Mondays With Murray: 90 Years of Ridin’ The Range

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 1997, SPORTS

Copyright 1997/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

90 Years of Ridin’ The Range

  They called him “The Cowboy” and everybody loved him.

  He never went anywhere without a 10-gallon hat and snakeskin boots. A string tie, if it was formal. He was a legit son of the pioneers, born on the lone prairie of Tioga, Texas, where the deer and the antelope play and the skies are not cloudy all day.

  He was always a happy sort. He was a telegrapher by trade in Oklahoma in his youth mondaysmurray2and, one day, as he was sitting between wirelesses, playing his guitar, fate walked in. It was the greatest cowboy of them all, Will Rogers, and he was wiring in his daily newspaper column.

  Rogers listened to a cowboy lament sung by the young man and he said, “Son, you’re wasting your time sending copy. Go to New York and get yourself into show business.”

  So, Gene Autry did. Only he went west instead of east and became one of the most beloved show business figures in the history of the movie industry. He made 94 feature films as the original singing cowboy.

  His pictures were a staple of Saturday matinees all over the world. He never killed anybody in his pictures, just lassoed the varmints and, at the fade-out, rode off in the sunset, singing about home on the range.

  He never got an Academy Award. They usually gave that to some artiste whose picture lost a million at the box office. But the exhibitors loved him and complained that they wanted a Gene Autry picture instead of one of those costume dramas where everyone went around saying “Forsooth!”

  Everything he touched turned to platinum. He was a canny businessman whose handshake was as good as a 100-page signed contract. He went away to war, even though his producer, Herbert Yates, threatened to make Roy Rodgers a star in his stead if he went through with his enlistment.

  He wrote blockbuster songs with collaborators. ‘Back in the Saddle Again’ became almost as famous as ‘Home on the Range.’ He wrote ‘That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine’ and the whole country cried. He was grand marshal of the annual Hollywood Santa Claus parade and he wrote ‘Here Comes Santa Claus,’ which almost rivalled ‘White Christmas.’ In fact, Irving Berlin stopped him on stage one night and told him he wished he could write cowboy songs, too.

  Autry pioneered what has become country and western music. But he was not infallible. One day, they brought him a Christmas song he didn’t think had a chance and he proposed to put it on the flip side of a record he deemed better. But his late wife, Ina, protested.

  “It’s the song of the ugly duckling! It’s beautiful!” she told him.

  So Gene Autry recorded ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’ It only became the biggest-selling record of all time.

  Gene bought radio stations, TV stations, bankrolled movies. He had parlayed a guitar and a saddle into megamillions and, in 1960, when baseball was going to expand, he and his partner, the late Bob Reynolds, traveled to the winter meetings to see about a radio contract with the new expansion team in L.A.

  Instead of the contract, he got the team. Baseball was overjoyed to have such an immensely popular and impeccable character. And Gene, a lifelong baseball fan, became not only the Angels’ owner but No. 1 rooter.

  He was in the locker room as often as the trainer. In a way, Gene remained a little boy all his life. I don’t think anybody ever saw him mad. In all the years I knew him, I never even heard him curse. He never acted rich. He acted as if he had just left the bunkhouse.

  He was the first owner to move his team out of L.A. But he went only 36 miles down the road to the suburbs, Anaheim. He really just wanted to get out of Dodger Stadium, where his team was like the sister with buck teeth rooming with her beauty queen sibling.

  His baseball team didn’t break his heart. Gene didn’t deal in heartbreak. He was as optimistic as a kid on Christmas morning all his life.

  But real disappointment struck on Oct. 12, 1986. In the pennant playoff against the Boston Red Sox, the Angels, leading three games to one, had two outs and a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning — Boston had a man on base — and needed only one strike to win the ’86 pennant and get into the World Series.

  Alas! The batter, a slumping journeyman named Dave Henderson, hit a two-run homer that gave the Red Sox the lead — and ultimately the pennant.

  It was one of the few unhappy endings of Gene’s career. Even that day, his team tied the score in the bottom of the ninth and had the bases loaded and only one out. All they needed was a fly ball to bring a runner — and the pennant — home. But his last two batters couldn’t do it.

  A terrible footnote to this ill-fated afternoon was that the losing pitcher, Donnie Moore, was to take his own life less than three years later.

  Gene will be 90 on Monday. A gala fund-raising dinner will be held at the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage that night. Eddy Arnold, Rosemary Clooney, Willie Nelson, Roy Clark and Glen Campbell are on the bill.

  I went out to see Gene the other day. We go way back — to the days when I was a young magazine reporter and he was the king of Gower Gulch.

  Gene is in the capable hands of his lovely wife, Jackie, who protects his sunset days.

  He and I struggled through mists of memory to recall the magical days of yore. The cast of characters of Westerns are as long gone as silent pictures. Jimmy Stewart, Hank Fonda, Duke Wayne, Tom Mix and Gary Cooper have all headed for the last roundup. Only Gene remains.

  He’s still the Angels’ Angel. Keeps 75 percent of the club but Disney runs it. He still thinks of the one pitch that got away.

