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Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy Paperback – Illustrated, March 16, 2010
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“The incomparable and mysterious Sandy Koufax is revealed…. This is an absorbing book, beautifully written.” —Wall Street Journal
“Leavy has hit it out of the park…A lot more than a biography. It’s a consideration of how we create our heroes, and how this hero’s self perception distinguishes him from nearly every other great athlete in living memory… a remarkably rich portrait.” — Time
The instant New York Times bestseller about the baseball legend and famously reclusive Dodgers’ pitcher Sandy Koufax, from award-winning former Washington Post sportswriter Jane Leavy. Sandy Koufax reveals, for the first time, what drove the three-time Cy Young award winner to the pinnacle of baseball and then—just as quickly—into self-imposed exile.
“Leavy has hit it out of the park…A lot more than a biography. It’s a consideration of how we create our heroes, and how this hero’s self perception distinguishes him from nearly every other great athlete in living memory…a remarkably rich portrait.” — Daniel Okrent, Time magazine
“Ms. Leavy has done a dizzying amount of reporting—more than 400 interviews—and Koufax doesn’t just survive the scrutiny, he emerges from it larger than ever. . . Ms. Leavy humanizes her subject even as she demythologizes him. The incomparable and mysterious Sandy Koufax is revealed…This is an absorbing book, beautifully written.” — Jonathan Mahler, Wall Street Journal
“A baseball classic; the first in-depth reporting on the life and career of the Dodger icon…a must read.” — New York Daily News
“An exhaustively researched study that paints an intriguing portrait of the famously reclusive Dodger pitcher.” — Sports Illustrated
“A perfect game of a book…Jane Leavy scatters the clouds of mythology to show us, after all these years, the man Koufax.” — The Sporting News
From the Back Cover
No immortal in the history of baseball retired so young, so well, or so completely as Sandy Koufax. After compiling a remarkable record from 1962 to 1966 that saw him lead the National League in ERA all five years, win three Cy Young awards, and pitch four no-hitters including a perfect game, Koufax essentially disappeared. Save for his induction into the Hall of Fame and occasional appearances at the Dodgers training camp, Koufax has remained unavailable, unassailable, and unsullied, in the process becoming much more than just the best pitcher of his generation. He is the Jewish boy from Brooklyn, who refused to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series on Yom Kippur, defining himself as a man who placed faith over fame. This act made him the standard to which Jewish parents still hold their children. Except for his autobiography (published in 1966), Koufax has resolutely avoided talking about himself. But through sheer doggedness that even Koufax came to marvel at, Jane Leavy was able to gain his trust to the point where they talked regularly over the three years Leavy reported her book. With Koufax′s blessing, Leavy interviewed nearly every one of his former teammates, opponents, and friends, and emerged with a portrait of the artist that is as thorough and stylish as was his command on the pitching mound.
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; Illustrated edition (March 16, 2010)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0061779008
- ISBN-13 : 978-0061779008
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.79 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #88,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The book has an unusual format and focus that you will either love or hate. The continuing story line is Mr. Koufax's perfect game on September 9, 1965 against the Chicago Cubs. The game is related in 10 chapters that alternate with the biographical/sociological material that forms the rest of the book. The end leafs of the book also portray a scorecard from that game. The first chapter of this material is called "The Pregame Show" and sets the stage. Every other chapter covers an inning. It's nicely done, including little known facts like how a little of the game ended up being recorded for posterity. However, no one would buy a book just to read the details of this game.
So the book's appeal rests on its biography of Mr. Koufax, and the related material on how his life affected others. The beginning of the book stresses the biographical, because he was more visible then to those who knew him than after he became the Dodger superstar. I found that that material was fresh and interesting, and added meaningfully to my understanding of his formative influences and early life style. As his fame rose, Mr. Koufax became less visible as a person and his sociological impact increased.
His legacy is treated more seriously than in other books. Basically, it comes down to having had a pioneer's advanced understanding of the mechanics of baseball pitching, performing at an extraordinary level during his career without resorting to underhanded tricks, behaving with modesty and decency, and setting a good example because it was his nature to do so.
Some aspects of that legacy have echoed more loudly than others, such as his choice to sit out the opening game of 1965 World Series because it was on Yom Kippur. His observant example seems to have had a large impact on many Jewish people and increased awareness of the Jewish faith among non-Jews. You will read a lot about that. The book also fills in with what else people were thinking and saying at the time. As these days recede, this contextual information becomes more important in understanding Mr. Koufax and his legacy.
The end of the book seemed to tail off slowly like a hanging curve for me. The material goes into his incredible pain at the end a bit too much, his holdout with Don Drysdale to get a raise, his post-playing baseball activities, his failed marriages, and his continuing search for privacy in a world where many are obsessed with him. To me, those aren't really part of the legacy I feel.
