Thursday is August 16th, which always means three things in my life: 1, it’s my father’s birthday (Happy 75th, young man!). 2, My birthday is only a day away (whoo-hoo, I’ve made it to 43! Depressing old man thought of the week: I figured out the other day that I’m now only two years younger than my Dad was at my bar mitzvah. Good God…).
And 3, August 16th means it’s time for my annual tribute to the late, great Jim Murray, only the greatest sportswriter who ever lived. Murray died on Aug. 16, 1998, so my own little tribute to him is to educate readers who aren’t as familiar with his greatness.
Murray was an incredible journalist, columnist, and hell of a fun guy. He partied with Bogie and Brando, knew everyone in L.A. and Hollywood worth knowing, and had the best one-liners of any writer, ever.
Just a few of my favorites:
“Elgin Baylor is as unstoppable as a woman’s tears.”
“Rickey Henderson’s strike zone is smaller than Hitler’s heart.”
On the city of Cincinnati: “They still haven’t fixed the freeway. It’s Kentucky’s turn to use the cement mixer.”
Murray was the greatest, and his legacy is being kept alive by his late wife Linda Murray Hofmans, a terrific woman who (full disclosure: I’ve emailed with her many times and she’s all sorts of fantastic) has set up a foundation with scholarships in his honor. Johnette Howard of The Athletic wrote this terrific piece on Linda’s struggle to keep her husband’s memory alive
But as always at this time of year, here’s some Jim Murray, to give you some beauty on a Wednesday…
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, snow-capped 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.
Read some Jim Murray today. It’ll make you feel better about humanity, and the written word. Man, I miss him.
**Finally today, as I get older I of course appreciate it when older folks school younger people. When it’s on the basketball court, where wisdom and experience sometimes do trump youth and athleticism, it’s even better.
Check out this viral clip and a brilliant one-on-one move from a man named Leroy (Papa Lee) Martens, who’s shot a few thousand free throws, against a kid named Andrew Menard, who wasn’t alive during Monica Lewinsky’s heyday. Superb, veteran fella. Superb.