  Maybe it’ll always be 1945 again and he’ll be whistling for Champion after struggling out of the bonds the rustlers put on him. Maybe it’ll be the ninth inning again and this time Doug DeCinces will hit that long fly to center with the pennant flying on it.

  Did he have any regrets? I wondered.

  “Not a one,” smiled the last cowboy. “I’d like to do it all over again!”

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116

———

What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation? 

  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

Like us on Facebook, and visit the JMMF website, www.jimmurrayfoundation.org.

——

A dozen years ago, Linda McCoy-Murray compiled a book of Jim Murray’s columns on female athletes (1961-1998). While the book is idle waiting for an interested publisher, the JMMF thinks this is an appropriate year to get the book on the shelves, i.e., Jim Murray’s 100th birthday, 1919-2019.  

Our mission is to empower women of all ages to succeed and prosper — in and out of sports — while entertaining the reader with Jim Murray’s wit and hyperbole.  An excellent teaching tool for Women’s Studies.

Proceeds from book sales will benefit the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization providing sports journalism scholarships at universities across the country.

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Mondays With Murray: College recruiting — Hypocrisy Reigns at Hapsburg State

NOVEMBER 7, 1986, SPORTS

Copyright 1986/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

College Recruiting — Hypocrisy Reigns at Hapsburg State

   Some years ago, at a clinic in Santa Barbara, the great football coach, Bear Bryant, was holding forth on the arts and mysteries of recruiting. The hour was late and the bourbon flowing, and Bear was moved to drawl:

   “Well, if you got some boys who are good students and have some ability, you send mondaysmurray2them to Cal or Stanford. But if you have some whiskey-drinking, women-chasing, pool-playing studs who are ath-a-letes, why, you just send them down to ol’ Bear to win a championship with!”

   Never was the coach’s credo more succinctly put. The message was clear: College football is not monastic. It’s not even academic. Football players were the mercenaries of our society. They were at the university but not of it.

   They led lives as backward as race horses. Their every need was taken care of. They were told when to go to bed, when to get up, what to eat, how to think. Then, they were led out onto the field and expected to perform like the robots they had become.

   It was exploitive in the extreme. In ol’ Bear’s case, he even housed them in separatist dormitories. As if contact with the scholastic community of the school would contaminate them.

   In a way, their lifestyles always reminded me of that of cavalry officers in the old Hapsburg Empire. They were spoiled, catered to, revered. They had these fancy uniforms and looked beautiful in their plumed hats and epaulets. They were indulged in their alcoholic or sexual peccadilloes.

   They were Europe’s loafer class. They were held in reserve for wars. What they did between them was tolerated, winked at.

   What is different in today’s replay is that our society is shocked when the modern version of these cadets prove to be less than vicar-like in their behavior. College presidents who want victorious teams are less likely to be like the emperors of old and say, “Boys will be boys,” than they are to cluck reprovingly when their modern warrior class blows off steam in an antisocial, the law-be-damned way.

   Tracy Dodds, of this paper’s staff, traced the primrose path trod by one university, Nevada Las Vegas, in its quest of the big time in football, when it set out on the road-to-beating-Wisconsin.

   This road led, as is so often the case, through a police blotter. Some of the best varsity runs were not with a football but with stolen stereos or snatched purses.

   The University of Miami football team, No. 1 in your hearts and No. 1 in all the polls, has been alluded to in the public prints as the real “Miami Vice” by more than one chronicler.

   This is a team of whom a colleague, Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald, once wrote:

   Q. What is the first thing a Miami player hears when he gets into a three-piece suit?

   A. Will the defendant please rise?

   Of whom Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly wrote: “Miami may be the only squad in America that has its team picture taken from the front and from the side.”

   This is our national champion team in more than one sense.

   It is mystifying why college presidents should be so aghast at what they have wrought. They give a coach a contract for a quarter of a million, or income in that bracket, charge him with producing a winning team-and then are shocked when he picks up that team in pool halls or longshore shape-ups instead of seminaries.

   Not all coaches are of the Bear Bryant school of recruiting-and not all players are second-story men at heart.

   But whose is the hypocrisy? The coach, who knows that his charter is to win or else-else being to lose a millionaire’s style of living if he loses to State; the football player, who is taught to play the game at the homicidal level since grade school, or the academician, who wants a winning team at all costs-all costs being the enrolment of even a small percentage of semi-thugs to represent the university?

   College professors are charged with inflicting a moral code of ethics on their classrooms and are expected to turn out not only learned, but also upright members of society. But college professors are tenured. And their effectiveness is not measured each Saturday afternoon.

   If one of the school’s football coaches knew that his job was safe for a lifetime, no matter how many passes his receivers dropped or how many tackles the secondary missed, he might not be so tempted to suit up a guy whose last job was biting the heads off chickens or busting heads in a dance hall brawl.

   Frank Merriwell is dead, the way the game is played today. You get football players the same places Jesse James got his gang.

   The question is, are the nation’s best teams the nation’s best teams because they are scofflaws and hell-raisers? Or are the scofflaws and hell-raisers in the spotlight simply because they are on the nation’s best teams?

