Mondays With Murray: A Peek at 1984

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9, 1978, SPORTS

Copyright 1978/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

Jim Murray

A Peek at 1984

   They changed the phone system and numbers at The Los Angeles Times for the first time since the days of the crank telephone the other day. It’s all in the name of automation, but you’ll pardon all of us ink-stained wretches if it makes us a little nervous. I mean, today the phones, tomorrow the staff. 1984 is a little nearer. Big Brother is coming. If they automate the phones, when will they automate the stories? What will become of Hildy Johnson? Will Grantland Rice be made out of tin in the future? Damon Runyon a data bank? Richard Harding Davis just a lot of circuitry with a passport?

  A computer programmed to crank out sports stories is just a couple of transistors away. mondaysmurray2Of course, it will have to be programmed. First, if they listen to us, it will have to learn a few basics. Such as the questions:

  “What kind of a pitch did he hit?” Which must be asked of a pitcher who has just lost a World Series in the bottom of the 12th, 1-0. The computer must be programmed to duck as it asks it. Otherwise, the paper is stuck with the biggest hunk of scrap metal this side of the stretch at Indy.

  The computer will have to learn to enter the dressing room of a fighter who has just been carried in with (1) a broken nose, (2) broken ribs, (3) black eyes, (4) dented Adam’s apple that will make him sound like a ransom call the rest of his life, (5) hemorrhages on both arms, (6) blood trickling out of one ear, (7) teeth trickling out of his mouth. It will have to ask: “Did he hurt you at any time, Bat?” If the fellow is still conscious, or at least alive, teach your computer to lean down and ask, “Would you like to fight him again?””

  Your computer will have to learn to be resourceful. Look for the pithy quote even when you don’t get it from the athlete. If a golfer shoots 80 and says, “I kept hitting it into sand traps,” you quote him for the headline, “ ‘Needed Camel, Not a Caddy’ Says One-Putt Of His 80.” The quote will make all the anthologies, and within a week, One-Putt will think he actually said it.

  When you go into the locker room with a guy who just went 0 for 5 and struck out in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and he says, “Get outta here, you four-eyed hunk of tin before I take a can opener and make you look like a totalled Toyota!” you make a few subtle changes. “Your headline: ‘Feeling So Strong it Frightens Me,’ Says Slugger, Despite 0 for 5.”

  Your story quotes the guy, “ ‘Tomorrow we turn these guys into pumpkins. Hope he throws me that knuckler one more time. He’ll be eating it for a week.’ ”

  Stories without quotes will be even easier. Just keep a stock of standing headlines. “Rams Blow Super Bowl to Minnesota Again” is good any December. Even the story accompanying will just need blanks to be filled in: “The Los Angeles Rams blew their chances for the Super Bowl again this year when the Minnesota Vikings defeated them because of (choose one) a blocked field goal, intercepted pass, rainstorm, sunshine, heavy overcast, superior coaching, or all six.”

  And with baseball, remember that the fans like figures, and give them to them: “The Los Angeles Dodgers drew their 4 millionth fan, sold their 16 millionth hot dog, tapped their 5 millionth barrel of beer, sold their 3 millionth bobble-head doll and had their 2,709th straight overflowing parking lot yesterday. The message board saluted the 2 millionth septuagenarian couple from Nepal, welcomes the 150,000th Rotary club, and announced that next Saturday will be ‘Mafia Night,’ with everyone carrying a violin case or horse’s head to be admitted free.”

  Basketball will be no problem. Keep this standing story: The (leave blank name of franchise) today signed All-American center Tom (Treetop) Tarheeler, the all-time Atlantic Coast Conference scorer with 1,000 points a game, to a multiyear, no-cut contract believed to call for Rhode Island, downtown Dallas, parts of Wilshire Boulevard and the mineral rights to the Gulf of Mexico.

  “The deal also includes his parole officer, the judge who validated the three previous contracts he put his ‘X’ on and the playground director who taught him not to bite people on court.”

  Auto racing? Easy. Just remember death is a mar in auto racing. As in, “Leadfoot Lonergan won the 57th running of the Fireball 500 today in a race marred by the death of …” You just have to fill in the number of drivers and/or spectators.

  In bullfighting, remember death is not a mar, it’s a must. If the bull doesn’t die, well, he gets bad notices.

  Don’t worry about statistics. Just feed your machine a daily diet of bubble-gum cards and it will know more sports trivia than a Boston cop.

  After a year or so on the beat, though, your machine will begin to act strange. It will keep its hat on in the office. It will begin to drink. It will begin to speak of the home team as “we.” It will get sick of people asking, “What’s wrong with the Rams?” It will start to complain about box lunches, the Ram offense, and the amount of space it gets for its story. Its mate may start to hope the home team doesn’t make the playoffs so it can stay home for Christmas for a change.

