Mondays with Murray: Kings Have a Cool Hand in Luc

SUNDAY, MAY 2, 1993 SPORTS

Copyright 1993/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Kings Have a Cool Hand in Luc

It was less a game than a dock fight. The hockey version of a Rocky movie — all offense.

  The goaltenders might have been Laurel and Hardy. They couldn’t stop a beach ball. This is the way Charlie Chaplin would have played the part. Goals flew in from all over mondaysmurray2the place. Most of the night, the goalies looked like guys trying to fight off a cloud of bats.

  No one ever likened the 1993 Los Angeles Kings to the 1927 Yankees, but after consecutive nine-goal victories, you have to wonder if Murderers’ Row has taken to the ice. Eighteen goals in two games is the wildest kind of long-ball hitting for this sport. Most teams don’t score 18 goals in a month. Some teams couldn’t score 18 goals into an empty net.

  To be sure, Calgary’s Jeff Reese proved to be the next best thing to an empty net, a turnstile goalie. A measure of his ineptness can be found in the fact that the Kings in one period — the second — had four shots on goal and three of them went in. He gave up six goals in 13 shots and nine in 23. That is the rankest kind of generosity.

  Calgary might as well have had a snowman with a carrot for a nose, hunks of coal for eyes and a stovepipe hat in the crease. He ministered to the Kings’ growing reputation as a pack of wild-swinging, hip-shooting bad guys playing desperado hockey. Home-run hitters. Knockout punchers. Bomb throwers.

  The left wing, Luc Robitaille, takes issue with that image.

  “No,” he shakes his head. “It’s more like, we get the lead, and then they have to take chances to get even and they get reckless. When they do, we know they’re over-committed, over-extended and we take advantage and strike quickly.”

  However it was done, it put the Kings into May still alive in the NHL tournament, a first for the franchise.

  An even more curious factor in the Kings-Flames game Thursday that moved the Kings into the division final against Vancouver was that it was done with Robitaille getting no shots on goal.

  If you think that isn’t unusual, you haven’t been paying attention. Because, almost unnoticed in the evolution of the team, Luc has become the cleanup hitter of the Kings. Larrupin’ Luc.

  Hardly had Robitaille settled in as a King when Wayne Gretzky became one. This is like joining the Yankees about the same time as Babe Ruth, or playing left field with Willie Mays in center. Your chances of being overlooked are good to astronomical.

  Gretzky, of course, is Babe Ruth, the most potent force ever to play this game, with the most goals ever scored in a season, 92; most assists, one season and lifetime, 163 and 1,563, respectively, and more records than the next five guys combined.

  Still, if Robitaille were on a team not overshadowed by a legend, he would be approaching superstar status himself. This season, he scored more goals, 63, and piled up more points, 125, than any other left wing in history.

  If he played for Montreal, he would be on billboards and giving interviews in his native French. In L.A., they find out he’s a hockey player and they ask him if he knows Gretzky personally, or they pronounce his name “Robo-telly” instead of the correct “Robo-tye.”

  No one calls him “Rocket” or “Punch” or “the golden Gorilla” or “the Great One” or even “King” or “Boom Boom,” but the goalies know who he is.

  He comes out shooting. He leads the Kings annually in shots on goal — 265 this season, 240 last year. His nickname should be “Two-Gun.” Billy the Kid never pulled the trigger so much.

  But what he lacks in press attention, he gets on locker-room blackboards. Hockey has a sub-tier method of recognition. Enemy teams might even let the great Gretzky get loose on the point in key situations, but Billy the Kid Robitaille usually finds a posse surrounding him. Guarding Robitaille is a growth industry.

  The theory for years has been that, if you bottle up Gretzky, someone is open somewhere. But when Robitaille doesn’t get a single shot to rattle off the nets or the goaltender’s pads, attention to him is being paid somewhere.

