Koufax: even the name is magic. As a very young left-handed pitcher, the grandson of a former professional baseball player, growing up in LA in the '60s, Sandy Koufax was a mythical figure to me. I attended one of his four no-hitters, I followed him fanatically on the radio and in the paper (not much baseball on TV in those days), I read books about him.
The Dodgers were my team, and Sandy WAS the Dodgers to me. I was heartbroken in '66 by the double blow of Sandy and the Dodgers being swept by the Orioles in the World Series, and then Sandy's career ending at the ridiculous age of 33 from the scourge of arthritis.
J. Bottum reviews a new bio of the beloved, enigmatic legend in Commentary:
- 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.
....By 1961 - joining Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, and Stan Williams in the Dodgers' starting rotation - Koufax led the league in strikeouts, finding enough control to bring his curveball into play and enjoy what was basically a good journeyman's year: 18-13, with a 3.52 earned-run average (ERA). In 1962, a finger injury led to circulatory problems that took him out of the lineup in mid-July and kept his record down to 14-7, but his ERA led the league. And from 1963 until his forced retirement with arthritis a mere four years later, he was the pitcher everyone remembers. In 1963: 25-5. In 1964: 19-5. In 1965: 26-8. And in 1966: 27-9. League-leading strikeouts in three of those years, and league-leading ERA's every year. Three unanimous Cy Young Awards (in the days when only one was given for both leagues). Most Valuable Player in 1963. Four no-hitters, one a perfect game.
....THE NATIONAL League in the 1960's was filled with great pitchers: the aging Warren Spahn churning out twenty-win seasons for the Braves, Drysdale pitching 58 consecutive scoreless innings for the Dodgers, Bob Gibson producing a 1.12 ERA for the Cardinals, Juan Marichal having for the Giants what was probably the most valuable decade of them all. At his peak, Koufax was better, but not miles better. And yet, just as in 1962 the only thing Dodgers fans wanted to talk about was how Koufax's injured finger cost them the pennant, so in 2002 nobody is writing biographies of Juan Marichal. But here is Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, a new life by the Washington Post's Jane Leavy.