Monday, August 19, 2013

A Dandy Named Sandy

The Los Angeles Dodgers will pay tribute to the late, great Jim Murray on Aug. 28.
Murray, the legendary Los Angeles Times sports writer, will be remembered on the 15th anniversary of his death. His widow, Linda (Murray) Hofmans, will throw out the first pitch.
On a late Sunday evening in August 1998, Jim Murray returned home from covering the races at Del Mar Racetrack. The previous day he had penned a story about a horse called Free House and jockey Chris McCarron, who had won the $1-million Pacific Classic and it ran in the L.A, Times that morning. That column would be the last thing Murray would write after a long and storied career of nearly four decades with the L.A. Times.
Before joining the L.A. Times in February 1961, Murray helped launch a fledgling magazine called Sports Illustrated. He also had covered Hollywood for Time Magazine.
Murray was honored in 1988 with a plaque in Cooperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame and received a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1990.
He died of a ruptured aorta just before midnight on Aug. 16, 1998, his wife by his side. Murray was 78.
In September of 1998 a public memorial was held at Dodger Stadium for Murray. Thousands of faithful readers filled the stands to hear Vin Scully, Chick Hearn, Jerry West, Ann Meyers Drysdale, Chris McCarron, Al Davis and Al Michaels pay tribute to one of their fallen idols.
“I’m honored and thrilled to be asked to throw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium,” Linda said. “Fifteen years ago we gathered there to give Jim's fans a public memorial and now we can honor Jim again at a place where he spent so many years of his career.”
Murray is remembered every year through the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation's (JMMF) scholarship program that awards five $5,000 scholarships to university journalism students. Winners, known as Murray Scholars, are selected through an essay competition where the applicants are asked to write a column in the style of Jim Murray. To date, the JMMF has awarded 83 scholarships totaling more than $400,000.
So, with Linda scheduled to take the mound at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 28, we thought an appropriate Monday's With Murray column would be one about another great Dodgers pitcher. Here is a column from Sept. 14, 1965.



Dandy Koufax

    There was this night when we were sitting around trying to imagine what would happen if a lot of history's characters had had Jewish mothers. Like, "My Son, the Traitor" (Benedict Arnold's mother); "My Son, the Ape" (Tarzan's mother); "My Son, the Doctor and Mr. Hyde" (Dr. Jekyll's mother).
    There would be a "My Son, the Channel Swimmer," "My Son, the Bullfighter," "My Son, the Spy." But all of us overlooked the most obvious one of all: "My Son, the No-Hit Pitcher" (Sandy Koufax's mother).
    There's an old saying that when a thing happens once, it's an accident. Twice, it's a trend. Three times, and it's a habit. Four times, and it's a rut.
    Sandy Koufax is in a rut. A no-hit rut. Every year, as regularly as summer, he pitches a no-hit game. There have been 160 no-hit games in major league history. If Sandy Koufax had stuck to architecture ("My Son, the Planner"), there would only be 156 of them. The only way he could improve now is to pitch so well some night the other team ends with a minus-two. He has now added a "perfect" game to go with his first three mere no-hitters. He's getting the hang of the thing.
    A pattern now has been established for a Sandy Koufax no-hitter that is getting as recognizable to aficionados as a Rembrandt, a Picasso, or a Warhol. It has to (1) be night; (2) have Eddie Vargo umpiring behind the plate; and (3) have Harvey Kuenn as the last batter. The opposing team doesn't matter. There have now been four different ones. When Sandy's fastball is crackling it could be the 1927 Yankees — or the 1914 German Army for all of that.
    A no-hit game is often as freakish as snow in July. Some great pitchers never pitched one. Lefty Grove, for instance. Dizzy Dean. (But his brother Paul did.)
    Warren Spahn threw two. So did Virgil Trucks. Bobby Feller and Cy Young threw three. So did somebody named "Lawrence J. Corcoran" who did not otherwise grace the record books. But most of the names in the no-hit record books comprise the great nobodies of our time. Johnny Vander Meer threw two in a row (including the first night one) but he never did much of anything else. Guys like Bill Dietrich, Ed Head (surely, you remember him!?), William McCahan, Donald P. Black, Robert C. Keegan are a few recent no-hit nobodies. Robert Belinsky threw one, you may recall.
    A bon vivant named Alva (Bobo) Holloman threw one in his first major league start. He was back in the bush leagues before the month was up, but since his club was the St. Louis Browns, he hardly noticed the difference. As long as they didn't water the drinks.
    In his merry book, Now Wait a Minute, Casey!, the New York Post's Maury Allen alluded to a jingle the Manhattan baseball writers sang at their annual dinner. "Sandy, You're a Dandy, You're a Jewish Walter Johnson." But now that Sandy has thrown his fourth no-hitter, the chances are better that Walter Johnson (one measly lifetime no-hitter) may come to be known as the Gentile Sandy Koufax. And don't forget Walter Johnson could pitch on Rosh Hashanah.
    When Sandy first came up to the Dodgers, it was the private guess of most that, if he ever went down in history as the game's foremost no-hitter, it would be with the bat. There is a prevailing opinion that Sandy, as a human being, is almost too good to be true — and I have never seen him do anything to dispute it. But when he first took a pitcher's mound, he was too true to be good. If he hit anybody with a baseball, it was an accident. If Don Drysdale missed anybody, it was an accident.
    The incident in Candlestick Park last month served the purpose of illustration. It was before Juan (The Enforcer) Marichal (one lifetime no-hitter) had taken, so to speak, his cuts with the bat (the cuts, by the way, bled), but he had knocked down two Dodgers batters.
    When Willie Mays came up, everybody in the ballpark (including Willie) knew the first pitch was going to be a ball — high and inside, way inside. Willie knew if he lingered in the batter's box he would have two lumps in his throat — one of them with Warren Giles' signature on it. He started to run out of the batter's box before the jewish Walter Johnson completed his windup. He need not have worried. Like the other Walter Johnson, this one doesn't believe in attempted murder — with a ball or bat. The pitch was more of a threat to a low-flying jet than to Willie Mays.
    Of course, someone recently checked into the myth that the real Walter Johnson never brushed a batter back because he was afraid he would kill him, and found to his dismay that Walter led the world in hit batsmen — a cool 204 in his lifetime. This puts him almost 200 ahead of Sandy Koufax. That may be the only department he will lead Sandy in when Sandy finally goes back to the drawing board.
    As teammate Don Drysdale said the other night when Sandy came in from his annual no-hit game, "Do you think they'll take the uniform off him before they bronze it or will they leave him in it?"

Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.

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