The Great Koufax

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Sandy Koufax had one of the great curveballs of all time and it helped him to the Hall of Fame. He also served up gracious humility. Richard Friedlander has this Perspective.

Thanksgiving may have passed, but some stories are good for all seasons.

In the days when the Hall of Fame pitcher, Sandy Koufax, was striking out the world for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was scheduled to pitch the first game of the 1965 World Series. The game fell on Wednesday, October 6, the same day as Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. An observant Jew, Koufax was deeply conflicted. “I’m praying for rain Wednesday,” he admitted. “It would solve the whole matter.”

The Dodgers’ Irish Catholic GM, Walter O’Malley, knew what the holy day meant to his star and solved it for him. “I won’t let Sandy pitch on Yom Kippur,” he told the press. “I can’t let the boy do that to himself.” It was the World Series, yes, but it was only a game. The game was played, and the Dodgers got crushed. The losing pitcher, the great Don Drysdale, lamented, “I wish I was Jewish today, too,”

And yet, one day, when Koufax was the guest of honor at an outdoor barbecue, he showed up to find that the centerpiece was a pig roasting on a spit! Mortified by her gaffe, the hostess rushed to make amends. “I really didn’t know, Mr. Koufax,” she said, wringing her hands. “What can I get you instead?” The Hall of Famer didn’t bat an eye. He pointed to the pig and politely replied, “I’ll have some of that turkey over there.”


Whether this is apocryphal or not, in these days of rampant me me me-ism and self-righteousness, we need stories that provide some perspective. One of Judaism’s greatest mitzvahs is to open one’s doors to strangers. And this obligation of hospitality falls upon guests as well. It tells us that when invited to eat at someone’s house, we are not to make a fuss over what food we are served. Unless it might endanger your life, eat it. Because what we have inside matters more than what we put inside.

Some people think Koufax is the greatest pitcher of all time. That, of course, is open to debate. But what cannot be denied is that he was a genuine mensch.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is an actor and mediator. He lives in the East Bay.