Mondays With Murray: Merv Picked Right Racket? Oh, Really? 

Merv
The late, great Merv Griffin.

Two sporting events wrap up on Sunday — the 2022 U.S. (Tennis) Open and the Del Mar racing meet.

Today, we pay tribute to TV host and media mogul Merv Griffin (July 6, 1925 – Aug, 14, 2007), who loved tennis and race horses. Merv raised thoroughbred horses at his ranch in La Quinta, Calif. His colt Stevie Wonderboy, named after Stevie Wonder, won the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Jim Murray’s column from Sept. 17, 1987, throws the spotlight on Merv’s love for the game of tennis.

ENJOY!


THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 1987, SPORTS

Copyright 1987/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Merv Picked Right Racket? Oh, Really?

The richest man on Sunset Boulevard was driving along it, idly listening to the car radio. The announcer broke for a commercial message, promising to come right back with the name of the man who, according to Forbes Magazine, was currently the richest man in the entertainment industry. The driver vagrantly mondaysmurray2wondered who it might be. Bob Hope? Aaron Spelling? Bill Cosby? A moment later, he almost crashed into a curbside tree.

“It was me!” recalls Merv Griffin in wonderment. “I had to pull off to the side of the road and sit there hyperventilating. I thought, ‘How dare they?!’ I glanced into cars going by and wondered whether they were listening to the same program. I hoped not.”

Merv Griffin arrived at his high estate, driving along and finding himself one of the richest men in town, from a standing start as a guy who used to stand in front of Freddy Martin’s band in the Coconut Grove and sing “I Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.”

Actually, Merv is the black sheep of the Griffin family. He comes from a long line of championship tennis players and they thought he might follow in the tradition. Uncle Clarence was three times U.S. men’s doubles champion with the storied William (Little Bill) Johnston, and another time was runner-up at Forest Hills with John Strachan. Uncles Milton and Elmer were world-class players, as was his father, Mervin, Sr.

“We all had lace curtain Irish names,” explains Merv.

The family parlor might have had muslin, but the lace curtain Griffins were very big in the ad court.

Merv Griffin Jr. drifted south from his San Francisco and abandoned his tennis roots. He became the band singer for Martin’s long run at the Grove. “It was the place for Hollywood in those days. Howard Hughes was there every night. Van Johnson used to grab the mike and sing. Bing Crosby used to dance by and say ‘Don’t pronounce your words so carefully, San Francisco. Slur them a little bit.’ ”

********
Hollywood as they say, beckoned, and Merv became the lead in such non-Academy epics as “Cattle Town,” “So This Is Love” and “By The Light Of The Silvery Moon.” Winces Merv: “I was supposed to be Doris Day’s co-star. But I photographed too young.”

It was tennis that got him out of films. “I hated the movies. One day, Uncle Elmer had a chance to play Jack Warner in tennis. ‘I can let him win and save your job,’ his uncle warned Merv. “Kill him!” instructed his nephew. The uncle mowed the Warner brother down in straight sets, love-love, and Merv was suddenly in New York on daytime television.

It was the day of the quiz show scandals in New York, but Merv’s shows were as honest as Uncle Elmer’s tennis and he was soon whisking from his run on Broadway’s “Finian’s Rainbow” to center stage on such classics of the game-show genre as “Play Your Hunch,” “Keep talking,” and “Word For Word.”

It was when he sat in for Jack Paar on the Tonight Show (pre-Carson) that his career took off. Merv Griffin had such a disingenuous air about his questioning that his guests frequently found themselves blurting their most intimate secrets and emptying all their closets with an alacrity that fascinated audiences.

“Merv was so disarming they would forget they were on national TV and get to thinking they were talking to Merv on the bar car of the New York-New Haven-and-Hartford,” an associate remembers. “Merv would just sit there and say ‘Oh, really!’ and ‘You’re kidding!’ and they would fall all over themselves to tell him things they never told anybody.”

Once, when Merv had on the deposed vice president, Spiro Agnew, his producer came to him in despair. “We can’t talk about anything!” he wailed. “Look at the list of things that are off-limits! The most controversial thing on the show will be ‘Hello!’ ”

Merv just smiled. “Don’t worry,” he soothed. “Just start the camera.”

Viewers remember that, but the end of the show, Merv was getting away with questions like “And then what did you steal?”

The Merv Griffin Show was an American institution. Congressmen, thieves, athletes, movie queens, diplomats took his couch. Merv acted as if he were in awe of all of them and played a part that was part autograph-seeker and part prosecutor. The show was more fun than a bugged confessional. It was impossible not to watch — like seeing a guy walk a ledge in a snowstorm.

Merv tried to maintain his little-boy-in-the-big-city approach, but he was as sophisticated as any of his film-star guests. Once, when he was singing at the Palladium, a young Hollywood High student was president of his fan club. A girl named Carol Burnett.

But Merv never forgot the fantastic popularity of the game show as a television staple. He put together a pair that were to become the biggest money-makers in the history of the breed and put Merv in the capital grouping that used to belong to guys who owned railroads or oil fields.

“Wheel of Fortune” became the most watched game show of all time before Merv sold it to Coca Cola for a quarter of a billion dollars. “Jeopardy” was a favorite game show from the White House to the firehouse.

Merv picked Vanna White out of a pile of photographs to dress “Wheel of Fortune.”

“Which face looks out at you?” he challenged his staff.” You can’t have a guy with a ladder going out there changing letters.”

But Merv never got too far from his serve-and-volley background. Like all the Griffins, he yearned for a spot on center court. He played life as if the point were always deuce, but he played tennis to relax.

His involvement took the form of organizing some of the earliest celebrity tournaments (he credits Clint Eastwood with pioneering them) and this weekend he hosts the Merv Griffin Tennis Tournament at the Riviera Tennis Club as part of the week-long Mita Festival, which annually raises more than a million dollars for United Cerebral Palsy. Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg and John McEnroe (if his baby is born) are expected.

For Merv, it’s a natural outgrowth of a lifetime of being able to say “Oh, really?” and “No kidding?” on TV with a perfectly sincere straight face. It’s the show biz equivalent of the high lob which the opponent smashes into the net. That shot is a Griffin family tradition. Not only puts you in the finals at Forest Hills but on the cover of Forbes Magazine.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

——

The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s mission is to establish a permanent legacy to Jim Murray. 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. Jim Murray wrote more columns on baseball than he wrote on any other sport, bringing baseball’s history and legends to life through sports journalism.

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.

Baseball Hall of Fame non-profit 501(c)(3) #15-0572877

Preserving History. Honoring Excellence. Connecting Generations.

info@jimmurrayfoundation.org|

www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

Mondays With Murray: 24 years later, Jim Murray’s final column

Jim Murray passed away on Aug. 16, 1998 — 24 years ago. . . . There are hundreds of columns that we could share with you on this day of memorial. . . . There really isn’t one column that could sum up the life and career of Jim Murray.  The folks at Columbia University agreed when they honored Jim with a Pulitzer Prize for his “body of work.”

Today we celebrate his legacy with the last column he wrote for the L.A. Times on Aug. 16, 1998, the day he died.

His final line:

“Anyway, it’s nice to know getting older has its flip side.”

ENJOY!

——

SUNDAY, August 16, 1998, SPORTS

Copyright 1998/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

You Can Teach an Old Horse New Tricks

Del Mar — Well, it was a slam dunk for Free House, a “Where is everybody?” win.

The Bridesmaid finally caught the bouquet. The best friend got the girl in the Warner Bros. movie for a change. The sidekick saves the fort.

Free House just won’t fold the hand. Three times last year, in the most mondaysmurray2publicized races in the sport, he chased his competition across the finish line in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. In the money in all of them, in the photo in one of them, he was the hard-luck champion of horse racing.

He was expected to go quietly into the sunset. A game effort but no cigar.

