Peter's Reviews > Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy

Sandy Koufax by Jane Leavy
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's review
May 30, 08

bookshelves: baseball, non-fiction, biography
Recommended for: John Gutierrez, if he could pay attention that long.
Read in May, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Great writer! She has stumped me on two or three vocab words so far...I'll have to dig them up again by the time I finish the book.

Update, 5-25-08:
Here's a couple I learned so far:
feted - praised/celebrated
inchoate - new
encomium - shoot. I can't remember this one...

Anyway, the book chronicles Koufax's life, with interchapters recounting a no-hitter he threw inning by inning. The lady has interviewed everybody on the planet who knew/knows him, complete with cursing!

A few words to describe Koufax: respected, dominant (but not at first), Jewish, transcendent, and classy.

Update, 5-30-08:
Finished the book.

Encomium means celebration/praise, sort of like feted. Oh, and I used inchoate in context yesterday. Worked like a charm.

Anyway, the inter chapters described his 4th and final no-hitter which was a perfect game.

Okay, here's a little quiz for myself so I have some record of my learning down the road (I hate it when I forget the content of books I've read. It's such a waste.).

SPOILER ALERT!!! (Not that it's a novel, but still...)

1) Why was Koufax's refusal to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series in observance of Yom Kippur a big deal AND not a big deal?

2) Why did he pop pain killers, receive cortizone shots every two weeks, rub fraternity haze-worthy salve all over his arm frequently, and ultimately retire after his best season?

3) Dude, Koufax only had 5 dominant years in the big leagues. Why do people make such a big deal about him?

4) What was unique about his perfect game?

5) How did he and Don Drysdale pave the way for Curt Flood and free agency?

6) True or False: Sandy Koufax is and has always been a recluse.

1) Refusing to pitch because of Yom Kippur put "jewishness" on the map, into the mainstream. Here was the greatest pitcher of his generation refusing to start the first game of the World Series because of his religion. It was less of a big deal for Koufax, who wasn't a practicing or Orthodox Jew. Being Jewish is part of his identity, not his entire identity. Nonetheless, he was (and is) to millions a "nice Jewish boy" who made good.

2) Koufax became a scientist when it came to pitching. He squeezed every bit of physics out of his body. He threw the ball harder than any hitter had ever seen. This all took its toll on his left elbow, and these were pre-surgery days, almost a decade before Tommy John surgery was ever attempted. His elbow would turn black and swell to the size of a grapefruit after starts. Yet, he was still dominating the league. He even began to lose articulation; he had trouble using a comb or a spoon. Yet, he still dominated. He finally decided to call it quits at age 30, no longer willing to endure the pain and corresponding medications.

3) True. But, this not the type of player who "accumulated" stats. He was dominant, seminal, principled, and iconoclastic. He was an event.

4) The opposing pitcher, Mike Hendley, threw a one-hitter. The only run scored because of a throwing error by Chris Krug, the Cubs catcher. One hit between two teams? You'll never see that again.

5) Ball players were "well-paid slaves" back then. They had no union, and as such, were property of their respective teams "for life." Owners held all the cards, and would constantly play one player against another when negotiating contracts. "You're asking for $75K? So and So is only asking for $40K," and then vice versa with the So and So player. Koufax and Drysdale stood up to ownership and they BOTH walked out on the Dodgers until their contract demands were satisfied. They weren't entirely successful, but this was the first instance of "collective bargaining" in Major League Baseball, and paved the way for Curt Flood to challenge the league's reserve clause (that whole "for life" thing) a few years later. Enter free agency.

6) False. He's not a media whore, that's all. He's the opposite of Joe Dimaggio in that regard. Koufax is the type of guy who wouldn't read his own biography.


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