  And then will come the day when it will start to write about a mark being set for right-handed, half-Portuguese, half-Italian third basemen, about the “Z-outs” run by the tight ends, and it will start storing up non-winning fractions in dual meets — and you’ll know it’s the beginning of the end.

  When it starts to write, “Outlined against a blue-grey October sky . . .” or “Give me a handy guy like Sande,” then you’ll know it’s time to go to the graduating class of Princeton and wait for the first kid out of English Lit. and say, “Do you know who Ty Cobb was?” And if he says, “Who?” grab him. You’ll know you have yourself the perfect computer for the year 2000.

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

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Mondays With Murray: Dandy Koufax

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 1965, SPORTS

Copyright 1965/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

Jim Murray

Dandy Koufax

   There was this night when we were sitting around trying to imagine what would happen if a lot of history’s characters had had Jewish mothers. Like, “My Son, the Traitor” (Benedict Arnold’s mother); “My Son, the Ape” (Tarzan’s mother); “My Son, the Doctor and Mr. Hyde” (Dr. Jekyll’s mother).

  There would be a “My Son, the Channel Swimmer,” “My Son, the Bullfighter,” “My Son, mondaysmurray2the Spy.” But all of us overlooked the most obvious one of all: “My Son, the No-Hit Pitcher” (Sandy Koufax’s mother).

  There’s an old saying that when a thing happens once, it’s an accident. Twice, it’s a trend. Three times, and it’s a habit. Four times, and it’s a rut.

  Sandy Koufax is in a rut. A no-hit rut. Every year, as regularly as summer, he pitches a no-hit game. There have been 160 no-hit games in major league history. If Sandy Koufax had stuck to architecture (“My Son, the Planner”), there would only be 156 of them. The only way he could improve now is to pitch so well some night the other team ends with a minus-two. He has now added a “perfect” game to go with his first three mere no-hitters. He’s getting the hang of the thing.

  A pattern has now been established for a Sandy Koufax no-hitter which is getting as recognizable to aficionados as a Rembrandt, a Picasso, or a Warhol. It has to (1) be night; (2) have Eddie Vargo umpiring behind the plate; and (3) have Harvey Kuenn as the last batter. The opposing team doesn’t matter. There have now been four different ones. When Sandy’s fastball is crackling it could be the 1927 Yankees — or the 1914 German Army for all of that.

  A no-hit game is often as freakish as snow in July. Some great pitchers never pitched one. Lefty Grove, for instance. Dizzy Dean. (But his brother Paul did.)

   Warren Spahn threw two. So did Virgil Trucks. Bobby Feller and Cy Young threw three. So did somebody named “Lawrence J. Corcoran” who did not otherwise grace the record books. But most of the names in the no-hit record books comprise the great nobodies of our time. Johnny Vander Meer threw two in a row (including the first night one) but he never did much of anything else. Guys like Bill Dietrich, Ed Head (surely, you remember him!?), William McCahan, Donald P. Black, Robert C. Keegan are a few recent no-hit nobodies. Robert Belinsky threw one, you may recall.

  A bon vivant named Alva (Bobo) Holloman threw one in his first major league start. He was back in the bush leagues before the month was up, but since his club was the St. Louis Browns, he hardly noticed the difference. As long as they didn’t water the drinks.

  In his merry book, “Now Wait a Minute, Casey!” the New York Post’s Maury Allen alluded to a jingle the Manhattan baseball writers sang at their annual dinner. “Sandy, You’re a Dandy, You’re a Jewish Walter Johnson.” But now that Sandy has thrown his fourth no-hitter, the chances are better that Walter Johnson (one measly lifetime no-hitter) may come to be known as the Gentile Sandy Koufax. And don’t forget Walter Johnson could pitch on Rosh Hashanah.

  When Sandy first came up to the Dodgers, it was the private guess of most that, if he ever went down in history as the game’s foremost no-hitter, it would be with the bat. There is a prevailing opinion that Sandy, as a

human being, is almost too good to be true — and I have never seen him do anything to dispute it. But when he first took a pitcher’s mound, he was too true to be good. If he hit anybody with a baseball, it was an accident. If Don Drysdale missed anybody, it was an accident.

  The incident in Candlestick Park last month served the purpose of illustration. It was before Juan (The Enforcer) Marichal (one lifetime no-hitter) had taken, so to speak, his cuts with the bat (the cuts, by the way, bled) but he had knocked down two Dodger batters.

