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.

——

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.

——

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|

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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.

——

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

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Mondays With Murray: Bring Back the Grass

In November 1969, Jim Murray took to his column to make the cry of “bring back the grass!” The trend du jour was moving from natural grass to the newly invented (1965) “chem-grass.” It was first used in professional sports in 1966 at the Houston Astrodome. In 1972, the first NFL stadium to install the artificial turf was Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, who will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl on Sunday . . . on real grass at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As of 2020, 17 of the 31 professional NFL stadiums featured natural grass, including, ironically, Arrowhead, the first place to go artificial many years ago.

Stadiums with Natural Grass:

Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas Raiders

Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City Chiefs

Bank of America Stadium, Carolina Panthers

FedEx Field, Washington Redskins

FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland Browns

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Dolphins

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh Steelers

Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers

Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco 49ers

Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia Eagles

M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore Ravens

Nissan Stadium, Tennessee Titans

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Soldier Field, Chicago Bears

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver Broncos 

State Farm Stadium, Arizona Cardinals

——

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 1969, SPORTS

Copyright 1969/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Bring Back the Grass

  I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of an old-fashioned guy who likes the real McCoy. I want butter that comes from cows. I like cotton in my shirts, wool in my socks, leather in my shoes.

  I’m sick of the polyester, permanent press, plastic world. I don’t want mondaysmurray2additives in my bread, chemicals in my beer. I think Aspirin is the best cold remedy and castor oil will cure almost anything else that’s wrong with you. I squeeze real oranges for breakfast or I go without. I won’t buy a suitcase if it’s got plastic hangers in it.

  But I’m willing to forgive the chemists, pharmacologists and syntheticians anything if they’ll just keep their cotton-pickin’ — pardon me, nylon-pickin’ — hands off sports.

  Football should be played on grass, baseball should be played outdoors, and golf should be played against nature, not hydraulics. I wish DuPont would stick to explosives, and Monsanto to fertilizers, and leave the gamesmanship to us.

  Take last weekend: Three fine football teams from the area, USC, UCLA, and the Rams, ventured outside the all-wool-and-a-yard-wide world of the Coliseum and entered the plastics division of sports. You would have thought they were playing the game on solid ice. You half-expected them to halt the game at any time and say, “Wait a minute, I’ll go home and get my skates.”

  The only game that should be played on an artificial surface is pool. (I exclude hockey, because, while it is artificially made, the surface is, after all, real ice and not a Libbey-Owens-Ford derivative.)

  I am not fully persuaded a football field should even be MOWED. (I remember one year, the Trojans of USC played a game in Colorado in which they complained the grass was too tall for them, but I have to think any offense that can’t move the ball against high grass should turn in its scholarships.)

  You see, good old American know-how can’t leave any sport, fabric, climate, river, lake, or any other natural condition alone. It would tinker with Paradise. It feels it can fade nature. It can give you a rose without thorns, cattle without horns. I expect any day now they will let the contract for construction of a new synthetic earth and use this old one for a warehouse.

  Take baseball. They began to construct parks to eliminate the cheap home runs (forgetting the cheap home runs saved baseball after the Black Sox scandal) and, the next thing you knew, they were playing it indoors, on felt and with air conditioning. You take the sweat out of baseball, the blood out of football, and the walk out of golf and, pretty soon, you have a nice permanent-press wash-and wear no-calories form of athletics. You can buy a world’s championship in a super market.

  I mean, where does it end? Do you have bats with adjustable settings for curveballs, fastballs, off-speed pitches — or are they self-correctible for whichever shows up at the plate? Do you magnetize gloves so fly balls will drop in them wherever they are stuck up in the air?

  Football on a carpet, indoors, at regulatory 72 degrees is an obscenity. Football is supposed to be played in nose-biting cold, watched from inside a raccoon coat, and on Mother Earth. It should not be played on any surface you can vacuum-clean or hang on a clothesline and beat. If it’s raining or snowing, it should trickle down your neck, get in your cleats. Give us back our mud, gopher holes, puddles, grass. Go carpet Rhode Island or dome Delaware, if you must, but let’s play football the way Walter Camp did. We don’t want powdered football, artificially-sweetened baseball, or miracle fabric golf any more, thank you.

