Skip to comments.My evening with Sandy Koufax
Posted on 12/21/2006 7:05:19 AM PST by rhema
When you greatly admire a famous person, someone once said, avoid meeting him. Otherwise, prepare yourself for disappointment. Whoever said that never met Sandy Koufax, the great former pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the seventh grade, at age 12, I entered a poetry contest held at my Los Angeles junior high school. I wrote about my favorite player:
Koufax is on the mound,
The game has just begun.
He gets a sign from the catcher
And, zoom, strike one.
Not exactly Robert Frost, so I'll spare you the rest of the poem. But after winning, I immediately sent the poem to Sandy Koufax. I never expected to hear back, but he sent me a postcard-sized picture of himself, with his elegant signature.
At an American Friends of the Hebrew University black-tie function honoring the current owners of the Dodgers, the McCourts, I sat at a table in a large ballroom at a Beverly Hills hotel. Vin Scully, the brilliant Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster, emceed the event. He ran down the list of attendees, among them Sandy Koufax. Sandy Koufax?!
When Koufax arrived in the major leagues in 1955, never having spent one day in the minor leagues, he found it difficult to control his pitches. Some days he threw accurately; other days he threw so erratically that the ball could hit the batter in the head or sail over the backstop. But the Dodgers recognized his brilliance and stuck with him.
Then it clicked.
From 1962 to 1966, the southpaw pitched so brilliantly as to kiss the face of God. The left-hander won the Cy Young Award baseball's highest pitching honor in 1963, 1965 and 1966. (In those years, one award was given to baseball's best pitcher, unlike now, when baseball awards a Cy Young to the best pitcher in each of the two leagues.) Koufax recorded the lowest earned run average (ERA the number of earned runs scored against him per game by the opposition) for an astonishing five consecutive seasons, from 1962 to 1966. He threw 11 shutouts in 1963, amassing 40 during his career. Koufax led the major league in strikeouts four times, including a then-record 382 strikeouts in 1965. His career strikeouts totaled 2,396, and three times he fanned 300 or more batters in a season. In his five final seasons, his win-loss record was an astonishing 111-34. During the 1965 World Series, he refused to pitch on Yom Kippur, demonstrating that the High Holy Days meant more to him than a World Series game.
In those days, pitchers pitched. Modern pitchers now pitch "deep into the game," walking off the mound to hand the ball in the sixth or seventh inning to a "middle reliever," who, in turn, hands the ball off to a "closer." When the Dodgers beat the Minnesota Twins in the 1965 World Series, Koufax pitched games two, five and seven, astounding by modern standards.
Koufax pitched with grace, consistency and excellence. And by all accounts, handled himself the same way off the field. Handsome, almost regal, you simply could not take your eyes off of him as he pitched. He was the first major league pitcher to hurl four no-hit games, including, in 1965, a perfect game no runs, no hits, no walks, no errors. Twenty-seven batters up, and 27 batters down, a feat pulled off only 17 times in the major leagues since 1880.
The Dodgers played the Baltimore Orioles in the 1966 World Series, defying the odds-makers by losing in four straight. Koufax battled arm problems throughout his career, though in 1966 he went 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA. But by the time of the World Series, Koufax simply ran out of gas.
After the Dodgers' 1966 World Series defeat, I picked up the local newspaper and read the shocking headline Koufax To Retire. At age 31, the prince walked off the mound, never to return. I cried for two days.
Now, 40 years later, Koufax and I actually occupied the same space in the same hotel ballroom! I asked renowned Hollywood publicist Warren Cowan, seated at my table, "Is there anyway you can find Sandy Koufax, and ask him if I can go over to his table and shake his hand?"
Cowan left for a few minutes, then he came back and tapped my shoulder, "Done." We grabbed a photographer and approached Koufax's table. The Pitcher stood up. I told him the story of my poem, reciting the first stanza. "Mr. Koufax," I said, "you inspired me as a child, through your class, dignity, consistency, excellence and humility. And you inspire me to this day. It is an honor to shake your hand." He smiled and agreed to take a picture with me.
Oh, by the way, former Vice President Al Gore gave the keynote speech. I barely remember a word he said.
Koufax retired before I became a baseball fan, but his numbers speak for themselves.
As for the Al Gore quip at the end, I'd bet hardly ANYONE ever remembers anything he says. Ever.
I was in high school when Sandy pitched for the Dodgers and he too was my favorite player at the time and the Dodgers were my favorite team. He teamed up with Don Drysdale to make up the best one-two punch for starting pitchers. The only other pitcher who came close to him at the time was Bob Gibson.
When he was at the top of his game, I never saw a better pitcher. As a Giants' fan, it pains me to say that.
Sandy Koufax is a GREAT MAN!
He made every pitch as if it were the last ball he would ever throw.
Meeting Sandy Koufax is like dining on a gourmet meal by one of the world's greatest chefs. Listing to Al Gore is like the bowel movement that takes place a few hours later.
Greatest pitcher of all time. Too bad his career was cut short.
Being an LA boy I hate to bring this name into it, but to not do so would to not be honest. Maracial was also in the same league as Koufax, Gibson and Big D. However, the Roseboro incident was an indication of the man's lack of character and class.
I grew up in Joisey and was a rabid Yankee fan but in High School and College I followed Koufax's career.
I was/am a numers freak and ate up the box scores whenever he pitched. In that era TV commentators didn't have the computer lookups to analyze his pitching performance with up to date stats against a particular batter but it was more fun to keep his book by hand!
"Oh, by the way, former Vice President Al Gore gave the keynote speech. I barely remember a word he said."
I myself would DELIBERATELY try to forget whatever Al Bore had to say. :)
Thank you for posting this. Koufax was a great pitcher and he had (has) class.
The night Koufax pitched a no hitter against Philadelphia, Drysdale had left the game early to take the train to NYC, as he was pitching the next night against the Mets. The Dodgers of that era were known for two primary things: Great pitching and a weak offense.
Drysdale upon arriving in NYC was mobbed by reporters:
"Did you hear the news? Koufax pitched a no hitter against the Phillies." he was asked.
Without pause, Drysdale deadpanned: "Did he win?"
Marichal was a good pitcher also and I can remember that high leg kick of his, but even before the Roseboro incident I didn't like him. You know baseball used to be fun to watch, now I can't go more than a couple on innings.
No question about it. He was SIMPLY THE BEST ever!!
I was a Yankee fan also back in the 50's and 60's with Mantle, Berra, Richardson, Kubek, Skowron, Mcdougal, Maris etc.
Do you know why his career was cut short? Was it an injury?
I was at the game in '63 when he no-hit you guys. Just a dominating performance. Known for his fastball but actually got more K's with his overhand curve that just fell off the table as it crossed the plate. Barry Zito's curve is the closest to Koufax's but he throws it more 3/4 giving it more left to right break. Koufax, Drysdale, Marichal, Gibson, Spahn......brings back memories and reminds me why today's game doesn't really impress me much.
One does not need to like someone to respect his talent. The only Giant I "liked" was McCovey, he seemed to me a 'gentle Giant'. But man, how he could clobber the ball against the Dodgers.
National League pitchers still bat...some of them occasionally even get a hit.
Bad Elbow. He used to soak it in ice after every game and I remember the Docs giving him Cortisone shots .
Willie Davis's 3 errors in Center field didn't help Koufax in the last game of 66.
Arthritis. I think it was already a serious problem the last season or two he was still pitching.
Has anyone asked Yogi Berra his reaction to the death of Joe Barbera (co-creator of Yogi Bear)?
Koufax won two of the four in the sweep.
Games now take forever ... EVERY batter steps out of the box after EVERY pitch ... drives me crazy.
Don't forget about Say-hey.
He had arm problems off and on and got to the point that he needed surgery to continue his career but at 31 he decided against it. Plus, he took offense at some of the things being said about his ancestry by team officials so he walked away. Years later he quietly came back to coach some of the youngsters and, according to Lasorda, was pitching batting practice and no one could hit him. Amazing guy. Did things his way without allowing others to dictate his life to him.
In college I dated a girl from Upper Montclair. I picked her up at her house and she was late dressing so I was ushered into the Sitting Room to wait. Her Dad introduced me to their dinner guests. Mr and Mrs Berra and their friends Mr & Mrs Rizzuto. I said Hello and thanked them for that wonderful bowling alley.
Phil Rizutto was a little before my time, didn't he play shortstop or second base.
Saw Roberto Clemente hit a line drive HR to RF off Koufax at Chevez Ravine in 1962 .Ball left the field like a lightning bolt .
My Dad bought our first TV in 1948 for my Mom who was convalescing after the birth of my brother. We were the toast of the town, (well neighborhood) and my young uncles who lived next door soon discovered the Yankees who were one of the first to televise their home games, "High from the Top of the Empire State Building!"
I guess this is where my fanhood came from.
Of course there were no instant replays or fancy angles but the Mick's and Yogi's homeruns were still outstanding!
Sandy Koufax shut out the Reds (with Frank Robinson and a rookie named Pete Rose).
The sound of the ball hitting John Roseboro's mit was so loud, you could hear it all over the packed stadium.
Koufax was simply dominating.
Yes they did. I think he said:
"Joe Barber? Was he the guy up on 59th street, next to the deli? He used to cut my hair. Nice guy I always liked him. He was cartoon guy to? Well, it just goes to show you, like they say: Sometimes you don't know anything until you know it. You know?"
Wasn't his nickname the "Scooter". Do you remember when CBS owned the Yankees back in the early 60's. Ole Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese did the games every Saturday. Sometimes I think old Diz had one two many Falstaff's.
I loved Marichal's high kick, but you're right - beating Roseboro over the head with a bat... not very sporting.
As good as Drysdale, Gibson and Marichal were, Koufax was the best of that very impressive era.
Hm. All National Leaguers...
IMHO, baseball needs a shot clock like basketball and football. I think 30 seconds would be generous.
Baseball also needs a defined number of time outs.
I wonder if the Museum of TV & Radio in NYC might have it. They seem to have EVERYTHING.
Koufax was retired before I was *born* and he's still one of my favorite players of all time. The tapes I've seen of his curveball are absolutely breathtaking - there's nothing else I've ever seen that comes close.
Incidentally, my all-time favorite, Jim Palmer, beat Koufax in Koufax's last game.
A great article till I read that line. I hate Algore so bad that the mere mention of his name drives my stomach upset.
I lived in Tucson during those days. I always had KTUC (I think that was it) on my radio. That was the Dodger's station. I listened all the time. Koufax was great. I also remember when they batted Drydale seventh.
Free agency ran me away from the game.
LOL! Koufax never batted well. I recall a game when he got a triple and the entire Dodger team was rolling on the field laughing, it was such an odd event.
Nonsense. Baseball is perfect. Pure symmetry.
What baseball is missing are teams. Teams with players that fans can attach their loyalties to before they blow to another city.