September 2, 2014

Dodgers’ Koufax Speaks at Torre’s Safe at Home Foundation Event

T.J. Simers notwithstanding, the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation event with Joe Torre and the legendary Sandy Koufax was really special (even on TV).  Kudos to Fox Sports West for televising the event.  Unfortunately the event ran long, and my TiVO cut off after the hour and a half, but what I saw was really, really great.  It was really special to see Koufax open up and get the record straight on many of his most well-known moments, and to also give a little insight into his personality.

As we’re all pretty familiar with Joe and his his Safe at Home Foundation from past posts, I’ve focused this article on thoughts and quotes from the man himself, Sandy Koufax.  When the show first started and the camera tightened in on him, Koufax looked tanned and dapper, yet also slightly uncomfortable with all of the attention on stage.  But when he spoke, he gave short, concise, confident answers.  He appeared reserved at first, but warmed up throughout the evening.

Additional baseball personalities and celebrities in attendance included Don Mattingly, Peter O’Malley (who received a rousing ovation from the crowd), Tommy Davis, Sweet Lou Johnson, Arte Moreno, Billy Crystal, Ron Howard and Jon Lovitz, among others.  Interesting that Frank McCourt wasn’t in the audience given Koufax and Torre being on hand…or maybe it’s not surprising, given the event’s host.

One great moment of the evening was when Simers brought Clayton Kershaw up on stage.  Despite being a few inches taller than Koufax, when the two compared hands,  the top of Clayton’s fingers only reached to the top knuckle of Sandy’s fingers.  Incredible; and as Torre pointed out, that was the key to Sandy’s dangerous curve ball.

Now, on to Koufax being Koufax:

On claims he’s a recluse: “I don’t know that I’ve dropped out of sight.  I go to the Final Four every year…and I go to golf tournaments and walk around if I have a friend playing in it.  I go to the Super Bowl occasionally, I go to Dodger Stadium.  I worked for the Dodgers for almost 20 years.  I go to dinner every night, I go to the movies…”

On what word he would use to describe himself: “It sure as hell isn’t gentle, especially playing the game.”

On competition: “For me competing is being the last man standing.  It has nothing to with kicking water coolers.  That’s ego massage.  I just feel that when the game was over, the best thing that could happen to you was shake hands with the catcher and go inside.  But the last man standing is to me is the competitor.”

On Hank Aaron hitting .362 against him (inc. seven intentional walks in one season): “Good hitters are going to hit you.  The idea is not necessarily to get them out.  Make them hit in situations where they’re not going to hurt you. It says you have to get 27 outs, it doesn’t have any names on it.  And Henry’s was never one on my out list.”

On intentionally hitting Lou Brock in a game: “If you’re going to hit someone, you never tell him.  He did bunt.  He did get on.  And I looked at first base and I couldn’t tell if he was laughing or smiling.”

Koufax then turns to Torre: “What would you have done?”

Vin Scully on Koufax’s perfect game: “Sandy had a way of lifting his teammates, inspiring the fans and I think, every once in a blue moon, inspiring a broadcaster.  And on that particular night, it was so dramatic.  A perfect game; it inspired me.”

On his perfect game: “There are times where everything is right.  I don’t know if I’ve ever had better stuff or better control than I did the last two innings of that game.  Everything was right.  Everything worked.  I didn’t have much doubt that it was going to be ok.“

On his grandfather’s philosophy and his dropping out of the public eye:  “My grandfather just felt that time was the most important asset that…don’t be frivolous with your time.  As you get older, I’ve developed an attitude: spend your money foolishly and your time wisely because it’s a lot easier to know what you have in the bank than it is what you have left.”

On his rookie year: “I got a $14,000 bonus.  I was 19 years old and got invited to every poker game.  I was not really welcome in the clubhouse at the start.  I’m a kid with no experience; I probably pitched five times in my life, and all of a sudden I’m in the major leagues,  taking a roster spot [NOTE: that roster spot belonged to Tommy Lasorda of all people] on a team that’s trying to win a pennant and Jackie [Robinson] and Joe Becker, who was our pitching coach at the time, were the two guys who really went out of their way to make me feel welcome and try and make it o.k.”

On Jackie Robinson: “I know what Jackie went through and Jackie was very special to me.  Everyone talks about him as a competitor, but he was a warm human being too.  He was compassionate, he looked after me, and it was special to me.”

On a quality start being six innings today: “No. A quality start is shaking hands with your catcher.”

On holding out: “There were years when I’d already signed my contract, and the general manager would say, ‘We’re not getting enough press, I’m going to make you a hold out.”

On Don Drysdale: “I think we drove each other. If Don was going to do something, I had to do it also.  I think we made each other better, as a friendly competition. Most teams would like to have two guys that were pitching that well.”

On being known as a playboy bachelor: “I don’t know.  I had a good time.”

All in all, I found myself laughing and really enjoying every moment of the broadcast.  Both Sandy and Joe were very open, honest and jovial throughout the evening and it was great to get a peek inside this fiery competitor with the soft exterior.  By definition, it’s rare that any of us have the opportunity to hear from a reclusive legend, and this was one of those special moments.  Most of all, I hope Sandy had a good time and that we’ll be seeing him again soon.  It’s been too long.

Photo Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times