——

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

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Mondays With Murray: Oh, Henry!

Last week, the world lost Henry Aaron, who was one of the greatest hitters to ever pick up a bat.

Aaron had a lifetime batting average of .305, 3,771 career hits and 2,297 RBI. He broke Babe Ruth’s lifetime home run record with 755 in 1974 and held that record until 2007 when it was broken by Barry Bonds.

Aaron remains baseball’s all-time leader in RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856). If each of his 755 home runs were removed from his statistical record, Aaron would still have 3,016 hits.

In 1982, Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility.

Aaron died in his sleep on January 22 in Atlanta. He was two weeks shy of his 87th birthday.

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OCTOBER 3, 1963, SPORTS

Copyright 1963/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Oh, Henry!

  I like to watch Henry Aaron play ball for the same reason I like to watch Spencer Tracy act, or Jan Peerce sing, or Nureyev dance, or the sun set over an open body of water.

  I don’t get a lump in my throat but I have a feeling I’ll remember it long after mondaysmurray2I’ve forgotten a lot other things that happened about the same time, and that I’ll bore people talking about it when I get old.

  What I mean is, it’s an EVENT in your life — like your first sighting of Edward G. Robinson holding off the whole damn FBI in “G-Man” or “Public Enemy.” It’s Cagney yelling “Come in and get me, coppers!” Bing Crosby singing “Please.” Victor McLaglen stumbling through the Irish rebellion. Your first walk home with a girl in the blonde pigtails. Your first look at the Empire State Building or Spode china or a Botticelli. It’s pure pleasure is what it is. You can forget the mortgage, the hole in your shoe, the fight with your wife, the date who turned you down for the prom, your boss, your income tax, your ulcer and you can lose yourself in admiration. He’s a one-man escape for you.

  It’s an aura given only to a few athletes. With most of your heroes, you agonize. Henry is curious in this regard. He is to enjoy only. The way he plays it, baseball is an art. Not a competition. He is grace in a gray flannel suit, a poem with a bat in its hands.

  Hold on you say? What’s that? Willie Mays has more “color?” Well, if “color” is your hat flying off, or “color” is the over-the-shoulder catch, or “color” is the wild 360-degree swing and the all-purpose pratfall, Willie is your man. Henry is mine.

  With Willie the effort is there. You see it. You empathize with it. You strain when he strains, struggle when he struggles. Willie is a bit of a ham. With Henry Louis Aaron it’s as smooth and effortless as a swan gliding along a lake. He underplays like a British actor. Willie attacks the game. Aaron just gets it to co-operate with him.

  “He’s a pretty hitter — about the prettiest I’ve ever seen,” the Dodgers’ Vin Scully, who must have seen 2,000, says. “Henry’s no trouble on or off the field,” his manager Bobby Bragan says. “He’s the perfect ballplayer, the kind, if you get one in your lifetime, you’re one-up on most every other manager in the game. The beauty of Henry is you don’t even know he’s there.”

  With most ballplayers, when you don’t even notice if they’re there, it’s usually because they’re not — and when they’re needed. No one ever needed to look around for Henry Aaron when the chips were down. And he kept his hat on.

  When he steals a base, it’s stealable — and necessary. He’s stolen 24 of 27 this year. In his whole career he’s been caught stealing only 3-4 times a year. And he’s stolen 149 bases. Percentage-wise, he may be as hard to throw out as Maury Wills.

  His skills are so deceptive that, when he first came up to the big leagues, his manager thought he had hired a somnambulist. “Why doesn’t he sleep on his own time like everybody else?” he protested. The scout who signed him was not worried. “Unless you hear him snoring, don’t throw him anything out over the plate or you’ll run out of baseballs before spring training is over. He’s the most wide-awake sleepy-looking guy you ever saw.”

  If Willie Mays gets $150,000 next year, Henry Aaron will be the most underpaid guy in the world this side of a rickshaw. Frankly, the only thing Willie Mays does better than Henry Aaron is hit home runs. Frankly, of course, the only thing Caruso did better than me was sing — but it is a fact that up until two years ago, (and if you weighted Mays’ average with a year — 1952 — when he played only 34 games), Aaron led Mays in (average per year) every single category from hits to runs to runs-batted-in to home runs.

