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 My Other Sandy 

March 29, 2007 
I remember Sandy KoufaxSandy. That would be Koufax. I’ve written about him before. Outstanding left-hander. For five magical years, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was the best.

Today's column is "My Other Sandy" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.I remember Sandy KoufaxNot quite perfect, maybe, except the night of September 9, 1965, against the Chicago Cubs. That night the losing pitcher, Bob Hendley, was nearly perfect too, giving up only one hit and one (unearned) run. The Dodgers weren’t exactly sluggers that year, hitting just 69 home runs, 6 of them by their second-best pitcher, big Don Drysdale, who won 23 games (to Sandy’s 26).

I remember Sandy 
KoufaxFourteen strikeouts Sandy got that night, in his fourth no-hitter in four years and the only perfect game of his short career. Short, but peerless. He had to quit pitching at age 30 in 1966, his arm destroyed by its own cruel power, and I never really followed major-league baseball after that. The name Koufax would never appear in another box score.

I remember Sandy KoufaxA new season is about to begin, so the other day I grabbed Jane Leavy’s Sandy Koufax, which turned out to be the most thrilling baseball book I’ve ever read, even better than Michael Lewis’s wonderful Moneyball. It kept me laughing with a lump in my throat. I was young and joyful again. Still am, until further notice. Until this book’s spell wears off. Sooner or later it has to, a little.

I remember Sandy 
KoufaxNever mind the awesome stats. Leavy’s book is about other things. The short list would include grace; loyalty; physical and moral courage; humor and wit; above all, honor. A man made complex not by his dark side (Koufax just doesn’t seem to have one) or “inner demons,” but by the sheer multiplicity of his qualities. He reminds me of my best friend, but he pitched better.

I remember Sandy KoufaxAs an extremely promising young southpaw, Koufax agreed to sign with the Dodgers (still in Brooklyn then) for a modest $14,000 bonus. Even allowing for inflation, he turned out to be worth every penny. Other teams offered far more money, and he must have known he was worth far more; but he politely declined, for no better reason than that he’d already given his word. And the quietly proud Jewish kid loved Brooklyn. Love and a handshake. That’s Koufax.

I remember Sandy 
KoufaxLeavy interviewed more than 400 people who knew him, but found nobody with a bad word to say about him. On the contrary, everyone seemed to have sweet and funny memories of his acts of kindness, both to raw, lonely rookies and to old and dying teammates. When he was a huge star, he went out of his way to look up old friends who assumed he’d long forgotten them. Of all the perks of superstardom, the one he loved most was giving joy. He is still adored as even the enormously loved Babe Ruth could never be.

[Breaker quote for My Other Sandy: I remember him, too.]I remember Sandy KoufaxKoufax was as subtly analytical about throwing a ball as Ted Williams was about hitting one. He saw his whole body as a catapult, and he refined his delivery until it was mechanically perfect. He had a brain to go with that arm.

I remember Sandy KoufaxHis fastball was nearly invisible, his curve Satanic. When, after his 25 and 5 season in 1963, an awed Yogi Berra wondered, “How the hell did he lose five?” Maury Wills, Koufax’s teammate, explained, “He didn’t. We lost them for him.” True. To judge by the way the Dodgers hit when he took the mound, there should be a warning in future editions of the Talmud that the goyim won’t score runs for a Jew.

I remember Sandy 
KoufaxConsider the fate of another fine Jewish lefty, Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates. On May 26, 1959, before Koufax achieved stardom, Haddix pitched a perfect game against the Milwaukee Braves, whose lineup included three of baseball’s greatest sluggers: Henry Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Joe Adcock. But the Pirates failed to score even one run. So Haddix pitched three more perfect innings! An all-time record! And still the Pirates failed to score!

I remember Sandy 
KoufaxFinally, in the thirteenth inning, the Pirates committed an error, Haddix walked Aaron intentionally, and Adcock belted one over the fence. Game over. Losing pitcher: Haddix.

I remember Sandy KoufaxIf Koufax had enjoyed a longer career, we can only guess how many more no- hitters and perfect games he might have pitched; on the other hand, given Dodger hitting, he might have met Haddix’s fate once or twice.

I remember Sandy 
KoufaxWhich brings me to the only flaw I can find in Sandy Koufax: his tendency to wilt under pressure. Want proof? Well, his lifetime batting average was .097. But in his eight World Series games, it dipped to an anemic .053.

Joseph Sobran

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