   Either way, until they start getting teams from the student body again, we won’t know. Until football coaches can be assured they’re not more than one blocked punt from going into selling insurance, they will not shrink at suiting up quasi-sociopaths or the Abominable Snowman if he can blitz.

   The defendants who should rise are the institutions themselves. The late Bear Bryant did not invent his attitude. The Bear was always good at reading defences. And figuring what the university really wanted from him. He knew he wasn’t going to get it recruiting a backfield of Rover Boys but one of Broadway Joes.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116

———

What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation? 

  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

Like us on Facebook, and visit the JMMF website, www.jimmurrayfoundation.org.

——

A dozen years ago, Linda McCoy-Murray compiled a book of Jim Murray’s columns on female athletes (1961-1998). While the book is idle waiting for an interested publisher, the JMMF thinks this is an appropriate year to get the book on the shelves, i.e., Jim Murray’s 100th birthday, 1919-2019.  

Our mission is to empower women of all ages to succeed and prosper — in and out of sports — while entertaining the reader with Jim Murray’s wit and hyperbole.  An excellent teaching tool for Women’s Studies.

Proceeds from book sales will benefit the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization providing sports journalism scholarships at universities across the country.

Mondays With Murray: Irish Man of the Year!

From all of us at the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Today we bring you a column from 1975 when Jim Murray was honored as Irishman of the Year.

ENJOY!

——

SUNDAY, MARCH 16, 1975, SPORTS

Copyright 1975/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

‘Irish Man of the Year’

   It will come as a great surprise to all of you — to say nothing of St. Patrick, I am sure — but tomorrow night, on the natal day of all Irishmen, I am to be honored by the Masquers Club of Hollywood as the — get this! — “Irish Man of the Year.”

  I can understand their admiration. Being Irish and not making a muck of things by my mondaysmurray2age calls for a testimonial of some kind, an achievement kind of like overcoming a clubfoot.

  It grieves me they had to settle for a mere sportswriter, but that’s what’s happened to the ancestral land of poets, saints and scholars. They’ve all become harbor commissioners. You see, you have to get an Irish author young usually. Before he dies of the drink, that is. If an Irishman says he’s a writer, give him a sobriety test. If he flunks it, he’s a writer.

  They’ll be needing to know a few things about the Irish if they’re wanting to keep from making fools of themselves Monday night. An Irishman is a guy who:

   May not be sure there’s a God, but is damn sure of the infallibility of the Pope.

   Won’t eat meat on Friday but will drink gin for breakfast.

   Believes everything he can’t see and nothing he can.

   To paraphrase Cleveland Amory, is someone who’s very good at weekends, but not very good in the middle of the week.

   Is against abortion but in favor of hanging (or vice versa).

   Has such great respect for the truth he only uses it in emergencies.

   Is irrational in important things but a tower of strength in the trivial.

   Gets married for life, but not necessarily for love.

   Can argue either side of the question, often at the same time.

   Sees things not as they are but as they never will be.

   Believes in leprechauns and banshees and considers anyone who doesn’t to be a heathen.

   Can lick any man in the house he is sole occupant of.

   Cries at sad movies and cheers in battle.

   Considers funerals a festivity but weddings sad events to be put off as long as possible, preferably forever.

   Says he hates the English, but reserves his greatest cruelty for his countrymen.

   Is not afraid of dying, in fact, he might prefer it.

   Gets more Irish the farther he gets from Ireland.

   Believes that God is Irish or, at least Catholic.

   Believes in civil rights, but not in his neighborhood.

   Is against corruption, unless it’s a Democrat.

    Takes the pledge not to drink at the age of 12 — and every four years thereafter.

   Believes that to forgive is divine, therefore, doesn’t exercise it himself.

   Believes salvation can be achieved by means of a weekly envelope.

   Considers anyone who won’t come around to his point of view to be hopelessly stubborn.

   Loves religion for its own sake, but also because it makes it so damnably inconvenient for his neighbors.

   Considers a bore to be someone who keeps constantly interrupting.

   Scorns money, but worships those who have it.

   Considers any Irishman who achieves success to be a traitor.

——————

  Well, you can see we are a very perverse, complex people. It’s what makes us lovable. We’re banking heavily that God has a sense of humor.

  I, myself, have much of the good humor of the Irish, but fortunately few of their faults, or as my grandfather preferred to call them, “inconsistencies,” and I know the Masquers will want to know that I was a) a fine altar boy who never watered the wine like Mick Kingsley to cover up his samplings; b) winner of the Latin medal in grade school over a field of three others; c) the best speller in my class on the boys’ side and 73rd overall; d) a good citizen who always co-operated with the police whenever we got caught sneaking into the Rivoli Theater, because I wanted to save my companions from a life of crime and not, as they suggested, myself from a whipping; e) a Boy Scout who would have made Eagle Scout except I flunked helping old ladies across the street, and whenever I rubbed two sticks together I got sawdust.

  And you ask, how are things in Gloccamorra?!

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116

———

What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation? 

  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

Like us on Facebook, and visit the JMMF website, www.jimmurrayfoundation.org.

