schaffner, who directed Patton. USC, UCLA and NYU produced a golden age of film school grads that changed Hollywood, but their influence peaked by 1980, replaced by kids with all the technical skills, but no vision. They certainly are not in touch with the audience any more and have not been for years, because they no longer live in real life! Immigrants with a dream once built businesses. Today’s MBA’s are clones and drones, with few exceptions. The old days, the days when America was built and thrived in ways no nation ever has; those were the days of Jim Murray. Murray represented it. He wrote about it. He had a pulse for it. Then guys like Shelby Coffey III came along with their lists of words that dare not be spoken or written. But there is uniqueness to America. Serious readers of Alexis de Tocqueville understand it. Amazingly, it does not die. It slowly but surely rises to the top while the politically correct fade into the distance.
“Kids today don’t know about history, which is strange because supposedly they live in the Information Age, everybody goes to college, yet the more they learn the less they know,” said Linda McCoy-Murray, who is putting together a collection of Jim’s columns on women athletes over the years. “They don’t know how to do research. Jim knew history and he did his research.
“Once at the Beverly Hilton the maitre d’ came by and asked, ‘Is that Jim Murray.’ I said, ‘Yes, do you want to meet him?’ and he just said, ‘No, no, no,’ he was too intimidated. He told me he learned how to read and speak English by reading Jim Murray’s columns when he first came to this country. This kind of exchange occurred all the time.
“Jim’s favorite books were mysteries. He’d read anything, he was engrossed in books, but his favorites were paperback mysteries. He’d read history since his youngest days, but really loved any mystery. He loved AMC, old movies. He loved Jimmy Cagney, sentimental pictures. He loved David Niven, his elegance and suave ways. He loved stuff like that, like Gigi. He always loved getting dressed up. He never owned jeans, even if we went to Western parties, he never wore sneakers. He didn’t like writers coming into the press box with sneakers and long hair. His shirts were always crisp. He loved wearing a tuxedo and going to nice restaurants. We’d go to the Hamburger Hamlet after the Rose Bowl, he enjoyed things like that.”
News of Jim Murray’s passing rivaled that of any other L.A. deity or icon. He was immediately identified as a man whose influence on Los Angeles rivaled any name thrown out there: George Patton, William Mulholland, the Chandler family, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Chandler, Tom Bradley, Edward Doheny, Darryl F. Zanuck, Cecil B. DeMille, Jack Warner, John Wooden, Vin Scully, Ronald Reagan . . .
“Since 1961, Murray had entertained and enlightened his readers several times each week, although occasionally sidelined for eye or heart surgery,” wrote the Times. “His quick-witted style and gentle sarcasm became widely imitated but seldom matched. While becoming famous for one-liners and good-natured jabs at cities across the country, he also was adept at bringing a sports issue into focus with incisive commentary. He won the Associated Press Sports Editors' award for best column writing in 1984, and the same group's Red Smith Award for lifelong achievement in sports writing.
“In one span of 16 years, he was voted national sportswriter of the year 14 times, 12 times in succession.”
"Jim Murray is one of the journalists who helped, in a very special way, to bring the Times to greatness," editor Michael Parks said. "His contribution over 37 years is best measured in the delight and pleasure - and even outrage, sometimes - and the insights he brought to two generations of readers."
The Times accurately stated that Murray was in the “Right Place at the Right Time.” He was the “king of sports journalism” whose column “coincided with the meteoric rise of all sports and their transformation into industries - and with the ascendancy of Los Angeles as their capital. He was in the right place at the right time with the right words.” Bill Plaschke wrote that his obituary “was three times as long as most of his columns.”
The letters came pouring in. Amateur Murrays writing about “football teams that more resembled the Wehrmacht” and loving memories of favorite columns, Murray moments, chance meetings with the great scribe. Colleagues, athletes, they all had special Murray memories.
"Maybe because his columns were timeless, I assumed Jim Murray was as well," wrote Frank Newell of Long Beach.
"There are two kinds of sportswriters: Jim Murray and others," wrote Russ Hill of Huntington Beach.
Hal Dion of Los Angeles remembered an elderly woman sitting in a diner with a magnifying glass, shooing him away from her Times, saying, "Son, my morning is reserved for Mr. Murray."
On September 26, 2,500 fans showed up at Dodger Stadium for a final tribute to the great scribe hosted by Bill Dwyre. It was “a star-studded funeral that would have embarrassed this most humble of men,” wrote Plaschke. It was also a very heartfelt tribute. In Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the Los Angeles Times, Dennis McDougal wrote that Dorothy Chandler’s funeral, while well-attended by a whose who of Los Angeles society, lacked great love. Not so with Jim Murray.