  Luc is used to being overlooked. He wasn’t fast. He didn’t have this 100-m.p.h. slap shot. He had all his teeth. His face didn’t look like a zipper. So they drafted him along about the time they were signing the Zamboni driver, 171st.

  But Robitaille always had an instinct for the end zone — on this case, the net. Skating under a clock, there were dozens ahead of him. Skating through a line of enforcers or going in the corners with a team called the “Bullies,” he was as fast as he had to be. When he got the puck, he tended to disappear. Marcel Dionne, no less, once commented on his balance, “You can’t knock him off the puck.”

  If hockey had a three-point shot, the Kings’ final victory over Calgary would have been double. Gretzky’s first score was a slap shot from the blue line and Jari Kurri’s smash to make the game 4-2 was a 50-footer with more air time than a tee shot by John Daly.

  The Kings have now found their niche. When you can airmail in nine goals in only 23 shots one night and nine in 35 on another, you don’t need stick-handling or behind-the-net smuggling. You just open fire. Send the other team into bunkers or diving for cover. If you get the other guys toe to toe, you win.

  If they’re going to play grip-it-and-rip-it, Robitaille can play that game, too. He has 348 lifetime goals, no current threat to Gretzky’s 765, but when the Kings can fire in nine a night, the chances are that Robitaille is diverting the attention of someone somewhere on the ice.

  A guy who was drafted 171st and then went out and became rookie of the year, and who has all his teeth and ears after seven years and 476 penalty minutes, is a force. If the Kings are going to come into town in these playoffs now like the James Gang with a reputation for a fast draw and shooting first, the guy they call “Lucky” will be riding shotgun.

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: Here’s a Team Not to be Taken Lightly

OCTOBER 13, 1988, SPORTS

Copyright 1988/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Here’s a Team Not to Be Taken Lightly

  Wow! Look who’s in the World Series!

  That funny little team that couldn’t, did. The over-achievers beat the under-achievers.

  Give my regards to Broadway. But tell them I won’t soon be there. Tell all the gang at 42nd Street to eat your heart out. The boys from Hollywood are the new boys of summer.

  How’d they do it? You tell me. I mean, we’re not talking the 1927 Yankees here. This was mondaysmurray2a team that had more holes than a Chinese checkerboard. They lost their most charismatic pitcher, they traded away their key slugger. They lost 89 games last year. They had to rely on a pitcher who was that baseball staple, the player to be named, a throw-in. All Tim Belcher did was become a live candidate for rookie of the year.

  They weren’t supposed to be in the playoffs. When they got into them, they drew a team that had beaten them 10 out of 11 times during the season.

  They hung off more cliffs than Pearl White. They kept getting tied to the track and escaping in the nick of time. It wasn’t a series, it was a serial. They got their best relief pitcher suspended. And they won. They got their big hitter lamed. And he won for them.

  God must love the Dodgers. The gamblers sure didn’t. Whenever the Dodgers needed a break, they got it. The Mets were rallying? A ground ball jumps up and hits a baserunner. They’re down to their last out against one of the great pitchers of all time? A lead-footed catcher who hits a home run only every other eclipse of the moon jacks one out of the lot.

  Someone asks the broadcaster if outfielder Kirk Gibson should be the team’s most valuable player. No, says Vin Scully, it should be Tinker Bell. This team has a fairy godmother. The manager suggests it is a team from Lourdes. It is enough to make you believe in flying saucers. Or Santa Claus.

  But, in the final analysis, it wins because the enemy underestimates it.

  Consider this: Dwight Gooden of the Mets is a pitcher for the ages. He can hang up some pitches that not even Lourdes can take care of.

  And what he was doing sitting in the dugout as this winner-take-all seventh game began is something for his manager to explain, not me.

  Dr. K had 2 days of rest. If they were saving him for Game 1 of the World Series, you would have to wonder which one.

