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

The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation celebrated its 21st birthday/anniversary on May 17.

Moving into its third decade, the JMMF is changing gears and revising its mission in order to establish a permanent legacy to Jim Murray.

With this new focus and mission, the JMMF no longer will be conducting a sports Halloffamejournalism essay competition for scholarships. While we are sad to say goodbye to this wonderful and worthwhile tradition, the shift will allow us to put our time and resources into creating a permanent legacy for Jim’s work — and to make his work available in the years ahead. 

With that in mind, the JMMF has joined forces with the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and MLB share significant and timeless overlapping history with Jim Murray, who wrote more columns on baseball than he wrote on any other sport, bringing its history and legends to life through sports journalism.

“The influence of Jim Murray continues full measure in the style and ideologies of sports journalists throughout the country,” says Tim Mead, the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. “The impact of his legacy and contributions during such a stellar career and life will affect generations to come. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is honored to work with Linda Murray Hofmans in perpetuating Jim’s influence via an annual scholarship program within our Communications Department. We are extremely excited to play a small role in continuing to honor the 1987 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner, and 1990 Pulitzer Prize recipient, Jim Murray!”

The JMMF will continue its Mondays with Murray posts indefinitely with a link to the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame website supporting its new Jim Murray initiative. The JMMF will dissolve its 501(c)(3) status and distribute its remaining financial assets to the Hall of Fame.




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 neighborhood, right?

  Me! One of the great non-athletes of our time. I was practically born with one foot in the mondaysmurray2bucket. 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, felt 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 7 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 661532, Arcadia, CA 91066


Mondays With Murray: Two Jordan columns for the price of one . . .

There is a lot of conversation about Michael Jordan these days, thanks to The Last Dance, the 10-part documentary chronicling his life, times and career. . . . Because Jordan took a break from his career in basketball to try his hand at baseball, we thought we would share with you two Jim Murray columns — one from 1994 that Jim wrote on the baseball player and one from 1996 when Jordan and the Bulls played and beat the Los Angeles Lakers.



Sunday, April 24, 1994, SPORTS



Maybe This Guy Is the Greatest There Ever Was

  When Michael Jordan, the world’s greatest basketball player, opted out of his sport and elected to play baseball, the sporting community, and particularly the sporting press, was widely divided in its reaction. About 75 per cent were outraged and hoped he would fall on his bald pate. I mean, who did he think he was?

  After all, one sport and one sport alone was good enough for Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Henry Aaron and Willie Mays, wasn’t it? What was this guy trying to prove?

  Most of the sport itself snickered behind its hand. Relief pitchers allowed as how they mondaysmurray2had a better chance of playing the pivot for the Chicago Bulls than Michael Jordan had of succeeding in baseball. They couldn’t wait to show him a major league changeup. It was predicted he would throw his back out trying to hit one.

  They felt intensely territorial about their sport. Their thrust was, go back to that sport played on wood floors, Michael. You can’t slam dunk a baseball. Besides, it’s too small for a guy used to the dimensions of a basketball. Michael had delusions of grandeur. Major league baseball was not mumbletypeg or one-o’cat in the park.

  You had to feel that, secretly, some of them were afraid Jordan would show up them and the game. What if he came in and started hitting three home runs a game? What if he was the world’s greatest athlete?

  I have a diametrically opposite viewpoint from my learned colleagues. I hope Michael Jordan succeeds beyond his wildest expectations.

  Consider this: If you went into any part of this country where young athletes congregate and you came upon a youngster who gave the indication he could be superbly talented in any sport he chose, what sport do you think he would settle on?

  No contest. Slam dunk. It would be basketball. Baseball, I have to think, would be a poor third. Maybe fourth.

  It wasn’t always this way in this country. Every red-blooded American boy once hankered to be a bona fide major league baseball star.

  It’s no longer true. The sandlot diamond is disappearing. The game is thriving mostly in the Caribbean.

  I don’t know what the population of the Dominican Republic is, but every second kid seems to be in a baseball lineup somewhere. If Cubans were allowed to play here, they’d have to call balls and strikes in Spanish.

  So, my notion is, Michael Jordan honors baseball — ennobles it, if you will. He’s reversing a trend, is what he’s doing. And he’s not opting for golf, as so many thought he would. Or for football, or for tennis, or for boxing, at which, given his speed and power and peripheral vision, I would guess he would be terrific. No, what Michael is dreaming about is becoming a star in our national pastime. And this is no Walter Mitty. This is one of the great athletic specimens of his time.

  You know how kids buy his shoes at his urging, down his soft drink, purchase tank tops with his number? You think they’re not going to pay attention to his choice of sport?