He got a measure of revenge Saturday in the Pacific Classic here. He ran away from Touch Gold, who beat him in the Belmont. The horse who beat him in all three Triple Crown races, Silver Charm, didn’t make the dance or he might have gotten a different view of Free House, too.

The Pacific Classic is not your Run for the Roses. No bands play Stephen Foster as the horses come on the track. But it’s not your basic overnight allowance, either. It’s a $1-million race, major on the schedule. It’s a very big win for Free House. He’s not What’s-His-Name anymore. He’s Who’s Who.

You know, in most sports, the athlete gets a generation to prove himself. A Jack Nicklaus wins his first major at 22 and his last at 46. A George Foreman wins Olympic boxing gold in 1968, and 30 years later he’s still fighting. Babe Ruth hits his first home run in 1915 and his last in 1935.

But a racehorse has to act like he’s double-parked. He gets only months to prove he has been here.

And if his prime coincides with that of Man O’War, Citation, Secretariat or even Count Fleet, he might as well have been born a plow horse.

What did Free House do that turned him into a star? Well, he got older.

You know, it’s the public’s notion that the racing begins and ends with the Kentucky Derby and its Triple Crown satellites. Everything else is New Haven.

Trainers know better. Every real horseman knows a colt’s (or a filly’s) 3-year-old season is not indicative of real prowess. I mean, a Kentucky Derby is not only too early in the career, it’s too early in the year.

It has been won by a lot of horses who are just better than claiming horses. It has been lost by a lot of horses who were too good to have that fate. Native Dancer comes to mind. Gallant Man. Damascus. Bold Ruler.

Of course, a horse doesn’t know whether he won the Kentucky Derby or not. But his owner does. His rider does. History does.

But trainers as a class manage to hold back their enthusiasm. There’s even evidence a trainer resents a Triple Crown race.

That’s where a Pacific Classic comes in. It’s a trainer’s race. A real test of his skill in bringing a horse up to a race. The real business of racing.

A Kentucky Derby can be a crapshoot. Not a Pacific Classic. You win a Pacific Classic because you’re at the top of your game, not because eight other horses were still wet behind the ears. Many a Derby has been blown by an immature runner jumping shadows, spitting bits, lugging out, horsing around.

Not a Pacific Classic. Here, the horses are all grown up, professional. These are the true class of the sport, older horses. Dependable, crafty. Consistent. They don’t beat themselves.

There probably has never been a good older horse who couldn’t beat a good 3-year-old. It’s so taken for granted, they have to give the kids weight. Handicap horses used to be the glamour stars of the track anyway. They made a movie about Seabiscuit, who never ran in the Triple Crown and never got good till he got middle-aged. They wrote poems about John Henry, who never did either, even though he ran in 83 other races. They used to Equipoise “The Chocolate Soldier.” Exterminator, called “Old Bones,” ran 100 races.

They were the heart and soul of racing.

Free House bid fair to join them Saturday. He won so easily, jockey Chris McCarron should have brought a book. He rode him like the Wilshire bus. “You could have ridden him today!” he called out to Free House’s co-owner Trudy McCaffery.

McCarron rode such a confident race, he remembers thinking, “If I were a cocky individual, I would have turned to the other riders and said “Shame on you!”

Added McCarron, “This horse is so generous with his speed, I knew if he ran the way he trained, these guys were beat.”

He has one holdover from his misspent youth: He tends to kick out sideways and decelerate in the stretch, almost start to tap-dance. “He gets to wondering where everybody went and to want to slow down and wait for them,” McCarron explained. McCarron hustled him across the finish line four lengths ahead of second-place Gentlemen on Saturday and about 16 lengths ahead of Touch Gold.

Ironically, McCarron rode Touch Gold to victory in the Belmont.  

So, is he glad the order was reversed Saturday? Is yesterday’s jinx horse today’s king of the handicap division?

“Arguably,” said McCarron, “a case could be made.”

Anyway, it’s nice to know getting older has its flip side.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

——

The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s mission is to establish a permanent legacy to Jim Murray. 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. Jim Murray wrote more columns on baseball than he wrote on any other sport, bringing baseball’s history and legends to life through sports journalism.

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.

Baseball Hall of Fame non-profit 501(c)(3) #15-0572877

Preserving History. Honoring Excellence. Connecting Generations.

info@jimmurrayfoundation.org|

www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

Mondays With Murray: Scully Handles a Mike Like Ruth Did a Bat

Vin
The late Jim Murray (left) and Vin Scully, who died Tuesday in Los Angeles at 94, were long-time friends. (Photo: Jim Murray Memorial Foundation)

FRIDAY, JULY 8, 1983, SPORTS

Copyright 1983/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Scully Handles a Mike Like Ruth Did a Bat

It took baseball in its wisdom 10 years to turn Babe Ruth, the most perfect hitting machine of all time, from a pitcher into a slugger.

It took football seasons to figure out Marcus Allen wasn’t a blocking back and to hand him the football.

And it took network television forever to get the message that Vin Scully should do major league baseball and stop fooling around.

It wasn’t that Scully was inept at other sports. It was just that he was miscast. It mondaysmurray2was like Errol Flynn playing a faithful old sidekick. Scully could do golf and do it well. Rembrandt could probably paint soup cans or barn doors, if it came to that. Hemingway could probably write the weather. Horowitz could probably play the ocarina. But what a waste!

Nobody understands baseball the way Vin Scully does. He knows it for the laid-back, relatively relaxed sport it is. Scully is the world’s best at filling the dull times by spinning anecdotes of the 100-year lore of the game. He can make you forget you’re watching a 13-3 game, as we were Wednesday night at Chicago, and take you with him to a time and place where you are suddenly watching Babe Ruth steal home. He is like a marvellous raconteur who can make you forget you’re in a dungeon. He can make baseball seem like Camelot and not Jersey City.

He knows baseball fans are ancestor worshipers, like the British aristocracy, and he can invest a game with allusions to its gaudy past that give meaning to the present. We suddenly see knights in shining armor out there carrying on a glorious tradition instead of two rival factions of businessmen trying to land the order.

Football requires screaming. “They’re on the five and it’s second down and goal to go!” “They’re on the three and it’s third down and there’s 29 seconds left to play!” Baseball requires humor, deft drama, a sprinkling of candor, mix well and serve over steaming hot tradition.

Scully knows the sport as few do. He learned it at the knee of Branch Rickey at the time he was most impressionable, a young, ambitious, career-oriented student out of Fordham. Scully will tell you why a batter should try to hit to right with a man on first and none out. (“The first baseman has to stay on the bag to keep the runner close. The second baseman has to cheat a step toward second in the event of a steal or a double play. There’s a hole there you could dock ships.”)

But finally, the pairing of Scully with Joe Garagiola was an inspired piece of casting, not quite like Burns and Allen or the Sunshine Boys but a matchup quite as important to baseball as Ruth and Gehrig or Tinker and Evers and Chance.

I originally thought that was a lot of ego for one stage, or one microphone, but the two have locked into place like tongue in groove, or in this case, tongue in cheek.

Garagiola is the locker-room wit, the jokester from the team bus. Scully brings out the best in him, and he brings out the best in Scully. When the ballgame starts with the pitcher throwing two baseballs out of the infield and the third baseman following suit in the bottom half of the first, Garagiola pronounced it “a real Halloween inning” and later suggested that the ritual disclaimer, “This game is the property of major league baseball,” be waived since presumably nobody in the big leagues wanted to claim this game.

Later, when Scully noted that a certain pitcher had “retired 53 of 58 batters who faced him,” Garagiola wondered, “Why wouldn’t you try to sign those five guys?”

When a pitcher built along the general lines of King Kong took the mound, Garagiola observed, “He’s an 8 on a seismograph. His birthday is Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.” Later, Joe said of a pitcher with a roundhouse, hanging curve, “He throws an American Legion curveball.”

Later, when Scully said that a bearded infielder “looks as if he fell off a box of cough drops,” Garagiola noted: “If he shaves, he only weighs 91 pounds.” When a pitcher wearing more gold chains than a wine clerk appeared, Scully noted that “he looks as if he just came from Westminster Abbey.”