  “You can’t compare one man to another,” Henry protested to me one night this week as he got in some hardly needed bat work fungoing grounders to infielders. Of course, the hell I can’t. I positively enjoy comparing Aaron to Mays. To me, it’s a rock’n roll versus a symphony.

  Of course, the only person you really can compare Aaron to is Joe DiMaggio. Like DiMag, he’s in the right place at the right time. Like DiMag, he never throws to the wrong base. Like DiMag, he’s one of the most consistent hitters in the long history of the game. Neither of them ever had what you could consider a slump. A “slump” for Henry Aaron is going one whole day without a hit or one whole week without a home run.

  Unlike DiMag, he’s dubbed “colorless.” “Color” is also playing most of your career in New York. The camera lights are brighter, the ink is blacker, the Ed Sullivan Show is just around the corner. The guest panelists on “What’s My Line?” have to wear masks when you come on because if you play in New York, everyone knows your face. In Milwaukee, the only recognizable thing comes in kegs! No one ever pays any attention to anyone from Milwaukee. You’re just the second line of a vaudeville joke. You’re better off in Sheboygan.

  Henry Aaron is not my personal discovery. He’s well acquainted with every pitcher around the league. “With Aaron,” says Johnny Podres, “the thing you have to do is not let him come up with anybody on base. You throw your best pitches to guys in front of Aaron or you’ll get dizzy watching the runs come around when he gets to bat.”

  “I have tried everything with Aaron but rolling the ball to him,” confesses Don Drysdale. “You can get him out once in a while — but you better not count on it.”

  He does one thing wrong: He hits off his front foot. It’s such a terrible fault some years he has trouble leading the league in everything. He could bat an annual .320 on his knees.

  When he first came up, a spindly, silent kid from the streets of Mobile, he attracted so little notice that a coach once asked him, “Say, is your name ‘Aaron Henry’ or is it the other way round?”

  Nowadays, around baseball, when you say “Henry,” that’s enough. There’s only one of him in this game. And that’s enough, too, for my dough. I mean, why be greedy? Beethovens don’t come by the dozen. Baseball is not the philharmonic, but it is like it in that when you get someone who doesn’t need the music right in front of him, people pay to see him. As for you Willie Mays fans — Liberace, baby. My man is not the sequined-suit type. No vulgar flash. Just hits the right notes. And the high curveballs.

——

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

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Mondays With Murray: Football Announcers — What They Say, What It Really Means

SUNDAY, JANUARY 6, 1985, SPORTS

Copyright 1985/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Football Announcers — What They Say, What It Really Means

  Many years ago in this country, bankers used to communicate in code. They weren’t evil men, just careful, and they didn’t want the public worrying about their money.

  There are fewer secrets in today’s world and codes are, by and large, used only mondaysmurray2by spy groups who seek to hide their identity by waling up to strangers and saying such things as, “The moon is red and rises in the East,” or, “The snows have melted in the Karakoram early this year.” That way, if you get the wrong guy, he can say, “Oh, wait a minute you want Goldberg the spy. He lives upstairs with his sister.”

  But there is one profession where talking in ciphers is alive and well — the football broadcasting booth. Here is the last bastion of talking in tongues in our society. The object here is not so much to continue the counterspy as to protect the mystique of football.

  Football is a game consisting of blocking and tackling and not much else. But it is the duty of those who promote it and have a stake in it to invest it with the trappings and liturgical cant of an occult Eastern religion. It is imperative that those who interpret it for you convince you there’s more here than meets the eye.

  Still, it is part of the journalistic covenant with the public not to demystify football, exactly, but to decode it into understandability, take the buzz out of some of the words. Accordingly, we bring you here some of the better-known cryptographs broken down into their common English meanings:

  “This is a big third-down play.” There is no such thing as a small third-down play unless, of course, it is Harvard’s. Custom dictates that third downs be singled out, but remember that big third-down plays are often preceded by even bigger first- and second-down plays.

