Jim Murray Won a Liars Poker Game with 26 Aces
by Donald E. Palmer
Along with many other fans, celebrities and sports writers, I attended a
tribute to the Jim Murray Foundation on Saturday, October 29 at the Santa
Anita race track. Thinking about the event, I was inspired to share my
first encounter with this legendary sports writer, author and humanitarian.
I was hired by the Los Angeles Times as an advertising salesman in 1958,
at the age of 24. In 1961, Jim Murray, my favorite sports writer of all time,
joined the Times from Sports Illustrated Magazine. In 1962, the (CNAEA) California Newspaper Advertising Executives Association sponsored a golf tournament at the old Fox Hills Golf Club in Inglewood, California. Advertising Executives were paired with key advertisers, sports celebrities and sports writers.
My foursome included Glen Davis, the famous all American running back, known as “Mr. Inside,” on the Army teams of the mid-40s, Gene Mauch, the well known major leaguer and manager, and an advertiser by the name of Tom Stansbury, who became a lifetime friend and business partner of the writer, for now over 55 years. The foursome behind us included the now legendary, Jim Murray who looked the least like a golfer, but flat out loved the game.
By recollection, among the sports celebrities in the tournament were Glen Davis, Gene Mauch, A.C. Agajanian, the auto racing promoter, members of the Dodgers, Rams, Lakers, etc. I had the opportunity to meet Jim Murray and kid around with him when his foursome caught up with ours when play slowed down. He was an easy guy to know, who was unaffected by his success and celebrity. As one who has a passion for horse racing as well as the game of golf, I talked to him about the sport of kings, as he too had a passion for horse racing. You could tell that he was a fun loving guy that found humor in the drama of life.
He really let his hair down in the club after the tournament, laughing and joking with all the crowd. As a 28-year-old ad salesman for the Times, I was hanging out with dozens of famous athletes and famous people, not the least one of them being, Jim Murray, on his way to an LA Times career that would span over 37 years and to becoming a legend in sports writing. Before dinner, Hall of Fame line backer, Les Richter of the Los Angeles Rams, started a game of Liars Poker, in which about 30 of us got involved. For those who haven't played the game, everyone takes out a dollar bill and hands it to the guy on the left. The bill with the letter preceding the numbers closest to the letter A starts the game, by calling out a hand that can include all of the numbers present on all the bills in the game. The number 1 on a bill is considered an ace and the highest number you can have.
The lead-off man called 5 aces to start the game, the next guy called 6 aces, and by the time it got to Jim Murray for his turn, 22 aces had been called. Rather than calling 23 aces, Jim confidently called 26 aces! The next player chose to call him a “liar,” so we stopped the game and counted the aces on the bills. When all was said and done and all of the bills were audited, there were exactly 26 Aces to be found on all the bills, so everybody owed Jim Murray $1. He loved it as he collected his dollar from about 30 players. I remained a fan of his from that-day-on, reading his column every time it appeared in the Times. I loved his coverage of major events like the Masters, U.S. Open, PGA, British Open, The Derby, the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the NBA Finals, etc. He had the knack of finding the real human interest story in every major event and knew how to write about it. In my opinion, the only Times writer since him to possess Jim Murray’s kind of insight was Bill Dwyre, who joined the Times from the Milwaukee Journal and became Sports Editor and Jim Murray's boss in 1987.
Meeting Jim Murray and hanging out with all those sports celebrities, was a day that this 82-year-old, ex-ad salesman will never forget. He was one of only four sports writers to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. It will be a long time before another Jim Murray comes along. He touched and enriched many lives with his talent. He was indeed one-of-a-kind.