October 26, 2002
THE "K" IN KOUFAX:REVIEW: of Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy by Jane Leavy (J. Bottum, October 2002, October 2002)
THE PROBLEM is not to figure out why Sandy Koufax was a great pitcher. The problem is tofigure out why he was Sandy Koufax-the stuff of myth, the Achilles of Dodger Stadium, the pitcher who from 1963 to 1966 redefined baseball, the Jewish Phenomenon, the most talked-about athlete of the 1960's, and the man who is remembered by everyone who saw him pitch as the most exciting player ever to take the mound.
Even during his early years, Koufax always had something: some promise of things to come, some flash of brilliance that kept the Dodgers from unloading him as a failed prospect. The fans who remember his almost perfect final years tend to forget just how mediocre he was in the beginning of his career, and how long that beginning lasted. His combined record from 1955 to 1960 was 42 wins and 53 losses-on pennant-winning teams. The earned runs he allowed barely matched the league's average, and his unearned runs were atrocious. He walked enormous numbers of batters and threw wild pitches. He hit so many batters in spring training that one Dodger complained, "Taking batting practice against him is like playing Russian roulette with five bullets."
None of this is what a baseball team wants in a star pitcher. Signed to a big bonus-which, under the rules of the 1950's, prohibited the Dodgers from sending him back to the minor leagues for seasoning-Koufax was promoted as baseball's latest wunderkind, the teenaged lefthander, the golden-armed Jewish boy from Brooklyn who was going to make everyone forget Lefty Grove. But he was really little more than a one-dimensional player.
He was done by the time I started watching baseball, but, oddly enough, one of his games remains lodged firmly in memory, or at least the last inning of it. Read this verbatim transcript of Vin Scully's call of Koufax's perfect game or listen to it here. It is literature--maybe even poetry--of the highest order, though spoken spontaneously.
Posted by Orrin Judd at October 26, 2002 12:12 PM