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Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy

Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy

4.3 51
by Jane Leavy

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Nobody ever threw a baseball better than Sandy Koufax. He dominated the game — and the ball, making it rise, break, sing. Then, after his best season, in 1966, he was gone, retired at age thirty, leaving behind a reputation as the game's greatest lefty and most misunderstood man. The Brooklyn boy whom the Dodgers signed as "the Great Jewish Hope" will forever


Nobody ever threw a baseball better than Sandy Koufax. He dominated the game — and the ball, making it rise, break, sing. Then, after his best season, in 1966, he was gone, retired at age thirty, leaving behind a reputation as the game's greatest lefty and most misunderstood man. The Brooklyn boy whom the Dodgers signed as "the Great Jewish Hope" will forever be known for his refusal to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. Forty years later, Koufax stands apart and alone, a legend who declines his own celebrity. In Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, Jane Leavy dispels the mystery to discover a man more than worthy of the myth.

Editorial Reviews

How good was legendary L.A. Dodger lefty Sandy Koufax? He pitched a perfect game against the Cubs in September 1965. How principled was he? A month after that perfect game, he refused to pitch in the opening game of the World Series, because the game fell on the same day as a major Jewish holiday. That gutsy decision earned him the respect and admiration of many and made him an even bigger symbol than his pitching had. Jane Leavy brings us the man behind the legend in this look at the great Koufax.
Publishers Weekly
Sportswriter Leavy describes her book as not so much a biography of a ballplayer as a social history of baseball, with the former star pitcher's career as the barometer of change. While both a preface and an introduction spin Leavy's storytelling wheels, a compelling, literary social history does indeed get rolling. Koufax refused to participate in the project, so Leavy has spoken to hundreds of people with something to share on the former Brooklyn/L.A. Dodger Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, childhood friend and Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon and even the old Dodgers equipment manager among them and their testimonies make for a rich baseball pastiche and an engaging look at the game's more innocent period. Koufax capped off his first year by watching the 1955 World Series against the hated Yankees from the bench, and following the Dodgers' historic victory headed from Yankee Stadium to class at Columbia University, where he studied architecture (in case the baseball thing didn't work out). Even when Leavy's historical anecdotes are quaint, they prove timely: she details Koufax holding out for a better contract with fellow star pitcher Don Drysdale in '66, paving the way for free agency. While Leavy's interest in Koufax's Jewish heritage at times seems to border on the obsessive, she delivers an honest and exquisitely detailed examination of a complex man, one whose skills were such that slugger Willie Stargell once likened hitting against Koufax to "trying to drink coffee with a fork." Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Sandy Koufax is the antithesis of most former superstar athletes. He does not feel the need to self-promote. He does not have to feed a starved ego by putting his name in the paper every few months. He never has and never will. He is just a great person, who is considered one of baseball's greatest pitchers of the last half-century. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in December 1935, Koufax was more interested in basketball and the New York Knicks during his years at Lafayette High School than in the Brooklyn Dodgers. Following his freshman year at the University of Cincinnati, he was asked to try out for the Dodgers. After signing with them, he went to spring training in 1955. The first half of his career was frustrating for Koufax, as the Dodgers did not recognize his worth. The next six years, however, are considered by many to be the best ever by a Major Leaguer. The hard-throwing lefty retired after the 1966 season with an arthritic elbow and has never looked back. Leavy does not just tell the story of a great baseball player but also discloses the life of a great man. Writing about Koufax is difficult. He rarely does interviews and likes to keep his name out of the limelight, not because he values his private life beyond all else, but because he simply cannot see what all the fuss is about. The author's extensive research and interviews with Koufax's friends and former ballplayers are extraordinary. This biography is a highly recommended purchase for public and school libraries. Index. Photos. Appendix. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, HarperCollins, 282p,
— Bradley Honigford
Library Journal
Leavy has framed the baseball life of Hall of Fame pitcher Koufax in the context of his perfect game pitching performance of September 9, 1965, one of the record four no-hit games he pitched in his career. The collaboration of the author with former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky in reading the story works very well indeed; it helps tremendously that they are both baseball and Koufax fans. Saying that Koufax's career "began a decade too early" to take advantage of modern sports medicine, camcorders, and motion science hardly prepares the listener to imagine the pain in which Koufax pitched his final years as a Dodger. The remedies to the pain-caustic applications of red-hot pepper paste, drugs, and endless cortisone shots-hint at the determination and inner strength required to be the best left-handed pitcher ever. Comments from contemporaries in baseball as well as from others Koufax touched and continues to touch today make this audio absolutely inspiring. It will be most appreciated by baseball fans; very highly recommended for all sports and biography collections.-Cliff Glaviano, Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Taut biography of the Dodger great's playing years: baseball savvy and as far from tall-tale-telling as former Washington Post sportswriter Leavy (Squeeze Play, not reviewed) can get. Koufax lent himself only incidentally to this work-to verify stories and allow the author access to his friends and family-but Leavy has produced what appears to be a very convincing portrait. She concentrates on the player's six last, mind-blowing years, when his fastball and curve ruled. His plays on the mound are adeptly recorded-including, as interspersed chapters, his perfect game, told with consummate skill and containing the only hint of hyperbole here: "the ball headed toward home like an eighteen wheeler appearing down the highway out of a mirage." But it's a sense of Koufax's character that Leavy most wishes to convey. Never one for promiscuous self-promotion, Koufax has been shoehorned into the recluse category; because he is reserved and Jewish, he was typecast as "moody, aloof, curt, intellectual, different." Yes, he wouldn't pitch the opening game of the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, an act with profound cultural impact, and yes, he liked to read, a positive egghead by sporting standards, though he also says: "I may have read Huxley once in my life, but if I did, frankly, I don't remember." His 1963 self-profile is true to form: "a normal twenty-seven-year-old bachelor who happens to be of the Jewish faith. . . . I like to read a book and listen to music and I'd like to meet the girl I'd want to marry." But Leavy reveals also a man of dignity, honesty, and courtesy, not to mention his having that shaman's touch with a baseball. He is, simply, a standard: "In virtually every waythat matters, ethically and economically, medically and journalistically, he offers a way to measure where we've been, what we've come to, what we've lost." Well-conceived and sharply drawn, a thinking fan's biography.
New York Daily News
“A baseball classic; the first in-depth reporting on the life and career of the Dodger icon…a must read.”
Sports Illustrated
“An exhaustively researched study that paints an intriguing portrait of the famously reclusive Dodger pitcher.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.02(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Warming Up

