Non-Fiction: Sports

Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy

Written by: Jane Leavy

Published By: Perennial
 

Reviewed by Melissa Minners
 

            I love baseball.  I play baseball, watch baseball on television, listen to baseball on the radio, watch baseball movies, read books about baseball…I even collect baseball cards.  Being a baseball fan, I have numerous players that I admire in each and every position around the diamond, but my favorite pitcher is a man that I never actually observed pitching a live game.  Sandy Koufax, former Dodger in both Brooklyn and L.A., is my favorite pitcher of all time, a lefty at the top of his game who fought through immense pain to put the Dodgers in contention year after year.  Sandy Koufax was a man with enough sense and class to know when it was time to leave baseball and I have always admired him for his honesty and integrity on and off the baseball field.

            As a Sandy Koufax fan, I’ve read quite a few books about him.  When I spotted Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy by Jane Leavy on sale at my local Barnes & Noble, there was no way I was going to pass this book up.  This book would show a different perspective of Sandy Koufax.  It would offer us insight into Koufax the man, as well as the player, but it would also delve into Koufax the religious symbol.  For members of the Jewish faith, Sandy was a hero - a ballplayer who refused to pitch during the high holy day of Yom Kippur, even though that meant missing out on pitching during a World Series game.  He was a legend among the Jews who saw him play and remains a legend among the younger generations today.  In writing this book, Jane Leavy wanted to show the importance of the man to the game and to the world at large.

            Knowing Sandy Koufax’s baseball record, it is surprising to learn that baseball wasn’t his favorite sport.  Even more surprising is that Koufax had such a slow start once he was signed.  But once the kinks were ironed out and management began showing more faith in their star rookie, Koufax began to grow as a pitcher becoming so good that Willie Stargell was quoted as saying that trying to hit against the lefty was akin to trying to use a fork to drink coffee - it simply couldn’t be done.  Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy describes the dynamics of Koufax’s two pitches - the fastball and the curve - so much so that I became bored with the repeated explanations.

            The book then delves into Koufax’s history, revealing to the readers his upbringing, his love for sports, how he got into baseball and more.  Leavy did her homework here as Sandy Koufax did not fully agree to assist her in this biography.  Not being a man who liked to talk about himself, Koufax only agreed to this book because of the new angle Leavy wanted to take in telling his tale.  Thus, Leavy found herself interviewing friends, co-players, fans, acquaintances and the like.  This is one aspect of the book I truly liked - that Leavy didn’t simply focus on the stats.  Instead, she went through pains to allow us to see Koufax from different perspectives.  We get to really know who the man is instead of reading a whole bunch of statistics we already know.

            All the while, every other chapter, we are treated to one inning of the famous perfect game no-hitter thrown by Koufax on September 9, 1965 against the Chicago Cubs, the first time anyone had ever thrown four no-hit, no-run games in the history of Major League Baseball.  By placing one inning of the game every other chapter, the author heightened the suspense, offering the reader a glimpse into the suspenseful strain everyone experienced during those nine innings of perfectly pitched baseball, a game in which the opposing pitcher had held the Dodgers to one hit through eight innings, allowing only one unearned run.  Nicely done.

            But this book was about how Sandy Koufax became a hero in the eyes of those of the Jewish faith.  Thus, Leavy told us of her own experiences and thoughts about why Koufax is such an important man in Jewish history.  Despite being a non-practicing Jew, Koufax remains a hero for not pitching on Yom Kippur.  Yet this is not the only reason the man is a hero.  Leavy reveals all of the selfless acts of Sandy Koufax as well as his integrity, humility and strength.  These are reasons for anyone to call the man a hero and ones that those of the Jewish community hold up when asked what Koufax means to them.

            All-in-all, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy was an enjoyable read.  I liked reading the play by play of the perfect game and enjoyed the style the author chose to present it in.  I also liked reading how other players felt about Koufax.  Much of the history of the man, I had read in other books, but I appreciated the new perspective Leavy offered.  I really could have done with less of the pitching mechanics explanations.  Relating that Koufax’s delivery was tantamount to a human catapult was enough to describe his pitching form.  I really didn’t need a whole chapter and a half about it.  Other than that, this book was a decent read that no self-respecting Koufax fan should miss out on.

 


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