  As a matter of plain fact, he did pitch. Too late. Mets manager Davey Johnson apparently thought his second-best pitcher was enough for this ragtag lineup of Dodgers non-hitters. Gooden got the role of mop-up

pitcher in this contest.

  It was a serious miscalculation. Ron Darling is a fine pitcher. But he’s no Doc Gooden. Very few pitchers are. Ron Darling doesn’t scare you. Doc Gooden does. Doc Gooden could scare Babe Ruth.

  You don’t put Doc Gooden in a game that’s already 4-0 with the bases loaded. Not unless you want to throw away the 1988 pennant. The Mets might have lost the tournament in the dugout.

  The Dodgers knocked them out in the second round. It wasn’t a Mike Tyson knockout. The Dodgers got five runs on only four hits, all singles. One of them was a popped bunt that might even have been catchable. The Mets contributed two errors and an uncounted fielding lapse. That’s the Dodgers way to play baseball in this year of our Lord, 1988. In the immortal words of the golfer Lloyd Mangrum, the Dodgers can say sweetly, “Are we playing how? Or how many?”

  But, golly gee, aw shucks! The Dodgers won because they have this character who looks as if they found him on his way to a fishing hole with a pocket full of hooks and worms. You see Orel Hershiser and you look around for the dog. He looks more like a scoutmaster — or a scout — than a ballplayer. The rest of the club is squirting and swigging champagne, Orel is looking around for a cookie and a glass of milk. His idea of dissipation is a chocolate malt.

  But what a pitcher! Orel Hershiser threw his ninth 1988 shutout Wednesday. As Gooden would have been, he was pitching on two days of rest.

  Hershiser has been more important to the Dodgers than luck this season. When Fernando Valenzuela left the lists with an over-used arm, Hershiser turned into a combination of Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson. They not only couldn’t beat him, they couldn’t score on him. It got so, if

someone got to third, he wanted to stop the game and take the bag home with him. He was baseball’s Big O. Another pitcher might be Goose, Hershiser was Goose Egg.

  Superstars usually walk around before a game with a faintly aloof, even disdainful air about them, as if they were above it all. Hershiser was walking around Wednesday like a kid collecting autographs. He stopped to chat with writers, he waved a bat, compared golf swings with a broadcaster and, in general, acted as if he were about to pitch a softball game at a family picnic. He managed to convey the impression of a kid looking into a candy store window. Lucky to be there.

  You get the feeling Orel Hershiser thinks pitching to Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds is more fun than a day at the zoo. He probably can’t wait to see what Jose Canseco does with a sinker. You get the feeling he’d like to pitch again tomorrow.

  He’s the reason the Dodgers, the funny little team that was supposed to finish fourth, is in the fall classic. They may not last much longer than Michael Spinks, but they’re playing with house money.

  They don’t leave everything to chance. Their manager didn’t leave Orel Hershiser in the dugout, didn’t trust the ball to his second- or third-best pitcher, however rested. He led with his ace. Mr. O (for Out) Hershiser. That’s H as in Happy. The best piece of luck the lucky Dodgers had.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

———

THE LOS ANGELES RAMS: HOME AGAIN

A History of LA’s Team from the Voice of the City

Los Angeles Times Sports Columnist Jim Murray columns 1961-1995

Proceeds from book sales benefit the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation journalism scholarship program.

JMMF Federal Tax ID number is #94-3331025

To purchase, please call:

(800) 934-9313

ISBN: 9780182212095

———

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 Name is Only a Name

SUNDAY, AUGUST 28, 1983, SPORTS

Copyright 1983/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

A Name Is Only a Name

   In the National Football League as in the American West, there have always been names to strike fear in the hearts of men. What names like Cochise or Cody or Crazy Horse meant to the early settlers, Butkus of Bubba (as in “Kill, Bubba, kill!”), Karras or Marchetti meant to football players.