  “They have good field position.” An overworked and misleading observation by hindsight. For instance, sometimes the worst field position you could have would be on the Chicago Bears’ four-yard line. You might be better off with the ball on your own four. Just having the ball sometimes made for poor field position against the Seattle Seahawks.

  “They are showing blitz.” The defense is going to run forward instead of backward for a change, and play football instead of volleyball.

  “They are in the zone.” Running backward again.

  “They’re in a rotating zone.” They started to run backward and bumped into each other.

  “He called time out, he didn’t like what he saw.” What he saw was the defensive end starting to drool and paw the ground, or he got a copy of the psychiatrist’s report on the cornerback.

  “He got a good read on the quarterback.” He saw him coming out of the disco at 4 in the morning.

  “He audibilized on the line of scrimmage.” The coach sent in a quarterback sneak but the quarterback had a date that night.

  “That play is called Yellow 30.” The formation in which the quarterback refuses to sneak.

  “The end was supposed to kick out on the Y back but the nose man ran a stunt.” Five-yard loss.

  “He threw into coverage.” The pass was so wobbly that six guys had time to get under it.

  “We’ll take what the defense gives us.” Four field goals.

  “He’s throwing underneath the coverage.” Two-yard gain.

  “They’re going into their two-minute drill.” Everybody’s trying, finally.

  “The safety had deep responsibility but he needed help on the inside coming across the middle.” Touchdown.

  “He tried to force the ball in there.” Interception.

  “He’s got a quick release.” Terror.

  “He’s got quick feet.” Terror.

  “He holds the ball to the last second.” Stupidity.

  “They’re dominating the line of scrimmage.” They’ve got two more sociopaths than the other guys.

  “The momentum just shifted.” So did the ball.

  “The coach’s game plan was genius.” Yeah. He wrote in the three fumbles, blocked punt and the two interference penalties in the last five minutes.

  Just remember the spread is not a formation, it’s a sucker bet; a tight end is not necessarily a lush, and, as soon as you start understanding any or all of these terms, start therapy.

——

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

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www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

Mondays With Murray: No One Can Say the Guy Chose the Wrong Field

Lasorda

The world lost one of the most recognizable names in the game of baseball, Tommy Lasorda, on Jan. 7. Lasorda lived, breathed and bled Dodgers blue until til the end.

Arash Markazi, a JMMF board member and sports writer/radio host, remembers Lasorda:

Tommy Lasorda’s office at Dodger Stadium was like a museum. It included a tombstone he loved showing off to visitors. “I want to see the Dodgers win before they put that tombstone to use,” he once told me.

Tommy kept a letter he wrote to God that gave thanks for his wife, Jo, in his desk drawer. He loved her. He once told me, “I want my wife to put the Dodgers’ schedule on my tombstone. When people are in the cemetery visiting their loved ones, they’ll say, ‘Let’s go to Lasorda’s grave and see if the Dodgers are playing today.'”

He loved Frank Sinatra and next to his desk hung a painting of Sinatra kissing Lasorda’s mother, Carmella, on the cheek after visiting her at her home in Norristown, Pennsylvania, for a home-cooked meal.

He took care of my mom. He brought her to his show, he dedicated it to her, he gave her flowers, and that’s the kind of man he was,” he told me. “He was a generous man, but if he didn’t like you, look out.”

The last time I talked to Tommy was last year at a New Year’s Eve party. It was one of the few highlights of 2020. He said the Dodgers were finally going to win the World Series in October. He was right and he was there to see it.

RIP in Blue Heaven, Tommy.”

——

TUESDAY, JULY 12, 1988, SPORTS

Copyright 1988/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

No One Can Say the Guy Chose the Wrong Field

  If you had a licence from God to construct yourself a baseball manager, you would probably begin with one with a big belly and short legs that were slightly mondaysmurray2bowed or pebbled with lumps so that they looked like sacks of walnuts. You would want one who had his own syntax, a voice that sounded like an oncoming train in a tunnel. It’d have to be a nice part for Vincent Gardenia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

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

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info@jimmurrayfoundation.org|

www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

Mondays With Murray: Ravages of Time

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 30, 1969, SPORTS

Copyright 1969/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY

JIM MURRAY

Ravages of Time

  I woke up Monday morning and looked in the mirror — and an imposter winked back at me.