——

A dozen years ago, Linda McCoy-Murray compiled a book of Jim Murray’s columns on female athletes (1961-1998). While the book is idle waiting for an interested publisher, the JMMF thinks this is an appropriate year to get the book on the shelves, i.e., Jim Murray’s 100th birthday, 1919-2019.  

Our mission is to empower women of all ages to succeed and prosper — in and out of sports — while entertaining the reader with Jim Murray’s wit and hyperbole.  An excellent teaching tool for Women’s Studies.

Proceeds from book sales will benefit the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization providing sports journalism scholarships at universities across the country.

Mondays With Murray: They Don’t Make Owners Like They Used To

THURSDAY, MAY 23, 1985, SPORTS

Copyright 1985/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

They Don’t Make Owners Like They Used To

   Well, I see where the modern-day versions of the Knight of the Woeful Countenance, the baseball owners of America, have taken up the lance and are tilting at the windmills of change again.

  Now, they’ve come up with a dandy: They want the union to tie their hands and make mondaysmurray2them stop tossing their money off balconies to the hired help like drunken sailors.

  They remind me of one of those multiple murderers who leans over the body to scrawl a sign in lipstick on the bathroom mirror, “Help me!” Or “Catch me before I kill again!”

  Can you imagine captains of industry in the United States of America having to beg unions to stop them from their own pathological over-generosity? Feature John D. Rockefeller doing that, can you? J.P. Morgan? Commodore Vanderbilt? You think that’s how Diamond Jim Brady made his millions?

  I’ll tell you, they don’t make capitalists the way they used to. You talk about ballplayers not being what they used to be. They’re throwbacks to the old models, compared to owners. Pete Rose may or may not be as good as Ty Cobb, but I have to tell you that George Steinbrenner is not a patch on Branch Rickey.

  Did you know that, in 1937, just after he had batted .346 with 46 homers and 167, repeat 167, runs batted in, Joe DiMaggio requested a raise? To $45,000?

  The owner of that day was indignant. He told DiMag that Lou Gehrig had been with the club 13 years and he didn’t make $45,000. I’ll say he didn’t. He made $33,000, it turned out.

  Those were the days when men were men, owners were owners, and ballplayers were peons. You wiped your feet and took off your hat when you went to see an owner in those days.

  Those were the days when Charles Comiskey paid his athletes such niggardly wages that some of them threw the World Series to get enough to feed their families. They got banned from baseball for life. Comiskey went on being known as “the noblest Roman of them all.” He just made sure he didn’t win any more pennants. With the wages he paid, that was easy.

  You think those guys ever had to plead with unions to save them from themselves?

  What would you guess Rickey paid the great Dizzy Dean the year the pitcher won 30 games and put Rickey’s Cardinals in the World Series and won that for them? He got $7,500. You heard me. That’s no typo.

  The attitude of management in that era is pretty much summed up in an interview that Rickey granted J. Roy Stockton, recounted in the book ‘The Dizziest Season’, put together by G.H. Fleming.

  “The average salary should be $6,500 for a star player,” says Rickey. “And he should be able to play for eight years.”

  Says Stockton: “Well, Mr. Rickey, the player gives to baseball the years which, in other businesses, he would be building up his earning capacity with prospects to continue through later life. At $6,500 a year, what would he have to show for his (baseball) labors?”

  Answers Rickey: “Well, out of $6,500, a man should be able to save $5,000. Then, after eight years, he should be able to retire with more than $40,000.”

  Now, that, you have to say is an owner. An owners’ owner. A man who not only ran the club with an iron hand but promoted thrift and frugality in his fellow man and refused to put temptation in his way. You think you needed drug tests for a guy making six grand a year and needing to save five of it? I should say not!

  No, those were owners in those days. The real article. In the same book by Fleming, columnist Dan Parker weighs in with this terse graph:

  “The dope is Jimmie Foxx signed for $16,000, only three grand more than he received last year. In which case, the dope is Jimmie Foxx.”

  Foxx had led the league the year before in homers with 48, in batting with a .346 average, and in RBI with 163. Two years previous, he had hit 58 home runs and batted .364.

  You can see how ownership as a craft has deteriorated. These guys today are not owners, they’re complicated philanthropists. It’s not night ball and artificial surfaces and air travel that are ruining baseball, it’s the owners.

  What ever happed to them? When did they turn from penny-pinching, coin-biting, dollar-hoarding plutocrats and begin to be guys emptying their vaults to banjo-hitting shortstops, .500 pitchers and over-the-hill outfielders? How did they get into the position where, today, they complain of losing $52 million a year?

  They just simply stopped behaving like owners. They began to act like fans, media hypes. They began worrying about their public images.

  They got very, very careless. They let the reserve clause slip — just because it was unconstitutional. You think the old-timers ever cared about the Constitution? They let things go to arbitration, then to court.

  Still, there was nothing in law or anywhere else that said owners had to pay a million dollars a season to mediocre pitchers, that they have to get into a price war for the services of a .230-hitting infielder, that they have to settle multimillion, multiyear contracts on guys who couldn’t make their clubs in the old days, in fact, to some who can barely make them now.

  It’s as if a fever came over them. Their eyes glazed over, they got flecks of foam at the corners of their mouths, and they began to turn on their own best interests in their zeal to get better tables in restaurants and their names in society columns.