It was all good clean fun. They brought out the best in each other. No one noticed the game was boring. Because it wasn’t in the broadcast booth. That’s one of the things that made this game great all along.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

——

The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s mission is to establish a permanent legacy to Jim Murray. 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. Jim Murray wrote more columns on baseball than he wrote on any other sport, bringing baseball’s history and legends to life through sports journalism.

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.

Baseball Hall of Fame non-profit 501(c)(3) #15-0572877

Preserving History. Honoring Excellence. Connecting Generations.

info@jimmurrayfoundation.org|

www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

Mondays With Murray: Game is Russell’s

NBA great Bill Russell died Sunday at the age of 88. A Basketball Hall of Famer, Russell was the kingpin of a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 seasons. . . .  Today, we bring you Jim Murray’s 1965 column on the amazing Bill Russell.

——

THURSDAY, JANUARY 14, 1965, SPORTS

Copyright 1965/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Game Is Russell’s

ST. LOUIS — An “All-Star” basketball game is like a John Wayne movie. The only reason you need all those extra people around is because the script calls for them.

It’s really a recital for 10 fingers and two legs. All those other guys are spear-mondaysmurray2carriers who will get shot by the second reel, dress extras who have to turn in their wardrobe by nightfall. 

The game of basketball belongs to William Felton Russell. He rules it the way Russia rules Bulgaria — without seeming to. He asserts his might the way a Central Park mugger might. It is to his advantage that you not know he’s there until the right precise moment when he can separate you from your senses — and the ball.

Against him, the Big “O” is just a big zero. Wilt Chamberlain is just a pituitary freak. Any guy with a basketball is just a baby with a lollipop, little Red Riding Hood in the forest.

William Felton Russell dominates his sport as no man is history — not Ruth, Dempsey, Jim Brown or Bill Tilden. What they did was spectacular, dramatic. What Bill Russell does is as unnoticeable as pick-pocketing, and just as effective. Sometimes you don’t know till you check your pocket you’ve been had.

Some years ago, in a burst of zeal and arithmetic at an All-Star game, I totted up the best nights of some five basketball players who would be opposite Emperor Russell, and the total came to just under 400. I figured if they showed up sober, they couldn’t help scoring at least 200 points. I predicted the game’s first 200-point night.

By the time Bill Russell got through with them, they were lucky they could walk to the locker room without a cane.

It is a serious vexation to basketball. If you must have a superhero, it is to a sport’s advantage that he be history’s leading ground-gainer, or a one-punch knockout artist, or the man who hit 70 home runs a season. Bill Russell does what he does as unobtrusively as the groundskeeper or the guy who knits up the basket. If YOU can see him do it, he’s slowing up. Because not even the guy he does it to can be sure. All he knows is that he had it (the basketball) a minute ago. And what the hell happened to it beats him.

To tell the truth, it’s not terribly much fun. Bill Russell is playing a recital that can be heard by only a few dogs’ ears. It’s a subsonic pitch. You never even know he’s been there till you see the scoreboard. And then it doesn’t take Scotland Yard. His fingerprints are figuratively around the throat of every team that ever took the floor against him.

When Russell was in college some years ago, an eastern magazine that prided itself on having its nerve center in New York but its eyes, ears and fingers all around the rest of the world loudly ignored Bill Russell. “He’s averaging only six points a game,” they grandly informed their informant. The coach at Bill Russell’s university was helpless with laughter when he heard the quote.

When he gained control of himself, he demanded the names of the eastern players who were burning the nets — in this case, Hal “King” Lear and Tom Gola. “I want to send them ‘get well’ cards when Russ gets through with them in the NCAA,” he announced.

Bill Russell is Wellington at Waterloo, Grant at Richmond, the Russians at Stalingrad. He is where the war ends. In all the slow processes of history, defence always conquers in the end. Bill Russell is The End.

He’s almost the first athlete in history to compete in a goatee. He comes on court looking like a figure from a Balkan postage stamp. He could play in the nude and wear a spiked helmet, for all the Boston Celtics would care.

He has changed the game to a point where coaches no longer ask “What’s his average?” but instead want to know “Never mind can he make a shot, what I want to know is, can he block one?”

He has driven more people into retirement than old age. He has rattled chromosomes, destroyed confidence, has dammed up more rivers of talent than anyone in sports since Lefty Grove or Christy Mathewson.

He has made more coaches geniuses. Red Auerbach never lights up a cigar until a game is safely in hand, and already his friends are warning him to cut down on his smoking.

He has been responsible for the “goaltending” rule in the game because without it, basketball would go two years without a basket when Russell was playing.

The Boston Celtics had Cousy, Sharman, Ramsey, Auerbach, Easy Ed Macauley and quite a few hard cases before they had Russell. But since Russell, they have made the New York Yankees look like a team of in-and-outers. Basketball’s play would seem to be to take up a collection and send him to Elba. Because, with Russell, everybody else is fighting for second place. He is the bewhiskered spider under the basket, he is mischief afoot, he sucks up basketballs like a vacuum cleaner with a beard.

“With Russell,” a veteran who doesn’t want to be quoted told me, “you only hope he doesn’t eat you. Some night, when he’s up for the game, they’re going to have to count the players.”

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

——

The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s mission is to establish a permanent legacy to Jim Murray. 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. Jim Murray wrote more columns on baseball than he wrote on any other sport, bringing baseball’s history and legends to life through sports journalism.

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.

Baseball Hall of Fame non-profit 501(c)(3) #15-0572877

Preserving History. Honoring Excellence. Connecting Generations.

info@jimmurrayfoundation.org|

www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

Mondays With Murray: Course of Courses

THURSDAY, APRIL 9, 1964, SPORTS

Copyright 1964/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Course of Courses

AUGUSTA – O.K., fellows, this is the Masters. This is not the Heliotrope Open, the Greater Gastonia One-putt, the Coughing Hills Open — or even the Cough Syrup Four-ball, or the Kelly’s Beer and Ale Invitational, or even Clancy’s Bar & Grill.

This is not the Edsel Open or the Good Heavens Round-robin, or the Sahara mondaysmurray2Desert Open. This is a golf course, not a palm tree and a putting green. You might need all 14 sticks in the bag on this track.

This wasn’t filmed last August in three days from the back of a truck with pauses for the oil commercial. This isn’t a pitch-and-putt disguised as a 72-hole tournament. They don’t have to chase off the camels or pipe in the water on this course. The hazards were put there by God. Or by the devil, if you listen to the players.

You have to be a player here, not a scraper. You have to have a backswing, not a chop. Butchers need not apply. It’s nice if you can putt but not conclusive.

It might rain. It could even snow. The trees are not held there by wire, they’re held there by roots.

If you can’t approach a green like a player, don’t count on making it up with long putts. If you don’t drop your ball where it ought to be, you might be putting till dark.

The guys you’ll be playing with will be famous names in golf, not in banking, business or used cars. This is no pro-am. Movie stars need not apply. You don’t come to get Snead’s autograph, you come to get Snead.

You win this thing and you’re the equivalent of a .400 hitter in baseball. You not only don’t win it if you’re not good, you don’t even get in it.

You got to hit the ball over lakes, through trees, under the wind, over the hills and sometimes out of the mud. The good players come into this smiling, the bad ones, with their teeth clenched. If you can’t really play the damn game, you ought not to try to qualify. You might be shown up.

A fellow could get an 80 around here. And plenty have. There are some courses on the winter tour, you couldn’t get an 80 with a rake and a hoe.

The living room carpet is tough to putt on compared to some golf courses. A sheet of ice is easy, compared to some of Augusta’s.

They name the holes innocently. The “White Pine” is the 1st. “The Flowering Peach” is the 3rd. No. 8 is called “Yellow Jasmine.” Just rolls around on your tongue, don’t it, honey?

Ha.