  That fellow in the mirror was 50 years old that day. Not me. I’m somewhere between 26 and 39.

“Good morning, Mr. Hyde. How does it feel to be 50?” I asked him. I’ve been needling him for years.

You see, this fella has been playing tricks on me for a long while. For instance, mondaysmurray2being young, I have a cast-iron stomach. HE gets gas on the stomach. Lately. When HE gets gas on the stomach, I belch.

I never should have taken the old fool on. You know, I can hear perfectly well. The trouble is the sounds come through HIS ears. Therefore because of HIM, I find myself saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

   He’s insidious, implacable. My enemy was in that mirror. It’s like fighting China. He’s got all the time in the world. One of these days, I’m going to be lying on my back in bed with a sawbones looking grave above me and people crying in the corner, and I’m gonna say, “Do me a favor. Go in and take a look at that old creep in the mirror and tell him to get a new boy. That I’m going over the wall. I’ve had enough of carrying his load.”

  You see, I know what he’s going to do to me. He’s already begun. You know that nice turn I used to take off a teed-up golf ball? Well, now it sounds like twigs snapping under an elephant. My backbone was as supple and gristly as a baby shark’s. Shucks, it was only three years ago, I was the best twister at the office party.

  Now, he’s got me taking a three-wood off the tee.

  You remember how I used to fire those long, arching passes to the boy out in the lot? Well, he’s taken all the lube out of the bow joint. I throw underhanded like a girl now.

  My eyes are just as good as they ever were — 20/200. He has clouded them over for reading fine print. My belly used to be as flat as Texas. HE has put on weight. I would try to outwit him by jogging 10 miles or so every day, but the doctor tells me dead men sell no scales.

  The worst he’s done is corrupted my mind. I mean, I still have 31 of my 32 teeth (they got more gold in them than the city of Florence) and two million separate strands of hair on my head, but I’ve got HIS neck. It’s beginning to wattle.

  But the worst disease he carried is nostalgia. I mean, I’ve always been a guy who wanted news, the latest thing, the newest gimmick. But, you see, this old creep I took in out of the cold 49 years 11 months and 30 days ago is now using me like a ventriloquist. Someone says an electric toothbrush is a great invention and — in my voice — my enemy says, “Anybody who doesn’t have the strength to push a brush up and down his teeth should put them in a glass, anyway.”

  But, worst of all, youngsters say, “Boy, that Rod Carew is a great hitter!” and you find yourself screaming, “Rod Carew! I thought he was a coxswain! Why, with the ’27 Yankees, he’d have to take batting practice with the bullpen crew. The regulars would be afraid to pick up bad habits just watching him. Now, Babe Ruth, THERE was a hitter. Used to warm up against machine gun bullets. He could bat .360 against the Gatling gun.”

  “Paul Warfield is a great end,” they say. “Paul Warfield! I thought he was a baritone! He’d be in a taxi on the 1950 Rams. Now, Hirsch and Fears, THERE were ends. They were, you might say, THE ends.”

  Or, they may bring up some hot-shot young golfer. “Couldn’t shag for Hogan,” you sniff.

  Well, my enemy’s gums hurt. His hands shake, his blood is tired, and he wants to go put on something by Lawrence Welk, and he’s worried about sitting in a draft and wants to go sit in a blanket with Musterole and do crossword puzzles. Me, I want to go surfing.

  I suppose now I’ll go out and get hit on the head by some young punk that a young athlete like me would kick under the car if I didn’t have that coward at the control. He’s jealous is what he is. He’s been trying to turn my hair gray for 10 years, but my hair is younger than both of us. I think he’s got one week to give me rheumatism or they make him turn in his scythe. He keeps telling them I’m only Shangri-la on the outside, but inside, I look like Ptolemy. He ought to know. He’s in there. Not me.

——

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: 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:

  “Well, it’s been a banner year for the Mulligans. Christin finally had our first mondaysmurray2grandchild, 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

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info@jimmurrayfoundation.org|

www.jimmurrayfoundation.org

Mondays With Murray: Quotable Jim Murray . . .

