Jim Murray did what no team in this town ever does, not the Dodgers in a pennant race, not the Lakers when it’s Showtime. He had the folks in the house early, filling the seats well before starting time.
There was no arriving fashionably late for Jim Murray’s funeral Mass. Traffic was not an acceptable excuse. When the service celebrating Murray’s life began promptly at 11 a.m., St. Martin of Tours Church in Brentwood was standing-room only.
And what an assembly it was. Like a collection of Murray’s columns come to life. The signatures in the guest book could command a small fortune in the sports memorabilia market.
You would expect some of the people he immortalized in his columns, such as Elgin Baylor, to show up. After all, as Jack Whitaker said in his tribute, “To have been the subject of a Jim Murray column, it was like being voted the MVP.”
But no one expected to see Mike Tyson, especially after The Times just reran Murray’s column from the infamous fight in which Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ears. Murray ripped Tyson, called him “America’s Wolfman” and said he should never be allowed to fight again.
Yet Tyson was there. Even though Tyson said he and Murray disagreed about many things, even communism vs. capitalism, Tyson flew in from Las Vegas for the funeral because “I had the greatest respect for him.”
Respect for Jim Murray might be the only thing Marcus Allen and Al Davis have in common. So despite their feud that dates to Allen’s playing days for Davis’ Raiders, they both were in the church. Allen stood in the back, Davis sat next to Clipper owner Donald Sterling halfway to the front, but under the same roof nonetheless. Because of Jim Murray.
The other mourners were less surprising, but the cross-section of the sports and entertainment world was no less impressive.
Peter O’Malley, whose family ownership of the Dodgers suddenly seems as much a lost part of the city’s past as Murray’s columns, was there. So was Former Dodger vice president Fred Claire. Wes Parker, a Gold Glove first baseman in the 1960s. Tommy Hawkins, the former basketball player for Notre Dame and the Lakers and current Dodger vice president of communications. You can bet Tom Lasorda and Vin Scully would have added to the Dodger contingent if the team had been in town.
From all over the sports world: King forward Luc Robitaille, jockey Chris McCarron, Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan.
From the entertainment world: Red Buttons, Peter Falk, Dabney Coleman and Mark Harmon.
There were public relations guys from boxing and local teams and schools. There were television, radio and newspaper colleagues--not peers--including those from some of The Times’ rival papers. That was another sign of Murray’s greatness, that virtually every other local paper contained glowing praise and fond remembrances for someone who worked for the competition. That’s because Murray was so far ahead he really wasn’t competition. When he walked into the press box, everyone else was playing for second.
Looking out at the array of people in the pews was awe-inspiring. Watching Murray’s family file into the first row tugged at the heart.
There has been so much homage paid to Murray the writer and the man that at times we forget that to some people he was simply Dad. Or Bud, his childhood nickname. He was a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather to people who shared personal and intimate moments with him in addition to the joys of his writing we all experienced.
And so it was complete. All aspects of his life, the personal and the professional, represented in the faces of the congregation.
The collection of people was the real tribute. The best we could do. Better than the service, for all of its appropriate tone, reflections and nods to Murray’s Irish heritage.
Because words wouldn’t do him justice. It would be like singing in honor of Marvin Gaye. Nice try, but it just makes us miss the real thing even more.
It would be asking too much of anyone who stepped to the podium to come up with a better opening than Murray used while accepting yet another award earlier this year: “Let’s get ready to ramble.”
And no one could capture the essence of a person, or even give personality to a horse or a golf course, the way Murray did. So you probably noticed that most of the remembrances of Murray this week relied heavily on Murray’s own words and paragraphs. There was no better way to express his value.
“Once again, he has out-written us all,” Jack Whitaker said. “Because he is his own eulogy.”
Whitaker made a wonderful effort. And he understood that Murray’s success wasn’t due to fancy words. The brilliance of Murray was in his simplicity, the use of basic words and images combined in his own unique way, delivering his point without room for misinterpretation.
In that fashion, Whitaker’s last words were his best: “James Patrick Murray, my, what a grand man you were.”
How do we say goodbye to Jim Murray? There’s no need to struggle for the right way to conclude the incredible story that was his life. As is the case with so many great works of writing, Murray has already done it.
He didn’t just bid farewell to a person. This is how he said so long to the whole world when the curtain came down on the 1984 Olympics:
“Turn out the lights. The party’s over. Pack up the costumes. Put away the paper hats. Turn off the loudspeaker. Pay the band. We’ll take one more cup of kindness yet for days of Auld Lang Syne, then pick up all the glasses and put them in the sink. Never mind the dishes. We’ll take care of those tomorrow. Drive carefully. We don’t want to lose anybody.
“It’s been a ball. Don’t cry. Go out the way we came in, singing and dancing. A toast to absent friends, to loved ones who couldn’t be here. Promise to write. Keep in touch. Thanks for the memories.”