  It’s my notion baseball couldn’t buy that kind of endorsement. So, far from running him out of here at the end of a sharp pen, the game should have a light in the window. They should light candles and pray that he succeeds.

  It’s a switch that has never been notably successful. The most publicized of failures in antiquity was that of Jim Thorpe. There wasn’t much Jim Thorpe couldn’t do with a football. He could kick it, throw it, run with it or block it with the best who ever lived. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do on a track, either. He could throw the discus and javelin, jump high, run fast. The King of Sweden, no less, once proclaimed him the world’s greatest athlete-and there was no argument.

  But that little old major league curveball — what Roy Campanella once proclaimed “Public Enemy No. 1” — proved his undoing. The Baseball Encyclopedia lists Thorpe’s six-year major league career as a frustrating experiment in which he hit .252 (not bad by today’s standards but abysmal by his era’s standards). You find only seven home runs there, 82 runs batted in and a whole lot of strikeouts — 122 in his relatively few at-bats.

  Track stars tend to do better in football than baseball. A great base stealer is demoralizing — but first he has to get on base. But there are few basketball players who made it in baseball. Chuck Connors and Gene Conley, neither a big court star, played in the majors. Jordan is the only superstar to switch.

  So, Michael opting for the grand old game should be saluted at the highest levels. First of all, he’s putting his sport’s reputation on the line. That is admirable. Great actors don’t tackle ballet. Great musicians don’t play Hamlet.

  But Jordan, at the age of 31, is delving into the arts and mysteries of baseball. It’s a game in which the ability to hover in the air and circle the playing field for long periods of time is of minimal usefulness.

  Still, he did pick baseball. It reminds me of the oft-repeated observation of the late Fresco Thompson when he was signing rookies for the Dodgers. Whenever a kid would come in the office and say “Mr. Thompson, I think I can make it in one of two sports but I’m torn between pro football and major league baseball.”

  “Kid,” Fresco would growl, “what do you want — a career or a limp?”

  Michael was not in a sport where the occupational hazard was a limp. But he was in one where the ball was full of air. And was hard to miss-30 inches in circumference vs. a baseball’s nine.

Baseball should be glad it’s got him. I bet hockey wishes he could skate.


Sunday, February 4, 1996, SPORTS



It’s Basketball Played On a Higher Plane

  You go to see Michael Jordan play basketball for the same reason you went to see Astaire dance, Olivier act or the sun set over Canada. It’s art. It should be painted, not photographed.

  It’s not a game, it’s a recital. He’s not just a player, he’s a virtuoso. Heifetz with a violin. Horowitz at the piano.

  He doesn’t even play the game where everyone else does. He plays it from the air. He comes in for a landing every now and then, usually from above the basket. Then he stays on the runway for a while till the next takeoff. You get the feeling the other players don’t know where he has gone till he cups his mouth and shouts down “Up here!” He should probably be wearing a cape and high boots.

  What he’s doing is making a shambles of the game of basketball, laying waste to the landscape. He’s as unstoppable as tomorrow.

  Many people were wishing he could hit the curveball. Let pitchers worry about stopping him instead of NBA guards. While he was gone, Hakeem Olajuwon took over. But while Hakeem is a great player, he pretty much plays a ground game. He’s infantry. He slogs to the basket. Jordan is more like a stealth bomber. You can’t see him coming, and you don’t know where he is until you hear the swish of the net.

  It’s hard to believe this talent wasn’t the No. 1 pick in his draft year. You wonder how a general manager could justify passing him up. You get a picture of the GM telling his owner, “Aw, he’s just a baseball player. We need somebody to go to the basket — like Sam Bowie. Besides, he’s too short.”

  When you see the numbers Jordan puts up, you might, at that, expect to see someone 7-foot-7 or so, with the steroid musculature of a bouncer, a master of the two-foot basket. But Jordan looks more like a ballroom dancer than a bouncer. His muscles ripple, they don’t bulge. He’s only 6-6. Until he’s airborne, that is. Then he becomes 20 feet. He has to watch out for the rafters, not defensive guards.

  He doesn’t stand around in the low post waiting for someone to go get him the ball. He goes and gets it himself. He gets more steals than a pickpocket at the Kentucky Derby and let the league in them his last full season.

  He came into town Friday night for the most publicized confrontation since the second Dempsey-Tunney. It came out more like the second Louis-Schmeling.

  Michael Jordan vs. Magic Johnson was supposed to have all the dramatic impact of the Red Baron vs. Eddie Rickenbacker, or any of the other great matchups of history. But the matchup it resembled at the end was the Titanic against the iceberg. It was as one-sided as a heart attack.

  We were supposed to get a clue as to whether Magic could be enrolled in the crusade to save basketball from the ravages of Air Jordan and company.