  Youngblood is such a name. It denotes the left end of the Rams, a guy who paws the mondaysmurray2ground before he charges like a corrida bull or a wounded moose, a guy who shakes quarterbacks upside-down till they cough up the football. It’s a name that would turn the wagon trains around on the plains or send a chill over a frontier saloon or empty a main street at high noon.

  Youngblood was a name to keep young quarterbacks awake the night before the big game or make offensive tackles wish they had gone into sales.

  You would think its owner would be this big, scowling, antisocial hulk, a churlish cretin who was a cross between a guy who collects bad debts for the Mafia and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Youngblood would really mean Badblood.

  But the real Jack Youngblood would be a big disappointment to the Dalton Gang or the warriors of Cochise. He doesn’t seem mean enough to be Jack Youngblood. He smiles a lot. He has these dimples. He hardly ever gets mad. He looks like a collar ad, a cross between Robert Redford and John Wayne. He always looks as if he’s enjoying himself, as if it was fun peeling all these blocking backs off and throwing them over the sidelines. He laughs when he swallows up the quarterback. You’d think it was ballroom dancing instead of modified murder. Most defensive ends look as if their feet hurt or their pants were too tight. Jack Youngblood looks as if he just heard a good joke or is learning the tango.

  He’s the Rams’ Good Humor Man. He goes through life as if he is passing out popsicles. His mayhem has a kind of impersonal quality to it, like a surgeon who is not hurting you on purpose.

  He’s as durable as a diamond, as indestructible as an ingot. He has the center of gravity of a kewpie. You might knock him off the line of scrimmage but never off his feet. He has played in 171 consecutive games, two of them on a broken leg.

  He is the last of the Super Rams, the last link with the gaudy era of the Fearsome Foursome, the Secretary of Defense, the annual best team-in-the-league — on paper — Rams. When they were the Rams, not the Goats.

  “When I first came up, they had players like Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Diron Talbert, Coy Bacon, Fred Dryer, Hacksaw Reynolds, Larry Brooks and Jack Pardee. You were lucky to get a suit,” Youngblood was recalling the other day.

  The signature of the Rams was always the pass rush. It was the best west of Pittsburgh and south of Lombardi’s Green Bay. And Youngblood kept that tradition alive through four head coaches and almost twice as many line coaches. “(Head Coach) Tommy Prothro was aloof, cerebral. He almost never had personal contact with us, Chuck Knox was macho. He wanted a show of hands of guys ready to play. He thought defense won games and offense just tried to keep from losing them. Ray Malavasi was an astute tactician who trusted people to give 100%. Naturally, they took advantage of him.”

  As to changes in the game, Youngblood remembers principally that they took the left hook and the right cross out of it. It wasn’t football, it was pugilism. The all-purpose head slap. “You practiced it in the gym on the heavy bag and the light one. You came through the line of scrimmage like Rocky Marciano. You hit everything that got in your way right in the helmet. The advantage of the head slap was, it made the guy either turn his head or close his eyes or both.”

  Youngblood recalls that when Deacon Jones got through an afternoon of knocks to the head, his opponent had a permanent ringing in his ears, as if he had spent the day in the Liberty Bell.

  When they outlawed that, the line of scrimmage resembled less Dempsey-Tunney than Veloz-Yolanda. Now the Rams are going to the three-man front or the volleyball defense. Will it neutralize the vaunted Rams pass rush, will the coaches opt for a newer, more stylish attacker? Will Jack Youngblood stop laughing?

  Jack Youngblood smiles. “I can play for them (the Rams), all right. The question is can I play for me?”

  In other words, Jack Youngblood has to meet Jack Youngblood’s standards, not the league’s.

  It’s not likely the syllables will come to mean Jack Oldblood, then. It’s likely they will still have the same effect on the league as smoke signals to a wagon train. A man who can play a Super Bowl on one leg can probably play a three-man front on crutches and the consonants in the name Y-o-u-n-g-b-l-o-o-d will still cause offensive tackles to blink their eyes or young quarterbacks to run for their lives event if he’s only got two other renegades instead of three.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

———

THE LOS ANGELES RAMS: HOME AGAIN

A History of LA’s Team from the Voice of the City

Los Angeles Times Sports Columnist Jim Murray columns 1961-1995

 Proceeds from book sales benefit the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation journalism scholarship program.

