Whether he is reporting that the biggest eater he ever knew was no gargantuan athlete but that toothsome singer, Rosemary Clooney, or writing about what he calls the "off-Broadway sports" of pool, surfing and coyote-calling or such staples as football and baseball, Jim Murray is, to many of us, the most consistently entertaining newspaper sports columnist in service. He turns on any sport an eye for fun, an ear for the delicious quote and a nose for such magnificent news tidbits as the fact that Early Wynn used to pour catsup on his flapjacks.
All this information, and much more beside, has been collected in a book. The Best of Jim Murray ( Doubleday, $4.50). The Best of Jim Murray turns out to be just about the best there is. Formerly a member of our staff and now syndicated by The Los Angeles Times, Murray brings to his writing a conviction that such work is at least as hard as hitting a curve ball. Because of this, he makes his work look easy, which is what Joe DiMaggio used to do.
He is a man of stern caprice, holding, for instance, that Los Angeles is the only American city fit to live in and that all others are outposts. He writes on this topic, perhaps too frequently, with the purpose of infuriating the more loyal residents of Cincinnati, Miami and San Francisco. But, despite such propaganda, his daily column is considered an asset by newspapers of some 30 cities. And well they might so think. His "Forever, Cuddles" column—a letter to a baseball rookie from his wife—is worthy of Ring Lardner. Murray is opposed to boxing and the Indianapolis 500 (prejudices we do not share) because they arc too often lethal. He presents his arguments against them as cogently as anyone ever has offered them. Cuttingly, too. "How many deaths and comas are over the legal limit?" he demanded after the sad death of Davey Moore. And to Murray the 500 is "not so much a sporting event as a death watch." "They should start the race with Taps," says Murray.
He knows that many a football game turns out dull, and that many a hero of the diamond is a clod whose true personality is masked by writers who feel obligated to write interestingly about him. Murray writes interestingly about the dull games and the clods, to be sure, but never by concealment of the facts. He just puts mustard on them.
"There's a story in every man," writes Murray in his foreword. "The challenge is to find it. Then the problem is to tell it without putting the customers asleep."
Well, this book is no cure for insomnia. It should never be placed on a bedside table.