Melvin Durslag, a sports columnist who covered the Los Angeles scene for decades beginning in 1939, died Sunday at a convalescent home in Santa Monica after a brief illness, according to friend and former colleague Larry Stewart. He was 95.
Durslag was said to string "together words like Nolan Ryan strings together strikeouts," in the words of former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
Durslag was born in Chicago on April 29, 1921, to William and Frieda Durslag. His father was a clothing salesman and his mother worked in a sandwich shop.
He came to L.A. as a child. He began his career while still a student at Los Angeles High School, according to Doug Krikorian, another former colleague. That first job had Durslag stringing newspaper stories for 10 cents an inch. He joined the Los Angeles Examiner's staff while still a freshman at USC.
Durslag served in the Air Force during World War II and went on to a prolific career at what was later the Herald Examiner chronicling changes in L.A.'s sports world. He began writing sports columns for Hearst papers in the 1950s, penning seven columns a week for national syndication, according to Krikorian.
In 1960, when Otis Chandler took over as publisher of the Los Angeles Times, his marching order was to hire a "great sports columnist," according to former sports editor Bill Dwyre. It came down to Jim Murray and Durslag. The Times hired Murray in 1961 and the two spent years facing off and telling stories for rival newspapers.
Durslag wrote in support of the referendum making it possible to build Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, and of the move to relocate the Raiders to L.A.
After the Herald Examiner folded, Durslag joined the Los Angeles Times in 1989 and wrote his last column for this paper in May 1991 after 51 years on the job.
By then, he was established as "the elder statesman of the Los Angeles sporting literati," Krikorian wrote at the time in a Long Beach Press-Telegram piece. He described Durslag as "a courtly gentleman with a keen sense of humor," and tallied the events he'd covered in his long career — 10 Olympic Games, 34 World Series, 25 Super Bowls.
Tim Tessalone, the sports information director at USC, remembers following Durslag's column for years.
"He was a staple of the Southland sports scene," Tessalone said. "He had a voice and the pulse of the L.A. sports scene. He was never afraid to express his opinion and was a must read."
In his parting column, Durslag noted, with his usual tongue-in-cheek style, that despite all his years in California, he had yet to attend a Rose Parade or camp in Yosemite.
He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Lorayne, three children, sons Bill Durslag, Jim Durslag and Ivy Durslag, and three grandchildren, Krikorian said.
12:20 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Tessalone.