Linda McCoy-Murray knew her husband was loved and admired, but even she was amazed at the out-pouring that flowed after his passing.
"Al Davis was there with Marcus Allen breathing the same air," she recalled. "Mike Tyson was there. People lined the streets of Sunset Boulevard. It was amazing."
The memories came flooding back.
“Some would find a Pulitzer Prize as an ending to a fine career, with a giant exclamation point,” recalled Bill Dwyre. “Murray saw it as a confirmation of a fine career and chance to just keep writing sentences.”
The great announcer Al Michaels grew up in Los Angeles after moving from Brooklyn. In the mid-1960s he was in high school when he read a Murray column about Cincinnati’s freeway, which was being constructed. They had completed about nine feet over a long time, so he wrote, “It must be Kentucky's turn to use the cement mixer.” In 1971 Michaels was named the Reds’ announcer. All he could think to say was, “Where is the cement mixer?” In his three years they only completed another nine feet. “Jim was always ahead of the curve,” he joked.
When Murray started his column at the Times it was a “signal moment that was, not only for sports journalism in this area, but for the country, and what it did for the profession. And that's what Jim did. He didn't just write about the game, the dugout, the clubhouse, the press box. Jim saw a grander vision. And for Jim, he always took you on this grand tour, so you learned so much about so many other things and the peripheral things that you wouldn't even think about or thought you cared about.”
Murray “was a teacher . . . an educator. And I think growing up and beginning to read him, when he started, he brought to all of us knowledge, for instance, he would write about an athlete and compare him to Caruso. Wow, I thought at that point Caruso was Eileen Eaton's attorney at the Olympic Auditorium. But then you look up Caruso and find out, Italian tenor, one of the greats of all. And I started buying Caruso albums because of Jim Murray.”
Michaels said he was “an original” who spawned dozens of imitators. Los Angeles was the first to read him, and like others in the city, Michaels thought he “hadn’t seen anything like this. Yet he was able to do it for 37 years.” Michaels said when Jim started Dodger Stadium was under construction, the Angels were in their first year of expansion, the Rose Bowl was the bowl game of the day, John McKay at USC and John Wooden at UCLA had not yet started their incredible runs. The Lakers were new, Santa Anita and Hollywood park were drawing 50,000 on Saturday afternoons, and the Rams were drawing 80, 90, 100,000 fans.
Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were “transcending their sport. Jim was here to chronicle all of it, to guide us through what was a very golden time . . .
“And we had a golden man who did it,” Michaels said. He particular loved his golf work. He had an “innate incredible feel.” He “astonishes” his readers and could only do it “with a lot of love in your heart.” Murray “made us laugh, he made us cry, he could make you mad, he could make you sad.” But most important he “made you think.” Having Jim Murray was like winning the lottery. He was gone, “But thank God we had him as long as we did.”
The final story he ever wrote was about Chris McCarron. Murray was a “true sports legend,” recalled McCarron at the Murray memorial. He said that even though Murray never rode a horse he somehow got the feel for it. After Shoemaker rode Ferdinand at the 1986 Kentucky Derby he wrote, “Bill Shoemaker has the hands of a concert pianist. He doesn’t ride a horse, he plays a horse.”
It gave McCarron a “warm feeling all over my body” because it was so insightful. “Jim could paint a picture so vividly with his words for us to appreciate that he didn’t even need, we didn’t even need to attend the sporting event just to feel like we were there.”
McCarron recalled, “I had dinner with Jim and Linda just two weeks before he passed away. We were down at Rancho Santa Fe during the Del Mar meet. And I used to love to ask Jim questions about Ben Hogan and players like that. And he told me Hogan very seldom, almost rarely, asked any advice of his caddie about a particular shot. And one day at Riviera, Mr. Hogan looked at the caddie and said, uh, ‘What do you think we got here?’ And the caddie says, ‘Mr. Hogan, I think it’s 145, maybe 146 yards.’ Hogan looked at him and said, ‘Well, make up your mind.’ That I just love, love stories like that . . .
“However, I can tell you, without reservation, that Jim Murray was the kindest, most considerate and conscientious individual I ever had the pleasure of dealing with.” Horse racing was “blessed and privileged to have Jim Murray as a fan and a friend.”
