Thanks to my good pal, Jay Jaffe, here are a couple of few ledes from Jim Murray, one of the sharpest and funniest sports columnists of ’em all.
Clemente: You Had to See Him to Believe Him
January 3, 1973
For once, Roberto Clemente must have been taking. And God buzzed a high hard one right across the letters.
They didn’t make a pitch Roberto Clemente couldn’t hit. All he required of a baseball was that it be in the park. He hit with the savage lunge of a guy waiting on top of a gopher hole till the animal poked its head out. Its’s a good thing he didn’t make his living hitting fastballs because he never got any.
Old Aches and Pains, we called him around the press room. Here was a guy you could drive railroad spikes with. You could scratch a match on his stomach. He wasn’t born, he was mined.
He was the healthiest specimen I ever saw in my life. He didn’t have a pimple on him. The eyes were clear. I never even heard of him having to blow his nose. Yet he was positive he was terminal. You’d get the idea reports of his birth were greatly exaggerated.
Mantle of Greatness
January 20, 1974
Mickey Charles Mantle was born with one foot in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the other one was in a brace.
If Mickey Mantle had had TWO Hall of Fame legs, he probably wouldn’t have had to go through the formality of 18 big-league seasons and 12 World Series. He’s the first guy who limped his way to the Hall of
Reggie Renames House that Ruth Built
October 19, 1977
NEW YORK-Excuse me while I wipe up the bloodstains and carry off the wounded. The Dodgers forgot to circle the wagons.
Listen! You don’t go into the woods with a bear. You don’t go into a fog with Jack the Ripper. You don’t get in a car with Al Capone. You don’t get on a ship with Morgan the Pirate. You don’t go into shark
waters with a nosebleed. You don’t wander into Little Bighorn with General Custer.
And you don’t come into Yankee Stadium needing a win to stay alive in a World Series. Not unless you have a note pinned to you telling them where to send the remains. If any.
They Won’t Call Him Dr. Zero for Nothing
September 28, 1988
Norman Rockwell would have loved Orel Hershiser. The prevailing opinion is, he wasn’t drafted, he just came walking off a Saturday Evening Post cover one day with a pitcher’s glove, a cap 2 sizes too big and a big balloon of bubble gum coming out of his mouth.
On Red Smith
July 16, 1982
His name was Walter Wellesley Smith, and if my name were Walter Wellesley Smith you can bet I would use every syllable of it. Except I might be W. Wellesley Smith, even though a sage once remarked that you can never trust a man who parts his name in the middle.
Know what the real Walter Wellesley Smith preferred to be known as? Red. He had a moniker right out of the pages of Ivanhoe and he preferred a name that sounded as if he had just climbed down from a truck.
You don’t have to be all that good if your name is Westbrook Pegler. Or Grantland Rice. Who the hell is ever going to forget that? But, if your name is Smith, and all you have to go with it is Red (or Jack), you better be good.
Red Smith was good. People knew the name. And what it stood for. Uncompromising integrity. A surgical deftness with words that made some of us wonder if Red wrote with rubber gloves.
These pieces can be found Murray’s collection, The Great Ones.