  When Willie Mays came up, everybody in the ballpark (including Willie) knew the first pitch was going to be a ball — high and inside, way inside. Willie knew if he lingered in the batter’s box he would have two lumps in his throat — one of them with Warren Giles’ signature on it. He started to run out of the batter’s box before the jewish Walter Johnson completed his windup. He need not have worried. Like the other Walter Johnson, this one doesn’t believe in attempted murder — with a ball or bat. The pitch was more of a threat to a low-flying jet than to Willie Mays.

  Of course, someone recently checked into the myth that the real Walter Johnson never brushed a batter back because he was afraid he would kill him, and found to his dismay that Walter led the world in hit batsmen — a cool 204 in his lifetime. This puts him almost 200 ahead of Sandy Koufax. That may be the only department he will lead Sandy in when Sandy finally goes back to the drawing board.

  As teammate Don Drysdale said the other night when Sandy came in from his annual no-hit game, “Do you think they’ll take the uniform off him before they bronze it or will they leave him in it?”

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: This Selection Didn’t Just Come Out of Left Field

TUESDAY, AUGUST 2, 1988, SPORTS

Copyright 1988/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

Jim Murray

This Selection Didn’t Just Come Out of Left Field

   COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — I half expected Babe Ruth to come down off the wall and say, “Get that guy outta here!” I thought Ty Cobb would spike me. I figured Don Drysdale would throw at my head.

 I would expect an alarm to go off or a wake-up call to sound. Except, I wouldn’t even dream this.

 What am I doing in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown? I mean, there goes the mondaysmurray2neighborhood, right?

 Me! One of the great non-athletes of our time. I was practically born with one foot in the bucket. I couldn’t hit a curveball if you diagrammed it for me beforehand. I wouldn’t recognize a slider from 10 feet away.

  I’m the guy who used to get a headache the day fastball pitchers were going to throw, a guy who’d pretend to fall down under hard line drives. I’d wait for a walk. I don’t think I got to third base five times in my life. Some guys have been on the moon more than I’ve been on third.

 You’ve heard of people who couldn’t hit the curveball? I couldn’t hit a straight ball. You’ve heard of guys who couldn’t hit the fastball? I couldn’t hit the slowball. To tell the truth, I couldn’t hit, throw, or catch anything going more than 5 m.p.h.

 So, what am I doing here in a shrine with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax?

 Good question. I’m glad you asked. If you’ll get my guitar, I’ll sing you the haunting ballad of that most long-suffering, patient, loyal group of people who ever stood and served–the baseball fans.

 You see, baseball is not all hits, runs and errors, ticker-tape parades and the keys to the city. Does a falling tree make a sound if there’s no one there to hear it? Would Shakespeare be Shakespeare if no one came to hear the lines?

 Baseball is a guy sitting with a beer and a hot dog and a bag of peanuts in the third deck hollering, “Call yourself a pitcher, Drysdale? You couldn’t get a fastball past Helen Keller!”

 Baseball is love. Baseball is probably the ultimate in sports caring. No one bleeds like the baseball fan whose team is in a long slump.

  Baseball is an affection, but it’s also an affliction. The home team loses and the coffee tastes bitter, food becomes cardboard, life becomes a study in the morose.

  It’s no accident that the most famous poem in baseball history is about defeat, failure. Baseball fans understand. Baseball fans deal in disappointment. Baseball fans jeer so they won’t sob. They boo to insulate themselves against disappointment.

  It has been said that to be a baseball fan is to remain 12 years old all your life. It’s to have heroes, and no one over 12 has room for heroes.

 The baseball writer is the ultimate fan. He’s the surrogate for the fan. He’s as important to the game as umpires. He and the fan are a partnership. The fuel that drives the ship.

 Baseball was built by Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, Willie Keeler, Cy Young, Rogers Hornsby, Walter Johnson, Willie Mays and Henry Aaron. They are American royalty. They should be buried in a Westminster Abbey when they’ve gone.

 But who would they be if there were no one to tell you about them? Would there even be this magnificent Hall in this picturesque little town in Upstate New York, ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ country, if there hadn’t been a Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, Damon Runyon, Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon or Jimmy Breslin to tell you about them? To bring imagination, a sense of the dramatic?

  Would you know that Willie Keeler once said he would “hit ’em where they ain’t” if a reporter hadn’t had a nice ear for a quote? Where would the game be if us guys grew up?

  What’s the sense in Ruth “calling his shot” if there’s no typewriter present? Who called him the Sultan of Swat? How did Gehrig become the Iron Horse? How come so many people, when Mickey Mantle struck out, feel as if they had struck out?

 I rest my case. If love of baseball gets you here, I should have made it long ago. I should have gone in with Ruth and Cobb.

 Baseball is not about winning. Baseball is about “Wait till next year!” Baseball is about hope, if not charity. And faith.

  I told the Hall of Fame crowd I didn’t see how Yankee fans stayed fans all those years when they won everything — in four straight. What fun is a game when every card you pick up is an ace? How do you recognize joy if you never experience adversity?