  Not yet, at any rate. Magic didn’t even have time to get the number of the truck that hit him. The Bulls put their resident Goldilocks — otherwise known as Dennis Rodman — on Magic. Meanwhile, Michael acted as resident decoy, drawing traps while he casually passed the ball to an open Scottie Pippen, who plays the game at treetop level himself.

  The joy of stopping Michael Jordan and his Bulls now falls on Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal. Anything short of their best, and the league may need an anti-aircraft battery to stop him.

  The league may have to resort to drastic Break-Up-Michael-Jordan rules. I mean, here is a team that is 41-3 and hasn’t lost in 18 (count ’em) games.

They may want to consider levelling the court by 1) making it illegal for him to make a basket without one boot (or both) on the ground; 2) making it a two-shot foul and no basket for any player to rise vertically more than eight feet above the floor; 3) ruling that any basket made by a player who is horizontal to the floor at the time shouldn’t count.

  Of course, you could make any Michael Jordan basket count only one point and let him go to the free throw line only if he had to get there by stretcher or on life support. Perhaps they could rule Jordan could have the ball only every other team possession.

  They should make these rules retroactive. Anything short of that and the season is over. Jordan’s Chicago Bulls are sitting there with a .930 (you heard me) won-lost percentage when the highest winning percentage in the history of the game was .841 by the 1971-72 Lakers.

  There are few players of whom it could be said they swallowed the game they played whole. Babe Ruth did it. Bill Tilden. A case could be made for John Unitas, a young Wayne Gretzky.

  But the way Michael Jordan is going, there may be nothing left of the game but a loud belch. He and his Bulls are feasting on the league like Henry VIII on a chicken, bones and all.

  “Man, they’re scary!” Magic Johnson exclaimed as he escaped Friday night like a guy who had just crawled ashore from a torpedoed ship.

  If the Bulls can scare Magic Johnson, they’re in the wrong arena. We should send them to Bosnia. Maybe the league should find out where it goes to surrender.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation P.O. Box 661532, Arcadia, CA 91066|

Mondays With Murray: Sentiment Aside, Kaline Made for World Series


Al Kaline, the legendary Detroit Tigers’ right fielder, passed away on April 6 at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He was 85. Nicknamed ‘Mr. Tiger’, he played 22 seasons for Detroit. He was selected to 18 All-Star Games, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. 

Immediately after retiring as a player, he joined the Tigers’ television crew,, a position he held until 2002. Kaline worked for the Tigers as a front office official until his passing. His 67 years with one team was one of the longest tenures in MLB history.




Sentiment Aside, Kaline Made for World Series

  When Mayo Smith and the Detroit Tigers announced Al Kaline was going to start the World Series, there wasn’t a dry eye in the state of Michigan.

  It proved baseball had a heart. It was saluted as the sentimental gesture of the ages. Even though it meant taking the best center fielder in the league and making a shortstop out of him, the fans shrugged. No sacrifice was too great to make for “Mr. Heartbreak.”

  Al Kaline was probably the greatest player in baseball never to have played in a World Series. You had to go clear back to Walter Johnson to find a similarly forlorn figure in the grand old game. And, Walter was in his dotage before he finally got to tee it up in a World Series game. One of the sentimental sagas of sport was the day he won his first game. No one could see the field for the teardrops.

  You would have thought Mayo Smith had suited up the statue of St. Francis of Assisi. Of KalineKellcourse, four out of four fans figured Al would suit up, take one or two turns at bat, and then retire to the rocking chair to spend the rest of the Series clapping people on the back.

  It was such a sad story that, if they made it into a movie, Doris Day would spend nine reels crying — as sad as a train whistle on a summer night, “Home On the Range” on a campfire harmonica.

  Albert William Kaline had everything a great ballplayer should have — perfect balance at the plate, perfect stride into the pitch, level swing. He never spent a day in the minor leagues. He was the youngest ever to win the batting title. In the outfield, he could go in for Tris Speaker for defensive purposes. He has hit more than 300 lifetime home runs.

  Yet he spent his career from 43 to 25 games away from the pennant every year. He was like Bernhardt performing in Altoona, card tricks in the dark. Very pretty, too bad nobody was looking. The act was good enough for the Palace but it stayed out in the tents.

  So, when after 16 years of impeccable play, complicated by a succession of injuries, combating a chronically malformed foot, A.W. Kaline finally got in a World Series, the fans could be pardoned for regarding it as a token appearance. I mean, how could he crack an outfield of Stanley, Horton and Northrup? What was he, 49 going on 50? 51? Could he get around on a fast ball anymore? Was the arm gone?

  Actually, Al Kaline is only 33. Actually, Al Kaline may be the best, or second-best active player in the American League. Actually, the St. Louis Cardinals may have wished Detroit hadn’t been so carried away with sentimentality.