Everyone who reads Jim Murray has a favorite Jim Murray quote. There are so mondaysmurray2many classic one-liners from which to choose over the many years and columns that it’s hard for us to decide. Instead of giving you a full JM column this week, we are giving you a collection of classic quotes.

ENJOY!

————

Jim Murray on Sports

Jim Murray on Baseball — Aug. 2, 1988

“We are all boys of summer. The years drop off, the steps get 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.”

“. . . the infield fly rule is about as simple as calligraphy.  It might as well be a Japanese naval code.” 

——

Jim Murray on Soccer — May 7, 1987

“It’s the favorite sport of millions who never heard of Babe Ruth or think the Green Bay Packers are a heavy metal group. They have to put moats around the fields in some places in the world, passions run so high. They cage the spectators, not the players. But in America, or at least North America, it ranks somewhere between quoit tossing and celebrity kayaking as a spectator sport.”

——

Jim Murray on Golf — June 19, 1987

“Golf is the most exasperating game known to man. First of all, it’s perverse. You hit the ball right to make it go left, up to make it go down, hard to make it go easy, easy to make it roll on and on.”

——

Jim Murray on the Kentucky Derby — May 5, 1988

It’s America’s race. Everything else is a copy. You win Indianapolis, you’re a race driver. You win the Derby, you’re a horse rider. Or trainer.”

——

Jim Murray on Hockey — March 16, 1978

“A puck, of course, is just a giant tiddlywink. It is designed for stealth, just one inch high, three inches across, and the color of skate shoes. The game is almost incomprehensible on TV, like a fox hunt on skates, in that you can’t see the quarry.”

And then he wrote:”Seeing a goal scored in hockey is like picking your mother out of a crowd shot at the Super Bowl.”

——

Jim Murray on Tennis

“If you write about it for two weeks in a row, the truck drivers stop reading you. They can take only so much of a sport where a shutout is called love.”

——

Jim Murray on Athletes

Arnold Palmer

“His rounds were never elegant exhibitions of stylish golf. They were more like Dempsey-Firpo. Arnold and the course went after each other like sluggers in dark rooms.”

Mario Andretti — March 29, 1984

“Mario is the most successful Italian export since pizza.”

“The first guy who put a steering wheel in Andretti’s hands should go down in history with the guy who first put a bat in Ty Cobb’s.”

On USC running backs — Jan. 2, 1988

“USC without a tailback is like Rembrandt without a brush, a troubadour without song, a Hemingway without a plot.”

On the PGA ’s Charlie Sifford 

Golf was not a game for the ghettos. Neither did it leave any time for carrying picket signs, joining demonstrations, or running for offer. Charlie birdied, not talked, his way through society prejudice.”

Bill Laimbeer — Feb. 23, 1988

“In the little world of basketball he’s public enemy No. 1 — and 2 and 3 and 4. Take every villain of every movie you’ve ever seen, multiply him by two — and you have some idea of the venom Bill Laimbeer of Detroit arouses in an audience. People are sure he poisons canaries for kicks. He gets the same lovable press notices as a pit bull.”

Luc Robitaille — March 6, 1988 

“You could tell right away Luc Robitaille couldn’t be a very successful hockey player. First of all, he has all his teeth.”

Kirk Gibson — March 8, 1988

“In a way, watching Kirk Gibson in baseball is like watching a rare Siberian Tiger in a cage. It’s like John Wayne playing a butler. An eagle in a birdbath. A mustang locked in a corral. A shark in a bathtub. You get the feeling it’s too confining for him.”

Fred Couples — Jan. 24, 1988

“He has the reputation as a guy who doesn’t know how well he plays this game. Lots of golfers shrug when they hit a bad shot. Fred Couples yawns. He always manages to look as if he’s in the midst of a two-dollar Nassau with the guys from the garage when he’s in the middle of the U.S. Open, when he’s got a four-foot putt to take the lead in the Masters.”

Sugar Ray Leonard — April 6, 1987

“Sugar Ray Leonard, the nearest thing to Shirley Temple in 10-ounce gloves. He’s going to tap dance right into your hearts . . . you look at Sugar Ray and you want to take him to lost-and-found and buy him an ice cream cone until you can find his mother and father.”