Three decades after he threw his last pitch, Sandy Koufax was back in uniform at Dodgertown, a rare occurrence given his belief that baseball uniforms do not flatter those of a certain age. This is where he made his debut in the spring of 1955 and Vero Beach is where he has chosen to make his after-baseball home -- an odd choice for a man said not to like the game and the attention it brings him. Mornings when he's in town, he works out in the training room. The clubhouse guys gave him a key. He brings the bagels.

On this particular day in February 1997, he was at Dodgertown for a seminar on sports medicine. He had been recruited by Frank Jobe, the Dodgers' team physician, to teach an audience of biomechanical experts how to throw a ball. He couldn't very well say no: he was on Jobe's operating table at the time. He had torn his rotator cuff falling down the stairs. The Boys of Summers Past are not immune to senior moments.

Thinking of Koufax as clumsy is as disconcerting as the sight of the familiar "32" confined to this minimalist stage: sitting behind a buntingdraped table in a multipurpose room at what is now known as the Conference Center at Dodgertown. He looked thinner than in memory, thirty pounds less than his playing weight, the legacy of an afterlife as a marathoner. The old baggy uniforms always made him look less imposing than he was. His hair was thinner too, but silver, not gray. He had the appearance of a man aging as well as one possibly can, somehow managing to look graceful in uniform while perched beside a droopy fern.

In 1955, Dodgertown was a baseball plantation with diamondsthat disappeared into the orange groves on the horizon. No one could have envisioned then the industry that baseball would become; the science that throwing would become; or the pitcher Koufax would become. A pitcher so sublime, people remember always the first time they saw him -- among them fellow lecturers Duke Snider and Dave Wallace. What Wallace, a baseball man, recalls most is leaving the stadium convinced: "The ball comes out of his hand different from anybody else's."

His virtuosity was a synthesis of physiognomy and physical imagination. He didn't just dominate hitters or games. He dominated the ball. He could make it do things: rise, break, sing. Gene Mauch, the old Phillies skipper, was once asked if Koufax was the best lefty he ever saw. Mauch replied: "The best righty, too." As Billy Williams, the Hall of Famer, put it: "There was a different tone when people talked about Sandy Koufax."

Hank Aaron was his toughest out: "You talk about the Gibsons and the Drysdales and the Spahns. And as good as those guys were, Koufax was a step ahead of them. No matter who he pitched against, he could always be a little bit better. If somebody pitched a one-hitter, he could pitch a no-hitter."

John Roseboro was his favorite receiver: "I think God came down and tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Boy, I'm gonna make you a pitcher.' God only made one of him."

He was an artist who inspired ballplayers to reach beyond their usual idiom for metaphor and simile. They called him the game's Cary Grant and Fred Astaire and compared him to the Mona Lisa and the David. "He looked like Michelangelo," Ernie Banks said. "Pitching, walking, what ever he did was kind of in rhythm with life, stylish." Sometimes one analogy did not suffice. As Koufax's teammate, the noted art historian Lou Johnson, said, "He was Michelangelo and Picasso rolled into one."

Absent the radar guns and computer-generated technology of the late twentieth century, which turned acts of grace into biomechanical models, he was admired rather than analyzed. His fastball remains elegantly understated, unmeasurable, unknowable. His curveball lives on in grainy television footage and in the memory of the unfortunates who tried to hit it. There are those, romantics and catchers, content to leave it at that -- Roseboro among them: "That SOB was unusual. There's never been another like him and I don't think there ever will be. Trying to explain how he throws, how he got his control, how he thinks -- he was just un-fucking-usual. Who gives a shit how he threw it?"