I became a Dodger fan in 1955 when I watched my first World Series on television and fell in love with the team. I felt like my life was complete when they soon moved to Los Angeles, near my home in Southern California so I could see them play in person. During the greatest of Mr. Koufax's playing years, I scraped together a few dollars by working after school and on the weekends, begged or borrowed a ride to the ball park, and tried to see every one of Mr. Koufax's starts I could. The experience at the park was what I imagine being in Heaven must be like. Often having seats in weird spots (because we couldn't afford to buy tickets in advance), I came to reflect on his fast ball and curve from dozens of different angles and distances. The degree that the curve broke and how rapidly it broke were almost impossible to believe. Your breath would catch when it happened. The pop in the catcher's glove from his fast ball would still be echoing in the stands after the ball was back in Mr. Koufax's glove. And he was so serious and yet so serene on the mound. It was as though an angel had joined us for a brief time. To me, Mr. Koufax will always be the unassuming, decent, and quiet man who was a truly worthy baseball hero. We could use more like him today. I believe that's his broadest and most important legacy. He deserves much credit for keeping that legacy pristine. Thank you, Mr. Koufax!!
I feel indebted to Ms. Leavy for extending my understanding of Mr. Koufax and how he has affected the lives of others. Her persistence and effort have added important nuances to our understanding of that quiet hero.
I would like to specially compliment Ms. Leavy for her choice of photographs. If she had only added one showing the time-lapse flight of one of his curve balls, they would have been perfect.
My family also comes in for special praise for giving this book to me as a gift. I'll treasure it (and them) always.
After you finish this fine book, I suggest you think about what your contributions have been and legacy will be. What would Ms. Leavy have to say about you? How could you improve upon that?
“No other baseball immortal in memory retired so young, so well, or so completely,” writes Jane Leavy in the preface to this energetic biography. “He may be the last athlete who declined to cash in on his fame. He has refused to cannibalize himself, to live off his past. He remains unavailable, unassailable (and) unsullied.”
Immortal? For lots of reasons. If the stat sheet didn’t glow, nobody might care how Koufax lived his life and went about his work. But the pitching record is crammed with “wow” numbers and amazing feats—six straight All-Star appearances, four no-hitters, one perfect game, twice the World Series MVP—and despite the fame he moved through the world in a very private way.
Was Koufax simply inscrutable? Merely aloof? Or just an athlete who wanted to define his own terms? Yes. Did Koufax’s character contribute to his success on the mound? It had to—right? Koufax was as tenacious about maintaining his privacy as he was about striking out good hitters.
Jane Leavy’s biography, written with Koufax’s awareness but without his direct involvement, is remarkable. Leavy writes that Koufax made it clear that he didn’t want the book to be written “but if it was going to be done, he wanted it to be done right.” Koufax gave friends approval to talk and verified some biographical details. But Koufax got Leavy to agree not to bug his close relatives. “You don’t need to know everything to write the truth,” writes Leavy. “You just need to know enough.”
Well, Leavy spoke to 469 people and it’s hard to imagine there’s another truth out there. Leavy covers all the basic details of Koufax’s family, youth, and early days in sports as a budding basketball player (yes, basketball) and all his struggles for his first few yeas as a big-league pitcher. Crammed with telling details and colorful anecdotes, Sandy Koufax is as much about the player as the era. It’s also about one pitcher working to figure out the art of pitching and then perfecting everything that goes into it—preparation, technique, mental attitude. Everything.
It’s about the move of the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, about the rise of players standing up for their share of baseball revenue (Koufax and fellow Dodger Don Drysdale raised a ruckus before the whole battle over free agency), and about one man maintaining his personal integrity from start to finish. Even the Jewish community wanted to claim Koufax as the “Chosen One” but Koufax, as in all aspects of his life, had things to say (or not say) about being pigeonholed in any aspect of his private life.
"Sandy Koufax-A Lefty’s Legacy" recounts the highlight-reel games and provides ample, gritty detail on the deterioration of Koufax’s elbow—along with Koufax’s stoic battle to pitch through the pain until he could pitch no more.
The world of sports, in my humble opinion, could use a few more unique forces like Sandy Koufax. Perhaps no one anecdote illustrates Koufax’s reluctance to do the autograph circuit (where he could make a fortune to this day). Occasionally, Koufax signs stuff—he does so every year at the annual dinner held to raise money for indigent ballplayers who came of age before free agency. The lines at Koufax’s table are long.
“What is this impulse, this need for a shred of greatness, a name scrawled on a sweet spot?” asks Leavy. “Koufax doesn’t get it. The need mystifies him; he is dubious about his ability to fill it. But he does the best he can, within the bounds of taste and decorum, bringing dignity to this most undignified pursuit—the sycophantic elevation of one human being over another and the exploitation of that difference for material gain.”
If we had more athletes (and celebrities of all sorts) who better understood that distinction, the world would be a better place.