Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On the Town


“What did Jesus say to the Chicago Cubs on his last day on earth?  Don’t do anything ’til I get back.”  Anonymous reference to the fact the Cubs haven’t won the World Series in 102 years

Ah, the baseball postseason.

The crack of the ball on bat, the roar of the crowd. And if you’re at Dodger Stadium the warm beer and cold hot dogs.

There’s a lot at stake in this contest between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs. A trip to the World Series.  Civic pride. The hopes, dreams and aspirations of millions of fans. 

And in Chicago, a chance to speak the name of their team without preceding it with “long suffering.”

If we didn’t have enough mud-slinging going on in this country, a couple of newspaper columnists have seized the opportunity to hurl insults at one another. 

“It’s Cubs vs. L.A., city of smog and failure,” said the headline on a Chicago Tribune column by Rex Huppke. He also wrote elegantly about other things, such the “the urine-soaked streets of the Dodgers’ home city.”

It wasn’t long before Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez opined that “My guess is that on the day the L.A. put-down was written, there were fewer than a half-dozen public officials indicted and no blizzards in Chicago, so it was a slow news day.”
Amusing stuff.  But when it comes to whittling a town down to size, these guys are flyweights compared to the heavyweight champ.

That would be the late Jim Murray, a Pulitzer Prize winner from the Los Angeles Times and the best sports writer to ever lay hands on a keyboard.

Here’s Murray on Cincinnati: “(People) don't have any appreciation for what us truth-seekers go through on a road trip for the honor and glory of baseball. For instance, you come into a city like Cincinnati at 3 o'clock in the morning.

“Now, if you have any sense, you don't want to be in Cincinnati at all. Even in daylight, it doesn't look like a city. It looks like it's in the midst of condemnation proceedings. If it was a human, they'd bury it."

Also on Cincinnati: "They still haven't finished the freeway . . . it's Kentucky's turn to use the cement mixer.”

And these travelogues: 

"The only trouble with Spokane, Washington, as a city is that there's nothing to do after 10 o’clock. In the morning. But it’s a nice place to go for breakfast."

"[St. Louis] had a bond issue recently and the local papers campaigned for it on a slogan, 'Progress or Decay,' and decay won in a landslide."

"Minneapolis and St. Paul don't like each other very much and from what I could see I don't blame either of them."

Murray called Louisville “Lousyville.” Pittsburgh was "America's Slag Heap."

Philadelphia was a town that would “boo a cancer cure."

Baltimore: "The weather is like the team. Gray. Colorless. Drab. The climate would have to improve to be classified as merely lousy. It would be a great place to stage 'Hamlet' but not baseball games. It doesn't really rain, it just kind of leaks. You get a picture of Baltimore as a guy just standing on a corner with no place to go and rain dropping off his hat. Baltimore's a great place if you're a crab."

He also took shots at cities closer to home:

“You have to pay 50 cents to go from Oakland to San Francisco. Coming to Oakland from San Francisco is free."

 "San Francisco is not so much a city as a myth. It is in the United States but not of it. It is so civilized, it would starve to death if it didn't get a salad or the right wine. It fancies itself Camelot, but comes off more like Cleveland. Its legacy to the world is the quiche."

"Palm Springs is an inland sandbar man has wrestled from the rodents and the Indians to provide a day camp for the over-privileged adults."

Reaction from cities was mixed. Cincinnati fans protested Murray during the 1961 World Series with signs that mentioned him by name.

In his state of the state address, Iowa's governor rebuffed Murray’s comments that Iowans came to Los Angeles for the Rose Bowl “in the family Winnebago with their pacemakers and the chicken salad."

Yet some cities longed for attention. A delegation of citizens once greeted Murray upon his arrival in their city and begged him repeatedly to "Knock Spokane!"

He could knock a few icons down to size as well.

UCLA Coach John Wooden was "so square, he was divisible by four"; Rickey Henderson "has a strike zone the size of Hitler's heart"; tennis is "a game in which love counts for nothing, deuces are wild, and the scoring system was invented by Lewis Carroll."

“Arnold Palmer turned a golf round into Dempsey-Firpo. A war. He didn't play a course. He invaded it. He looked and acted like an athlete. He was strong enough to hit a ball out of the Pacific Ocean, and did. He could go in the rough and smash a ball out of debris so thick that the ball, chunks of rock, cans, bottles, a few squirrels, tree trunks and parts of old Volkswagens would come flying out together. And most of them landed on the green."

A poet in the press box?  You bet.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com.

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