Had Jim Murray played for the Raiders, said owner Al Davis, “with all his artistic pride” he would have done so “with poise, with class because he was a star among stars. With all his excellence, with all his artistic touch, with all his warm human compassion, the thing that captured my imagination most about Jim Murray was the fact that while the company man is a connotation, Jim Murray, to me, was an organization man. He played for the Los Angeles Times. His devotion, his dedication, his loyalty, his towering courage were the things that make organizations great. He won for 40 years. 40 years as a columnist.
“We believe that old-fashioned wholesomeness is not passé. When you talk about team of the decades, and we’re talking about the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, Jim Murray was the sports columnist of the decades. If a great man is someone who inspires in others the will to be great, the testimonials that came from all over the country, by his contemporaries, the people who are here today, certainly establish Jim as a great man.”
Davis recalled speaking on behalf of Murray in the 1980s. He refrained from making speeches but did it for Murray. They shared East Coast backgrounds, the Ebbetts Field connection. “And there were great memories between us because he reeked with tradition, which I loved. I love tradition, I love history . . .
“I was distraught, and I really was, over the news of Jim’s passing. I admired the guy. I’m glad I came here today to pay tribute and to see some of the legendary heroes.”
Davis chuckled over one of Murray’s comedic shots at his town, Oakland. “You pay a dollar to go to San Francisco, but you get a free ride going back to Oakland . . .
“Time never ends for the great ones,” Davis continued. “It just gives them a cloak of immortality. We continue to remember him, we continue to love him, and we continue to say, ‘Godspeed, Jim Murray, I know you’re up there with many great people and I know you’ll do your part to make it easy for all to come visit you . . .
“Picture an Olympic procession. Every group would parade around the stadium; the rear of roar of the million fans would be deafening. Leading the group of sports writers would be Jim Murray.”
“Well, I tell ya, he picked on the whole state of West Virginia, where I’m from,” said Los Angeles Lakers superstar Jerry West. “In 1961, he said we traveled by covered wagon in professional basketball. And Jim was in that covered wagon going to an exhibition game in Morgantown, West Virginia, where I played my college basketball. When we left there, we played an exhibition game, a sellout crowd, people were just absolutely wonderful. And the people in West Virginia, I call them simple, simple in the most wonderful way. It’s the place I love . . . All of a sudden Jim Murray became public enemy number one. I was the butt of every joke, and still today am the butt of every joke about West Virginia . . . I have never seen a man talk so badly about a state.”
Murray joked about the state flower and people’s cars, saying “People were sewing patches on their cars with needle and thread.”
“But traveling with him was very unique,” recalled West. “I didn’t look at him as a sports writer. Most sports writers come into all of us after a particularly tough, tough loss or a tough game. And they’ll come in and ask the obvious questions, ‘Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that? Boy, you were terrible.’ Well, I’ll tell you what. Jim Murray never had a bad day as a writer. With almost each and every word one of <us> athletes have failed, we failed in front of the whole world, it’s not a very good feeling. This man did not fail. I heard Tommy Hawkins say Murray was the Babe Ruth of sports writing. Well, since I’m the basketball person, I will tell you, he is the Michael Jordan of writers. I have watched everyone mimic or copy Jim Murray. Can’t do it. Just can’t do that. This man is truly a legend . . .
“I had a chance to play golf with Jim early in my life . . . And I asked Jim, I said, ‘What kind of golfer are you, Jim?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m not exactly Ben Hogan.’ And he proceeded to prove it that day. When we got in, I said, ‘What’d you shoot?’ He said, ‘I didn’t, uh, keep score, I just weighed the score’ . . .
“His articles touched so many people, so many athletes. I think we all, in the recesses of our mind, wish that we could write something as poignant and lasting as he’s done over the years. . .
“I was more than someone who read him. I considered him a friend.”
“The records of Jim Murray will never be equaled, let alone surpassed,” said Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn. “He could write about a cockfight, he could write about an automobile race, he could write about anything, and find the heart and soul of the subject and put it into words. I called him a wordsmith. He, unbelievably, wrote columns that many mornings, I got up and ran over and got the Webster’s dictionary, brought it back, or I’d read the paragraph, or the whole column twice to make sure that I had the gist of what he was saying, he was so clever with words. That’s something that is God given, but it has to be mastered by someone with unbelievable, unequaled ability. And that’s what Jim had. He was just unbelievable. He could start your day with a smile.
“I know a lot of people in the sporting world that he didn’t think were doing the right thing, but he would never embarrass them by saying it. He would use innuendos that you would get the drift. He had some devil in him.”
Don Drysdale’s widow, the former UCLA All-American basketball star Ann Meyers, recalled that “in March of ’78 I was privileged enough to win the national championship at UCLA, and my name appeared in Jim Murray’s column. So for me, that probably was one of the pinnacles as far as an athlete, to have my name with so many others in Jim Murray’s column. So it was pretty neat.