  After 2,090 games, Kaline finally got the show on Broadway. They took the sheet off the statue. The monument was out taking its cuts.

  The scene was set for an historical pratfall, for the guy to wait in the wings for 16 years and then come on and forget his lines.

  But Kaline was still under the hill. The perfect swing, the perfect stride got the only extra-base hit off Bob Gibson in Game 1. He represented the high-water mark of the Detroit effort in Game 3 when his two-run homer put the Tigers in front in the Series for the first time. Even the St. Louis track team took no chances with his arm.

  But it might all have come up “Loved him, hated it” for Al in Monday’s game. He was hitting .350, had one hit already in the day, but the Series was on the line with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. The perfect stride, the perfect balance, and the ball was shot out into center field for a two-run single and Detroit had dodged a bullet and taken the lead.

  Santa Claus had gotten down the chimney. The guy in the white hat got away from the rustlers. Al Kaline finally got in the World Series and showed he belonged there all the time.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation P.O. Box 661532, Arcadia, CA 91066

Mondays With Murray: He Could Have Had More Than Garden of Roses




He Could Have Had More Than Garden of Roses

For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: “It might have been!” — JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER

  I was reminded anew of the poet’s lament the other day. I was interviewing this fellow for whom it all went a-glimmering years ago.

  You remember that scene in “On the Waterfront,” where Marlon Brando takes his brother’s hand reproachfully off his arm, looks at him with these big sad eyes and says “I coulda been a contendah! I coulda been somebody!”

  Well, that’s kind of what it was like. Sad. Heart-rending.

  Years ago, this fellow — I will call him George, although I think his nickname was Slick back in those days — was the silkiest-fielding first baseman you ever saw. He could go to mondaysmurray2his right, he could go to his left. You couldn’t throw the ball over him or under him. He had a gun for an arm. He wore the latest thing in equipment, a George McQuinn-model mitt called the Claw.

  He played for Yale but the scouts came around by the score. They hadn’t seen anything this slick around the bag since Hal Chase, Joe Judge, Joe Kuhel. His own idol was Lou Gehrig.

   He had missed a couple of years as a fighter pilot in the Second World War but that only meant he was more mature, steadier, more reliable, not given to anxiety. He could have been great.

 Around first base, he was a combination of Frank Merriwell and Dink Stover. Flawless, graceful, sure-handed. He was left-handed, which is what a first baseman should be.

  At the bat, for some unaccountable reason, he hit right. Maybe it was ideological.

  Whatever it was, he couldn’t hit the curveball.

  Well, look. That can be learned, right? Not everybody rolls out of bed with the ability to hit .350. Not everybody is Ty Cobb. George batted .264 his senior year and helped Yale get to the College World Series, no less.

 Everyone figured a few seasons at Binghamton and Newark and it would be Yankee-Stadium-here-we-come! I mean, the good life. Old Dependable. The new Iron Horse.

  Well, we all know how those things work out. Wife, child. You need a job. You put the dreams on hold.

   Then they want you to go into the family business. Well, in this case, the family business was politics. George’s father was a U.S. Senator. Duty called.

  There was no time to iron out the kinks in the swing, spend the hours in the batting cage, go for the brass ring. It was the salt mines for him. He never got to wear the Yankee pinstripes; he wore the three-piece kind. With the old school tie.

  It was speeches on the hustings, handshakes from the backs of trains, smoke-filled rooms, a stint in the oil business. He had to put away the old uni, hang up the George McQuinn glove, put the old lineup cards in a trunk. Just another guy who never made it to the bigs.

  Oh, he’s not starving, or hanging around bars, telling guys how he went 4-for-5 off Hubbell or took Allie Reynolds downtown.

  He lives in this big white house on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. He has a chauffeur. He has his own airplane. In fact, he has his own air force.

  But, he makes — what? $200,000 a year? Something like that. You think Don Mattingly would play for that? Will Clark makes that in a month.

  In case the guys he used to rob of hits down the line or make the 3-6-3 double play have lost track of him, he has done all right. I mean, it’s not like being the All-Star first baseman or having a locker in Yankee Stadium or your own bubble-gum card but George found work all right.

  He’s the President of the United States.

  Now, that’s an OK job for a guy who was the president of the debating club, or the campus wheeler-dealer. But, George Herbert Walker Bush could have been somebody. He could have been in a lineup with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin.

  Casey Stengel could have been yelling at him: “Hey, Bush! Is that a name or a description? Don’t the Yales throw curveballs?”

  Life could have been a blast.

  You know, when the President of the United States calls, you drop everything and go. I mean, you never know. He may need you. It’s well known that I know exactly what to do about Noriega, the Middle East, the balance of trade. I could handle the Soviets in my sleep.