Koufax cared. Long after he retired, he became a roving pitching coach in the Dodgers' minor league system and a stealth advisor to an ardent cadre of pitchers, coaches, and managers who quote him like a shaman -- Sandy says! -- and then get in line for his autograph just like everyone else. He didn't want them to do what he said because Sandy Koufax said, "Do it." He wanted them to understand why it worked.

He had come to see his body as a system for the delivery of stored energy, intuiting the principles of physics inherent in the pitching motion. This realization not only put him ahead of batters, it put him ahead of science. It would take decades for the gurus of biotech medicine to catch up. Later, when he had the time, he visited their labs and delved into their textbooks seeking proofs for what he knew empirically to be true. He learned to break down the pitching motion into its component parts and to put the science of motion into accessible language. He improvised drills using a bag of balls and a chain-link fence, giving impromptu clinics in the parking lot of Bobby's Restaurant in Vero Beach. He held whole pitching staffs in thrall with his knowledge -- sitting, as John Franco of the Mets put it, "bright-eyed at his feet in the middle of the locker room like little boy scouts."

His face changes when he talks about pitching. His eyes light up, his grammar comes alive ...

Sandy Koufax. Copyright © by Jane Leavy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Jane Leavy is an award-winning former sportswriter and feature writer for the Washington Post. She is the author of Sandy Koufax and the comic novel Squeeze Play, called “the best novel ever written about baseball” by Entertainment Weekly. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leavy gives a great look at Koufax behind the legend. Excellent portrait of the greatest lefty ever. Excellent read. Grear baseball book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Here is the clan that nearly died. We have the rules and maps for you to use! Firstly, I would like to thank you for coming to this beautiful place. <p> Map <br> Res one is here. <br> Res two for bios. <br> Res three is our main camp. <br> Res four is for voting and things like that. <br> Res five is the highrock and leader den. <br> Res six is the warrior den and hunting grounds. <br> Res seven is the apprentice den and training grounds. <br> Res eight is the elder and medcat den. <br> The rest are the other parts of our territory. <p> Rules and Ranks <br> For the rules and ranks please go to nwc res two and three. <p> Welcome!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lilypad, a like smokey gray shecat pads in, her bright blue eyes look around brightly. A tom follows in behind her. He was a rather large siamese-looking cat. His name was Darkfoot, he also looked around the clan with his bright blue eyes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A rogue pads into camp unsure of what to do.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A she cat with pale yellow fur walked in and a tom with orange fur walked beside her obviously older than her "Hello my name is sandheart and this is my brother fireclaw..." she said her voice shaking but her brother comforted her nuzzling her
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She was in the forest watching the camp.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
More description would be nice. Everything goes by so quickly in this, it's quite irksome. And add length whenever possible. And . . . . . Who exactly is this 'Flora'? O.o
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing just the way it is!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome! I do wish you'd add more details. Awesome!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
(Fine. I will. And i'll lnow how to use it ok.) Pads outt
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is awesome. It not only paints the history of baseballs greatest pitcher ever, it also paints the game as it was. Before sports agents screwed it up. Leavy is a brilliant writer. Period. The book will make you laugh ou loud, it will make you remember what a great game baseball used to be. And, if you are one of those fortunate fans like me, who got to see Koufax pitch, it will rekindle the memories of what an amazing pitcher he was and how astounded you were when you saw him. If you are not old enough to have seen him, be prepared to be amazed at the greatest pitching talent you never got to see. Willie Stargell summed him up perfectly, trying to hit off Koufax, was like trying to eat soup with a fork. Reading about Koufax is much, much easier....Leavy serves him up brilliantly! Great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very enjoyable book. Although I wasn't born until 1969, I've become a very big fan of 60s era baseball. Leavy brings the games and players to life and gives us great insights into Sandy.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. His story is incredible and it was very well writen. The authors way of writing made me almost unable to put it down because of the mystery. Very well writen. Highly recomend for any baseball lover like myself.
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John Sabol More than 1 year ago
A very easy and enjoyable read where you find yourself feeling like you are at Dodger stadium in the 60's watching Sandy pitch like no other has pitched since. Highly recommend this book as well as Leavy's recent book about Mickey Mantle.
uscpat More than 1 year ago
Sandy Koufax has been my favorite baseball player since I was in grade school during the early 1960's. I've read everything I could find about the man. Jane Leavy's story is the best! Even though I lived through it (mostly listening to Vin Scully on my transistor radio), I still learned new things about his career. Probably the greatest lefty in history, this is a must read for any Dodger fan. For you youngsters who love baseball, read about what the big leagues were like back then when pitchers were expected to pitch nine innings. I promise you will find Koufax's story a fascinating one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SpunkyJB More than 1 year ago
Having known Mr. Koufax personally many years ago, this book was, of course, very interesting. His having set a very positive example for young people by this demeanor, attitutdes and performance on and off the field, is, to me, the best part of Sandy. The fact that he kept a book in his back pocket to read while waiting his turn on the field, and created a book list of "MUST READS" for youngsters early in his career, tells what kind of a person he is. His love of reading inspired many and his proficiency in baseball, as we all know, is legendary, hence this, yet another book about him. READ IT !!!