“. . . And the biggest thing that I really admired was the admiration and the friendship and the respect that Don had with him. You couldn’t wait to see the sports page, and see what he had written and what kind of picture he was going to paint for you . . .
“Jim could make you feel and think with their heart . . .
“And, again, Jim took the time to come over before we got teed off and told me stories about Sandy <Koufax> and Don, and to me that was so special, that he would take the time, and he was always coming up to me and doing these things. And for me, he was just that gentleman that was able to do that . . .
“And he not only made the world a better place, he made so many other people’s world a better place, and God blessed him with such a special gift, and he was able to share that gift with us. And I’ve known that he just enriched all of us . . .”
“Jim was a terrific friend,” said golf legend Jack Nicklaus. “The mutual affection we shared grew with each year as we crossed paths on the professional tour and renewed the friendship . . .
“He had a gift for capturing the excitement of sports and making it come alive through the words he put on a page. Jim’s contributions to the game of golf and all of sport, for that matter, are immeasurable. The stories he crafted brought many into our game, and his unique and clever wit captured the essence of this gentleman’s sport. His talent will never be duplicated, but his qualities as a person are ones which everyone would do well to emulate.”
Vin Scully said that if somebody missed an appointment of some kind, but his excuse was time spent with Jim Murray, that was as “valid an alibi as a letter from the chaplain . . .
“I once introduced Jim at a dinner, and I said this from the heart,” recalled Scully. “I said that if I ever had to be stranded on a desert island with a man, he would be the man. And I meant it. He was a great raconteur, especially of Irish stories. He was literate and well read without being stuffy. He had a God-given talent that was out there for the world to enjoy, whether he was covering the fields of entertainment or sports. And yet, with all the honors he received, he remained ever humble, somewhat shy and self deprecating.
“Jim Murray was my dear friend, and I sincerely thank God for the gift of his friendship. You know, the great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it. And Jim Murray used his life to the extent that he has indeed outlasted it. Wherever and whenever there will be sporting events, and wherever and whenever the media will gather to cover those events, Jim will live on as an icon to emulate. About 35 years ago, Jim and I were playing golf at Riviera – it was his favorite golf course. And somehow we got on the subject, he had just been starting to write the column, and he was talking about mail you receive. And I told him I would always remember the first letter I ever received, and it was addressed to Mr. Ben S. Kelly. From that moment on, I was always either Kell or Kelly. And to go along with that, he then became Murph or Murphy. And we would meet in crowded press rooms and press boxes at all-star games and World Series and a voice would cry out, ‘Kell!’ And I would turn around and say, ‘Murph!’ And everybody would look at each other as if to say, ‘The poor devils don’t even know their own last names’ . . .
“You know, Shakespeare said it best, as he usually did, and when he wrote it, he might very well have been writing about Jim Murray. He wrote, ‘His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a man.’ ”
Jim passed away on August 16, but already had a book in the pipeline. The Last of the Best (Los Angeles Times Books) was a collection of columns going back to 1990. It was the fourth book containing Jim Murray columns.
In the introduction, Bill Dwyre recalled that at the Murray memorial, Jerry West said it was his wish that a book containing “every column Jim Murray ever wrote,” be published. At the time, The Last of the Best was already within days of going to press.
“He told the Indy 500 people to begin their race with the call: 'gentlemen, start your coffins,' ” wrote Dwyre.
“He speculated that the interminably slow progress on building the freeway outside the new stadium in Cincinnati was because 'it was Kentucky's turn to use the cement mixer.'
“He purified jockey Bill Shoemaker with a sentence that said it all: 'Shoemaker was born two pounds, seven ounces and it was the only edge he ever needed in life.’
“And he went to a boxing weigh-in and gave the readers the real truth with his own quick jab: 'Buster Douglas looked like something that should be floating over a Thanksgiving Day parade.'
“Jim Murray's loss is tremendous because he won't be writing any new words. But his legacy is tremendous because he left us with so many wonderful old ones.”
Tom Lasorda wrote the foreword to the book.
“I was out of town that day in 1990 when I heard that Jim Murray had won the Pulitzer Prize,” wrote Lasorda. “When I called home that night, it was the first thing my wife wanted to talk about. She was really excited.
“She said that the first thing Jim had said, as he was being quoted in the press, was 'I never thought you could win the Pulitzer Prize just for quoting Tommy Lasorda correctly.' I remember thinking, 'Wow, what an honor. I'm the first person he talked about.
