When baseball's All-Century Team was chosen in 1999, one of the pitchers picked was Sandy Koufax, a left-hander for the Brooklyn, and later, Los Angeles Dodgers a remarkable selection that was largely based on the strength of a five-year stretch when Koufax dominated the game like no one had before.
What is more remarkable, notes Jane Leavy, author of the new book Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, is that for a good portion of his career he pitched with an arm injury that kept him in constant pain, which he relieved with a mix of painkillers, ice baths and an analgesic balm that was so strong people cried when they were around him. As Leavy points out, Koufax had it all: movie star good looks, a nimble brain and tons of athletic ability. Like Hank Greenberg, a Jewish first baseman for the Detroit Tigers a generation before, Koufax was an icon for Jews across America. He helped belie the myth that Jews were incapable of excelling in physical endeavors.
Success never went to his head. He maintained friendships with his childhood buddies from Brooklyn, and around his teammates he was known for treating everyone the same, regardless of their color or hierarchy as an athlete. Leavy, an award-winning sportswriter and feature writer for the Washington Post, does a sensitive job in portraying him as an outstanding athlete and a thoughtful, complex man.
Baseball fan Ron Kaplan writes from Montclair, New Jersey.