 That’s how baseball hooks you. Losing is such sweet heartache. Losers close ranks. There are no bonds like those of the bleacher crowd of a losing team. There are no tears as salty as those of the fan whose favorite pitcher just walked in the winning run — and maybe the pennant.

 Even the players learn to live with frustration. Even the best of them fail seven of 10 times with the bat. Even Sandy Koufax gave up home runs with the bases loaded.

 So, I like to think they put writers and broadcasters in this thing as stand-ins for the fans. We also stand in for every beat writer who ever had to go down to a locker room and ask a pitcher who has just thrown the home run ball that lost the World Series why he didn’t curve it and got told, “Take a hike, ya four-eyed creep, before I curve you!”

  Together, we form a partnership that has made child’s play into a billion-dollar industry. As far as I’m concerned, the writers’ wing has its own Murderers’ Row. Lardner, Runyon, Grantland Rice, Bob Broeg, Dan Daniel, J. Roy Stockton, Jack Lang. I’m just glad to be in there to bunt them along, pinch-run for them, pick up the bats.

 We are all boys of summer. The years drop off, the step gets lighter, the heart beats faster when we step through the turnstile and hear the bats cracking and smell the hot dogs cooking. It’s summer again and Casey’s coming up and the bases are loaded and this time he’ll hit it. “Outta the lot, Hack?” implores the fan.

 I once said to Pete Rose, everybody’s kid brother and the next unanimous Hall of Fame inductee-to-be, “Aren’t you glad, Pete, there’s a game like baseball that lets you make all this money?”

  Pete looked at me as if I were a 3-and-2 pitch and curving. “Yeah,” he said. “Aren’t you?”

 You better believe it, Pete.

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: Plenty of Bread in NBA’s Circus

JULY 28, 1996, SPORTS

Copyright 1996/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

Jim Murray

Plenty of Bread In NBA’s Circus

You know, it was not too long ago — I’m old enough to remember — when, if you were seven feet tall, the best you could do with your life was join the circus. Or get a fur hat and open cab doors for rich folk outside a New York hotel. Now you get $17 million a year and all the Rolls-Royces you need. People open cab doors for you.

  And you get it while you’re young and can enjoy it. It’s not as though you have to work your way up the business ladder or plug away at Wall Street as J.P. Morgan had to do. You mondaysmurray2don’t have to invent the elevator or electric light. All you have to do is post up, whatever that means.

  I can remember when if you were seven feet, you couldn’t play basketball. For one thing, you had to bounce the ball on the floor if you went to the basket, and seven-footers were too slow and too clumsy to do that. Today, you can go to the basket like a guy running for a bus and everybody scatters out of your way. Also, seven-footers aren’t pituitary freaks anymore. They’re perfectly proportioned.

  Dr. James Naismith invented basketball precisely so you couldn’t carry the ball like a fullback. He wanted a sport in which brute strength didn’t count so much as finesse and grace.

  You think Naismith ever envisaged the dunk shot? You think he ever envisaged anyone signing a $120-milliion contract to play his game?

  Of course, it’s the oldest con in the world, as old as the Roman Empire. Juvenal first called attention to it in the 1st century A.D. when he wrote, “Two things only the people require — bread and circuses.” The Roman emperors gave it to them. Chariot races, Christians vs. lions. Only, the best the Christians could get was their freedom; the best the lions could get was a Christian for lunch.

  Nothing changes. To keep the citizenry from becoming mutinous, you give them the circus — something that lets them paint their faces blue or red and jab their forefingers in the air and scream “We’re No. 1!” on television. Nero would have understood.

  You think basketball fans aren’t high-fiving each other over the capture of Shaquille O’Neal by the Lakers? Get real.

  You think the public cares what Shaq cost? They think it’s somebody else’s money. Television’s, maybe.

  It isn’t. It’s their money. Even if they don’t pay the $600 per game for the courtside seats, they pay for the dunk shots, the sky-hooks, the fast breaks. “Free TV” is an oxymoron. Every time you buy a Ford or Toyota or can of Pepsi or pair of Nikes, you’re paying for what they sponsor. The cost of the ad is factored in the cost of the car. You’re paying for your circuses.

  Sometimes it’s difficult for us old-timers to comprehend what’s happening in the counting houses of sports these days.

  I’m also old enough to remember when Bob Short first brought the Lakers to Los Angeles. They were going broke in Minneapolis, where the games were played in relative privacy.

  They didn’t exactly have SRO, either. Basketball was far from a sports-page staple. Baseball was America’s sport of choice. Football. Boxing. The highest salary in the NBA those days was $19,000 a year. Plumbers did better.

  I went to a playoff game once — a playoff game! — at which there were 2,800 paying customers.