  I know he’d want to keep my visit a secret. So I slept at the J.W. Marriott instead of the Lincoln bedroom. No use letting Sam Donaldson get wind of it.

  I like it that people don’t know that I’m an expert on international relations.

  They even did a good job of pretending not to know who I was at the White House’s northwest gate, as usual. It was roped off when I got there. The president of Egypt was just leaving.

  There were about 10 of us sportswriter-sportscaster types on hand. I was pretty sure I was the only one who knew what to do about Angola, though.

  With Presidents, you try the oblique approach, though. I cleared my throat. “Mr. President, what did you bat at Yale?” I didn’t want to rush things. Plenty of time to get into Lebanon.

  Well, when I tell you the next 40 minutes were spent in discussing baseball, you have to know our President is a master of camouflage — don’t forget, he used to be head of the CIA — or, and here is the conclusion I came to, he still thinks wistfully of what might have been. He’d rather be running the World Series than the world.

  There have been lots of football players in the White House — Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford. Even a tennis player, Woodrow Wilson, a rail-splitting champion, Abe Lincoln, and a horseback rider-boxer, Teddy Roosevelt. But, there has never been a baseball player.

  It suddenly occurred to me, the President enjoyed the sensation of being asked by a lot of guys with notebooks things like, “What kind of a pitch did you hit?” “Why didn’t you swing at that fastball?”

  He was just like a guy sitting in front of his locker with a beer meeting the sporting press after a game in which he’d just gone 4-for-4— or popped up Ball 4 to lose the game.

  So if you’re stuck in a 9-to-5 job you hate, if you have to run the family business when you would rather run the Dodgers, take heart. George Bush, who was one of the best there ever was at digging out low throws and taking the cutoff to throw the guy out at the plate, spends all day talking to people who never even heard of Lou Gehrig.

  Nicaragua never came up. When someone wanted to know if the government should step into baseball expansion, the President gave the idea short shrift. There are a lot of things wrong with the country, but the Chicago Cubs ain’t one of them, seemed to be his notion.

  And the prisoner of Pennsylvania Avenue was hustled off to talk about the bustout in East Germany. You had the feeling he’d rather stay and talk about the 1953 Yankees. After all, if it weren’t for a lousy break here and there, he could have been one of them. He could have been a star.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

Mondays With Murray: In This Corner, With the Pen, is the New Guy

On Feb. 12, 1961, the Los Angeles Times introduced its readers to the new guy — James (Jim) Patrick Murray. He wasn’t a call-up from the minor leagues. He had been honing his craft at places like the Los Angeles Examiner, Time and Life magazines and Sports Illustrated for many years. Jim was very familiar with L.A.; he had covered Hollywood for Time and Life.

For the next 37 years, sports fans from Los Angeles and beyond would form a long-lasting relationship with Jim. Some loved him, some hated him . . . but they all read him.

It all started on that Sunday in February 1961 with today’s column — In This Corner, With The Pen, is the New Guy. If Helen of Troy was the “face that launched a thousand ships” these were the words that launched a million laughs, smiles, frowns, tears and scowls.






In This Corner, With the Pen, is the New Guy

  I have been urged by my friends — all of whom mean well — to begin writing in this space without introducing myself, as if I have been standing here all the while only you haven’t noticed. But I don’t think I’ll do that. I think I’ll start off by telling you a little about myself and what I believe in. That way, we can start to fight right away.

  First off, I am against the bunt in baseball — unless they start bunting against the ball John McCraw batted against. The last time the bunt won a game, Frank Chance was a rookie.

  I think the eight-point touchdown has had it. It’s added nothing to the game unless, of course, you count the extra bookkeeping.

  I’m glad the Rams traded Billy Wade. I won’t say Billy was clumsy, but on the way back mondaysmurray2from the line of scrimmage with the ball he bumped into more people than a New York pickpocket. I have seen blockers make ball carriers look bad. Wade was the only ball carrier I ever saw make the blockers look bad. Those poor guys were getting cross-eyed trying to look for him out of both corners of their eyes. They never knew which way he went.

  The play usually ended up with some mastodon of a defensive end holding Billy upside down by the heels and shaking him. Like a father with a kid who’s just swallowed a quarter. Billy gave up more ground, faster, than Mussolini at the end of the war. The Chicago Bears better put his shoes on backward or he’ll dance right out of that little ballpark of theirs. I expect him to be the only quarterback ever tackled for a loss in the seats.

  I think Jim Brosnan is the best writer in baseball. I think Cincinnati would be gladder if he were the best pitcher.

  I know what’s wrong with Eisenhower’s golf swing but I’ll be cussed if I can figure out what to do with that spasm of mine. (Ike lifts his left leg; I think I leave my feet altogether.).

