Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy (P.S.)

Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy (P.S.) Review

By creating her own rules on the fly, after being forced to operate within the rigid constraints imposed by Koufax, Jane Leavy has thrown a few fastballs into the annals of sports reporting and biography herself. With this very revealing biography of one our most enigmatic sports heroes she has immortalized him in a way befitting his elevated and elegant status and demeanor.

As a dyed in the wool "Dodger fan for life," frustrated physicist, survivor of the 1965 LA Watts Riots, and general sports enthusiast, this book about Koufax hit my palate's "sweet spot." Her description of 1955 Brooklyn New York, the excitement of the Dodger Yankee rivalry, the changes in the game itself, and how Koufax intuited the perfect mechanics of the optimum pitch is unexcelled in sports writing. That picture of the body being a single muscle coiled and anchored to the ground as it unfurls like a medieval catapult at the release of a pitch, for many reasons will be an enduring image in my mind.

But that is just the preliminaries, in the intro. The best part is the tension her narrative creates in the lead up to Koufax's own "game of a career," in the 1965 pennant final with the Chicago Cubs. With LA still smoldering in the background from the "Watt's Riot," Koufax's old and weary arm (at the very young age of 30), "came again in the stretch run," and it was a beautiful sight to behold.

But more than this, her interleaving of scenes and scenery from his life with the nine innings of the most famous and electrifying game of any era, the descriptions of his technique, the comments of his teammates, the awe in which he and his talents were held, and the utter modesty of the man himself, makes this book a rich offering of sports biography of an important sports icon; a proper portrait of the rarest of human beings; and an excellent description of what grace and elegance looks like under pressure.

If what Ernie Banks said about Koufax is true that "It is like being in the ballpark with Jesus," then this, Jane Leavy's book is the bible with nine innings of scriptures, chapter and verse. Five stars

Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy (P.S.) Overview

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.

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