They ought to call them the “Shoot Yourself,” “Let’s See You Laugh, Now” holes. The “Go Back Home and Learn the Damn Game” hole. The “My God, What Did I Do Wrong?” hole.

What sadist ever called the 14th the “Chinese Fir” hole? It’s the Chinese water torture hole.

You can’t get around with a 1-iron, 7-iron and a putter. You can’t get around with a cane and a caddy. You might try lifting weights instead of lifting drinks, if you got to play here. Turn off the phone at 9 o’clock at night. Eat sensibly because you might want to throw up at some places your ball lands.

The “Carolina Cherry” hole might not be so sweet. The “Red Bud” hole might be the “Red Neck” hole.

You win it, you’re here forever. Ben Hogan is in the field. Damn few tournaments nowadays can make that statement. More’s the pity. Cary Middlecoff is here even though he had trouble breaking 90 last year. No one laughed. It can happen in the Masters.

Tony Lema saves his choicest shots for this one. Tommy Bolt, his choicest curses.

This is the high stakes poker game of golf. But you better have aces. You don’t lick your chops, you lick your lips. Swallowing comes hard when you tee it up because a bad mistake doesn’t mean you can back it up, it means you pack it up.

Nobody’s ever won it twice in a row. Lots of guys will never win it once in a row.

You wouldn’t like to see the World Series in Griffith Park, would you? Like to see Mantle bat against Koufax in a clothes closet? Like to see Wilt Chamberlain have at a five-foot basket?

Of course not. Then, let’s see golfers have at a test of golf.

Tee it up, men. And protect yourselves at all times. The three-knockdown rule has been waived. This is for the Championship.

This is the Masters. Fore!

——

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

——

The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s mission is to establish a permanent legacy to Jim Murray. 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. Jim Murray wrote more columns on baseball than he wrote on any other sport, bringing baseball’s history and legends to life through sports journalism.

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.

Baseball Hall of Fame non-profit 501(c)(3) #15-0572877

Preserving History. Honoring Excellence. Connecting Generations.

info@jimmurrayfoundation.org|

www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

Mondays With Murray: He’d Rather Get Fruitcake

Fruitcake

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 24, 1995 SPORTS

Copyright 1995/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

He’d Rather Get Fruitcake

Stop me if you’ve heard this, but are you as tired as I am of the upbeat Christmas letters, the look-at-us, hurray-for-our-side family chronicles you get this time of year?

You know what I mean. The ones that start out something like this:

mondaysmurray2“Well, it’s been a banner year for the Mulligans. Christin finally had our first grandchild, a bouncing baby girl, 9 pounds 7 ounces, who’ll probably grow up to be our first woman President.

“John has taken over the Federal Reserve System. Paula is still working on a cancer cure at Johns Hopkins and we expect a breakthrough any day now. A Nobel Prize, perhaps?

“Dad and I are enjoying our retirement. He has produced a new hybrid rose for our garden that is hailed by horticulturists everywhere.

“I am still busy with my charity work, saving the whales, protecting the spotted butterflies, supporting a Hottentot village in the South Pacific and still have time to combat illiteracy in our universities and lobby for outlawing the death penalty but legalizing abortion. Dad thinks I take on too much but I was on Howard Stern twice last year and am taking dead aim on Oprah Winfrey.

“Phil got his PhD in optical engineering and is working on the telescope with which they hope to bring in Heaven by the end of the century. Rita is in the Peace Corps some place where they can only get a message out by bottle but finds her life fulfilling and thinks the dysentery is only temporary. Harriet is still into archeology and they have found the lost city of an Aztec sun god of the second century BC, but she can’t find her car keys.

“So, all in all, it’s been a joy and we look forward to more of the same in 1996 and hope you all are enjoying the happiness and success that has been our fortunate lot this year.”

Well, when I read those, I have this irresistible urge to pen the kind of letter I dream of receiving:

“Well, it’s been a good year on balance for the Mulligans. Clarence got out of prison in time for Christmas and the good news is, he likes his parole officer.

“Hilda got another divorce, her ninth, and she has moved back home with her 11 kids. We don’t know where her ex-husband is. Neither do the police. He’s two years behind in child support to Hilda and 10 years behind to his other five wives.

“Paul has stopped sucking his thumb. We’re proud of him. He’s only 16.

“Carl is doing better. He’s happy to say he cleared $30,000 last year begging from cars at the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevard. He is buying a new Mercedes. He loves it when they yell at him, ‘Get a life!’

“Frank lost his job at the factory. They’re downsizing. Particularly with guys like Frank who they said was late 47 times last year, didn’t show up at all on 20 other days and got caught making book in the company cafeteria.

“Tom goes around burning flags. He’s not unpatriotic. He says it’s a good way to meet girls.

“Alice’s movie career is progressing nicely. She got to wear clothes in her last flick — a garter belt. She also got a speaking part — all moans. It’s not Shakespeare but it’s a start.

“Jonathan flunked out of another college. The dean explained, ‘Jonathan missed the question ‘What year was the War of 1812?’ but he only missed by 2.’ We tell him if he had a good jump shot, he could miss it by a century and still graduate cum laude.”

Face it. Wouldn’t a letter like that be a welcome relief? So, have a great New Year. Just don’t tell us about it, eh?

——

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

——

The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s mission is to establish a permanent legacy to Jim Murray. 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. Jim Murray wrote more columns on baseball than he wrote on any other sport, bringing baseball’s history and legends to life through sports journalism.

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.

Baseball Hall of Fame non-profit 501(c)(3) #15-0572877

Preserving History. Honoring Excellence. Connecting Generations.

info@jimmurrayfoundation.org|

www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

Mondays with Murray (on Thursday): You Don’t Know This Yet but . . .

NOVEMBER 26, 1995, SPORTS

Copyright 1995/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY 

Now I know why Jimmy Cannon invented the “Nobody asked me but . . .” column.

He needed the day off.

So do I. So, here goes. I think I’ll call mine, “You don’t want to know but . . .”

mondaysmurray2It’s easy to swallow your pride when that’s all you’ve had to eat that day.

Trash talking is something eight-year-olds in a schoolyard do. So, what’s the mental age of a millionaire who does it on the basketball court or the football field?

Australia wants to cut the women’s tennis tournament $330,000 below the men’s. Why? I’d rather watch Steffi Graf than Andre Agassi any old day.

Why is it that waiters who keep interrupting your pre-meal jokes are nowhere to be found when you want the check or some more cream for your coffee?

I throw in with the guy who says you know you’ve had it when your wife says, “We’ve got to talk.”

I’ve never known a guy who didn’t think he was five strokes better than he was on the golf course.

Baseball needs a commissioner like the Mafia needs a godfather. To cut down on the free-lance larceny. All I know is, Bud Selig ain’t it.

I wish Evander Holyfield would retire. Boxing needs another tragedy like baseball needs another strike.

Albert Belle scares me.

I wish my whole life were timed by those clocks they use to measure the final seconds of a basketball game. I’d be 11 years old now.

The way they let them travel in the NBA, they should put handles on the ball. The players look like more like bellhops than athletes.

Commercials are going to kill network TV.

If I ever get in trouble with the law, I want Don King’s jury.

Why don’t cars making a left turn move to the middle of the road so the car behind them can make one too?

Let me get this straight. Five and a half million people vote for a thing, then 15 elitists and one judge get to throw it out and they call it democracy? Give me another look at that dictionary.

If I’ve got a horse in the Derby, Chris McCarron gets the ride. He gets more out of a horse than anyone since Shoe.

You have to figure Corey Pavin came down with the dreaded U.S. Open disease. You win the Open, then disappear. Just ask Curtis Strange, Payne Stewart, Tom Kite and Ernie Els.

I make Citation the greatest race horse I ever saw because he won on three legs when he was five years old, but Affirmed was worse than second only twice in his career.

Am I the only one in the country who thinks naming teams after Native Americans is a compliment to them, not a denigration of them? Is calling a team the Cowboys meant to insult cattle wranglers?

