Koufax Throws a Curve Book Review by Rick “SHAQ” Goldstein
GREATEST PITCHER OF ALL-TIME… LAST 3 YEARS ON DODGERS HISTORICALLY LISTED
I am the third Brooklyn born generation of my family. I was raised from day one with an absolute passionate love of our former Brooklyn “Bums”… and now Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers to my family growing up were a combination of family and religion. Even my Mom knew more about baseball than any kid other than me in our neighborhood. My first big league game was when my Dad took me to Ebbets Field for the last game of the 1956 season. Our Beloved-Bums beat the Pirates to win the National League Pennant by one game! Among others… I got to see JACKIE hit a homerun… little did anyone… including me know… at the time… that not only did that game win the Pennant… but it was also the last regular season game our legendary hero Jackie Robinson would ever play.
Being that my family lived in Brooklyn… we followed and rooted for the greatest pitcher of my lifetime Sandy Koufax (also a native Brooklyn boy) from the day he joined the Dodgers. As a Jewish family… Sandy was a role model for me and my family on AND off the field. Just how big a part of our family were the Dodgers??? Well… our family actually moved from New York to Los Angeles the same time as the Dodgers. I preface my review with this information… so potential readers are fully aware that I was on the edge of my seat rooting and following first hand… Sandy’s and the Dodgers game by game… pitch by pitch… during the period covered in this book and more. I got to see Sandy pitch in person innumerable times and at the end of this review I will share with you a personal first-hand experience that shows what an absolute class individual he was on AND off the field.
The author’s heart is in the right place as to the history he wants to educate and share with the reader… but so much of the book is simply data and short storylines taken from old newspaper articles which are listed in the back of the book. While the research should be commended… I never got caught up and emotionally engulfed by a writing style… that is artistic or hypnotically poetic… and simply… and magically… makes you forget time and place. As any true old-school Dodger fan knows… Sandy is extremely reclusive and private with his personal life… and he very rarely ever gives in depth interviews. The last one I read … was about three years ago in a book about the sixties Dodgers… and he would only consent to talk about his very close friend and former teammate Maury Wills. As far as I can tell there were no new interviews with the main subject of this book… for this book.
Though I was fully versed in the content of this book… I did get enjoyment a number of times while I read about things… that I obviously knew… but hadn’t thought about in quite some time… nor had the personal enjoyment of discussing with anyone that understood and enjoyed the same small… or large historical… and or statistical anomalies… or some of the pet peeves I strongly hold about the differences in my beloved game of baseball between then… and now.
So when the author listed them… I actually chuckled… as I remembered them well. As an example… a small one to everyday people… but like yesterday to me… was the fact that the Dodgers had ten different opening day third basemen… ten years in a row. Or that the Dodgers had the first all switch-hitting infield in baseball history! (Parker–Lefebvre–Wills–Gilliam) Or how many times Jim (Junior) (The Devil) Gilliam retired to become a coach… and then during the season was reactivated to play a major role in saving the day for our “Bums”! (Personal note: Coincidentally Jim’s son Malcolm became one of my best friends before I went into the military in 1968.) The one thing that is at or near the top of my old-school list of how much better baseball used to be… is the lack of complete-games by a pitcher! Think of this… in each of Sandy Koufax’s last two years… WITH HIS ARM LITERALLY FALLING OFF… HE PITCHED TWENTY-SEVEN-COMPLETE-GAMES-IN-EACH-OF-HIS-LAST-TWO-YEARS! Let’s compare that to the widely accepted best pitcher of the current generation (and coincidentally a Dodger) Clayton Kershaw… as of this writing… Kershaw has twenty-five complete-games IN HIS ENTIRE ELEVEN YEAR CAREER! And this next fact that the author pointed out… literally made me laugh out loud… and made me want to push the current Dodger management off a cliff… in the 1965 exhibition season Sandy pitched a complete game against the Tigers on March 26th… and a complete game against the White Sox on March 30th! (In spring training!)
Another important old-school thing to educate new-age fans. Sandy Koufax won the Cy Young Award in 1963… 1965… 1966… and he had it locked up in 1964 when he was 19 wins 5 losses… and then due to an injury with forty-five games left missed the rest of the season. And please remember there was only one Cy Young Award in those days for THE ENTIRE MAJOR LEAGUES… not one for each league as there is now… so that exponentially increases the value of Sandy’s awards. The author dutifully follows the regular season… post season… and Sandy’s retirement at the absolute top of his game. He walks out after going 27 W 9 L 1.73 ERA 317 K’s 5 Shutouts AND TWENTY-SEVEN COMPLETE GAMES. Only one other player in the history of professional sports ever went out on top like that… and that was the greatest football player of all-time Jim Brown!
As Promised Personal Sandy Story: I was an all-star pitcher in Little League… Babe Ruth League… and in the military. I obviously was a baseball fanatic… and Sandy was my idol. On June 30, 1962 I went to the Dodger vs. Mets game at Dodger Stadium. Sandy was pitching… and my Dad and I always kept a complete official scorecard during every game we went to. The first inning… Sandy throws 9 pitches… 9 strikes… 3 strikeouts. He winds up pitching a NO-HITTER! (What would be the first of 4 -no-hitters 4-years in a row).
Now this was before all the big memorabilia craze… and rich overpaid athletes charging for autographs to kids who idolize them. When I got home (I was thirteen-years-old with stars in my eyes)… I thought in my innocent heart of hearts… that Sandy might like my ticket stub for a souvenir of his no -hitter. So I sat down and hand wrote a letter to Sandy (with no intention of wanting… asking… or expecting anything in return… it was pure innocent love of Sandy and the game of baseball!) that said: “Dear, Sandy… I was at the game last night and thought you might like a souvenir of your no-hitter. Rick Goldstein,” I mailed it to Sandy Koufax % of Dodger Stadium. After mailing it… I didn’t think of it again. About two weeks later… I got a letter and opened it… and inside was my ticket stub autographed by Sandy… AND… a picture of Sandy hand autographed…. “TO RICK BEST WISHES SANDY KOUFAX”! That’s the difference between ballplayers when I was a kid and now.
I’ve included with this review the aforementioned autographed ticket stub and personally autographed picture (above)… and also included a picture of the framed Los Angeles sports sections (below) of Sandy’s second no-hitter… third no-hitter… fourth-no-hitter… and the sports section of Sandy leading the Dodgers to a four game sweep of the Yankees to win the 1963 World Series. I have saved them for over half-a-century and they are framed and mounted in my house.
Reviewer: Rick “Shaq” Goldstein