He was not a columnist, he was a poet. He was to the written word what Stradivarius was to the violin, Patton to the tank, Aristotle to philosophy.
Jim Murray did not pen what he wrote, he conjured it up. No mere mortal could come up with the stuff he did.
He never met hyperbole he did not like.
USC, coming from behind against Notre Dame, was not just a football team. They were the Wehrmacht marching on Poland. Sherman burning Atlanta.
A big game was not just a big game, it was the Roman Legion vs. Hannibal, Grant taking Richmond.
Murray did not reserve this kind of bluster for only the mighty in the world of sport.
"Al Scates?!" he once exclaimed of UCLA's volleyball coach. "He is to volleyball what Napoleon was to artillery."
Every morning, Southern Californians woke up and were reminded of one of the very best reasons for living here. Jim Murray's column in the Los Angeles Times was that reason. Actually, Murray was syndicated, so it was not just Los Angelenos who enjoyed his work, but the fact that he belonged to us was a source of civic pride, like the Beach Boys, the film industry, or our coast line.
If you were a writer, you read him in awe, like an actor watching Olivier do Othelo, or a young pitcher checking out Randy Johnson. If you liked sports, or even if you did not, you just appreciated the guy.
When some friends of mine lived in Paris, I would send them care packages from home. Nothing was more valuable to them than Jim Murray's column.
When Jim passed away a few years ago, it was like seeing part of the Smithsonian lost to a fire. When the Times published a selection of his columns from 1990-98, it was like seeing the demolished portion of the great museum re-furbished. Or at least like a farewell exhibit.
He is gone, we will never see his likes again, but we can at least read and re-read "The Last of the Best", with a forward by Tommy Lasorda and an introduction by the Times venerable sports editor, Bill Dwyre.
Murray towers above his profession, like Grantland Rice and Red Smith, but as New York Times columnist Dave Anderson says, he is to be compared with the likes of Twain and Hemingway. A great American. His work: Literature.
Murray was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1990, and his response was "I never thought you could win a Pulitzer Prize just for quoting Tommy Lasorda correctly."
Lasorda was greatly honored that Murray thought of him during his great moment, and Tommy has it right. Like Vin Scully and very, very few others, Murray was a guy who towered above the athletes he covered. The ones with some brains and respect for history knew that. If they did not, Murray never let it bother him. Let the ignorant wallow in their stupidity!
Murray came to sportswriting after covering Hollywood. He once had a date with Marilyn Monroe, but she left him before the night was over for another guy.
Murray understood. The other guy was Joe DiMaggio.
Murray wrote with his heart. He had compassion. He also read like crazy. He was a man of great knowledge who never wrote down to his readers. Many chose to educate themselves on who some great violinist or ballet dancer was, simply because Murray would mention them in a column. He make erudition a very cool thing.
In so doing, he did for sportswriting what Clarence Darrow did for the legal profession, MacArthur for a career in the military. He made it important, something to be attained and worked for.
Sportswriters were like carnival barkers before Murray came along. Hacks who drank too much and wrote like high school dropouts, which most of them were.
Nowadays, they study guys like Murray and Jimmy Cannon at prestigious journalism schools.
Mostly, though, he entertained. He made you think, and he made you laugh. Read "The Last of the Best".
God bless Jim Murray.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism