Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy
Sandy Koufax is probably the most revered pitcher of the 1960s. He was inordinately quiet, amazingly effective, and ultimately human. And Jane Leavy’s book has really transcended sports biography with this outstanding account of baseball great Sandy Koufax.
The book is an interesting read, weaving in and out of the night of September 9, 1965. As any good Dodger fan knows, that was the night of Sandy’s perfect game…and near double no hitter with the Chicago Cubs. Every other chapter is dedicated to an inning of that game, adding an air of suspense as the innings progress. At the same time, we get a sort of "social" history of the times (mid 1960's) that adds depth and immediacy to this story that's lacking in other, more celebrated biographies.
From early childhood to his still current adulation, Leavy attempts to myth-alize and at the same time de-myth the Koufax icon. With the advantage of hundreds of interviews of Koufax intimates, she has managed to succeed in portraying the "real" Koufax where many before her have failed. His legendary career is celebrated at the same time his legendary "aloofness" is picked apart, showing that Koufax ultimately achieves what he always wanted to be—a regular guy.
"Lefty's Legacy" demolishes some of the most common myths about Koufax - that he was "perfect," that he was indifferent about baseball, that he went to the temple instead of pitch the 1965 World Series opener - while reinforcing how determinedly private a man he is. Although he wouldn't sit for an interview with her, he made himself readily available to her, encouraged his friends and former teammates to meet with her (contrast this with DiMaggio cutting off anyone who would ever talk about him), and checked the final draft for factual errors.
While Leavy respects his privacy and doesn't venture anywhere near his personal life (practically nothing is written about his marriages or family, and the subject of his sexuality, contrary to the New York Post’s assumption, is never touched), after reading this book, you get the strong sense that you understand him better.
There is no shortage of baseball talk here though...we hear Koufax explaining the mechanics of pitching in almost doctoral detail; why these mechanics ruined his pitching elbow and ultimately led to his early retirement. We get numerous funny and informative anecdotes from the afore-mentioned interviews, as well as some darned good game coverage...Leavy obviously was (is) an excellent sports writer and her passion for the game and the subject are obvious.
The undeniable thread throughout this work, however, is the decency and "down to Earth" manner in which Koufax carried himself throughout his career. Whether it was his practice of hanging out with his "lesser" teammates (as opposed to Don Drysdale, who comes across as sort of "star-seeking") or refusing to pitch on the opening game of the 1965 World Series (which occured on Yom Kippur), Koufax' humility and class are ever-present in the narrative and gives the reader that fleeting "personal" side that has been missing from many other descriptions of Koufax' career. The social climate of the mid-to-late 1960's is interspersed with the games and gives a perspective and context that's not normally found in most sports biographies...it's this feature of the book and Koufax' personal makeup that make this book so appealing.
While she respects his privacy and doesn't venture anywhere near his personal life (practically nothing is written about his marriages or family, and the longtime rumors surrounding his sexual orientation is respectfully never brought up), after reading this book, you get the strong sense that you understand him better. --Bruce McClure