  All that changed. I helped. I had the sport almost to myself. And what a sport! Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain. The Big O. I was like a kid in a candy store. I traveled with the Lakers. What a cast of characters! They almost wrote themselves.

  But modesty dictates I must confess it was Chick Hearn who did the most to make the Lakers household names in L.A. First on radio, then on TV. Television was slow to pick up on the sport, but basketball, like football, was uniquely suited to the TV screen, a rectangular sport with a large ball.

  The pro game didn’t even have a radio contract at first. Teams played league games in places like Sheboygan, Morgantown, Peoria. A league game was a prologue to a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition. The Globies drew the people, not the Knicks or Lakers.

  The graph grew. Smart entrepreneurial owners such as Jack Kent Cooke moved in. Jack knew what sold tickets — stars. The Lakers had an Academy Award lineup. What they didn’t have was the clincher — the big man in the pivot. Jack twisted arms till he wound up with Wilt Chamberlain. When Wilt left, Cooke angled to get Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Jack didn’t want playmakers, point guards, sixth men. Jack wanted the marquee players, guys nicknamed “Magic.”

  Now, Jerry Buss has joined the owners’ wing of the Hall of Fame. He has done what Cooke did, brought the Big Man to town, put the team on Page 1 again.

  The circus is in place; the bread is somebody else’s problem.

  Will O’Neal be a tumble-down Shaq? Or are Michael, Olajuwon, the Admiral Robinson, Patrick Ewing ready to yield their positions?

  Is even a championship circus worth that kind of bread? Do you know how much $120,000,000 comes out to? Well, if you spent $1,000 a day for the next 300 years you’d still have almost $11 million left.

  But there’s only one Shaq. And Buzzie Bavasi, the baseball man, said it best. “You don’t mind giving all those millions to a Babe Ruth. But where does it say you have to give $34 million to a second baseman hitting .230?”

  Exactly. It’s the other guys on the coattails who boggle the mind. Chris Childs is getting $24 million for six years? Who, pray tell, is Chris Childs? Antonio Davis is getting $38.5 million for seven years? I wouldn’t know Antonio Davis from Bette. Dale Davis is getting $42 million for seven years. Allan Houston is getting $56 million for seven years. He played for Detroit last season, in case you didn’t know.

  Don MacLean is getting $12 million for four years and you almost feel like taking up a collection for him. Alonzo Mourning is to get $112 million for seven years. Gary Payton gets $85 million and nobody ever called him “Mr. Clutch” or “The Big G.”

  I’m always happy to see a kid move up in the world. But I can’t help but feel sorry for all those earlier-day giants who had to bend crowbars or tear telephone books or sit in the sideshow with the bearded lady or the tattooed man to earn a living. One sure thing: Dennis Rodman could handle it either way. And bite the heads off chickens if you wanted.

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 Boot for Soccer

Friday, June 30, 1978, SPORTS

Copyright 1978/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

A Boot for Soccer

It’s the world’s biggest athletic extravaganza. More than 140 nations took part. More than a billion people watched it live or on TV. The World Series dwarfs by comparison. The Super Bowl is just a football game.

It has everything. Patriotic fervour, betting interest. Monarchs watch it. Prime ministers keep a radio to their ears. A guy in Brazil kills himself because his team lost. The New mondaysmurray2York Yankees might be a bunch of guys from Texas and Florida but in this game the ‘home’ team is really the home team.

It’s World Cup soccer, a quadrennial frenzy that catches up four continents in its excitement.

Why not Americans? What is it about this world sport that turns us off, that keeps it a bush league event in this country, a country that always likes to go where the action is, to join the party?

Over the years, under pressure from complaining friends who are perplexed because the U.S. does not take soccer to its bosom, I have tried to come up with an answer. Imperfect as they may be, I have several.

—————

First of all, the U.S. sports fan wants more than just a game. The essence of sports in this country is competition — and controversy. The American fan also demands suspense. Soccer lacks two of the three.

Come with me to the broadcast booth. It is the Super Bowl game. The score is Cowboys 17, Oakland Raiders 14. There are two minutes to play and Oakland has the ball on the Cowboys’ 40-yard line, first and 10. Listen to the announcer:

“And it’s a pitchout to Clarence Davis and he’s on the 39, 38, 37 — all the way to the 35-yard line and it’s second and five and there is one minute and 48 seconds to play! And Stabler is fading back — there’s a man open! — it’s Biletnikoff and he’s down on the 25-yard line! And there’s one minute and 25 seconds to go! They’re in a slot right, it’s a fake handoff to Van Eeghen and it’s Stabler back to pass. It’s complete on the 16 and it’s second down and one to go and the seconds are ticking away!”