JMMF Federal Tax ID number is #94-3331025

To purchase, please call: (800) 934-9313

ISBN: 9780182212095

———

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: Yogi Berra, the Legend

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 8, 1961, SPORTS

Copyright 1961/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Yogi Berra, the Legend

   CINCINNATI — If you turn on your television set this weekend to watch the World Series and suddenly come upon what appears to be a large, shaggy bear in baseball uniform trying to roller-skate up an icy hill, don’t switch channels.

  This will be Lawrence Peter Berra trying to match wits with the left-infield incline in Crosley Field, a ballpark designed either by a man with the sense of humor of an urchin who puts banana peels on sidewalks or one who just hates outfielders as a class.

  The outfield in this ballpark is so steep in places the players should have oxygen and a mondaysmurray2Sherpa guide to scale it. It has produced more pratfalls than Mack Sennett in his heyday, and the sight of Yogi Berra and this incline coming together in combat should be funnier than watching Jackie Gleason and Elsa Maxwell trying to cha-cha.

  Yogi Berra, it happens, is funny just standing still. In many respects, he is the most famous baseball player the game has had since Babe Ruth.

  He is ageless — and changeless. He came upon the scene so many years ago and looked so old even when he was young there are those who think he was Columbus’ cabin boy.

  The day he leaves baseball two million fans may leave it with him. He is as much a part of the legend of America as Paul Bunyan or John Henry. He is the patron saint of three generations of American kids with catchers’ mitts in their hands, and no churchman could seriously object. Yogi Berra is a man who has remained a boy — a rich man who remembered what it was like to be poor.

  The face is sad. It has been said it is ugly but it is not, lit in the center by large, sad and curiously gentle eyes. It is the color of gray paste — a city face. It is a comforting face, the kind one trusts. “Hey, Yogi,” yell people with a chuckle who have never seen him before. A lineman outside the ballpark laughs delightedly when he looks over the fence and sees the familiar face and figure.

  It is a silhouette baseball didn’t know whether to believe or not when they first saw it. This lumpy man, a perfect 50 in measurements — 50-inch chest, middle and two 25-inch calves — with the two protruding ears, the head that seems to grow, neckless, right out of the shoulders, couldn’t possibly be an athlete. Baseball didn’t know whether to turn him over to the minor leagues or Clyde Beatty.

  Yogi, of course, turned out to be one of the most superbly skilled athletes of his time. He came to symbolize the New York Yankees, the haughtiest team in the annals of sports.

  He outlasted derision by his own simple dignity and friendliness. The bench jockeys at first hopped about the dugout on all fours, scratched themselves busily like caged primates, called out “Hey, Berra, what tree did they pull you out of?” and offered him peeled bananas. It was that kind of ridicule that made a Ty Cobb behave forever afterward on the field with insensate rage and vengeance, but Yogi ignored — and forgave. His own dignity (and his bat) at first silenced and then made ashamed his ridiculers.

  Yogi was unique. He is probably the only guy in history who wrote a book but never read one. The jokes were endless. But there was no cutting edge to them. Sometimes they even illustrated Yogi’s innate kindness to his fellow man. Like the fellow who rousted him out of bed in the early morning, “Did I wake you up, Yogi?” he chirped. “Oh no,” apologized Yogi. “I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.”

  Then there was the balloon salesman in Washington who had a fistful of dirigible-sized balloons. “Want one, Yogi? For the kids.” “Oh, no,” said Yogi. “I’d never be able to get them in the suitcase.”

  People smile when his name is mentioned. Housewives who are not sure what city Yankee Stadium is in feel a glow of affection for Yogi Berra. Their kids know a cartoon character named Yogi Bear who owes his existence to Yogi Berra’s, and they laugh with and love them both.