“We were such good friends. I loved just being around him, listening to him, learning from him. I grew up in the East, reading Jimmy Cannon and Red Smith. And then I came to California and started to read Jim Murray. And to my mind, he was the height of them all.
“I remember when he used to come into the clubhouse, looking for a column. Back then, the players really knew him, who he was. He would walk in that clubhouse and things would change immediately. He'd ask me who would make a good column, and I'd suggest somebody. Then I'd go get the player and bring him into my office and close the door and say, 'Here, this is Jim Murray. Use my office. Take all the time you want.' Being interviewed by Jim Murray was like getting an audience with the Pope.”
Los Angeles Times Books released The Great Ones in 1999. It was an inspired decision, to release many of his best columns going back to the 1960s. Some were in previous books, but most were out of print or hard to find.
“Jim Murray was blessed not only with a uniquely entertaining writing style but a keen grasp of the role that athletes and athletic competition play in society,” the book’s dustcover read.
“Only Murray could string together libraries of metaphors and then neatly cap them off with an insightful, incisive, and hilarious, one-liner. Only Murray knew, instinctively, that we wanted to view athletes like artists performing and creating at the highest levels.
“It is well worth noting that the ease with which Murray wrote – or at least the ease with which we all are able to read him – has the natural grace and fluidity that he admired in so many of the athletes about whom he wrote.
“How many times did he compare these men and women to such magnificent artists as Michelangelo, Picasso, Baryshnikov, Nijinsky, Mozart and Caruso? The comparisons weren’t idle exercises in the use of the superlative. Rather they were Murray’s way of singling out what he most cared about; athletics performed with seemingly effortlessly mastery.”
Arnold Palmer wrote the foreword.
“One of the pleasures I always had when I came to Los Angeles was reading Jim Murray in the Times,” Palmer wrote. “Whether he was writing about baseball or boxing, football or golf, I knew I would get a few laughs from his column before I went out to the course . . .
“Jim was very kind to me in print, but he had such a way with words, he could never resist a good line. He had a million of them, and some of them came at my expense.”
One very nice column Palmer pointed out also contained such disclaimers as, “You watch Arnie and he looks like a guy you’d slicker into a double-press bet on the outgoing nine . . . You’d swear he got his swing out of a Sears Roebuck catalogue.”
“I never took offense at such remarks; I knew Jim Murray was honestly writing what he saw, not so much with his eyes but with the incredible perception he possessed about people,” continued Palmer. “That was what made him special.
“After a poor drive at Rancho Park during the L.A. Open years ago, I stood over a very difficult second shot. I turned to Jim standing nearby and said, ‘Well, Jim, what would your beloved Ben Hogan do in this situation?’
“Jim looked at me and said, ‘Hogan would never be in this situation.’ ”
Murray had written “nobody played golf the way Palmer did,” but Palmer wrote, “I’ve often thought nobody ever wrote a column the way Jim Murray did. He could write about anything, but the best thing he did was tell stories about the people who made sports what it is. Can there be a more fitting combination than one of the best sports writers of our time writing about some of the best of the sports personalities he covered?
“Jim is gone now, but the library he left behind remains. I’m proud to be part of it.”
Times assistant sports editor Mike James helped compile the book.
“What Jim did better than anyone and what made him connect with athletes and fans alike was to tell the personal stories of the competitors involved in these events: their hopes, motivations, styles, dreams and foibles. In sum, their lives as human beings,” he wrote.
In 2003 Linda McCoy-Murray compiled Quotable Jim Murray (TowleHouse Publishing). It was a wonderful little “handbook” that seemed to encapsulate the essence of her late husband. The book contained selected quotations by the great scribe, separated into different chapters on auto racing, baseball, basketball, other sports, then “Different Arenas,” capturing Jim’s humor, social awareness, and unique view of everything from women in the clubhouse to, of course, different cities. But perhaps the book’s best feature was a chapter titled, “And They Said.”
It captured what many in and out of the sports world said about Jim Murray. It also featured letters written to him, often from celebrities and people famous beyond sports.
“Jim Murray was a legendary sports columnist who transcended the games and contests he covered,” it read on the dustcover. “He was a maestro with words, whose knack for turning witty phrases capturing the essence of his subjects was unprecedented and unmatched.
“14 times he was named Sportswriter of the Year. In 1987 Murray was elected to the writer’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 1990 he won the coveted Pulitzer Prize. He was proof of the long-held belief that readers can often find a newspaper’s best writing on the sports pages.