How could they have left Ben Hogan’s winning his first U.S. Open at Riviera in 1948 off the list of “100 Greatest Moments in L.A. Sports History?” I made it no worse than second.

The University of Cincinnati graduated only 19% of its basketball player “students.” Stanford graduated 86%. But before I throw my hat in the air I have to see the subjects in which they graduated. Also, find out whether they were good enough for the pros to abort their pursuit of knowledge.

Read me where it says we have to have, like, 10 heavyweight “champions” at a time. Till Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson fight, we don’t have any.

I never understood why a city builds a $200-million stadium for a football team to come in and play seven or eight games there. Why not use the money to build a factory for GM or GE to come in and hire 20,000 workers? That’s a lot of money to invest for 45 non-residents and a few peanut vendors to get employment.

I don’t care if the Fiesta Bowl has the two greatest teams on the planet, it still ain’t the Rose Bowl.

What’s wrong with naming Carl Lewis the greatest athlete of the half-century? It’s either he or Jackie Robinson.

That’s a wrap.

——

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

——

The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s mission is to establish a permanent legacy to Jim Murray. 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. Jim Murray wrote more columns on baseball than he wrote on any other sport, bringing baseball’s history and legends to life through sports journalism.

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.

Baseball Hall of Fame non-profit 501(c)(3) #15-0572877

Preserving History. Honoring Excellence. Connecting Generations.

info@jimmurrayfoundation.org|

www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

Mondays With Murray: Which Way to Chavez Ravine?

Which Way to Chavez Ravine? The Portly Wizard of Baseball, Walter O’Malley Made the Pastime Truly National When He Brought the Dodgers West

  The time is January 1957, the place Wilshire Boulevard, on a warm winter day with the sun shining through the windows of the Automobile Club of Southern California as the man pauses at the counter.

  This is a pleasant man with a full belly flopping over his out-of-fashion mondaysmurray2double-breasted suit. He is holding a cigar, which is stuck in a filterless white plastic holder, and an ash flops off onto his carelessly buttoned suit.

  He is wearing a hat, which stamps him as an outlander in this land of perpetual sunshine. His eyes twinkle behind old-fashioned rimless glasses, without which he would resemble a benign, smiling Buddha.

  His voice sounds like a rusty file being drawn across a corroded iron pipe, and several chins bobble when he opens his tiny, quizzical mouth to speak. “Pardon me, young man,” rasps Walter O’Malley politely, “but can you tell me where Chavez Ravine is?”

  In the little world of baseball, that question has to rank in historical importance with, say, George Washington sidling up to a Hessian guard and innocently inquiring how wide the Delaware was at Trenton — or Abraham Lincoln calling downstairs to ask Mary how to spell emancipation. I have often wondered if the clerk who unraveled the auto club map that day knew he was disclosing the future capital of baseball.

  Walter O’Malley was the only 240-pound leprechaun I have ever known. He was as devious as they come. He always managed to look as if he had his own marked deck. He was half-Irish and half-German or, as someone once said, “half-oaf, half-elf.”

  He changed the face of baseball. He might have saved the game. He infused new energy, created new rivalries, brought a new audience, a new dynamism at a time when baseball was the Sick Man of Sport and losing its audiences in droves to pro football.

  They have never forgiven O’Malley in New York. A lot of people who moved out of Brooklyn themselves were outraged when O’Malley followed suit in 1958. He occupied the same place in the hearts of New York writers as Benedict Arnold. “The Wizard of Ooze,” he was called.

  He had done what Americans always do when they get prosperous —  moved to the suburbs. In his case, the suburbs were 3,000 miles away.

  He was just following a trend. The population of California was about 8 million when I arrived in 1944. It was 32 million 45 years later. That is one of the great migrations in the history of mankind. O’Malley simply joined it. He followed his customers.

  He was not forgiven because he had just presided over the most fabulously successful 10-year period any National League team had ever enjoyed. His Brooklyn Dodgers had won six pennants, been in the playoffs two other years. They had drawn more than a million customers a year. They had led the major leagues in net profit after taxes, $1,860,740 for the five-year period of 1952 to 1956.

  The Dodgers were kind of America’s Team. The romance of baseball being what it is, the entire nation took up the nickname “The Bums” and took the Dodgers to its heart, reserving for them the parental indulgence one has for foolish but harmless offspring. The fact that the Dodgers had brought up the first black player in the modern history of the major leagues added the vocal political liberals to the mix even though most of them didn’t know a squeeze play from a pop fly.

  But Branch Rickey, the Dodgers’ president and general manager in Brooklyn, had done all of these things. Walter O’Malley was not a baseball man. He was a bottom-line man. He never went into a locker room in his life. He had come to the Dodgers as a caretaker for the company that held the mortgage on the club at the time when the club didn’t even meet the interest.

  O’Malley had actually tried to get New York to keep the club. The locale and character of Ebbets Field, the cracker-box firetrap that had been home to the Dodgers since 1913, had made going to a ballgame on a social level with going to a cockfight.

  O’Malley invited the city to condemn the downtown land for him. He would build the ballpark. O’Malley even proposed a domed stadium. He was years ahead of his time.

  He only wanted to move a few city blocks. The city and state dragged their feet. They argued over the propriety of condemning land for a purely private enterprise. O’Malley got disgusted. He was a proud man, a stubborn man. When he threatened to move, they smirked. Move the Dodgers! He had to be kidding! He wasn’t. He also took the Giants with him.

  O’Malley didn’t need the permission of the commissioner of baseball. O’Malley was the commissioner of baseball. In all but name. Come to think of it, he did more for the game than any commissioner who ever ran it.

——

I first came into O’Malley’s world the spring he moved to Los Angeles. I did a cover story on him for Time magazine. I spent weeks hanging out with him in Vero Beach, San Francisco and, finally, L.A. He wasn’t always pleased with what I wrote, but O’Malley had as high a regard for the freedom of the press as Thomas Jefferson. For a different reason. O’Malley always said one of the reasons he abandoned Brooklyn was that “once there were four newspapers in Brooklyn, now there are none. And if you don’t think a newspaper isn’t important to baseball, you don’t know baseball.”

  The O’Malley I knew was the convivial sort who liked to play cards with the boys, drink with cronies. He built two golf courses in Florida and playing with him was a trip because it was understood that he could kick the ball out of the rough any time it was ankle high, any tree was a staked tree (even a 100-year-old sycamore) and any putt was in the leather so long as it was on the green. When O’Malley hit the green, he put the ball in his pocket.

  He fancied himself a horticulturist. He spent hours in a greenhouse trying to breed metasequoia trees to grow in Florida. Luther Burbank he was not. They never made it out of the pot. O’Malley didn’t have much of a green thumb.

  But he did in the counting house. The Dodgers became the most successful franchise in the history of the game. They were the first in the league to draw 2 million, the first in the game to draw 3 million.

  O’Malley never had much congress with his ballplayers. I always thought he regarded them as obstreperous children, fiscally irresponsible, functionally illiterate and as ineducable and temperamental as horses. He trusted his underlings — Fresco Thompson and Emil (Buzzie) Bavasi — to keep them in line. Bavasi was a smart, tough negotiator whose ace in the hole was that he knew most players would play for nothing rather than get a day job.

  I don’t know how O’Malley would have handled the day of the agents. But in 1966, two of the greatest pitchers in the annals of the game, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, linked up to hold out for more money.

  They didn’t get much. Koufax got $120,000, which is laughable in today’s terms. Drysdale got somewhat less. When you think what an agent might get for them today — probably Rhode Island — you marvel at those more innocent times.

  O’Malley never made the mistake of degrading his players in public. He always knew he would shortly be selling them to the public as the second coming of Walter Johnson. Or Ty Cobb. He kept the infighting in.