  I’d like once more (if Jimmy Cannon will pardon me) to see Elroy Hirsch and Tommy Fears going out on a pass pattern and looking back for a Waterfield pass. Throw in Jimmy David on defense and I’ll pay double. David was the only guy I ever saw who could maim a guy while pretending to help him up.

  I hope Steve Bilko has lost weight. The last time I saw him in the Coliseum, the front of him got to the batter’s box full seconds before the rest of him. If he were batting left-handed, part of him would be halfway to first base before the pitch came in. Even then, the umpire could beat him down there.

  I don’t think anyone should be surprised at the disappointing showing of our Olympians in the ’60 Games. There is an old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So our boys did. The coaches didn’t like it, but the girls did.

  I think almost every pitcher in the big leagues has a good spitball but I prefer to see Lew Burdette load one up for the batter in a tight situation and then make believe he’s only wiping his chin. The only way you can be sure the ball is wet is if the ump calls for it and Lew rolls it to him.

  I think the Washington Huskies football players were more enterprising than a bunch of Dead-End Kids in an empty candy store. But I still think the guys who are beating Minnesota over the head for claiming (correctly) that it had an edge in the second half in the Rose Bowl are the same guys who would be crying “Washington was robbed” if the roles were reversed in that game.

  I have been held up to you as somewhat of a joke athletically, but I want you to know I had one superlative as a college freshman baseball player. I was the most nervous right fielder our team ever had. Our coach, Ralph Erickson, had only four fingers on his right hand and the prevailing theory was he had the regulation five until he saw us and started biting his nails. I caught a fly once and got so carried away I almost decapitated our first baseman on the throw-in. As I remember the first baseman, it wouldn’t have affected his play much. He didn’t use his head a great deal.

  I won’t say the kids today are softies but I’d like to see them learn to play Little League with the ball I had to play with. This was a “dime rocket,” the cover of which came off after the first solid hit and it had to be wrapped in thick friction tape. I’d like to see Duke Snider throw it out of the Coliseum. In fact, I’d like to see him hit it past the pitcher’s mound on the fly. I have bowled with lighter balls.

  I was gratified by the reaction to the announcement Jim Murray was to write a sports column, an immediate and interested “Who??!” Mel Durslag did throw a bouquet, though. I’ll read the card as soon as I take the brick out.

  I came to Los Angeles in 1944 (the smog and I hit town together and neither one of us has been run out, despite the best efforts of public-spirited citizens) and my biggest sports disappointment was the 1955 Swaps-Nashua race, which I helped arrange. I have never believed Bill Shoemaker was property tied on his mount that day when they sprang the barrier. But I will ask Bill — and believe what he says because his next lie will be his first.

  I really don’t understand why the Angels haven’t signed up Bob Kelley to do their broadcasts. He’s the only guy in town who can prevent Vin Scully from throwing a shutout.

  I hope Bill Hartack, the jockey, continues to take himself off sore horses. I know it irks the stewards but I’d rather have them sore than the horses — especially if I’m betting on the race because if there’s one sore horse in the field, I’m usually on him, handicapping it all the way.

  I couldn’t tell from that letter of Billy Wade’s whether Don Paul wanted Waterfield’s job or just wanted him to eat in his restaurant.

  Every sportswriter is expected to make a prediction and because I would like to leave the game ahead, I will predict the Angels will not win the pennant — this year, anyway. On the other hand, the way they have been messing around with baseball, they just might change the game to loball. Then, the Angels would be a threat. Just my luck.

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,


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

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

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

Mondays With Murray: Frustrations of Past Count for Something

The NFL has just completed its 100th season. The NFL and Jim Murray were the same age — Jim would have been 100 in December. In honor of Andy Reid’s first Super Bowl victory and the 100th season of the NFL, we bring you a column Jim wrote on Dec. 27, 1988, in which he writes about another head coach who spent 22 years chasing a ring, only to never get it . . . Chuck Knox. Knox passed away on May 12, 2018, at the age of 86.





Frustrations of Past Count for Something

  It has no doubt come to your attention that the people most of us consider the eminent historians of our day — the poets of the press box, the knights of the keyboard, the sporting press — have come to the conclusion that the current crop of National Football League playoff teams constitutes an unworthy cast. They are prepared to dispense a flop mondaysmurray2production, devoid of stars, weak in drama. It won’t play Broadway and needs a complete second-act rewrite.

  I mean, we no longer have the Lombardi Packers, the Halas Monsters of the Midway, the Baugh Redskins, the Jim Brown Browns, the Unitas Colts. What we get are a lot of earnest young athletes flawed by the league policy of pulling everyone down to the lowest common denominator, parity.

