In Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy, we learn about the great left-handed Dodger pitcher from the sixties. He dominated batters. Almost every day during the 2010 baseball playoff season, someone has compared the current cadre of top pitchers, Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, and Cliff Lee, to Sandy Koufax.
Jane Leavy researched the book by interviewing over 400 friends, teammates, coaches, and opponents. Koufax authorized the biography, but he declined interviews for the book. Leavy provides the Jewish perspective on Koufax’s baseball life and career.
Leavy grew up in the Jewish faith, and she writes about one of their greatest sports heroes. In chapter 17, she labels Koufax King of the Jews. She substantiates her claim about Koufax for these reasons:
While Koufax was not the earliest Jewish baseball player, he was one of the earliest Jewish baseball players to become famous. He also embraced his religion.
On October 6th, 1965, Koufax refused to pitch for his Los Angeles Dodgers against the Minnesota Twins in the opening game of the World Series. The game fell on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. His choice of faith over baseball made him a hero among the Jews.
Of course, being good also helped his popularity. He won 26 games during the 1965 regular season, and struck out a record-breaking 382 batters in 335 innings. His ERA that year was 2.04. He lost only eight games. With a winning percentage of .765, he was nearly unbeatable.
His accolades do not stop there. The previous two seasons, he boasted an ERA under 2.0, and had an even better winning percentage. However, he pitched in fewer games. He was the first pitcher to have four no-hitters, including a perfect game.
Koufax played his entire career with the Dodgers. It lasted only 12 years, from 1955 to 1966. The franchise under-utilized his talents the first six years. Then they overused him the last six years, resulting in arthritis that forced him into early retirement.
Leavy starts Koufax’s story with baseball mechanics. Her first chapter focuses on his pitching style and form. Koufax primarily threw only two kinds of pitches: the fastball and the curve. Leavy provides the intricate details, and explains that Koufax knew biomechanics before the rest of baseball even knew they existed. In her words, “His virtuosity was a synthesis of physiognomy and physical imagination.”
Koufax stood 6’2”, weighed 210 pounds, and pitched left-handed. He had long legs, long arms, and big hands. He could hold two baseballs in each hand. In those days the mound was 15 inches high, and some claim the Dodgers mound was closer to 16. When Koufax released his nearly 100-mile-per-hour fastball, he intimidated batters.