  They’re not hard-headed businessmen, they’re in large part practicing egomaniacs. They want the pennant for the prestige it will bring them, not the bucks. They want it for the recognition, the White House dinners it will open up for them, the media exposure.

  At free-agent time, they are like kids locked up in a candy store. They gorge themselves on things that are bad for them.

  Now they want the union to save them from themselves, to give them a salary cap so they can start behaving like owners again.

  Branch Rickey had a salary cap. He didn’t need any union to help him stop throwing his money around. Charles Comiskey’s was more than a cap, it was a ski mask.

  The Supreme Court ruled, years ago, that baseball wasn’t a business, it was a sport. Finally, that’s true.

  Baseball doesn’t need somebody who can break Ty Cobb’s record. It needs somebody who can make a run at Comiskey’s. It needs owners like it used to have.

  Alas, they don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116

———

What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation? 

  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

Like us on Facebook, and visit the JMMF website, www.jimmurrayfoundation.org.

Mondays With Murray: A Day With the Next Ambassador to Cincinnati

Today we bring you Jim Murray’s column from July 15, 1976, when he was invited by President Ford to the White House so he could accompany the President to the MLB All-Star Game.

ENJOY!

——

THURSDAY, JULY 15, 1976, SPORTS

Copyright 1976/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

A Day With the Next Ambassador to Cincinnati

   WASHINGTON — I have been to ballgames with truck drivers, stevedores, guys with tattoos and their own bowling shirts. But I never went to a game before with a guy who could pick up a phone and start a war. I’ve been with lots of guys who could start a fight, mondaysmurray2though. I’ve even been with some rich guys who owned their own plane. But never one who had his own air force.

   I’ve had police escorts before — but never friendly ones. I’ve been in lots of locker rooms. But never with anybody where the players wanted to get his autograph.

  It all began with a phone call Monday. It was from the White House. That had to be a first in my family, too. Would I like to come to Washington and be the President’s guest and fly up with Mr. Ford in Air Force One to the All-Star game in Philadelphia and back?

  We’ll, what are you going to say, “No, I gotta get a haircut that day”?

  Besides, as I told my wife, he probably needs me. I mean, I’m as ready to help my country as the next guy. “Probably a knotty problem with Angola,” I assured her. “Kissinger’s behind this.”

  “How are you flying in and where are you going to stay?” she wanted to know. “That’s top secret,” I told her. “Classified. The Communists will probably be monitoring all our calls. Don’t even tell your sister. I expect I’ll be staying at the White House. The President will want me nearby for consultation.”

  “What will the President want with you?” she wanted to know. “He already knows the infield-fly rule.”

  I made a reservation at the Hay-Adams Hotel across the street from the White House, just in case they wanted me to slip past the press. “If the White House calls, just patch them right through.” I told the desk.

  The call did come through from the White House. I was told to report to the West Lobby, from where I would be driven to Andrews Air Force Base to board Air Force One.

  The cop at the gate did a good job of pretending not to know who I was. “Your driver’s license, please. Take it out of the plastic,” he ordered. I thought for a minute I was going to get a ticket.

  The President had surrounded himself with some of the best global brains for this mission. Joe Garagiola, the old catcher, who reports that the first thing to go with an old ballplayer is the hair — then the legs. There was Ernie Banks, ‘Mr. Cub’, the Bluebird of Happiness, who could think of something nice to say about the Johnstown Flood. “Ernie thinks Nixon just had a bad homestand,” Garagiola chirped. Then, there was David Israel, sportswriter from the Washington Star; John Underwood, from Sports Illustrated; and myself, the expert on Far Eastern affairs.

  When the President summoned us to his quarters on the plane, he was dining on Coquille St. Jacques, a stomach-tester of lobster, crabmeat and cream sauce in a shell, and two scoops of chocolate chip ice cream. I don’t know if the country is in good hands, but it’s a good stomach. I had a beer.

  The conversation veered around to the mess at the Olympics. But the President stopped short of asking me what to do about it. Well short of it.

  I decided to lead into Angola gingerly. “Mr. President,” I said. “did you ever tackle Pug Rentner!” Mr. Ford, you see, was a bare-headed center from Michigan in the ’30s, and Pug Rentner has always been one of my favorite football names. Not necessarily player, just name. With a name like Pug Rentner, you don’t have to be good. I think they put Pug on the All-American team from Northwestern largely because they just wanted to have that name in there.

  “Many times, Jim,” the President told me. “But I got this eye kicked open by Jay Berwanger.” He fingered one eye. “Or was it this one?” he wondered, fingering the other. “I didn’t think Jay Berwanger ever got tackled,” I told him. Besides, if Jay Berwanger ever kicked open my eye, I would have it bronzed.

  When we landed in Philly, it was clear the President was saving me. Possibly for a briefing with Kissinger later.

  We went down to the locker room, where Johnny Bench and Pete Rose were surprised to see me in the Presidential party. “What in the world is he doing with you?” Pete blurted. “Well,” I told him, “He’s looking for a vice-president, isn’t he? Anyway, I may be ambassador to Cincinnati.” I told Pete to be sure not to clap him on the back or to show him how to slide. Steve Garvey wanted to meet the President’s son, Jack. I handled the introductions smoothly.