  Parity is like satire, which in the words of one eminent showman, is what closes on Saturday nights.

 But, it is the notion here that parity on the playing field is not what’s wrong with today’s tournaments. It’s the coaching that ain’t what it used to be.

  Consider not the offensive and defensive platoons on the field or the special teams, consider the leadership on the sidelines.

  Check the AFC. When the final five took their positions at the end of the regular season, these were the five head men on the sidelines: Jerry Glanville of the Houston Oilers, Marty Schottenheimer of the Cleveland Browns, Sam Wyche of the Cincinnati Bengals and Marv Levy of the Buffalo Bills.

  See any Vince Lombardis in there? Where are the Tom Landrys, Don Shulas? Where are the likes of Papa Halas, Weeb Ewbank, Bud Grant, George Allen, Hank Stram? Where’s the big-game experience here?

  You will notice I left out the name of the other AFC coach in the shootout, Chuck Knox. That’s because Chuck Knox is a throwback coach. He belongs in the context of the names of great mentors of football’s past.

  The gamblers say his team doesn’t belong in this postseason crapshoot. I’m not so sure. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the kingdom of the halt, the man who can ride rules.

  Chuck Knox may be the only one in the AFC eliminations with legitimate big-game experience. Knox has been there, as they say. He could be the one on horseback here.

  Chuck Knox is probably the best-coach-who-never-went-to-the-Super-Bowl. And, there’s the rub.

  Chuck Knox is to the Super Bowl what Sam Snead was to a U.S. Open, or Ernie Banks to a World Series. He deserved one, he never got one.

  When Chuck Knox came to the Rams for his first head coaching job, 15 years ago, the league thought it had the new Rockne. His first season was 12-2 (the team had been 6-7-1 the year before). His teams were smart, hard-hitting, resourceful, they didn’t beat themselves. They lost the two games by a total of three points. They were eliminated by the more experienced Staubach-Landry Cowboys in the playoffs, but they chalked that up to a learning process. There’d be plenty of Super Bowls to come.

  Except, there weren’t. The next season, the Rams won the division again (they won it every year Knox coached them) and won the first playoff game (beating the Redskins, 19-10).

  Then came the championship game against the Vikings in frigid Minnesota. Late in the game, with the score Minnesota 14, Rams 10, the Rams had the ball on the Viking 6-inch line. That’s as in a half-a-foot.

  The Vikings’ Alan Page jumped offside to beat the snap. That’s smart football when you can only lose three inches in penalty (half the distance to the goal line).

  Only, the umpire rules that the Rams’ interior lineman, Tom Mack, had moved first.

  The penalty was catastrophic. The Rams were moved back out of line-plunge distance and had to try a pass. It was intercepted. Bye-bye Super Bowl. Minnesota goes.

  To this day, Chuck Knox and Tom Mack insist the Rams lineman never moved. They have the film to prove it. “He never even breathed,” Knox was to say.

  Two years later, the Rams are in Minnesota again. Temperature: 11 degrees at game time.

  The Rams rip through Minnesota as if the Vikings weren’t there. They again have the ball inside the Viking 1. On fourth down, they inexplicably go for a field goal. Minnesota blocks it and defensive back Bobby Bryant scoops it up and runs 99 yards for a touchdown. There goes that Super Bowl.

  The next season, the Rams get a break. The playoff game against Minnesota is not only at home but Minnesota’s quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, is hurt.

  Except, the day-after-Christmas, the worst rainstorm of the year hits. The field is a quagmire. The Rams’ runners perish in it like woolly mammoths in a tar pit.

  Will Chuck Knox ever win a Super Bowl? Will he ever even get to one?

  Whatever fates control the Super Bowl, they have it in for Chuck Knox. Three of the five years he coached the Rams, they played for the Super Bowl. Three of the five, they lost.

  It would give anyone a complex. In sports, it gives rise to that kiss of death — he-can’t-win-the-big-ones.

  Maybe one of those other coaches in this year’s tournament will win it because, like a guy taking up golf, they don’t know how tough it is, yet.

  Chuck Knox knows how tough it is. The gamblers don’t like his chances. Maybe, the gods don’t, either.

  Chuck Knox can be pardoned by going into the playoffs like a guy waiting for a shoe to drop, or listening for a noise in the attic. On the other hand, none of the AFC coaches he has to face to get to Miami reminds you of Pop Warner.

  If a game can be won on the sidelines, he should be the one to do it. All the real coaching experience is in the other conference. He won’t have to face Bill Walsh, Jerry Burns, Mike Ditka or Buddy Ryan till super Sunday. And if he gets there, he’ll finally be in a position where he won’t have to go through life explaining to strangers in bars, “Tom Mack never moved.”