It goes on like that. The suspense builds and builds. Hearts pound, people can’t bear to look. Time out is called to adjust defenses, rearrange strategy.

Now, let’s look at the soccer game. Boom! a guy kicks the ball down to the (in effect) 10-yard line. Boom! a defending player kicks it back to the, in effect, 75-yard line. The peril does not build. It is all but invisible. I would imagine soccer would be totally unsatisfying as a radio sport.

————

That’s point one. Now, take controversy. Americans love to sit around the hot stove all winter and argue strategy. They even have a name for it: the Hot Stove League. What do they talk about?

“He shoulda bunted. Why din he bunt in that situation — two men on and one out and trailing by one run in the seventh. I woulda bunted.”

“Why din he walk him? Why let Henry Aaron beat you a game? He shoulda walked him!”

“Why din the Raiders kick a field goal in that situation? They tie the score and go into overtime. Win the toss and you win the Super Bowl!”

“Why din Stabler try an end run? They were looking for the pass!”

Or, “Why din Stabler pass? Caster was wide open. He shoulda saw the Cowboys were in a stack!”

In basketball, they might say, “Why din he foul ’im?”

And so on. Americans love to chew over victories and defeats. “Why din he put in a pinch-hitter?”

What do you chew over in soccer? Do they sit around pubs and second-guess all winter? If so, over what?

There are other inhibiting factors. You use only part of your body, your legs. You can play the game in handcuffs. The host country wins suspiciously often. The World Cup was inaugurated in 1930 in Uruguay. Naturally, Uruguay won. When it is held in England, England wins. When it is held in West Germany, West Germany wins. When it is held in Italy, Italy wins. And when it is held in Argentina, Argentina wins. Brazil is almost the only “road” team ever to win World Cups and it won three of them. On the road.

Well, these, I think, are some of the reasons Americans are slow to join the chorus. It’s not the fact the game is not violent enough for us. What’s violent about golf? Tennis? It’s just that the game takes away our inalienable right to second-guess. And our right to scream “Hold that line!” when the enemy forces are massed on the one-yard line, fourth and goal to go. In soccer, goals are kind of like mother-in-law’s visits — unexpected, unwelcome, without warning and — most fatal — unable to be anticipated.

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

Monday’s With Murray: Racing Holds Its Breath Over Secretariat

THURSDAY, JUNE 7, 1973, SPORTS

Copyright 1973/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Racing Holds Its Breath Over Secretariat

Just five weeks ago, 28 horse owners were ready to buy a rope and go after a lady who had sold them a horse. 

  Mrs. Penny Tweedy didn’t look much like a David Harum, but selling 28 guys the same horse was a pretty good start.

  That wasn’t the worst. She charged them $5,320,000 for it and kept four points for herself. Jesse James would have whistled in admiration.

  The horse had all its legs and eyes and could pull a plow all right, but that afternoon in mondaysmurray2April he had just run down the track to a stablemate and a West Coaster who had just gotten off a plane from Santa Anita which, as everyone in New York knows, is a track that runs downhill.

  Twenty-eight guys had just paid $190,000 apiece for the stud fees to a 7-furlong horse. Now it wouldn’t even be able to get a blind date.  

  Well, that was April. Now it’s the week of the Belmont Stakes and Secretariat, the horse, has been on the cover of Time, Newsweek, The Blood Horse, Sports Illustrated, and he looks like a $6-million steal. His stud book will be busier than a sultan’s. If he loses the Belmont, he’s going to take more money with him than a bank president absconding to Rio. He’s scared everybody out of the race except poor old Sham, his

faithful old Indian companion who’s chased him across three state lines now. 

  The horse writers have pulled out all the stops. To hear them tell it, you’d think this horse talked, or could pull babies out of burning buildings. They named him Horse of the Year when he was only two years old, which is like making an outfielder from Peoria the MVP.

——

  The Triple Crown (Kentucky, Preakness and Belmont races) has been harder to win than a crap game on the waterfront, or a fight with your wife, and any horse who wins it immediately becomes Babe Ruth. Eight horses have won it, lifetime, and each of these races is now 100 years old or better.

  All racing will be holding its breath as Secretariat heads for home Saturday. If his leg snaps in the stretch, or the boy falls off, the Jockey Club puts a wreath on the door. Or moves the Belmont to Juarez.

  One hundred years they’ve been improving the breed, and all they turn out is hemophiliacs. The Hapsburgs could have told them that. It’s good for any society to have the daughter elope with the milkman every now and then, or marry a guy who doesn’t need a monocle.  