  We were hustled up to the box of the Phillies’ owner, Ruly Carpenter, where we sat behind bullet-proof glass for the game. The President joined us after he threw out the first ball.

  I had to admire the way he steered the conversation away from me. You would never have guessed that I had been flown into Washington for anything more important than a ballgame. Statesmen don’t rush things.

  Finally, it came. In the seventh inning, the President leaned back. “Jim,” he said, “tell me something.” (“Here it comes.” I thought. “Probably, India, at first, and then the whole Far East.”) The President pointed. “Who’s that at shortstop? He’s in a Dodger uniform.” I looked. “That, Mr. President, is Billy Russell. One of the fastest runners in the league. Hard to double up.”

  Billy Russell promptly hit into a double play. He was out at first by 45 feet.

  Ernie Banks was not waiting to be asked. “Look at that Cedeno,” he told the President, pointing at the batter. “With that stance, he’s never going to hit the ball out of the infield.” Cesar Cedeno promptly hit a ball 600 or 700 feet over the left-field fence. “Yah!” shouted Garagiola. “You change his stance, Ernie, and he hits singles to right field! Bah!” The President laughed uproariously. “I hope he gets better advice from his Cabinet,” someone offered.

  The next day was to be the President’s 63rd birthday. So, on the way home, we all gathered in Air Force One to cut a big cake and sip champagne. Ernie Banks forgot the words to “Happy Birthday To You.”

  At the door, the President shook hands with all of us and thanked us for coming. “Jim,” he said to me. “I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk more.”

  “I’m in the book, Mr. President,” I told him.

  After all, he knows where to reach me.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116

———

What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation? 

  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

Like us on Facebook, and visit the JMMF website, www.jimmurrayfoundation.org.

Mondays With Murray: She Doesn’t Need the Kindness of Strangers

This week we take you to Riviera Country Club for the 2019 Genesis Open.

The Genesis Open is a PGA Tour stop in southern California. It was first played 93 years ago in 1926. While it has gone by a few different names over the years, around here we just call it The LA Open at Riviera.

The 2019 Genesis Open runs from Monday through Sunday at The Riviera Country Club.

Today’s Jim Murray classic is from 1990 where he breaks down the daunting challenge that is Riviera Country Club.

ENJOY!

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TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 1990, SPORTS

Copyright 1990/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

She Doesn’t Need the Kindness of Strangers

  Hogan won here. So did Snead, Byron Nelson. Tommy Bolt won his first tournament here, Johnny Miller almost his last.

  Nicklaus never won here. Neither did Palmer. But a Pat Fitzsimons did. So did a T.C. mondaysmurray2Chen. It was their only tour victories.

  Riviera is a grande dame of American golf courses. A golf tournament at Riviera is like a World Series in Yankee Stadium, an opera at La Scala, a waltz in Vienna, a war in the Balkans. Fitting. The way it should be.

  But the proposition before the house is, is she a fading old dowager living in the shadows of a glorious past, a scrapbook golf course? Today, they build golf courses with three-story traps, doglegs to nowhere, artificial lakes, railroad ties instead of real tees, man-made obstacle courses more suited to training a group of Marines than testing athletes, 18-hole Halls of Horror, as distorted as amusement park mirrors.

  Riviera may be the last golf course they held a U.S. Open on that they didn’t hopelessly try to trick up. In fact, it’s the reason why they began to remanufacture Open courses. When Ben Hogan and two other players broke the old Open record here, the U.S. Golf Association vowed never to let that happen again even if it had to put quicksand in the traps.

  The USGA was horrified, but the facts of the matter were, Hogan would have broken the Open record underwater that year.

  But that was then. Now, Hogan’s Riviera record (275) gets broken more often than the federal speed limit. Fitzsimons tied it in 1975. Hale Irwin broke it (272) the next year. Nine guys have broken the old Hogan mark in the past 14 years. Lanny Wadkins shot a 264 in 1985.

  So, is Riviera yesterday’s roses? Is it cowering in a corner with its hands over its head saying “Please don’t hit me anymore!” as the world’s best pros descend on it this week for the 1990 Nissan Los Angeles Open?

  Hardly. Riviera is still one of the world’s best pure tests of golf. It’s a golf course, not a booby trap.

  The test of a golf course is, if you play your shots right, you make birdie. If you don’t, you make bogey. It’s not a course, as Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial was before they ironed it out, where your scorecard reads “4-4-3-11,” or “3-4-9.” It doesn’t have blind shots, it doesn’t have any water on it. It doesn’t have unfair bounces. Its only eccentricity is a sand trap in the middle of one green. It’s like a British Open course. It can be handled. But you better bring your A-game. No lucky bounces here.

   They shoot low numbers at the Riv now because the equipment is better, the balls go farther, the competition is tougher. And the PGA is not interested in having one of its weekly tournaments look like a truck-drivers’ flight at a municipal track in Terre Haute.