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,


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

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

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

Mondays With Murray: No College, but Bryant is Still a Student




No College, but Bryant Is Still a Student

  Pro football and pro basketball have it made. Let me ask you: How’d you like to run a business in which your product is delivered to you fully milled and refined at no cost to you, fully promoted with a market for it already created, again at no cost to you?

  That’s what those sports businesses have. They have an assembly line fully functional, stamping out their finished product after going out and finding and shipping the raw material themselves.

  The nation’s colleges provide this service to them free of charge. The pros are in debt to mondaysmurray2every college coach who ever scouted out a prospect, every alumnus who ever bought a car or wrote a secret check for the halfback who could run the 40 in 4.3, every sportswriter who ever dreamed up “Galloping Ghost” or “Four Horsemen” or “Dream Team” or “Fab Five” to describe his property and give it further marketability.

  General Motors should be so lucky. The pros (and the agents) cash in on all this largess. The colleges do too, to some extent. But they use the revenues to fund programs that foster gender equity, not yachts or offshore bank accounts.

  Baseball never got in on this good thing. Baseball founded a network of training sites at its own expense called the “minor leagues” or the “bushes,” where they found the talent themselves and set it off for burnishing and education paid for not by colleges and universities but by the teams themselves. They refined their own product. Baseball hated to see its prospects go to college because it felt the youngster would be wasting four years. He would not grow in art and skill. College ball was not considered quality-enough competition.

  Once in a while a pitcher from Harvard (Charlie Devens) or Yale (Johnny Broaca) would show up in a big league uniform, but they were a long way from Cooperstown. (Devens’ lifetime record was 5-3 — and he pitched for the Ruth Yankees!)

  The colleges were the minor leagues for the other sports. (Some say not so because only a fraction of the collegians made it to the pros — but only a fraction of baseball minor leaguers made it to the big leagues, too).

  What brings this to hand is the fact the Lakers currently have a young player who is, in effect, jumping the queue. Kobe Bryant is bypassing four years in college and going directly to the NBA.

  It is an audacious experiment, but one that has been tried. Darryl Dawkins, who called himself “Chocolate Thunder,” went directly from high school to the NBA. Shawn Kemp, the current NBA’s Mr. Everything, didn’t play college basketball. Moses Malone made the transition from high school successfully (27,409 total points, 16,212 rebounds).

  It is do-able — but difficult. Only 26 players have tried it in the long history of the league. Kevin Garnett did it for Minnesota last season — and racked up an impressive 2,293 minutes.

  Kobe Bryant is an extraordinarily skilled young player who might be frittering away his talent playing for dear old Siwash. Jerry West, who should know, says he is on of the best rookies he ever saw anywhere — and Jerry has seen a few.

  The problem with the young (at 18 years 2 months, Kobe is the second-youngest to play in the NBA) is not only giving them basketball, it’s giving them the money. The last time an 18-year-old got millions like that, his father was the king of France.

  As someone said, you go to college to learn how to make millions. If you get them anyway, what’s the point? You figure your whole life is going to be spent at the free-throw line.

  The next problem is a familiar one — ego. The id. How do you take an 18-year-old who broke all of Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring records in Philadelphia high schools, who was USA Today’s national player of the year, and keep him on the bench in important games or just let him pick up what Chick Hearn calls “garbage” points? After all, 18 is a time when you know it all, isn’t it?

  The Lakers are betting Kobe Bryant is more than just a good role player. They see his name in lights, his uniform in the rafters.

  Kobe probably does too. But he is the son of an NBA basketball player, Joe (Jelly Bean) Bryant, who played for the Philadelphia 76ers, Clippers and Houston Rockets as well as in the European leagues. He even speaks fluent Italian.

  He was also a sports columnist in high school, so he has a feel for historic pace. Still, all his life till now, he has been given the ball. How will he react to not having it? Can he move without it?

  I went down to the locker room the other night, after a game in which he had not played, to see how his non-role was sitting with the once-and-future star. Would a future generation be able to understand a game in which a healthy Kobe Bryant was kept on the bench all night? Would he, himself? When would he begin throwing the furniture, bad-mouthing the coach, demanding to be traded?

  Kobe Bryant smiled, turned off the tough questions with polite disclaimers and was gracious and unscowling. No, he didn’t object to sitting out the game; no, he didn’t think he had made a mistake skipping college. “The NBA was a challenge,” he said. “I like a challenge. I was ready for a challenge.”

  He has racked up 170 minutes on the floor to date (Shaquille O’Neal and Eddie Jones have more than 800). He still plays a bit of the helter-skelter playground game. But when he becomes a star, he may change the whole complexion of the game. Maybe some day there will be a note in the brochure that only 26 players in the league ever went to college.


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,


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

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

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