Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sandy Koufax

When I was a boy, my parents grounded me only one time.  Not when I hit a baseball through our front window.  Not when the neighbors caught me pouring red dye in their swimming pool.  The incident, I thought, was more innocuous.  I scribbled a mustache on a Sandy Koufax baseball card.  I showed the card to my dad and his face turned dark crimson.  "You bastard," he screamed. "You do not mess with Sandy Koufax!  You hear me, you little prick.  He is sacred."

Sandy Koufax was an American Jewish Baseball Legend.  Known as "the man with the golden arm," he possessed a 100-mph fastball and a ferocious curveball. From 1963-1966, he had the best four year span of any pitcher in baseball history.   His statistics were mind-boggling.  Four no-hitters, a 97-27 record, 1.99 earned run average, 1,200+ strikeouts, 1 MVP Award, 3 Cy Young Awards and 2 World Series Championships.

In 1963, Koufax posted an amazing 25-5 record even though the Dodgers had the most anemic offense in baseball.  A joke emerged in Los Angeles inspired by the Dodgers offensive woes.  "Did you hear Koufax pitched a no-hitter last night?" (pause)  "Did they win?"

Opposing players were quick with accolades and one-liners.  Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates said, "Hitting against Sandy Koufax is like trying to eat soup with a fork."  Yogi Berra said, "I see how he won twenty-five games. What I don't understand is how he lost five."  Manager Gene Mauch stated, "He throws a 'radio ball,' a pitch you hear but don't see."

Led by Koufax and pitcher Don Drysdale, the Dodgers made it to the 1963 World Series against the New York Yankees.  Koufax pitched Game One. The Scouting Report on Mickey Mantle read "Do Not Throw Him a Curveball.  He will crush it." In the first inning, Koufax struck out Mantle throwing nothing but fastballs.  On Mantle's second plate appearance, Koufax threw two quick fastball strikes. Dodgers catcher John Roseboro signaled for another heater but Koufax shook him off.  He wanted to try his curveball on Mantle even though he'd been told this was a no-no.  Koufax threw the curve and at the last second the bottom came out of the pitch.  Mantle flinched and the umpire called "strike three."  Mantle hesitated, turned to Roseboro and said, "How the fuck is anybody supposed to hit that shit?"  The Dodgers went on to win the Series in four games with Koufax winning two.

In 1965, the Dodgers made it back to the World Series against the Minnesota Twins.  Koufax refused to pitch Game 1 because it fell on the holiest day of the Jewish Calendar Yom Kippur.  This made Koufax a hero to Jewish baseball fans but a villain to many others.  Fan letters to the LA Times were filled with anti-semitic invectives. Things became worse when Koufax lost a rain-delayed Game 2.  He returned in Game 5 to pitch a complete game shutout then Manager Walter Alston asked Koufax to pitch the deciding Game 7 on just two-days rest.

Koufax was wild in the first inning of the final game. Catcher John Roseboro came to the mound and asked Sandy, "What are we going to do?  You have no curveball today."  Koufax uttered the immortal words of a sports legend.  "We're just going to have to blow them away."  Koufax went on to pitch a 3-hit shutout and the Dodgers were World Champions.

Koufax retired in his prime after the 1966 season due to a painful arthritic elbow that caused his pitching arm to hemorrhage.  During his retirement press conference he said, "I've got a lot of years to live after baseball and I would like to live them with the complete use of my body."  At age 36, he became the youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Ex-Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis once said of Koufax: "There are two times in my life the hair on my arms stood up; the first time I saw the Sistine Chapel and the first time I saw Sandy Koufax throw a fastball." (5" x 6", black ink print)


  1. I'm impressed, Loren! I hope to see more baseball portraits in the future. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Very cool. I'm off to see what other athletes you've covered.