In an era when too many heroes have been toppled from too many pedestals, Sandy Koufax stands apart and alone, a legend who declined his own celebrity. As a pitcher, he was sublime, the ace of baseball lore. As a human being, he aspired to be the one thing his talent and his fame wouldn't allow: a regular guy. A Brooklyn kid, he was the product of the sedate and modest fifties who came to define and dominate baseball in the sixties. In Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, former award-winning Washington Post sportswriter Jane Leavy delivers an uncommon baseball book, vividly re-creating the Koufax era, when presidents were believed and pitchers aspired to go the distance. He was only a teenager when Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley proclaimed him "the Great Jewish Hope" of the franchise. But it wasn't until long after the team had abandoned Brooklyn that the man became the myth. Old-fashioned in his willingness to play when he was injured and in his acute sense of responsibility to his team, Koutax answered to an authority higher than manager Walter Alston. When he refused to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, he inadvertently made himself a religious icon and an irrevocably public figure. A year later, he was gone -- done with baseball at age thirty. No other sports hero had retired so young, so well, or so completely. Despite Sandy Koufax's best efforts to protect his privacy, his legend has grown larger ever since. Part biography, part cultural history, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy gets as close to that legend as he will allow. Through meticulous reporting and interviews with five hundred of his friends, teammates, and opponents, Leavy penetrates the mythology to discover a man more than worthy of myth.
The book's structure interweaves two threads, with chapters alternating between an inning-by-inning account of Koufax's 1965 perfect game pictched against the Chicago Cubs, and the chronicle of his life and ascendant baseball career. Leavy provides insight into the early struggles with his control, and the pain through which he pitched during the dominant final five years with the Dodgers. The author also explores the elements of Koufax's Jewish heritage: the occasional undercurrents of anti-Semitism; his decision to not pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year; how he broke stereotypes; and how he eternally embodied the pride of the Jewish community.
Leavy has a good feel for the nuances of baseball and the rhythm of the game, and she exhibits flashes of lyrical prose. Sandy Koufax's elusiveness remains at the core of his mystique. The epilogue puts his career in perspective, and hints at his life after baseball. The final paragraph beautifully tied it all together, putting a little lump in my throat and a smile on my face.