For 37 years, fans of Jim Murray made it a morning ritual to sit down at breakfast, newspaper in hand, and enjoy a bowlful of witticisms and insights spoon-fed by America’s favorite sports columnist. Murray’s nationally syndicated columns were the genuine article, offering a slice of sporting life. He took us from the pits at Indianapolis to Augusta National Golf Club to a front-row seat behind home plate at the World Series.
Murray was the consummate sports scribe, as much a master of the English language as he was adept at dissecting the idiosyncratic world of athletes and the games they play.
Today we go back to the beginning of Jim’s career at the Los Angeles Times when he took to his column to provide a commentary on quotes from other people.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 2, 1961, SPORTS
Copyright 1961/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
The history of western civilization is alive with the deathless quotes of famous men. I can think offhand of Voltaire’s “I do not agree with a word that you say but will defend to the death your right to say it,” which has heartened generations of popoffs from Karl Marx to Tom Duggan and which I wish some baseball players would subscribe to.
Then, there was Benjamin Franklin’s “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately,” which has sustained other generations of his countrymen from the Minute Men to the James Boys and the Brink’s Robbers. It could have been used by the 1960 San Francisco Giants.
Of late years, I am sorry to say that in many areas of the world the art of the rich, full quote has declined precipitately. But this is rather due to the fact that events no longer seem to offer the same inspiration. Winston Churchill has done his yeoman best but his inspiration, i.e., Hitler and Mussolini and, to a lesser extent, the Socialist government, are no longer abroad in a turmoiled world.
Franklin Roosevelt told us we had nothing to fear but fear itself — but we found that out. In recent years, Harry Truman contributed some colorful language but it was largely inspired by music critics and Drew Pearson. And no one expects you can put those in copy books. Dwight Eisenhower’s remarks, while intelligible, were of chief interest to those who understand golf, and John F. Kennedy says, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” but this is not too much help as the answer is “nothing.”
I am happy to say, though, that, while the statesmen and the politicians have been faltering, there is one area of civilization that is still productive of the pithy phrase. This is the world of sports. From it and its doughty band of popoffs have come ringing through the years enough quotes to take up the slack and rule out the possibility Bartlett’s Quotations will one day become a static work largely sustained by Abraham Lincoln and annual re-reading of “Alice in Wonderland.”
No aphorism, for example, has more punch than fight manager Joe Gould’s terse “I should of stood in bed,” on the occasion of the 1935 World Series, which was played in weather so cold pitchers didn’t warm up, they thawed out.
Joe Louis’ shrewd analysis of an opponent’s fight plan, “He can run but he can’t hide,” might very well have applied to general Rommel if Montgomery had thought of it first.
Nowhere in the archives do you find a better example of applied irony than the chance remark of the manager of the New York Giants, Bill Terry, some years ago when he erected his own gibbet by inquiring innocently, “Are the Dodgers still in the league?” Khrushchev frequently wants to take the same dig at our space program but he lacks the flair for it. Besides, it reminds one of Napoleon’s contemptuous dismissal of the English as “A nation of shopkeepers,” the kind of quote that can come back to haunt you as Mr. Terry found out when the Dodgers, that very same year, rose up in the last two games of the season to clobber the Giants and thereby hand the pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals, a fiercely competitive (and closed-mouthed band of players).
It was a lesson that was lost on some. Charlie Dreesen, for instance, casting a look at the self-same Giants some years later was moved to remark with characteristic inelegance, “The Jints is dead.” Correct grammar would have it, “The Giants are dead,” but, even to the casual student of the deathless quote, this would lack much of the breathless and authentic quality of Dreesen’s perversion. In my humble opinion, the Dreesen original may one day take full rank with “You may fire when ready, Gridley,” in the lore of our country. I am proud to be living in an age that produced it. The fact that the Giants were quite alive and proved it by running away with the pennant the next year has nothing to do with it.
I am also proud to be living in the age that produces the published works of Paul H. Richards, who leaped into the public print before the season opened with the ringing assertion, “The Orioles will win the pennant.” Now, this is a case where it is not so much how he said it as what he said. As the Duchess told Alice in Wonderland, “Take care of the sense and sounds will take care of themselves.”
Richards was making sense. The sound you heard was the rest of the league laughing. But they laughed when Farragut said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” too.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
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