Biography of Sandy Koufax

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Sandy Koufax (b. 1935)

     In 1965, Sandy Koufax made headlines when he refused to pitch game one of the world series for the Dodgers on Yom Kippur. This courageous act was remembered by President Barack Obama at a White House reception for prominent Jewish Americans in honor of Jewish American heritage month on May 27, 2010, when the president remarked: “Sandy can’t pitch on Yom Kippur and I can’t pitch.” Unlike other Jews like Lou Boudreau, manager and shortstop of the Cleveland Indians, who hid his religious origin,  Koufax was proud of his membership in the Jewish people and earned the respect of all decent citizens for his stand. Asked by his manager to pitch on Yom Kippur, he declined because he “answered to a higher power” than team owner Walter O’Malley.

     Koufax was born Sanford Braun. His divorced mother later married Irving Koufax, who adopted him.

      Koufax is 6'2" tall and was an almost unbelievable success as a major league pitcher. He pitched twelve seasons for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, winning 165 and losing 87 games. Koufax achieved 2,396 strikeouts and was a seven time all star. He pitched in four World Series and won the Cy Young award in 1963, 1965 and 1966. In 1963 and 1965 he was designated Most Valuable Player and won the Babe Ruth award for the best World Series performance in both years. Koufax pitched four no-hitters and on September 9, 1965, pitched a perfect game. In 1972, Koufax was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Koufax showed exceptional  courage and determination when, in 1965, his left arm hemorrhaged shortly before the opening of the season. He used codeine and other drugs to kill the pain and that year pitched 335.2 innings to lead the Dodgers to another pennant. That year he won his second pitching “Triple Crown,” leading the league with 26 wins, a 2.04 ERA, and 382 strikeouts. Koufax had an eleven game winning streak in 1964 and 1965, having allowed fewer base runners per nine innings ever.

     The 1965 World Series was no doubt the most dramatic played until then. The series with the Minnesota Twins was tied 2-2 when Koufax pitched a complete shutout in game five, so that the Dodgers led 3-2. Then Minnesota won the next game, forcing a seventh game. Despite arthritic pain, Koufax threw a three hit shutout which gave the Dodgers the victory. That performance earned him his second MVP award as he became Sports Illustrated sportsman of the year.

     Koufax is left handed. He therefore became the first left handed pitcher since 1880 to throw a perfect game, striking out fourteen batters.

     In view of the enormous salaries paid major league stars today, Koufax earned very little. After holding out for more money in 1966, Koufax was paid $125,000 for the 1966 season. That is $895,385 in 2013 dollars. Consider that Alex Rodriguez was paid $28 million this past season, and twenty million was paid to at least another fifteen players.

     After Koufax was forced to retire because of arthritis, he signed a ten year contract for $1 million a year ($7 million today) with NBC to be a sports broadcaster on Saturday Game of the Week.  From 1979 to 1990, Koufax was a pitching coach for the Dodgers, and returned to the same job in 2004 after an absence of fourteen years. In 2007, at age 71, Koufax was chosen to play in the Israel Baseball League by the Modiin Miracles. Koufax declined.

     Today Koufax is a member board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a non-profit organization which seeks to help former Major League, Minor League and Negro League players through financial and medical difficulties. In 2013, Koufax was hired by the Dodgers as special adviser to team chairman Mark Walter.

     On April 1, 2013, Koufax threw out the first pitch during ceremonies at Dodger stadium. That was not his only public appearance. Koufax also appeared on television from 1969 to 1962 in a western series called “Too Smart To Live,” an episode of a series called Shotgun Slade. In 1960 he played “Johnny” in an  episode of Impasse on ABC’s series Colt 45. In addition he appeared in 77 Sunset Strip and Bourbon Street Beat.

     Sandy Koufax has been married and divorced twice. He has no children.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Assassination, Anarchy, & Terrorism (2012).

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