  There were years when, in advance of the L.A. Open, the club would dutifully grow ankle-deep rough till the fairway driving area would be barely 22 yards wide. The members would struggle with it. Then, on the eve of play, the PGA’s Jack Tuthill would arrive, take one look at the narrowing and order “Cut it back!”

  Riviera is nobody’s pitch-and-putt patch. Lanny Wadkins shot 264 here in 1985. But he shot an 84 in a third round only a few years earlier. When the weather cooperates, Riviera can be rewarding. When the wind blows off the sea (or land), it can be as penal as Alcatraz.

  Riviera is not some parvenu in the neighborhoods of the golf world. It is not a mass of insecurities like some resort course that feels it has to be just this side of a climb on Mt. Everest to command respect. Riviera knows what it is and where it belongs. Its ego is not bruised by 63s. Like the Brits, it can say, good on ya, mate!

  They are in order:

  No. 1 — If there’s an easy hole at Riv for the pros, this is it — 501 yards to a big green from an elevated tee. You have to get your birdies here. If you don’t get birdie or eagle on the last day, forget it. In one memorable L.A. Open duel, Hale Irwin and Tom Watson both eagled this hole on the last day. You’ll hate to leave it. It’s like saying goodbye to Kathleen Turner.

  No. 2 — The golf course starts here. A 460-yard par four that the members play as a five. Weiskopf was lying four in a fairway trap here one Open when he suddenly realized he had the flu. He must have. From the look on his face, his temperature must have been 104 and his blood pressure 220/90. This hole can give you the flu. This hole can give you schizophrenia.

  No. 3 — Looks easy. So did Buster Douglas.

  No. 4 — Hogan said it was the toughest par three in America when the wind was blowing. The wind is always blowing. I asked Snead what he used here one Open. “I cut a little driver in there,” he said. “You either make two or five.”

  No. 5 — You’ll never believe it’s only 426 yards when you play it. You know how they name holes at the Masters the “Flowering Crabapple” or the “White Dogwood”? They should name this hole “Help!”

  No. 6 — It has a trap in the middle of the green. I love it! Greatest invention since the thumbscrew. I’d give a week’s pay to see Curtis Strange get in it.

  No. 7 — Hit it straight. Also, hit it left because everything slopes to the right. Don’t hit it too far left or you’ll have the ever-popular tree-root shot. Broken more clubs than Tommy Bolt.

  No. 8 — Looks boring. So did Lizzie Borden. Gary Player looked at it for the first time and said, “Where is the fairway?” There isn’t any, Gary. It’s all trees. Call this hole “Tarzan.”

  No. 9 — You can spray off the tee. If your second shot is short, kiss your act goodbye. Uphill all the way and no green to speak of.

  No. 10 — Looks like a long par three (306 yards). It’s evil. Try frontal assault and you can go back and forth across peninsula green till the sun sets. Lew Worsham did in the ’48 Open, and he was defending champion.

  No. 11 — At least it’s a par five. If you can drive the ball through a keyhole, you’re all right. Green is about the size of Rickey Henderson’s strike zone. And you know what that is.

  No. 12 — Bogart used to sit under the tree that guards the left side of this green with a thermos full of something nourishing. It’s like sitting next to a flooded-out railroad trestle and waiting for the trains to come. Ghoulish.

  No. 13 — Tom Watson hit two balls out of bounds here when he was leading one year. Call this hole “Jail.” Hit it in the trees on the left and you’ll need a court order to get out.

  No. 14 — A par three, it says here. Any more sand and you’d need a camel. Better make two here.

  No. 15 — This hole has the soul of a serial killer. It’s long (450 yards), doglegs right and has more cleavage in the green than Dolly Parton. It’s like putting in a bathtub where the hole is on the side.

  No. 16 — I once made a hole-in-one here. This hole should be ashamed of itself.

  No. 17 — Long, downwind, and you can play drivers off the fairway. But Fuzzy Zoeller once four-putted himself out of the tournament on this hole. You can be aggressive with this hole. You can kick a sleeping lion, too.

  No. 18 — Ah! The Enforcer! The keeper of the keys, defender of the faith. If Jack Nicklaus could have just parred this hole four days, he would have won two tournaments — including the PGA. It’s a fortress. The fairway sits above the tee 50 yards. If you need a three here to win, bring a rosary.

  Well, that’s Riviera as it looks from here. Shoot to kill. The old girl hates to be patronized.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116

———

What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation? 

  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

Like us on Facebook, and visit the JMMF website, www.jimmurrayfoundation.org.

Mondays With Murray: He Forgets His Sock but Still Gives a Boot

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 1988, SPORTS

Copyright 1988/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

He Forgets His Sock but Still Gives a Boot

   He’s the most devastating offensive force in the history of the Rams. A regular juggernaut. Care to identify him?

   Eric Dickerson? Naw. Eric would have needed 37 more touchdowns to catch this guy. mondaysmurray2Crazy Legs Hirsch? No contest.

   Bob Waterfield? Well, you’re warm. In fact, this guy just passed old Buckets on Sunday, becoming the most prolific scorer in Rams history.