  Still, an examination of the fine print shows the Triple Crown not to have been all that difficult. Since Citation last won it in 1948 several have flunked out. Does anyone doubt Native Dancer should have won it in 1953? That was one of the Great-Mistakes-In-Sports-History, ranking with Sam Snead not winning the Open, Ernie Banks not playing in a World Series, or John Barrymore never winning an Oscar. The Kentucky Derby was the ONLY race Native Dancer ever lost.

  Tim Tam should have won in 1958, but he had only three legs by the head of the Belmont stretch. Damascus probably should have won it in 1967, but came up to the Derby short on conditioning and lost to a 30-1 shot that he easily disposed of in the other two ‘Crowns.’ Gallant Man should have won it in 1957. He was easily the best in the Derby until Bill Shoemaker, like a bus rider who misjudges his stop, got off too early. He didn’t contest the Preakness, but lumped Bold Ruler and the rest of his company again in the Belmont.

  In all, seven horses have come up to the Belmont with two-thirds of the Triple since Citation. And at least two other horses (Nashua, Damascus) won the wrong two.

  Well, let’s hope there’s nothing hiding in the hedges that will un-crown Secretariat on Saturday. Much is made of the fact that there were only about 5,000 foals in Citation’s natal year that he had to beat, while Secretariat was one of 25,000. I don’t buy that.

  Whenever you’ve got 25,000 of something, you can bet me it ain’t as good as something there’s only 5,000 of. That goes for horses, money, marbles, diamonds, paintings, books — and people. And words, too. The Gettysburg Address, remember, fits on an envelope.

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: End of an Era/The O’Malley Years — 1950-1998

FRIDAY, MARCH 20, 1998, SPORTS

Copyright 1998/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

 JIM MURRAY

END OF AN ERA/THE O’MALLEY YEARS:  1950-1998

   When Walter O’Malley moved the Dodgers out of Brooklyn, a lot of people there wanted to hang him in effigy. Others wanted to hang him in person.

   But what he had done just might have saved baseball.

   You don’t think so? Think that might be a little hyperbolic?

   Well, just ask any .248 hitter earning $3.1 million. He would have been lucky to get 35 mondaysmurray2grand back in the days when God was in Heaven and the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.

   O’Malley moved the game to a new level. TV was a catalyst, but there was TV in 1958, too.

   The trouble was, baseball wasn’t national till O’Malley came along. It was a pretty exclusive club, largely confined to the northeast section of the country.

   The Boston Braves didn’t upset the status quo much when they moved to Milwaukee in 1953. And in 1955, the Philadelphia Athletics moved only to the perimeter, Kansas City.

   Baseball was so intermarrying, you’re surprised it didn’t get hemophilia.  Thirteen times since 1921, the game’s shining crown, the ‘World’ Series, had been an all-New York affair, a so-called ‘Subway Series.’ The game was like a key club. Bring references. Wipe your feet. Anything west of the Hudson was Hicksville. West of the Mississippi, Indians.

   When the Braves broke the mold and moved to Milwaukee, no one much cared. The Braves were the stepchild of Boston. The game there belonged to the Red Sox. The Braves used to play before crowds so small you could count them. And they had won only two pennants in their long history, both before the First World War.

   In Philadelphia, the A’s had a long history of dismantling championship teams for money. This time, they sold everything — players, franchise, license to play, even home plate. They moved out of economic necessity.

   But the world wasn’t ready for O’Malley’s shock. He not only moved the Dodgers, he took the Giants with him.

   New Yorkers couldn’t have been more outraged if he had jacked up the Empire State Building and moved it to Peoria. It was the biggest heist in sport history.

   Actually, Giant owner Horace Stoneham wasn’t much of a hard sell. He was going to move to Minneapolis anyway.

   And the Dodgers in Brooklyn weren’t really paupers in baseball terms. They were the most successful franchises in National League history. They had won six pennants in the 10 years before the move, had been in pennant playoffs twice. They had finished no worse than second over those years, drew a million customers a year, led the big leagues in net profit after taxes — $1,860,744 — for the five-year period 1952-1956.

   They were the darlings of every political activist in the country because they had integrated the sport a decade before.

   O’Malley had acquired the club for an initial outlay of $720,000, after he had been sent by the Brooklyn Trust Co., executor for the estate that owned the club, to oversee its operation.

   He oversaw it, but he didn’t overlook it. He could see the club’s value. It was a one-of-a-kind among only 16 in the world, rarer than diamonds, and he chafed under its penny-ante operation.

   He wanted to build his own ballpark in downtown Brooklyn. He was playing in a rundown, cracker-box firetrap built in the early 1910s.

   He wanted to move no farther than the intersection of Flatbush Avenue at Atlantic, but, even though the governor himself, Averell Harriman, came down to sign the enabling legislation, O’Malley got the runaround. The Sports Center Authority there, so to speak, died on third.

   So, O’Malley sang, “California, Here I Come” and took his team to the airport.