  Yogi was a catcher who was as chatty as a Bronx housewife behind the plate. He’s lonelier now in the outfield. So he chats with the fans.

  The New York Yankees came into Cincinnati on their special train at 9 o’clock in the morning on Friday. Yogi Berra was out at the ballpark at 11:30. He was practising catching fly balls on the left-field incline, a professional to the core even after so many World Series and so many records it takes calculation machines the size of election coverage computers to list them all.

  There was a curiously sad tableau taking place in the park as Yogi arrived. High in the back of the stands as Yogi Berra, a study in perseverance, chased thrown fly balls, a lonely, frightened man stood poised, naked, on the roof’s edge threatening to jump. He didn’t. He was coaxed down. But you wonder, watching Yogi Berra, how a man could give in to despair.

  Yogi Berra thinks he’s lucky to be in baseball. I think it’s the other way around.

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: They Won’t Call Him Dr. Zero for Nothing

SEPTEMBER 28, 1988, SPORTS

Copyright 1988/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

They Won’t Call Him Dr. Zero for Nothing

Norman Rockwell would have loved Orel Hershiser. The prevailing opinion is, he wasn’t drafted, he just came walking off a Saturday Evening Post cover one day with a pitcher’s mondaysmurray2glove, a cap two sizes too big and a big balloon of bubble gum coming out of his mouth.

You figure his name has to be Ichabod. I wouldn’t say he’s skinny, but when he turns sideways, he disappears. If it weren’t for his Adam’s apple, he wouldn’t cast a shadow.

He’s paler than Greta Garbo. He’s so white you can read through him. If you held him up to the light you could see his heart.

He says things like, “Golly gee!” and, “Oh, my goodness!” If he gets really upset, you might figure he would go to, “Oh, fudge!”

He can’t really see without glasses and when he puts them on, people either think he’s a sports writer or a guy doing his thesis on major league baseball as a metaphor for the society we live in.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that he has a Roman numeral after his name. He is descended from the Hessian troops George Washington crossed the Delaware to defeat at Trenton. He is about as far from the public perception of a major league pitcher as it is possible to get. If you wanted to picture a big league pitcher, a guy like Burleigh Grimes would come to mind.

Some guys pitch out of a sidearm motion, others from a crouch, Grimes pitched out of a scowl. He had this big chaw of tobacco and a blue-black beard that could sand furniture, and the batter had two strikes on him stepping in.

Or you might prefer Big D, Don Drysdale. He pitched out of a towering rage.

Every batter was Hitler to Drysdale, or a guy who’d stolen his girlfriend. He threw the ball as if it were a grenade, or he hoped that it were. Big D didn’t much care whether he knocked the bat off you or you off the bat. He hit 154 batsmen in his time — 155 if you count Dick Dietz in the ninth inning of a spring game in 1968.

If anyone told you Orel Hershiser is on the verge of breaking one of the most unassailable pitching records in the books, Don Drysdale’s 58 consecutive scoreless innings, that this scholarly-appearing right-hander is almost certain to win this year’s Cy Young Award, you might be pardoned for asking, “With what?”

Orel Leonard Hershiser IV does not intimidate the batter, although his nine hit batsmen last year indicate it’s not entirely a good idea to lean over the plate looking to get at the curveball when he’s on the mound.

Hershiser throws ground balls. This is not to say his curve bounces but that his “out” pitch is a roller to shortstop. He throws a sinker, or what we kids in the old neighborhood used to call the drop. This is a pitch you hit on the top and it does exactly what a golf ball hit on the top does — it rolls along the ground till it hits something, usually an infielder’s glove.

Hershiser also throws a heavy ball — as did Drysdale. That’s a ball that comes up to the plate like a 16-pound shot. It can break your bat — and your wrist along with it — if you meet it squarely. Which you seldom do.