  But O’Malley always kept the image of the proper Dodger player in his mind. A Dodger player, in the O’Malley view, always came out looking like a Republican candidate for the Senate. He wore a tie, took his hat off in elevators and, if possible, went to Mass on Sundays. Other teams put up with rowdies, sociopaths, renegades and scofflaws if they had talent enough. O’Malley’s Dodgers never did. O’Malley’s Dodgers got rid of players like that. No matter how high they batted, if they missed team buses, scuffled with the law or disobeyed the manager, they were gone. Not our sort. Not Dodgers.

  The Dodgers had a few dipsos in their ranks over the years. O’Malley seemed to have more tolerance for that. Perhaps because he liked a glass or two himself on occasion. The late maverick baseball owner Bill Veeck once said that whenever you smelled a good cigar and a glass of Irish in the air, O’Malley couldn’t be far behind. I saw O’Malley tipsy at a few St. Patrick’s parties but never saw him what you might call drunk. Walter O’Malley was always in control of Walter O’Malley. And everything else.

  He even had exactly the kind of son he wanted. Peter O’Malley did everything Dad wanted him to do — prep schools, Wharton School of Finance, a move into the family business. Peter O’Malley is the son everyone would want, a pillar of respectability, one of the most controlled individuals we will ever see. It has been said he is a clone of the old man but that the father had more of the pixie in him. Peter has made the society pages more than the sports pages. Like his father, he is a moral man with a high respect for respectability. He never played poker with the sportswriters. But you never wrote that Peter was a living extension of his father that you didn’t get a letter from him saying that was the best compliment you could pay him. Peter is still trying to live up to his father’s high expectations. He runs the Dodgers as capably as his father ever did. The rumors that he will sell the club and opt for a life of polo and bridge at the California Club meet with polite denials.

  The city of L.A. gave the O’Malleys 400 acres of downtown real estate, displacing hundreds of Latino families from the site in a contentious eviction battle. In the end, the O’Malleys have proven reliable caretakers. Amid rumors he would build a paper-mache ballpark and tear it down within a few years to construct lucrative high-rises, O’Malley remained true to his pledges. Chavez Ravine is still a ballpark 36 years after that auto club clerk rolled out the map. The lights from a night game dominate the cityscape and provide a reassuring sight to succeeding generations. The floors gleam, the walls are not coated with grime. Dodger Stadium is as neat and clean today as the day it opened.

  O’Malley had a choice of Wrigley Field or the Coliseum to showcase his team when it arrived. That was no contest. Wrigley Field at 42nd and Avalon, which he had purchased along with the franchise rights to L.A. from Phil Wrigley, was a 24,000-seat replica of Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The Coliseum had 92,000 seats — from about 28,000 of which you could actually see the game.

  O’Malley, who never had any trouble adding, had no trouble opting for the 92,000 seats. The baseball establishment was aghast. I remember the commissioner of baseball, Ford Frick himself, taking to the airways to deplore what would happen to the grand old game in this monstrosity of a ballpark. Frick, who had been his biographer, always worried what would happen to Babe Ruth’s home-run records.

  To be sure, the Coliseum configuration was a little startling. To squeeze a ballpark in, the left-field wall had to be a bare 250 feet from home plate. So they put up a 40-foot wire-mesh fence. “There goes Babe Ruth’s record! Also Roger Maris’!” harrumphed Red Smith. “Willie Mays’ll bunt them over that thing.”

  It was a Pittsburgh pitcher, Bob Friend, who first tipped me to the essential characteristic of The Wall. “You’ll get a lot of lazy high flies that will go over. But you’ll get a lot of line-drive hits that Willie Mays’ll hit that would go out for homers anywhere else in the world — but they’ll crash into that fence for a single. It’ll even out.”

  He proved prophetic. The most home runs any Dodger ever hit in a year in the four seasons they played in the Coliseum was 25 — Gil Hodges, 1959.

——

  When the Dodgers came west, O’Malley’s manager was a bucolic, unflappable hayseed named Walter Alston. Walt Alston just reeked decency. What you might call a mensch. Walt Alston came from the kind of people who won our wars, plowed our fields, fed our children. He didn’t understand what people went into nightclubs for. “You mean you just sit there and drink?!” His idea of a big night was a pool game in the basement and a malted milk at bedtime.

  He was almost the most unexcitable man I’ve ever known. If he had a flaw it was that he couldn’t really understand pressure. He would think nothing of putting a rookie in right field in the late innings of a pennant game, as he did repeatedly. If you made the big leagues, you were a big leaguer, was Walt’s uncomplicated view.

  He sometimes seemed to be a preacher running a wild animal act. He took defeat better than any manager I ever saw. In 1962, the year his team lost the pennant game they thought they had won (they were leading the Giants, 4-2, going into the ninth inning), Alston’s team locked the clubhouse door and proceeded to get roaring drunk and maudlin. Alston just showered — and went over to the Giants’ clubhouse to congratulate the winners.

  O’Malley didn’t hate Alston. That wouldn’t have been possible. He was just bored with him. He never gave him more than a one-year contract. He often seemed almost anxious to have Alston refuse.

  Walter hankered for a manager who would make headlines — any headlines. O’Malley wanted baseball on Page One, not just the Sports page. So O’Malley hired Leo Durocher as “coach.” Bavasi didn’t want him, Thompson didn’t want him, Alston didn’t need him. Only O’Malley wanted him. O’Malley wanted his bombast, his flair for the histrionics, his troublemaking.

  Leo didn’t disappoint. He made Page One kicking dirt on umpire Jocko Conlan, he feuded with his own players, with the press. Finally, Durocher did what Durocher always did. He self-destructed. The night after the Dodgers blew the playoff game to the Giants, Leo went on record as saying he would have had Don Drysdale in the game. “I came in the clubhouse in the ninth inning and saw Big D walking around in his long johns, and I said, ‘What are you doing here? Why aren’t you out in the bullpen? What’s he saving you for — spring training?’ “

  That kind of insubordination couldn’t go unchallenged. Leo was gone. Leo’s problem was, as Damon Runyon said of someone else, that he always saw life as 8-to-5 against.

  When Walter Alston came down with a failing heart, Walter O’Malley, who was dying himself by then, finally got the kind of manager he’d hankered for.

——

  Tommy Lasorda was a baseball manager right out of central casting. From his bandy legs to his prominent gut to his habit of giving orations, he was perfect for the role. You couldn’t have built yourself a more typical baseball manager.

  Tommy never talked, he shouted. He always managed to sound as if the building were on fire. He revelled in baseball. There were two men in my journalistic career I could always count on when I ran dry and needed a column. One was Casey Stengel, the other was Lasorda.

  Tommy was as American as a carburetor, but he liked to give you the “Only in America” spiel so favored by professional immigrant sons. The truth of the matter was, Tommy didn’t even look Italian. But he was the son of Sabbatino and Carmella Lasorda, the pride of Abruzzi, a province in the calf of the boot of Italy.

  Sabbatino drove a cement truck for a living in Norristown, Pa. Tommy had a chance to go down in the quarry, too, except that he had this tricky curveball. It never was good enough to get major-league hitters out but it got Tommy a career in the big leagues beyond his wildest dreams.

  I first met Tommy Lasorda in a bar in San Diego 25 years ago and we’ve been friends ever since. Ordinarily, it’s not a good idea to become friends with someone you may have to sit in judgment on, as journalists sometimes find out the hard way. But I have always found Lasorda to have a better appreciation of the symbiotic relationship between press and sportsmen than almost anyone I know of.

  He was only a scout for the Dodgers when I first met him but you always knew he was destined for better things.

  His seemingly sophomoric enthusiasm for the game played well with the kids, and the organization soon put him to work developing young talent in the outer reaches of the farm system — places such as Pocatello and Ogden. Lasorda was in his element. “I used to tell them all they’d be playing in Dodger Stadium someday, even the .200 hitters,” Lasorda reminisced. “I never let a negative thought in. I told them I liked the attitude of the old-time fighter, Jake LaMotta. Jake used to say he fought Sugar Ray Robinson six times and won all but five of them.”

