Jim Murray: Funny Man, Deep Man.
Posted by athomeatfenway on December 18, 2012
I guess most Editors would say that Jim Murray’s fame & success as a columnist emanated from his clever ability to turn a phrase. His depth of character and street-wise upbringing were equally important.
There is no doubt he was a phrase turner.
“I always regarded Steinbrenner as Heaven’s punishment visited on the arrogant Yankees for their sins of pride.”
On Pete Rose…
Pete liked his women flashy. Just go find the nearest beehive hairdo, the shortest mini, the wad of chewing gum being cracked, and you would find Pete Rose’s women. They had probably been cheerleaders in their youth and were not too intellectual.”
On the Indianapolis 500….
“Gentlemen, start your coffins.”
On John Wooden…
“He was so square he was divisible by 4.”
Jim Murray came from a unique place.
He grew up in Hartford and West Hartford, CT. His uncle, a card playing, crap shooting, scamming hustler was his strongest role model. He gave the kid quite an education on angle playing by the time he reached puberty.
Murray graduated from Hartford Public High and Trinity College. He soon wrote for the Hartford Times and New Haven Register. Fate brought him to Time magazine, where he was the Hollywood reporter in the glamorous 1940’s and ‘50’s.
He lunched with Cary Grant. He sunned poolside while his buddy went in a movie producer’s house to have anonymous, casual sex with Marilyn Monroe. He knew that Bogie was the farthest thing from a thug.
While based in L.A., Time called upon him to write the odd profile or cover story about sports figures such as Ben Hogan, Mel Patton, Patty O’Brien, Bob Mathias, and Bobby Layne.
Thus was Murray drawn into Time-Life’s plans to launch a weekly Sports magazine. He joined in the design, writing, photography and editing of the December 1953 and April 1954 Dummies of Sports Illustrated, and remained on hand from its debut in August 1954 to 1961, when he left to become a newspaperman again.
His last S.I. story was about the Lakers and was titled Ten Tall Men Take a Trip. In the years to come, he continued to write about roundball, the sport without audience.
His career as a columnist at the L.A. Times is legendary. 14 times he won the NSSA’s Sportswriter of the Year Award, 12 of them consecutively.
While doing so, he detailed many things, including, but not limited to, television’s transformation of sports from insignificant past time to the new American Religion; professional basketball’s evolution from a sport without a following into a powerhouse; the emergence of team owners who were more interested in celebrity than profitability; Boxing as it journeyed from blue collar entertainment to the Art of Ali. Collegiate Coaching as it morphed from true scholar-athleticism to arrogant win-at-all-costs fuglyness.
Murray comments on all this in 21 short chapters.
It isn’t all sports and roses. He explains how he lost a son to the drug culture of the 1970’s. Ricky Murray failed to wake up after drinking a soda that had been laced with codeine for recreational purposes at a party.
He shares how just months after Ricky’s death stole the light from the eyes of his wife Gerry, she was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed within a year of her son.
He describes how he lost his left eye and later the vision in his right eye, and how the L.A. Times supplied him with an assistant to make his life feasible and his work meaningful.
Murray is patently honest. He admits his shortcomings. He knows what mistakes he made.
He has Sports in perspective, as shown in his concluding paragraph.
“The ancient Romans described the secret of successful rule as ‘Bread and Circuses’…..I covered the Circus. I felt privileged to do so. Some of the happiest hours of my life were spent in a pressbox. Sure, I helped keep the hype going, the calliope playing. I can live with that. That’s what I am…I would have made a lousy President.”
Jim Murray, An Autobiography, was published in 1993. This book supports the theory that if you want to read a well written, funny, enlightening sports book instead of a dull research-laden one, or a disastrous speak-into-the-microphone player autobio, you need only stick to the guys and gals who wrangle words for a living.
Don’t miss this book. It’s an A+.
RIP, Mr. Murray.