And a Happy Friday to you all! I’m happy for many reasons today, one being that both my first child and the U.S. Open tennis tournament will be arriving in the next few weeks (if the baby can hold off being born until after the U.S. Open, that’d be cool. Relax, I’m (mostly) kidding), that I’ve survived another year of life (I turn 39 on Sunday, and I’m already dreading the big Four-Oh), and that it’s time to celebrate Jim Murray again.
Every year on or about August 16, the anniversary of his death, I salute in this space the work of the legendary Murray, the greatest sportswriter who ever lived. I still read his old columns sometime, for inspiration, or for a laugh, and the all-time best email I got as a result of writing Wide World of Stuff was from his widow thanking me for remembering him.
And so once again, on the 16th anniversary of his passing, a little bit of Murray greatness. The man who once wrote “Rickey Henderson’s strike zone is smaller than Hitler’s heart,” and “Elgin Baylor is as unstoppable as a woman’s tears” was truly a legend. So many hundreds of sportswriters (me included) tried to copy his style over the years, but it was like trying to sing like Sinatra, or paint like Picasso.
Here are my two favorite columns of his: First, a touching tribute to his first wife Gerry who had just died. Here’s an excerpt:
She never grew old and now, she never will. She wouldn’t have anyway. She had four children, this rogue husband, a loving family and this great wisdom and great heart, but I always saw her as this little girl running across a field with a swimming suit on her arm, on a summer day on the way to the gravel pit for an afternoon of swimming and laughing. Life just bubbled out of Gerry. We cry for ourselves. Wherever she is today, they can’t believe their good luck.
And second, Murray’s elegy for his left eye, which finally gave out on him in 1979, rendering him mostly blind. The last four paragraphs are just perfect, but here’s another excerpt:
I lost an old friend the other day. He was blue-eyed, impish, he cried a lot with me, saw a great many things with me. I don’t know why he left me. Boredom, perhaps.
We read a lot of books together, we did a lot of crossword puzzles together, we saw films together. He had a pretty exciting life. He saw Babe Ruth hit a home run when we were both 12 years old. He saw Willie Mays steal second base, he saw Maury Wills steal his 104th base. He saw Rocky Marciano get up. I thought he led a pretty good life.
One night a long time ago he saw this pretty girl who laughed a lot, played the piano and he couldn’t look away from her. Later he looked on as I married this pretty lady.
He saw her through 34 years. He loved to see her laugh, he loved to see her happy … He recorded the happy moments, the miracle of children, the beauty of a Pacific sunset, snowcapped mountains, faces on Christmas morning. He allowed me to hit fly balls to young sons in uniforms two sizes too large, to see a pretty daughter march in halftime parades. He allowed me to see most of the major sports events of our time. I suppose I should be grateful that he didn’t drift away when I was 12 or 15 or 29 but stuck around over 50 years until we had a vault of memories.
**Next up, this cracked me up: A tiny dog and a giant dog spend about a minute scrapping lovingly, before finally giving up and embracing. Too funny. Little dogs always think they’re so tough.
**And finally, the Kansas City Royals, a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since “Back to The Future” was in movie theaters (1985), are in first place on Aug. 15. And I am really happy about that, because maybe it’s the Jets fan in me, but I’ve always had a soft spot for fans who’ve suffered mightily.
The Royals play in a small market for an owner who won’t spend money, and have been miserably awful for most of the past 30 years. I root for franchises like that because I know their fans have endured so much, that it’s so extra-special when the team starts to win.
And these Royals are legit good. They get great pitching, just enough hitting, and those powder-blue uniforms sure do look swell.
I really am pulling for them to make the playoffs; the baseball postseason is so much more fun when new teams make it. Just listen to fan named Joy Jackson Bess on Facebook:
“This is so much fun! Baseball is fun again and it’s tastes like a cold glass of sweet tea on a hot KC August day. We’ve been too thirsty for too long.”
Go, Royals, go.