   Bill Veeck and his St. Louis Browns had tried to make this move a few years earlier, but Veeck was persona non grata with the execs of the game, notably Yankee owner Del Webb. O’Malley, on the other hand, was so powerful, it was said when Commissioner Ford Frick spoke, you could see O’Malley’s lips move.

   When O’Malley moved, he built his own ballpark in L.A., the last baseball executive to do so, but only after the city had deeded him 184.5 acres in Chavez Ravine and spent $4 million more grading and asphalting the property. O’Malley traded them the minor league ballpark, Wrigley Field, for the Chavez Ravine site, which was kind of laughable, since Wrigley Field was headed for the wreckers’ ball anyway and, at 41st and Avalon, was hardly prime real estate. (In San Francisco, Stoneham got his city-built ballpark for a paltry $125,000 a year!)

   The O’Malleys profited hugely from the transfer from Flatbush to Chavez Ravine. But how about the city of Los Angeles? How has it fared?

   Well, compared to the blandishments other cities hold out to major league franchises from football to basketball, it may seem to some that the Dodgers came cheap.

   How do you put a price on the community of five World Series titles, nine National League pennants and nine division titles, plus other close title races?

   How much business does that attract to a town? How much does the fact the city has a major league franchise in the first place play in attracting tourists, conventions, new businesses? The facts are, any city bids high for a Super Bowl, which comes with a high price tag affixed. Even a World Cup with an alien sport commands spirited bidding.

   The good to the game of baseball is incalculable. How much vitality does it attach to a sport to have out-of-town cadres hanging up “Beat L.A.!” signs? To have a franchise playing the bad guy in the melodramas of baseball? To move into an area where the rest of the country had already beaten them? The state is 32.6 million now. It was probably half that when the Dodgers came.

   The Dodgers were the first team to attract more than three million fans in a single season, 3,347,845 in 1978, and they have done it 12 times. Before the Los Angeles Dodgers, not only had no team ever drawn three million, only one, the Cleveland Indians in 1948, had ever drawn two million.

   There used to be a boast in Los Angeles — “No matter how hot it gets in the daytime, it’s still cool at night.”  The puckish movie producer Bob Goldstein amended that once, observing wryly, “No matter how hot it gets in L.A. in the daytime, there’s still nothing to do at night!”

   The Dodgers gave L.A. something to do at night.

   O’Malley had to survive a battle with J.A. (Black Jack) Smith, brother of San Diego’s C. Arnholt Smith, who owned the minor league franchise, the Padres. Black Jack got a referendum put on the ballot that would have nullified the O’Malley’s deal with the city, and it failed to pass by only a few hundred votes.

   One of Smith’s charges was that O’Malley would build a papier-mâché ballpark in Chavez Ravine and, after a few perfunctory years, tear it down and put the land to more lucrative use.

   Instead, O’Malley built the Taj Mahal of ballparks. It is as pristine today as it was 36 years ago, when it was built. It looks years younger than Eastern ballparks that were built years afterward. Part of that is climate. But part of it is Dodger care and maintenance. You can almost eat off the floors of Dodger Stadium. The O’Malleys treated their fans as guests, not intruders (try a Shea Stadium usher if you don’t think the opposite can be true}.

   So, who got the better of the deal? I would say it’s a wash. The Dodgers have been good for L.A. And, of course, L.A. has been good for the Dodgers.

   It’s a different game today. I doubt if any Brooklyn Dodger ever got more than $100,000 a year. I doubt if any got that much. I know none got a million a year.

   Today, you stay in contention extending multimillion-dollar contracts to 12-13 pitchers, .245 hitters, backup infielders. Baseball grew incrementally after the Dodgers’ move. In real estate, the watchword is ‘Location! Location! Location!’ O’Malley was far ahead of his fellow moguls in spotting that.

   O’Malley and the Dodgers have been good neighbors. They maintained a franchise and an image remarkably free of controversy and scandal. They perpetuated a profile of a Dodgers player who was a cross between Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson, if not a model citizen at least a reasonable facsimile. Dodgers players didn’t hit night court. If they did, they were shortly no longer Dodgers players. Not our kind, you see. Not Raiders, thank you.

   They didn’t exactly run the business like a mom-and-pop store. But it was a family business, catering to moms and pops. And grandpops. I don’t know of any sport you can bring a granddaughter to more comfortably and confidently than to Dodgers baseball.

   I would hope that doesn’t change. Before the Dodgers, L.A.’s hometown heroes were Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, John Wayne, Clark Gable, James Stewart and Bob Hope, to name a few.

   The Dodgers added Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Jim Gilliam, Maury Wills, Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Garvey, Tommy Lasorda, Vin Scully and Mike Piazza, to name a few.

   That’s not a bad trade.

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