These are Hershiser’s stock-in-trade pitches and he can put them pretty much where he wants them, but he cut such a less-than-commanding figure when he first came into the game that the brain trusters thought he was a relief pitcher. He pitched in 49 games one year and worked only 109 innings. He started only four games. But he finished one.

One year, he pitched in 49 games, started only 10 but finished six. Somehow the message began to seep through that this guy had better than two-inning stuff and, when he came up to the Dodgers, he appeared in 45 games, started 20 and finished eight. Eight complete games is star billing in today’s baseball, particularly for someone who spent more than half the season in the bullpen.

It’s not that Orel Hershiser is your basic rag picker or junk dealer. His fastball is a 90-m.p.h. horror that struck out 190 last year. Still, no one calls him Dr. K or the Big Train. They might begin calling him Mister O, or Dr. Zero if he puts up nine more innings of shutout ball. Dr. Zero has put up 49 in a row so far. Only two pitchers have logged more — Drysdale, 58, and Walter Johnson, 55.

The record was once widely believed as unattainable as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

Five shutouts in a season is Cy Young stuff. Five shutouts in a row is Hall of Fame stuff. Drysdale holds the record with six in a row in the National League, and you have to go all the way back to 1904 to find a pitcher with five in a row in the American League. (Walter Johnson set his scoreless-inning record with a lot of relief appearances.)

Drysdale’s scoreless-inning progression was saved at Inning 45 in 1968 when, with the bases loaded, he apparently hit batter Dick Dietz. Umpire Harry Wendelstedt ruled that Dietz stepped into the pitch. Drysdale’s argument was even stronger. “How can you hit a guy with a strike?” he wanted to know.

Hershiser’s saver was an interference call on a baserunning assault that broke up a double play and apparently let a run score. Umpire Paul Runge ruled that the baserunner neglected baserunning and would have gotten 15 yards in football for what he did to the pivot man in the double play. Runge called the runner out, which disallowed the run.

It’s important to remember that Drysdale had to get three outs with the bases loaded after his incident in 1968. And Hershiser still had to get the next nine outs in 1988.

Dr. Zero needs a 10-inning shutout to pass Drysdale. If he gets it, he may celebrate with a hot chocolate.

If he misses it, he’ll say, “Oh, heck!”

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: No One Can Say the Guy Chose the Wrong Field

TUESDAY, JULY 12, 1988, SPORTS

Copyright 1988/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

No One Can Say the Guy Chose the Wrong Field

   If you had a license from God to construct yourself a baseball manager, you would probably begin with one with a big belly and short legs that were slightly bowed or pebbled with lumps so that they looked like sacks of walnuts. You would want one who had his own syntax, a voice that sounded like an oncoming train in a tunnel. It’d have to be a nice part for Vincent Gardenia.

  He wouldn’t have been a big star in his youth. A .500 pitcher, perhaps. A .260 hitter who mondaysmurray2made a lot of noise. He’d have to know how tough this game is. He’d never have a self-doubt or a moment’s anxiety. He’d come into a room as if he were leading a parade. Everybody would be his best friend. He’d talk to shoeshine boys, parking lot attendants. He’d sell baseball. He’d be sure God was a baseball fan. He’d know that America was the greatest country in the world, otherwise how could a poor boy like him grow up to be part of the greatest organization in the world?

  He’d never be at a loss for words, he’d like to eat, he’d cry at sad movies, but he’d have a temper like a top sergeant whose shoes were too tight. He’d be sentimental, cantankerous, on speaking terms with the president of the United States but, if you asked him what his foreign policy was, he’d say, “Beat Montreal!”

  He’d be part press agent, part father figure, all man. He’d have an anecdote for every occasion, always with a moral attached. He’d tell at the drop of a hat of the time when he knocked the big league batter down the first time he faced him because that batter had refused him an autograph as a knothole kid years before. His stories would be more entertaining than true, but no reporter ever would leave his office with an empty notebook or stomach.