Sinjin Smith — Sept. 12, 1986 

“Most people go up in the air like human pile drivers and attempt to smash the ball into the core of the earth so deep under the shoreline that colonies of sea life come to the surface and it takes two strong men to excavate it. Sinjin Smith prefers to go up in the air, hang there like a hummingbird while he sizes up the defensive tendencies of the opponents, then dunk the ball softly in a corner of the court he sees they have left unprotected.”

Bob Mathias — Feb. 11, 1988

“He won the first decathlon he ever saw. Two weeks before, he had never even had a javelin or a vaulting pole in his hands. His form was atrocious. He gripped the spear like a guy killing a chicken. He went over the vault like a guy falling out of a moving car and his high jump looked like a guy leaving a banana peel. All he did was win.”

Bobby Czyz — May 12, 1987

“Bobby Czyz may have a name like an eye-chart, and a vocabulary like a schoolteacher. But he’s also got a right hand like a paving block and a left hand that could open safes.”

Elgin Baylor 

“Elgin Baylor is as unstoppable as a woman’s tears.”

Chris McCarron — Feb. 14, 1988

“Charles Dickens would have loved Chris McCarron. So would have Walt Disney. Eyes as blue as Galway Bay, framed by ringlets of flame-red hair, he looked like a cross between Oliver Twist and Bambi.”

Larry Bird

“The problem now for all the wise guys of the NBA is going to be, how you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen L.B.? Do the scouts now have to fly into Terre Haute and rent a dog? Are there more basketball players under the harvest moon than there ever were under the neon? Or is the Bird in the hand just a needle in the haystack?”

Nolan Ryan — March 15, 1988

“Nolan Ryan is more than an athletic marvel. He’s a medical marvel. His glove should go to Cooperstown, but his arm should go to the Smithsonian.”

Dwight Gooden — June 9, 1987

“Watching him pitch was like watching an eagle fly, a shark swim. There didn’t seem to be any effort connected to what he did.”

Mary Lou Retton — April 15, 1988

“For two weeks in 1984, she was America’s Sweetest Heart. Everybody’s kid sister. She didn’t look as if she should be playing with dolls, she looked as if she was one, as if she came to the competition in a pram and bonnet. The Olympic gymnastic competition was a doll’s house come to life, and Mary Lou Retton was the most adorable of the lot. Dimpled smile, flashing black eyes, even white teeth, part tomboy, part glamour girl, you didn’t know whether to buy her a lollipop or a corsage.”

John McEnroe — April 24, 1988

“John McEnroe without a racket in his hands is a perfectly plausible, reasonable young man. With a racket in his hands, it’s like the moon comes out and he begins growing fangs and face hair and foam forms at the mouth.”

Al and Bobby Unser — August 20, 1987

“They weren’t born, they were tooled. An Unser, it was said, came into the world wearing goggles, carrying a lug wrench in one hand and a steering wheel in the other. Other families boast when their kids take their first steps or say their first words. The Unser family boasted, ‘Junior hit his first fence today.’ ”

Kirby Puckett — Oct. 19, 1987

“He makes you feel good. He’s chubby, cheerful. Comfortable. Like a favorite uncle. Kids want to climb on his knee. Fans adore him. Baseball needs him. They wish they had 30 like him. Kirby comes to the park like a kid going to a fishing hole. Life is a Christmas tree. They should make him a ride at Disneyland. A float in the Rose Parade.”

Richard Petty — June 12, 1988

“Around the South, they say Richard Petty could drive a race car through the Johnstown flood without getting it wet, or a forest fire without getting it singed. You don’t win 200 stock car races if you’re hard on machinery.”

“Richard Petty has climbed in more windows than 50 car thieves . . . he wasn’t born, he was assembled and modified.” 

Tommy Lasorda — July 12, 1988

“Tommy Lasorda is as perfect for the Dodgers as peanut butter for white bread. Or Laurel for Hardy.”

Will Clark — Aug. 19, 1988

“He treats life as if it might be a first-pitch fastball. He lives like he plays, aggressively, determinedly, confidently. If he sees something difficult about hitting major league pitching, it doesn’t show. He has the bold eyes of a guy who knows he has a loaded shotgun pointed at your ribs, making sure the deal is honest.”