  It worked with the eager young kids in Pocatello. But would it play on Broadway?

  It played. Lasorda and the Dodgers were perfect for each other.

  Tommy not only revelled in his baseball eminence, he became a show-biz personality. Alston probably didn’t even know who some of these actors were — if they didn’t play a cowboy, Walt didn’t see them — but Tommy’s office before a game would likely have a Danny Kaye, a Don Rickles, a Milton Berle or reigning director or producer hanging about, sampling the ever-present lasagna, luxuriating in the company of the marquee names of sport. Frank Sinatra’s picture was all over the walls and Frank, on occasion, showed up to sing the opening-day anthem as a favor to his paisan.

  The drug trials in Pittsburgh where authorities found dealers infiltrating the Pirates’ locker room put a wet blanket on Lasorda’s fraternizing with his Hollywood cronies. By edict of the commissioner, only accredited journalists, ballplayers and club personnel were thenceforth permitted in big-league locker rooms. The celebrity flow dried up, but Lasorda remained just as noisy. His audience was just less distinguished.

  In a sense, he brought his own team with him when he became Dodger manager in 1977, kids he had been assigned when he became manager at Spokane in 1969. He had the complete infield — Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey. It was a lineup that would win him his first three pennants and, finally, his first World Championship.

  In all, Lasorda’s teams have won four pennants and two World Championships. Smart, tough, energetic, Lasorda very likely lusted for the general manager’s job, where he would have been a natural. But when the GM, Al Campanis, tripped over his tongue on national TV one night, the job went to Peter O’Malley’s longtime confidant and personal ally, Fred Claire, an ex-newspaperman. Lasorda, ever the good soldier, swallowed his disappointment. He was actually too valuable where he was.

  The unfrocking of Al Campanis was probably the nadir of the Dodger organization. Here was the spokesman for the organization that had broken the color line in baseball going on “Nightline” to tell the world that black people lacked the “necessities” for leadership positions in what is, after all, a child’s game. He also said, in one of the great non sequiturs of all time, that black people “lacked the buoyancy” to be able to swim. The show, believe it or not, was meant to honor the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s entry into baseball.

  The interlocutor, Ted Koppel, raised in England, had only a superficial understanding of baseball but he knew bigotry when he heard it. So did the rest of the country.

  Those of us who knew Campanis thought he must have been goaded into an unworthy and controversial position. There had never been a whisper of prejudice in the conversation of this man. He had been a buddy of Jackie Robinson, a scout on the sandlots of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, the discoverer of Roberto Clemente.

  For whatever reason, he said what he said. He might as well have burned a cross to the memory of Robinson.

  Lasorda managed to distance himself from the swirls of controversy around l’affaire Campanis. He became the one constant in the new setup of the Dodger organization. The economics of baseball being what they became, Tommy no longer had a dugout full of pupils he had nursed through the farm system. In fact, he had no graduates of the farm system to speak of. The new franchise players had been sucked up on the free agent market. In large part, they were grizzled, cynical veterans that the old Dodger Blue and Big Dodger in the Sky routines should have had no effect on.

  But Lasorda had an act to fit every occasion. He knew something the public didn’t: Ballplayers are kids at heart. As Roy Campanella said, “To play baseball well, you have to be a man. But you have to have a lot of little boy in you, too.” Lasorda preyed on the little boy in every man.

  When hard-hitting outfielder Joe Ferguson balked at being turned into a catcher, Lasorda switched tactics. “Joe, you ever heard of Gabby Hartnett? Well, he became one of the great catchers in baseball history. But he was an outfielder. He didn’t wanna be a catcher! He’s in the Hall of Fame as a catcher. He even became a great manager because of the great knowledge he acquired in the game as a catcher!”

  Impressed, Ferguson agreed to become a catcher. After he left the room, Campanis, who had heard the pitch, objected, “Tommy, Gabby Hartnett was never an outfielder!” Lasorda sighed. “Chief,” he said, “you know that and I know that. But Fergie doesn’t know that. Now do you want a catcher or not?”

  For all his image as a guy whose nose lights up, whose pants are baggy, whose shoes are a size 20 and whose hat has a hole in it, Lasorda is never a man to trifle with. He has a monumental temper and was always quick to use his fists early in his career. He has a strong sense of what is right. He has worked with players I know he detests. Eddie Murray comes to mind.

  But he cannot be moved from a strongly felt position. When he went up to the drug and alcoholic rehabilitation center in Wickenberg, Ariz., for the counselling sessions of his pitcher Bob Welch, who had been enrolled there, the staffers went to work on Lasorda. Part of the “therapy” is lateral blame — on your father, your boss, your pressures. Lasorda wasn’t having any. He quarrelled with the counsellors. Lasorda could not conceive of criticizing a father.

  When his son, Spunky, died of AIDS, Lasorda stubbornly refused to go public. The fund-raisers were upset. Lasorda might have been a powerful spokesman for their cause. Lasorda wasn’t having any of that, either. His son was going to rest in peace. It might not be an enlightened view. But it was the Lasorda view.

  The Dodgers were an economic and artistic success in L.A. They became part of the warp and woof of the city. If another city might have been embarrassed at having a team whose traditions, lore and very personality seemed to belong to another town, L.A. wasn’t. L.A. was full of people whose family traditions lay elsewhere. This was a city already settled by new arrivals. The Dodgers fit right in with all the rest.

  In a way, the Dodgers were really L.A.’s team. In the beginning, it was the Rams. But the Rams jilted L.A. and left the Dodgers supreme. Not even the Lakers, when they came, nor the Raiders, when they did, could shake the Dodgers’ hold.

  O’Malley’s vision had been 20/20. He not only helped O’Malley, he helped baseball. The game has never been known for its far-seeing approach but, in spite of the fact that he was driven to it by a pack of vacillating politicians in New York, O’Malley made the right historical choice. He followed the rest of the population west.

  It was so right, it was surprising no one had ever done it before. It was so right, it was surprising baseball thought of it at all. Baseball was always loath to enter the 20th Century. Baseball will always be three or more decades behind the rest of society. That’s part of its charm.  

(Adapted from Jim Murray: An Autobiography, published by Macmillan, June 1993)

Mondays With Murray: Quotes Recalled

JMurray

For 37 years, fans of Jim Murray made it a morning ritual to sit down at breakfast, newspaper in hand, and enjoy a bowlful of witticisms and insights spoon-fed by America’s favorite sports columnist. Murray’s nationally syndicated columns were the genuine article, offering a slice of sporting life. He took us from the pits at Indianapolis to Augusta National Golf Club to a front-row seat behind home plate at the World Series.

    Murray was the consummate sports scribe, as much a master of the English language as he was adept at dissecting the idiosyncratic world of athletes and the games they play. 

  Today we go back to the beginning of Jim’s career at the Los Angeles Times when he took to his column to provide a commentary on quotes from other people.

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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 2, 1961, SPORTS

Copyright 1961/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Quotes Recalled

  The history of western civilization is alive with the deathless quotes of famous men. I can think offhand of Voltaire’s “I do not agree with a word that you say but will defend to the death your right to say it,” which has heartened generations of popoffs from Karl Marx to Tom Duggan and which I wish some baseball players would subscribe to.

  Then, there was Benjamin Franklin’s “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately,” which has sustained other generations of his countrymen from the Minute Men to the James Boys and the Brink’s Robbers. It could have been used by the 1960 San Francisco Giants.

  Of late years, I am sorry to say that in many areas of the world the art of the rich, full quote has declined precipitately. But this is rather due to the fact that events no longer seem to offer the same inspiration. Winston Churchill has done his yeoman best but his inspiration, i.e., Hitler and Mussolini and, to a lesser extent, the Socialist government, are no longer abroad in a turmoiled world.

  Franklin Roosevelt told us we had nothing to fear but fear itself — but we found that out. In recent years, Harry Truman contributed some colorful language but it was largely inspired by music critics and Drew Pearson. And no one expects you can put those in copy books. Dwight Eisenhower’s remarks, while intelligible, were of chief interest to those who understand golf, and John F. Kennedy says, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” but this is not too much help as the answer is “nothing.”

