A Half-century Later: Sandy Koufax versus the Chicago Cubs

Sandy Koufax, 1963: about to blow away the mighty New York Yankees. “Koo-foo” tipped the balance away from 1950s A.L. dominance.

I (guest-blogger Bill Van Ornum) just finished reading Jane Leavy’s bio of Sandy Koufax. He had initially told her that he didn’t like the idea of the book, and wouldn’t be interviewed; but all along the way, he helped by letting friends and peers know the book would be all right.

The structure of the book borrows from the sport itself: chapters on Koufax’s unfolding life are interspersed, respectively, among nine chapters that chronicle the perfect game he threw versus the Chicago Cubs on a hot 1965 Saturday night in Chavez Ravine.

The lovely stories from Koufax’s Brooklyn childhood are a delightful book on their own. Leavy’s crystal prose targets the public side of Koufax: no gossip or innuendo. She hits this place as powerfully and accurately as Sandy got those corners of the strike zone. We see her subject’s integrity from boyhood; its deepening character becomes profoundly heroic when he skipped a World Series game for solemn Yom Kippur; the integrity of the man stands in high relief throughout his long retirement years.

I recall a non-perfect Cubs game from April 26, 1962—spring break, the Chicago public schools were not in session, and my mom took me to Wrigley Field for one of the first of many trips there. We sat in the freezing, wind-swept first-base-side bleachers. I can see the brilliant red-and-blue ink on the cover of the 15-cents scorecard. I learned how to put 18 “K’s” (a record Sandy tied with Bob Feller) next to names of the home team. Gosh, those Cubs were BAD! But Koufax was great in that (ultimately injury-shortened) season, fifty years ago, when he would come into his own. Thanks, Sandy.

Leavy’s earlier book, The Last Boy, leaves me with sadness. So much pain in Mickey Mantle’s life, and maybe the emotional pain, hidden by pranks and booze, eclipsed even the agonies of his injuries and his later liver disease. There was sexual abuse in his youth. This is another bio to read…carefully.

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About rightoffthebatbook

Co-author of the book, "Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life"
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