There are a zillion reasons why writing about your hobby is a helluva way to earn a living, and one of the best is that focusing on a particular subject brings back to life great memories from another era.
Such was the case last week when I did a cover feature for Sports Collectors Digest about Sandy Koufax. Few baseball greats of the postwar era have kept a lower profile than the reclusive Koufax, so it was neat to have an excuse to dig back into his history in preparing the article. I had read Jane Leavy’s marvelous book, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy (HarperCollins, 2003), several years ago, but this afforded yet another chance to meet the greatest hero of my youth who wasn’t named Aaron.
(Sandy Koufax original artwork by acclaimed sports artist Ron Stark; www.ronstarkstudios.com)
I followed Koufax’s incredible run from 1961-66, and anguished with the rest of the nation when he retired prematurely after that 1966 season. For virtually that entire span, in the days when the newspaper was the way you followed your favorite teams and players, I would quickly scramble to the box scores to see if he had pitched a shutout. The win was always assumed. To get to watch him on television was a special, if rare treat, a situation made even more intolerable by the fact that his World Series appearances would often come in the middle of the school day. I know it doesn’t match political correctness to say this, but I am certain there was nothing taking place at Johnstown High School in 1963, 1965 or 1966 of even remotely equal importance to watching the greatest pitcher of my lifetime on the grandest stage.
It was that kind of allegiance that prompted me to blow off any kind of a reasonable examination of the World’s Fair in New York in 1964 because Koufax was pitching in a doubleheader at Shea Stadium. True, I may have missed something (at the very least a chance to shake Bill Russell’s hand at the Schaefer Beer Pavilion), but it’s not a decision I regret in the least.
I offer one morsel from the Koufax article (in the May 15 issue of SCD):
It seems some of the greatest players often have to contend with the odd paradox here and there: Lou Gehrig, one of the greatest players in baseball history, is most often remembered for showing up for work; Joe DiMaggio played on 10 pennant-winning teams but is most often remembered for a silly hitting streak that bears little relation to winning or losing; and Sandy Koufax, the most dominant hurler of his generation, whose name often evokes a recollection of a game that he didn’t pitch rather than those he did. Koufax would not pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series against the Twins because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays.