As Spring training begins for Major League Baseball, there is a heightened excitement as a legendary figure has been coaxed out of retirement. Regarded by many as the greatest pitcher of all time, Sandy Koufax has donned the blue uniform of the Las Angeles Dodgers to share his expertise.
There was a time in my youth when I lived and breathed baseball. This was in the early 1960’s and I was swept along by the grand hoopla felt in the city of Houston, Texas. At last, our rough and tumble oil patch of a town was joining the major leagues. A palace dedicated to baseball called the Astrodome was like a Taj Mahal in my impressionable eyes. The dome was christened in an exhibition game with a home run by the New York Yankees star , Mickey Mantle. After that, I was a regular listener to radio broadcasts of the National League games. When Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers came to town, it was a cause for celebration, even if the home team was doomed for the day.
Even better was reading about the game. The pulp sports rags were rich with tales that were like an American mythology as the titans of the game were lionized and mulled over. While Hollywood spared no efforts in spreading ink about Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, my attention was captured by a slightly less glamorous duo, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
It would be easy to ramble on about the statistics and awards of these two ace pitchers. Their “union of two” created a sensation not unlike the publicity attention lavished upon Mantle and Roger Maris during the 1961 home run season. Koufax and Drysdale teamed up in negotiating their contracts and opened the treasure chests for many future athletes.
Sandy Koufax had knocked around the Dodger organization since 1955. A former basketball player, he was signed to a bonus because of his blazing fastball. His strike outs were noteworthy as well as his reputation for wild pitches and bases on balls. A footnote in history credits him as the last pitcher on the mound for the Dodgers as they left Brooklyn, By the end of the 1960 season, Koufax was ready to throw in his glove from frustration, but came back the next year with a new attitude. He benefited from easing up a bit in his windup so that he had a better view of his target. Sandy was working out and running to build his strength so that batters were never comfortable about facing his lethal cannonballs. As his control improved, Koufax began the phase of his career that dominated the game. Good hitters studied him like a poker player and were often able to read from his windup what pitch was coming, to no avail.
A brief examination of his highlights would include 4 No Hitters including a perfect game. He was a multiple Cy Young Award winner, as well as the National League MVP, World Series star, and most of all, the most feared and respected player in the game. It was a daunting task for batters to know that they would be facing Koufax the next day. All during the last seasons, the limits of sports medicine were challenged to overcome the pain of injuries and arthritis that he struggled with. Equally dispiriting was the lack of hitting power of the LA Dodgers that robbed him of victory, even on his best days. The baseball world was shocked by his retirement at the height of his career when he was only 30. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.
Koufax kept a low profile for many years, working as a sports commentator and as a pitching instructor in the minor leagues. He appeared occasionally on TV and movies. He avoided the limelight, especially after certain media outlets tended to exploit and smear his reputation. After becoming the youngest player to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Sandy has remained a figure of high esteem, especially by the Jewish community, who often note that Koufax declined to pitch an opening World Series game because of Yon Kipper.
Sandy Koufax brings his experience back to the Dodgers for a long overdue homecoming that will be a boost to the team that he is so identified with. His input will vitalize the young players and give the sports commentators something to talk about.
Here’s some links to other articles I wrote :
Farewell Houston Astros : A Half Century of Baseball
Top 10 Best : Sports Stars Go to Hollywood : Duane Johnson, “The Rock”
Television Highlights : Liz Taylor and Richard Burton
Thanks for reading.