The Reactionary Utopian
                     March 29, 2007

by Joe Sobran

     Sandy. 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.

     Not 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).

     Fourteen 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.

     A 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 

     Never 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.

     As 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.

     Leavy 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.

     Koufax 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.

     His 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.

     Consider 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!

     Finally, 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.

     If 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.

     Which 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.


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