“Murray wrote about 10,000 columns as a syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times, in addition to writing magazine articles and giving speeches. For many years his popular columns ran in dozens of newspapers nationwide, giving him an audience of millions of sports fans who found his style as entertaining as his content was informative. Everyone has a favorite Jim Murray one-liner, ranging from his Indianapolis 500 classic ‘Gentlemen, start your coffins,’ to his assessment of golf: ‘It’s not a sport, it’s bondage. An obsession. A boulevard of broken dreams.’ ”
“To call Jim Murray a writer is like calling Babe Ruth a ballplayer, the Grand Canyon a rock garden,” wrote long time sports personality Roy Firestone in the foreword.
“I never thought of Jim Murray as a sportswriter. I always thought he was an observer of life who used sports as a vehicle; a prism from which he could measure and reflect character, integrity, honor, outrage, indignity, success, social ills, and, of course, humor . . .
“The truth is nobody ever wrote better, or more eloquently, about anything for longer . . . no one ever did it with a more self-effacing, pugnacious, yet graceful style, without self-celebration, than Jim Murray.
“He was outrageous in his descriptive prose at times, but he never poised, he never postured.
“Jim Murray was the most disproportionally humble man who ever rode his fingers across a royal keyboard. He could’ve written from Mt. Olympus, yet you never got the feeling that he ever felt he was anything more than a guy from down the block . . .
“He was better than the games themselves.
“He wrote of the exalted, and he wrote of the broken shells of humanity.
“He wrote about glory, and he wrote about dysfunction . . . Jim Murray wrote about the spirit in all of us, and about our own wretchedness, too!
“He could make us proud, and he could shame us . . .
“The good news is that Jim Murray’s words live forever, and through them, so does he!!”
“Picking and choosing the quotes for this book was fun, yet extremely challenging, as it was indeed a smorgasbord,” wrote Linda McCoy-Murray in the introduction. “I’m certain many quotes were missed . . .
“Jim’s loyal readers couldn’t wait to wake to Jim Murray three or four times a week. I woke up to Jim Murray every morning. There were volumes of quotables that passed between us in the last dozen years of our life together. For instance, as an observer of human behavior, Jim often viewed my high energy and constant involvement in projects with, using my maiden name for emphasis, ‘My God, Miss Carothers, don’t you ever put it in the hangar?
“Jim was honored at a black-tie dinner, where, from the podium, he sweetly told the filled-to-capacity International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, ‘Linda brought three little words into my life . . is Linda there?”
Linda wrote that when she dressed for social events, Jim would ask, “Can’t you wear something a little more nunish?”
“My prodding Jim to drink more water only incited his, ‘I’ve never known anyone to drink as much water as you do. You drink Lake Erie every day!’
“During our 1992 visit to a Hindu shrine in Bali, a monkey attacked me. Of that experience, Jim wrote a very funny column saying, ‘I thought for a moment he was going to carry her <Linda> up the Empire State Building, and I would have to call out fighter planes to get her back – but all he wanted was the bottle of water under her arm.’ For months after he called me Fay Wray. Buy then he also called me Luther Burbank the minute I put my hands in dirt. He was 24/7 with Murryisms.
“The most endearing personal quote came in a bowling column he penned four days after our long-awaited marriage in March 1997, noting, ‘We were both free agents – 12 and a half years – and came in well under the salary cap.’ In closing he wrote, ‘Jerry Reinsdorf thinks he pulled the coup of the year signing Albert Belle for the White Sox. Forgetaboutit! I signed the real pennant winner. The Unreal McCoy. I wish I could have invited you all to the wedding, but home plate at Dodger Stadium was busy.”
“Jim Murray the writer was Jim Murray the man – clever, humorous, unbelievably knowledgeable, insightful, and caring,” said Jack Nicklaus. “How proud I will always be to have called him my friend.”
“To have Jim write about you, that felt as great as having your name engraved on a trophy,” said Jeff Sluman.
“You made me sound better than I am,” said Jim Colbert.
U.S. Open women’s champion Meg Mallon was asked who she’d like to have dinner with. She replied Babe Didrikson, Mother Teresa, Lou Gehrig, and Jim Murray because “he’d be able to capture the moment on paper.”
“Murray never strikes out and is not a prize – but the prize – of our profession,” said longtime Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich.
“You do the Los Angeles Times proud year after year with or without being named top sportswriter by your peers, but 13 wins is rather phenomenal,” said Otis Chandler.
Murray “for 37 years, he has delighted, educated, amused, and outraged readers in the Times,” said Michael Parks of his lifetime achievement award in 1998. “The lightness of his writing belies the depth of his thought. He writes about sports, yes, but he is really writing about life.”