  He wouldn’t be one of those tense, secretive guys like the manager in the World Series last year who looked as if he was guarding a gang hideout and you were the Feds. He’d be selling baseball. It would be his job, and come from a long line of people who did their jobs.

  He’d have a lot of con in him. He’d never forget he was dealing with kids, and that he would make them pick the shell without the pea under it if he had to.

  When he’d have a player who didn’t want to transfer from the outfield to catcher, he’d say, “Didn’t you know the great Gabby Hartnett, the greatest catcher of all time, started out in the outfield?” Gabby Hartnett started out in a catcher’s mask, but a good manager is resourceful.

  When a team was floundering in a 10-game losing streak, this manager would reassure them that “the 1927 Yankees, the greatest team of all time, lost 11 games in a row that year!” The 1927 Yankees didn’t have 11 losing innings in a row, but that would be irrelevant.

  He’d know baseball wasn’t nuclear physics. It was show business. It was ‘Entertainment Tonight.’ The pictures on his wall would not be Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Stuffy McInnis, Connie Mack, John McGraw, guys sliding into second. They’d be the heavy hitters of show business — Sinatra, Rickles, Berle, Kaye.

  He’d be a star in his own right. People would have his picture on their office walls.

  He’d be Tommy Lasorda. He’d be Mr. Baseball, a guy with his own show. He’d get the best tables in restaurants, he’d be part of the fabric of the glitter and glitz of a town that prides itself in it. He’d never be out of character when the spotlight was on. He’d be on the dais of every black-tie dinner there was, he’d make a speech at the tap of a glass.

  Some managers are worth five games a year to their franchises. Sagacious moves can account for that much success. Tommy Lasorda is worth something more — a few hundred thousand in attendance.

  His predecessor, Walter Alston, was a great manager. He had to be. But he was as quiet as snowfall. He officed out of his pocket. He dressed with his coaches. He led by example. His office had a picture of his wife and grandchildren in it. He never made a headline in his life. He was patient, kindly, courtly, a gentleman of the old school. A guy you would most want to be in a foxhole — or a lifeboat — with. Dependable, mater-of-fact, as untemperamental as a butler, he knew more about the balk rule than any man who ever lived.

  It’s not what baseball is about. It’s no secret the late owner Walter O’Malley chafed under Alston’s monkish managerial policy. He was stuck with him because Alston was so good. It was hard to fire an annual pennant. So he did the next best thing: he gave him an annual one-year contract.

  It was all well and good to be low-key in the corner of the dugout when the Dodgers were new to the town and every night was New Year’s Eve and they had Koufax and Drysdale and Maury Wills and The Duke and the Davis boys and you didn’t have another major league baseball team, football teams (two) and pro basketball teams (two) and a hockey team and a lot of other promotions to vie for your space in the sports sheets.

  You think the Dodgers are going to hire Tom Kelly, or the manager of Seattle (if it has one) or some minor leaguer who understands the infield fly rule backward and forward (which reads the same, anyway)?

  Tommy Lasorda is as perfect for the Dodgers as peanut butter for white bread. Or Laurel for Hardy. A lot of people were surprised when the Dodgers broke precedent and signed him to an early extension on his contract. Why? Peter O’Malley is Walter’s son, isn’t he? The only way Tommy Lasorda could be let go is if Casey Stengel suddenly became available. God is not going to let that happen. Or the real Angels are going to have a drop in attendance.

  Neither is Peter O’Malley going to let his manager become available. There are, conservatively, 14 big league teams who would sign Lasorda tomorrow for more money than the Dodgers pay him. But Lasordas do not change their religions, either. “Who gave me a chance to manage?” he yells. “The Yankees? The Phillies? No, it was the Dodgers.” Lasordas dance with the one what brung them. “Lack of loyalty.” Lasorda shouts, “is rooning this country!”

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 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