Jim Murray on sports

For many years, the Los Angeles Times carried Jim Murray’s exuberant column on sports. The California condor was mentioned in at least of these 10 columns during the 1960s-1980s. This post offers an overview.

“Unlike a Lefty” was published on 27 August 1965. In this column, Murray tells us that

… left handed [baseball] pitchers, like the California condor and certain animals likely to do harm to themselves if left at large, should be caged between starts …

Murray’s column for 26 October 1976, titled “Vanishing American”, begins:

What the world needs is not another endangered species. But I know of one which will go the way of the whooping crane, coelacanth, Great Plains bison, California condor, gray whale, Bengal tiger, kings, queens, emperors, maharajas and grizzly bears if something isn’t done. Next up for extinction is the Great American First String Quarterback.

In “U.S. Miles off Stride”, a 6 January 1979 column about the decades-long failure of the USA to win a gold medal in the “Olympic mile” (1500 meters), Murray writes:

Maybe Congress should look into the scandal. It might be a case for the CIA. Like Amelia Earhart, the California condor or the Great Plans bison, the American miler is a vanished breed.

“Louisville Levitator”, from 10 April 1980, celebrates Darrell Griffith, a college basketball player known for his leaping ability:

Like the snow leopard, the Abominable Snowman and the California condor, Griffith is rarely found at low altitudes.

On 26 July 1983, Murray lamented the declining number of horse-racing fans with a column titled “A Rare Species That Needs New Blood”. After listing some endangered and extinct animals he writes:

But the really dismaying news is that the most melancholy of this continent’s endangered species on this continent – the Great American Horseplayer Boobus Americanus Bet-on-The-Bay-Us – is about to become extinct as the pterodactyl, the California condor, the bald eagle or the brontosaurus.

In “Why Are These Guys Trying to Mug Kareem?” (8 June 1984), Murray observes that:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the most awesome physical specimens this side of the Old Testament…. After all, he’s somewhere between 7 and 8 feet tall …. He has the wingspan of a California condor.

A column about long-jumper Bob Beamon’s record-setting performance at the 1968 Olympics (“A Leap That Is Measured by the Years”, 30 April 1985) criticizes those who dismissed Beamon’s accomplishment by attributing it to the high elevation and thin air of Mexico City:

For Beamon, though, there were no ticker-tape parades, keys-to-the-city-type of adulation. It was believed that, like the California condor, he owed his soaring excellence to the mountain heights in which they were accomplished.

Murray’s column for 10 March 1987, “Looking at it His Way, Fight Wasn’t So Bad”, describes boxer Gerry Cooney reluctance to schedule bouts:

As with the California condor or Big Foot, there have been people who claim to have seen a Gerry Cooney but, by and large, you have to take it on blind faith.

The poor performance of the Denver Broncos football team in a game played in San Diego was the subject of the column for 1 February 1988 (“Super Bore Extreme in its Offense”). Murray placed some of the blame on the difference in elevation between Denver and San Diego:

There are certain animals that thrive at high altitude but perish at sea level – big-horn sheep, California condors, Abominable Snowmen, snow leopards. And Denver Broncos.

Murray returned to his concern about the future of horse racing fandom in “It’s Good Bet They Won’t Last Forever” (15 May 1988). About the “horseplayer” he writes:

He’s becoming as scarce as the aurochs or the California condor.

So whether its baseball, basketball, boxing, football, horse racing, or track and field, Jim Murray could be counted on to refer to the California condor. For Murray, the condor is a way of invoking rarity, vulnerability, great size, leaping ability, or a preference for heights.

A significant number of sports fans who read the Los Angeles Times apparently knew enough about the California condor to understand Murray’s meaning. This tells us that a large section of the public was aware of the condor and its plight during the years when Murray was writing his engaging columns.