Column: Remembering radio’s Jim Healy, the greatest mocker of them all
Twenty years ago today, somebody goofed and we’ve got to know. Actually, we knew. Jim Healy had died.
There are still those in Los Angeles, a bit gray of beard and long of tooth now, who occasionally glance at their watches out of habit as the workday nears its end. Can they get to the car in time for Healy? Maybe save that last bit of work until tomorrow?
Healy had a sports radio show. It was like nothing before and certainly nothing since.
It was on KLAC (570) and, for the last 10 years or so, on KMPC (710). He was then, and perhaps still would be today, the only positive about getting on an L.A. freeway.
Over the years, he had developed this quirky show that relied on noise from Teletype machines and background music and a precious collection of tapes of famous people saying clever or stupid things. Healy threw them all together in a bouillabaisse of sports fun.
It wasn’t exactly journalism, but amid the sound tracks and sound bites were frequent tidbits of news that nobody else had. Healy had an army of correspondents. It was a badge of honor to get an item and feed it to Healy. You could read the nuances and elaborations in the paper later, after Healy had given you the tip of the iceberg.
In those days, The Times sports staff numbered close to 100 and half of them leaked to Healy, mostly about the other half.
There was no pretense about his likes or dislikes. Today, in the age of buttoned-up corporate lawyers and afraid-of-their-own-shadows news operations, Healy would have been toast after about two shows.
Maybe his defense against slander suits could have been that he didn’t discriminate. He made fun of everybody.
His bonanza moment occurred in May 1978 when a young reporter named Paul Olden (now the public address announcer at Yankee Stadium) turned on his tape recorder just as Tom Lasorda was being asked what he thought of Dave Kingman’s performance, after a Sunday game in which Kingman had destroyed the Dodgers with three home runs and eight RBIs. It remains a classic today, including all 20 or so bleeps.
He also got a tape of Lasorda’s response in 1984 when Kurt Bevacqua accused Lasorda — Bevacqua called him “the fat little Italian” — of ordering Tom Niedenfuer to throw at one of Bevacqua’s San Diego teammates.
A few minutes later, Lasorda was still foaming at the mouth about an accusation by “a .130 hitter” — a hitter whose name Lasorda repeatedly and derisively pronounced “be-VAC-qua.” Among the highlights, he said Bevacqua “couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a &##@*# boat.” And, “When I pitched and I was going to pitch against a &##@*# team that had guys on it like be-VAC-qua, I’d send a &##@*# limousine to get the &##@*# to make sure he was in the &##@*# &##@*# lineup.”
You kind of wonder if the baseball writers put Lasorda in the Hall of Fame, or Healy did.
Healy didn’t just use the tapes once. He could make them relate to almost anything, and so the repetition became part of the joy of the show.
There was Victor Kiam, former Patriots owner, after one of his players had treated a woman reporter badly: “She’s a lovely lady and my apologies to her.”
Lawrence Welk: “A-wunnerful, a-wunnerful . . .”
Benoit Benjamin: “I don’t give a #%$@ about the fans.”
Sports people didn’t just get old and infirm and babble uselessly, they “went the Leonard Tose route,” that being Healy’s perceived route of the former Philadelphia football owner, who had been known to, upon occasion, babble uselessly.
Nothing was sacred with Healy. He was an equal-opportunity ripper. Every mistake in The Times sports section, no matter how tiny, was subject to Healy’s comment. He called the section “The World Champion,” and shredded it like it was a world chump.
He called Chick Hearn “Chickieburger” and Stu Nahan “Silver-Tip Stu.”
He was a fervent Bruin and never gave the Trojans a pass. Nothing thrilled him more than a USC football cheating scandal, and he referred to the rival school only as “The Brain Surgeons.” Thousands of Trojans hated him and tuned in every night so they could hate him more.
There is just no telling what he would have made of the O.J. freeway chase. That happened five weeks before he died. By then, the liver cancer that would take his life had overtaken him.
The thought of a healthy Healy doing an O.J. show is worth a chuckle, even if it never happened. Or how about Healy on Frank McCourt? Or Donald Sterling?
Oh, what we have missed. And still do.
“Dateline: Los Angeles — IS IT TRUE that Jim Healy has been dead for 20 years?”
It is true.
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.