   They didn’t stop the game, bronze the ball. Nobody made any speeches. No standing ovations. Not even much of a sitting one. The ref just threw his hands up in the air, as usual, to signify that mighty Mike Lansford had scored again. Just tee it up and let’s get on with the game.

   You look at his statistics and you figure Mike Lansford is somewhere between 6-6 and 9-feet tall, that he weighs in the neighborhood of 255, with sprinter’s speed and answers to the nickname of Iron Neck, or Magic or maybe even Bronco.

   Well, Mike Lansford might just be 6 feet or a little over, he weighs just about 180 and he has never carried, caught or even fallen on a football in a league game in his career. He has never touched a football with anything but his bare foot in years. He can run just faster than junk mail and has all the moves of a cable car.

   He has the perfect set of muscles for his job — none. He buys his shoes one at a time. He doesn’t have to wear pads. He not only doesn’t need cleats, he doesn’t even need shoes. He’s the only guy on the team who hopes somebody runs into him as he is scoring. It means he gets another chance in case he misses.

   You know how some guys spend their lives working out with weights, on exercise cycles? They have to watch their diets, too. But Mike could be eating a hot fudge sundae or a chili dog on the sidelines and it wouldn’t make any difference. No one cares what he runs the 40 in. His longest run of the day is to the sidelines.

   The Rams couldn’t win without him. They have scored 369 points this season and Lansford has scored 109 of them. Often they were the most important 109. With an offense that seems to get vapor lock in the heat of the opposition goal line, the Rams need their regular scoring machine.

   The Rams have scored 27 touchdowns passing, 15 running and one on an interception, but the season would be over if it weren’t for the four field goals Lansford kicked in the Super Dome to beat New Orleans, 12-10, on Oct. 30. Last season, his 3-pointer beat the St. Louis Cardinals on the last play of the game. Five of his field goals this year and 27 in his career have been longer than 40 yards and four have been more than 50.

   Yet, he’s the only guy on the team who makes the fan wince when he goes in the game. This is because Lansford belongs to that hardy breed who go in the game shoeless and sockless.

   “It looks as if it had to hurt like hell,” admits Lansford.

   It looks as if it would demolish toenails, followed by toes and the arches and the rest of the bottom of the leg.

   Actually, kicking barefoot is good for the sole, Lansford explains. First of all, you kick the ball with your instep, not your toe. A bare foot has less chance of introducing a variable into the impact, a lace, a sock, a scuff.

   You have to keep your foot dry. You also have to keep it warm. You can wear leg-warmers, like a ballet dancer, in sub-zero sidelines, but you have to hope the snap is quick when you’re standing on a pile of tundra in Green Bay or Cleveland in December or January.

   This modern-day Shoeless Joe went to this impractical tactic for the most practical of reasons: accuracy.

   “In college (where he once made 73 consecutive extra points for Washington), I was kicking off a 3-inch tee. When I got to the pros (where the tee is not allowed), I was kicking the ball right into the backside of my center. I knew I had to get some trajectory. Or get a truck.”

   Taking off a shoe was a small price to pay. Mike Lansford would have taken off the rest of his uniform for an NFL contract.

   “I kick for the mortgage,” he explains succinctly.

   He was also, as it turns out, kicking for the Rams record book.

   You would think, given its importance, that teams would pick kickers as carefully as they do quarterbacks and linebackers. The rest of the Rams specialists cost the front office a bundle in cash, trades, draft choices. Mike Lansford cost them bus fare.

   Cut after tryouts with the New York Giants, Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, this barefoot boy came walking onto the Rams practice field with his shoe in his hand and has delivered 574 points to the team to date, one more than the heretofore all-time leader, Bob Waterfield.

   Waterfield did it the hard way —13 touchdowns rushing besides the 315 points after touchdown and 60 field goals. Waterfield also threw 99 touchdown passes, whose points were ascribed to receivers. Lansford has 217 extra points and 119 field goals for 574 points, one more than Waterfield.

   At 30, though, the Rams’ barefoot boy is at the bare beginnings, so to speak, of his career. Running backs, even quarterbacks, are on the back nine at that point in their careers. Kickers are only at the third or fourth tee. They don’t have to worry about knee or neck or shoulder injuries. Their worst occupational hazard is an occasional blood blister on the instep or the danger from infection.

   “Sometimes, sand on the field can get between the ball and your foot and can scrape the skin,” Lansford says.

   Lansford’s ambition would be to kick in a domed arena, as does New Orleans’ Morten Andersen.

   “There’s no wind and no grass to interfere with the (holder’s) ball plant,” he says.

   Also, your foot doesn’t turn blue.

   Youngsters growing up in football usually have idols such as running backs, wide receivers, passers, even linebackers, guys nicknamed Slingin’ Sammy, or the Jet, or Mean Joe. Lansford’s idol was a guy named Bruce, kicker Bruce Gossett, whose record strictly for kicking — 571 points —  Lansford also broke Sunday.

   Mike knew who Waterfield was, all right. But Bob’s trouble probably was, he broke the kickers’ code. He got his uniform dirty.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116

———

What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation? 

  The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.

Like us on Facebook, and visit the JMMF website, www.jimmurrayfoundation.org.