  I am happy to say, though, that, while the statesmen and the politicians have been faltering, there is one area of civilization that is still productive of the pithy phrase. This is the world of sports. From it and its doughty band of popoffs have come ringing through the years enough quotes to take up the slack and rule out the possibility Bartlett’s Quotations will one day become a static work largely sustained by Abraham Lincoln and annual re-reading of “Alice in Wonderland.”

  No aphorism, for example, has more punch than fight manager Joe Gould’s terse “I should of stood in bed,” on the occasion of the 1935 World Series, which was played in weather so cold pitchers didn’t warm up, they thawed out.

  Joe Louis’ shrewd analysis of an opponent’s fight plan, “He can run but he can’t hide,” might very well have applied to general Rommel if Montgomery had thought of it first.

  Nowhere in the archives do you find a better example of applied irony than the chance remark of the manager of the New York Giants, Bill Terry, some years ago when he erected his own gibbet by inquiring innocently, “Are the Dodgers still in the league?” Khrushchev frequently wants to take the same dig at our space program but he lacks the flair for it. Besides, it reminds one of Napoleon’s contemptuous dismissal of the English as “A nation of shopkeepers,” the kind of quote that can come back to haunt you as Mr. Terry found out when the Dodgers, that very same year, rose up in the last two games of the season to clobber the Giants and thereby hand the pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals, a fiercely competitive (and closed-mouthed band of players).

  It was a lesson that was lost on some. Charlie Dreesen, for instance, casting a look at the self-same Giants some years later was moved to remark with characteristic inelegance, “The Jints is dead.” Correct grammar would have it, “The Giants are dead,” but, even to the casual student of the deathless quote, this would lack much of the breathless and authentic quality of Dreesen’s perversion. In my humble opinion, the Dreesen original may one day take full rank with “You may fire when ready, Gridley,” in the lore of our country. I am proud to be living in an age that produced it. The fact that the Giants were quite alive and proved it by running away with the pennant the next year has nothing to do with it.

  I am also proud to be living in the age that produces the published works of Paul H. Richards, who leaped into the public print before the season opened with the ringing assertion, “The Orioles will win the pennant.” Now, this is a case where it is not so much how he said it as what he said. As the Duchess told Alice in Wonderland, “Take care of the sense and sounds will take care of themselves.”

  Richards was making sense. The sound you heard was the rest of the league laughing. But they laughed when Farragut said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” too.

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Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

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info@jimmurrayfoundation.org|

www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

Mondays With Murray: Something to Celebrate — Finally; Script Changes for Denver

JimMurray
This week we share with you the last Super Bowl column Jim Murray wrote. It was in January of 1998 when the Denver Broncos defeated the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. This photo of Jim was taken in the press box at that game in San Diego.

MONDAY, JANUARY 26, 1998, SPORTS

Copyright 1998/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Something to Celebrate — Finally; Script Changes for Denver

  Whew!

  Finally, a Super Bowl that was Super!

  As this is written, Roman candles are going off in the air, music is blasting, metallic confetti is blowing through the air.

  Disney would love the outcome. The most popular victory since Bambi.

  America’s Sweetheart finally wins one. No, dummy, not Bill Clinton. John Elway!

  The Green Bay Packers were the bad guys in this melodrama. The guys in the black hats.

  They went out with their guns drawn and their boots on. They had the ball on mondaysmurray2the Denver 31 marching to the tying score when a fourth-down pass tipped off the end of a receiver’s fingers.

  But if you had an ounce of compassion, you were supposed to be for Elway. It was supposed to be another four-handkerchief picture. A tear jerker for poor John. Where he dies in the fadeout. You had to root for him the same way you rooted for John Wayne or Gary Cooper. The American flag. Apple pie. Motherhood.

  So we got the happy ending. This was a horse opera, not grand opera.

  But Elway had a sidekick in the best tradition of Hollywood cliffhangers. This was a guy whose initials translated out, fittingly enough, to “T.D.”

  Terrell Davis is his name. The Lone Ranger had Tonto. And John Elway had T.D.

  Elway passed the ball only 22 times in Super Bowl XXXII. Normally, that’s barely a good half for him. But he schlepped the ball out to Davis often enough to make the difference. In the smart game plan, Davis took it in for a record three touchdowns.

  “We shocked the world!” crowed Denver’s Shannon Sharpe.

  In a way, they did. The gamblers took a look and gave you 11 1/2 points if you wanted Denver, heartless wretches that they are.

  I’ll be honest with you. I expected to be starting this column by writing something like “The Green Bay Packers and the NFC won the Super Bowl on Sunday. And a pie is round, and the sky is blue and the Pope is Catholic. “

  But it ran the wrong way. It turned out man bites dog. No cliche.

  It was vintage Elway. In the first quarter, trailing 7-0, he had the ball on the Green Bay 12-yard line. He faded to pass, watched Green Bay peel back frantically to stop it. So, he helped himself to a vital 10 yards and Davis scored two plays later. Another time he started on his eight-yard line and marched the Broncos 92 yards for the score that gave them a 24-17 lead.

  The game really was a classic boxer-vs.-puncher. Green Bay was bigger. But Denver was faster. Quicker. If anything, more resourceful.

  But if Elway and Davis got carried off on shoulders and will bask in a Denver ticker-tape parade, two of the Denver cast of characters found sweet vindication too.

  All his career, wide receiver Ed McCaffrey has had an identity crisis. He has had trouble convincing people he’s fast enough for the position. Then, of course, he went to Stanford. That’s not Miami or Notre Dame. In other words, suspect, too.

  McCaffrey was on the New York Giants and caught 49 passes one year, with five touchdowns. But the Giants dubbed him a “possession receiver.” Translation: sure-handed but slow. He went to San Francisco where they threw to him enough for only 11 catches.

  Denver got him because its coach had seen him when both were at San Francisco. Says coach Mike Shanahan: “We thought here’s a 6-5 receiver and as we saw him he consistently won one-on-ones and could beat bump coverage. So we jumped to get him.”

  In the middle of the third quarter, with the score 17-17 and Denver gasping, Elway threw two passes to McCaffrey, one for 36 yards and one for nine. They were key in the drive that gave Denver its 24-17 lead.

  But if McCaffrey was validated, so was the coach who got him, Shanahan.

Mike Shanahan is a strange character in this violent game. He himself was a college player who lost a kidney in a pileup. So he became a coach.

  Shanahan is a character who looks more or less like a guy gazing at his own corpse. His eyes look as if they had a light shining behind them. He rarely smiles. He’s always going to look 15 years younger than he is (45).

  He came to Denver with the reputation of being one of those cerebral types, a coach who draws up plays on the blackboard and is a whiz with the Xs and O’s. But he is supposed to stay in his ivory tower and not come out and try to be a field leader. They thought that about Bill Walsh, once, too.

  The Raiders’ Al Davis enticed him away from his drawing board at Denver and made him head coach at L.A. but barely gave him time to learn the names of his secondary before jerking the rug out from under him.

  Shanahan came back to Denver as an assistant licking his wounds and embarrassed. But, Elway, for one, loved him. Eventually, so did the owner. He made him head coach. If there’s one thing needed on the Broncos, it was a guy who has John Elway’s complete confidence.  

  Super Bowl XXXII showed that Mike Shanahan is no mad scientist (even if he sometimes looks like one). It showed Ed McCaffrey can get open with the best of them. It showed John Elway can win any game he has the sidekicks to do it.

  It showed Denver can win at sea level. It showed speed and smarts can neutralize superior strength.

  And it showed a Super Bowl can be a very exciting game. This was a fight between two top heavyweights that had the crowd on its feet. And that it can be won by the guys in the white hats, the Public’s Choices. Boffo Box office.

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Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

——

info@jimmurrayfoundation.org|

www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

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