On the Raiders — Aug. 25, 1988

“To be a Raider was to be considered one of the great outcasts of history. It was the football version of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang. It wasn’t a franchise, it was a hideout. To hear the rest of the league tell it, the Raiders emptied every pool room in the South, every jail in Texas, to get their starting lineup. They found their front four hiding in the bushes in Central Park at midnight. They had more hard cases on their practice field than there were on Devil’s Island.”

On Mike Tyson’s fine for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear:

“That may be the most expensive dining out in history.”

And then he wrote about Mike Tyson: “Prison is supposed to be about rehabilitation. There are social scientists who think you could put a man-eating shark in prison for a year or two and, with ‘help’ (buzzword for therapy), he will come out a goldfish.”

Maury Wills — Jan. 20, 1978

“If Maury Wills doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, then Babe Ruth doesn’t. He did the same thing that Ruth did — change a national pastime, forever. . . . He ran the Dodgers into three pennants. He restored a lost art.”

Terry Bradshaw

“He always gave the impression he had just ridden into town on a wagon and two mules. He giggled. He was as country as grits, red-eye gravy and biscuits. He was as hyperactive as a puppy with a carpet slipper.”

——

Jim Murray on Cities and Towns

On Spokane

“The only trouble with Spokane, Washington, as a city is that there’s nothing to do after 10 o’clock. In the morning.”

On Cincinnati

“It looks like it’s in the midst of condemnation proceedings. If it was human, they’d bury it.

“You have to think that when Dan’l Boone was fighting the Indians for this territory, he didn’t have Cincinnati in mind for it. I wouldn’t arm-wrestle Frank Finch for it. To give you an idea, the guys were kidding on the bus coming to Cincinnati one time, and they decided that if war came, the Russians would bypass the city because they’d think it had already been bombed and taken.”

He then wrote of the fun residents of Cincinnati have during heat waves “. “sitting on their front porches listening to the street tar bubble.”

On Palm Springs, the self-proclaimed golf capitol of the world:

“Palm Springs is an inland sandbar man has wrestled from the rodents and the Indians to provide a day camp for the over-privileged adults.”

On St. Louis

“The city had a bond issue recently and the local papers campaigned for it on a slogan, ‘Progress or Decay,’ and decay won in a landslide.”

“The people in St. Louis who finance the arch are ridiculed for spending . . . $50,000,000 on a damn wicket.”

On Oakland

“Oakland is this kind of town: You have to pay 50 cents to go from Oakland to San Francisco. Coming from Oakland to San Francisco is free.”

On Los Angeles

It’s 400 miles of slide area. One minute you’re spreading a picnic lunch on a table at the Palisades and the next minute you’re treading water in the Pacific. It’s a place that has a dry river but 100,000 swimming pools. It’s a place where you get 100 days for murder but six months for whipping your dog.”

On a few others . . .

New York is “the largest chewing gum receptacle in the world.”

Louisville “when the wind is right, smells like a wet bar rag.”

When the steel mill furnaces were going 24 hours a day around Pittsburgh, Murray called the town”America’s night light, a city that gave us 10,000 bowling shirts with Tic-Toc Grill across the back.”

“Minneapolis and St. Paul don’t like each other very much and from what I could see I don’t blame either of them.” 

“Growing up in Hartford gave you a split personality. You were midway between Boston and New York, geographically and emotionally.”

And, finally, Jim Murray summed up his role as a journalist with:

“I like to keep people at arm’s length because sooner or later I’ll probably have to bite ’em in the ass. Some still have the teeth marks.”

And then there were these . . .

“Sports is just corporate America in cleats. It should be listed on the Big Board. And it’s the real opiate of the people.”

“People need to be amused, shocked, titillated or angered. But if you can amuse or shock or make them indignant enough, you can slip lots of information into your message.”

“Satire is the best weapon in the writer’s arsenal to attack injustice. Frothing at the mouth turns off the reader. Angry voices are always assaulting us from all sides. The humorless we always have with us.  And they always have their soapbox. The din of indignation gets deafening.”

——

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