“They should hang a collection of his columns in the Smithsonian,” said Woody Woodburn of the Daily Breeze in Torrance.
“I felt like an art student perched on Michelangelo’s palette,” remarked Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald on being befriended by Murray.
“Jim was a legend to everybody but himself,” said Blackie Sherrod of the Dallas Morning News, and “he was the toughest SOB I’ve ever known.”
“For the younger guy in the business, we wanted to be in awe of him, but he wouldn’t let us,” recalled Bob Verdi of the Chicago Tribune.
“It didn’t matter if you were the third-string tennis writer for the Modesto News, when you left Murray you were never quite sure which one of you was the legend,” recalled Rick Reilly.
“In all those years of writing all his elegant, funny, thoughtful columns, Murray never lost anybody,” said fellow Times writer Thomas Bonk.
When a cab driver drove through the Baltimore streets for an hour looking for a restaurant, Murray told him, “Cabbie, take us to a cab,” recalled Mal Florence.
“Damn, that guy was good,” said Scott Ostler. “And not a jerk about it. Jim was as impressed with his own writing as he was with the nightlife in Minneapolis. It was a pleasure – and honor for me – to sit next to him in the press box.”
“My morning coffee will never be the same without Jim Murray’s column,” said Merv Griffin.
I “savored every word,” said Mario Andretti, who “always read his words with a mixture of envy and admiration – wishing that I had half the command of language and thoughtful way of making points that he did.”
“It’s doubtful that any athlete he wrote about achieved as much greatness against adversity as he did,” said Dan Foster.
“Solemnity was invariably a stranger in the words of Jim Murray,” wrote Dan Freeman of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Murray was “the sultan of thought,” said Mike Downey, a Times sports writer. “Jim brought a perspective to his work that most of us trying to work the same beat can’t, providing a reminder that there was a Doris Day before there was a Demi Moore, an Elgin Baylor before Magic Johnson, an Art Aragon before an Oscar De La Hoya, a Bob Waterfield before a John Elway,” said Randy Harvey of the Times.
“I’ve never known anyone so gifted who took himself less seriously,” said respected sports columnist Skip Bayless. “No one could write the way he could. Yet he was an even better person than a columnist.”
“He was an example of artistry so unique that it’s not well imitated,” wrote Bob Ryan in the Boston Globe.
“Reading Jim was always a treat, but knowing him was really fun,” recalled longtime tennis commentator Bud Collins.
“He made his readers laugh and cry, all the while peppering them with enough one-liners to land you a week at the Palace,” recalled Vin Scully. “He leveled cities with tongue-in-cheek descriptions, humanized by hyperbole and punctured the pompous with his literary lance, every day he faced the same challenge, the same blank piece of paper tauntingly unfurled and hanging out of the typewriter like a mocking tongue, daring him to be different, fresh, funny, and incisive. And every day for more than 37 years, Jim Murray not only accepted that challenge.”
Veteran sports writer Frank Deford said, ''He could be brutal. But there was so much humor, people didn't get mad about it.''
Murray may be a part of our past, but technology makes him more than accessible. The Internet makes it very easy to find many of his columns on-line, as well as many of the things written about him. One web link, sportsjournalists.com/forum/index.php?topic=45896.35;wap2, produced a series of Murryisms and pieces written about him. It appears to include Rick Reilly’s 1986 Sports Illustrated human interest feature after the tragedies of blindness, Ricky’s and then Gerry’s passing:
“Arnold Palmer had two of them bronzed. Jack Nicklaus calls them ‘a breath of fresh air.’ Groucho Marx liked them enough to write to him. Bobby Knight once framed one, which is something like getting Billy Graham to spring for drinks.
“Since 1961, a Jim Murray column in the Los Angeles Times has been quite often a wonderful thing. (He's carried by more than 80 newspapers today and at one time was in more than 150.) Now 66, Murray has been cranking out the best-written sports column this side (some say that side) of Red Smith. But if a Smith column was like sitting around Toots Shor and swapping stories over a few beers, a Murray column is the floor show, a setup line and a rim shot, a corner of the sports section where a fighter doesn't just get beaten up, he becomes ‘sort of a complicated blood clot.’ Where golfers are not athletes, they're ‘outdoor pool sharks.’ And where Indy is not just a dangerous car race, it's ‘the run for the lilies.’
“In press boxes Murray would mumble and fuss that he had no angle, sigh heavily and then, when he had finished his column, no matter how good it was, he would always slide back in his chair and say, ‘Well, fooled 'em again.’
