‘My, What a Grand Man You Were’

Jack Whitaker, an essayist for ABC Sports, was a longtime friend of Jim Murray and delivered this tribute at Murray’s funeral Friday:

“I remember being at the Heisman Trophy award dinner in 1971, when John Cappelletti gave the most moving speech I have ever heard, dedicated to his 11-year-old brother, who was ill at the time. And Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was supposed to give the benediction that night and he got up and said, ‘You need no benediction tonight. God has given you John Cappelletti.’

“I feel the same way today. The church is filled with such love, affection and respect because God gave us Jim Murray. Once again, he has out-written us all. Because he was his own eulogy.

“Jim Murray once wrote that he never grew up. The nice thing about sports is that you can become Peter Pan. Though Jim did bring that little boy wonderment toward the games he covered, he was a very mature Peter Pan, a Peter Pan who believed that satire was a wondrous weapon with which to deflate the pompous and the evil, and he took great delight in putting them in their place.


“Jim would have written well about anything and been successful, but thankfully he deserted the city beat and the Hollywood beat and found his way into the world of games, which became a perfect foil for his considerable talents. It was about time someone came along and stopped coddling .250 hitters.

“He also could spread the honey around, if he thought it was warranted. He had the innate sense of who and what were good, and who and what were not. To have been the subject of a Jim Murray column, it was like being voted the MVP.

“G.K. Chesterton, an Englishman, wrote, ‘The Irish are a strange breed. All their wars are merry, all their songs are sad.’ Well, I never heard Jim Murray sing a sad song, but his wars against Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis and many cities in the eastern part of the United States were certainly merry.

“It’s always amazed me that this bona fide Connecticut Yankee would become the most vocal huckster Southern California ever had. Nothing here was ever bad. Nothing in the rest of the United States was ever good.


“You would have thought his parents were an orange and a palm tree, or that he was directly descendent from the Sepulvedas.

“My, my, he was one hell of a writer, but he was even a better person, seemingly without ego, without pretension. Some people would call him old-fashioned. Old-fashioned? You bet he was. He was a child of the depression, where among other things, he grew up wearing his baseball cap forward, took responsibility for his actions and his word was his bond. All of those values shone through his writings and his everyday life.

“I remember being with him at the U.S. Open at Merion in ’71, and we were walking the course and after about three holes, we stopped and he said, ‘Boy, am I in trouble.’ I said why, and he said, ‘I just wrote about this being a rinky-dinky course and excoriating the USGA for having this in such a lousy place.

“ ‘I’d like to take that out,’ so he went back the next day and excoriated himself for excoriating the USGA. Even when he was wrong, he got it right.


“Old-fashioned? You bet, if you mean he didn’t whine or complain when times got bad. And things got real bad for Jim. In a short period, he lost a son, his beloved wife and an eye. His response was to write about those tragedies in an ineffable way, without self-pity, that allowed us to mourn with him.

“When George Gershwin died, John O’Hara wrote, ‘George Gershwin is dead, but I don’t have to believe it.’ I think we all feel that way about Jim . . . but we must believe it. Jim left us a gift to see us through these times, and that is, even as we mourn him and miss him, we will think about those great columns, the marvelous dinner parties, the times spent in his company and soon we will begin to smile, and then to laugh, because Jim Murray knew better than most that the only proper tools with which to journey through this vale of tears were the generosity of the human spirit and wit and humor. He got through it in great style. If we emulate him, they will get us through too.

“James Patrick Murray, my, what a grand man you were.”