“Murray must have fooled all the people all the time, because in one stretch of 16 years he won the National Sportswriter of the Year award 14 times, including 12 years in a row. Have you ever heard of anybody winning 12 anythings in a row?
“After a Lakers playoff game against the Supersonics in 1979, Muhammad Ali ran into Murray outside the locker room and said, ‘Jim Murray! Jim Murray! The greatest sports writer of all time!’
“Which leaves only one question.
“Was it worth it?”
“In 1961 he jumped to the L.A. Times, where he was ready to take on the daily world of sports. Unfortunately, that world was not ready to take him on.”
“Back in 1961, before the Computer Age, writers on the road would type hard copy and Western Union would wire it to the home papers. Except for Murray's stuff. The guys from Western Union would come back to Jim looking befuddled.
" ‘Hey, Murray,’ they would ask, ‘you sure you want to say this?’
“Says Murray, ‘I think they kept waiting for “and then, his bat flashing in the sun, the Bambino belted a four-ply swat,” and it never came.’
“What came instead were one-line snapshots that a hundred fulminations couldn't top. Elgin Baylor was ‘as unstoppable as a woman's tears.’ Dodger manager Walt Alston would ‘order corn on the cob in a Paris restaurant.’ It was the kind of stuff that the guy with a stopwatch hanging from his neck hated, but almost everybody else liked - especially women. ‘I love your column,’ one female fan wrote him, ‘even when I don't know what you're talking about.’ ”
“Murray and nuclear waste dumps have a lot in common. Everybody likes them until one shows up in the backyard.
“Take the state of Iowa. When the University of Iowa got stuck on its ear in the Rose Bowl this year, Murray felt for the visiting vanquished:
" ‘I mean, you're going to have to start covering your eyes when these guys come to town in the family Winnebago with their pacemakers and the chicken salad . . . They're going home, so to speak, with a deed to the Brooklyn Bridge and a watch that loses an hour a day and turns green on their arm.’
“That ruffled Iowans so much that two weeks later Governor Terry Branstad began his state of the state message (as if he didn't have more pressing issues) with a comment for Murray: ‘Jim, we're proud to be Iowans . . . ‘ the Governor said. ‘We're tough and we're coming back.’
“No, no, no, Governor! You're taking it all wrong. To have your nose tweaked by Murray is to be hockey-pucked by Don Rickles. Look on it as a privilege. You're one of the lucky ones. Some people roast celebs. Murray roasts America. He has zinged and zapped every place from Detroit (‘ . . . should be left on the doorstep for the Salvation Army’), to Munich, West Germany (‘Akron with a crewcut!’). In fact, Murray maintains Spokane once got to feeling neglected and wrote in asking for the treatment. Always helpful, Murray wrote: ‘The trouble with Spokane . . . is that there's nothing to do after 10 o'clock. In the morning. But it's a nice place to go for breakfast.’
“Besides, if Murray had dropped dead as thousands have asked him to, sports wouldn't be the same. He has championed dozens of causes, many as stark as black and white, and they've made a difference in the nation's landscape. It was Murray's badgering of The Masters, for instance, that helped that tournament change its Caucasians-only stance: ‘It would be nice to have a black American at Augusta in something other than a coverall . . .’
“He was incredulous that Satchel Paige was having difficulty being inducted into the Hall of Fame: ‘Either let him in the front of the Hall - or move the damn thing to Mississippi.’
“He championed the cause of the beleaguered, retired Joe Louis: ‘As an economic entity, Joe Louis disappeared into a hole years ago and pulled it in after him. He cannot tunnel out in his lifetime. He owes the United States more than some European allies.’ ”
“Despite eye problems and heart surgery in past years. Mr. Murray was still writing his column regularly, puncturing a subject's pomposity or skewering cities . . “This is the Jim Murray who once ripped the United States Golf Association for a setting up a weak U.S. Open course in Merion, Pennsylvania, and then raced to the press tent after the first day of competition to write that he was wrong.
“This is the Jim Murray who would stand up on press row after sending his column and sheepishly announce ‘Fooled 'em again.’
“But if he really thought he didn't matter, then he was only fooling himself.
“Folks still remember how he laughed at the NBA.
" ‘One massive pituitary gland.’
“How he chuckled at USC's beating Notre Dame.
" ‘The crowd at the Coliseum could not have been more surprised if the Christian had begun eating the Lions.’
“And how he protested the resumption of the 1972 Munich Olympics after the terrorist killings at the Games.
" ‘This was supposed to be a track meet, not a war . . . How can they have a decathlon around the blood stains, run the 1,500 over graves?’
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism