Sandy Koufax: “I’m only human” (1963)

Original publication: Look Date: December 31, 1963
Categories: 1960s, Magazines, Notable people, Sports
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Sandy Koufax 1963

“I’m only human”

By Sandy Koufax, As told to Milton Gross

There we were, one run ahead, as Maury Wills charged the slow grounder that could become the last out of the 1963 World Series. All around me, I saw running Yankees — Bobby Richardson racing for third, Ellie Howard for second, Hector Lopez for first. Then Wills fielded the ball.

“Throw it, Maury,” I shouted. “Throw it.”

Wills got Lopez, and I can say it now. If the Dodgers hadn’t won the Series in four straight, the Yankees might have come on and beaten us. Frankly speaking, I don’t know if I could have even pitched a third game, much less won it. I was that tired. I don’t know if Johnny Podres could have pitched the fifth game if it had been necessary. Johnny complained of a sore elbow after he beat the Yankees in the second game.

Fortunately, however, we drew four straight aces to give us our sweep. Considering the record of the Yankees in World Series play, such a win is almost incredible. But an even more unbelievable feature was holding that Yankee power hitting to four runs. I gave up three of them, Podres one, Don Drysdale none.

We used only 13 men, and Ron Perranoski, the best relief pitcher in baseball, had to work only two thirds of an inning. If anybody had ever predicted such an ending to the 1963 season, I would have advised him that no Hollywood producer would buy the script. It was too fantastic. Even today, it is hard for me to realize that I won the first and fourth games of the Series, along with 25 games during the regular season.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not downrating myself. I’m extremely proud of being the first player ever to win the Cy Young Memorial Award by unanimous selection and the National League’s Most Valuable Player prize this year.

However, when people say that I’ve become the best left-handed pitcher ever to step on a mound, it’s embarrassing because it isn’t true. I still make mistakes, lots of them. Maybe the worst is getting mad at myself when I walk anybody or make a bad pitch. People say I look poker-faced and don’t show emotion. But sometimes things bubble up inside of me and burst out.

I get so frustrated that I don’t know what to do. I may take it out on the water cooler or tip over the rubbing table or throw a wastebasket against the wall. I’ve made a shambles out of the clubhouse a few times this year. One game in Chicago, I acted like a kid on the mound and like a kid in the dugout before I ever got to the clubhouse. There was another time in San Francisco when I nearly tore our dressing room door off its hinges before I ever got inside. I made a pretty good jackass of myself.

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Then there are more technical shortcomings. My move to first base isn’t as good as it should be. At times, I don’t worry enough about the runner, or, at least, I forget about him. I don’t think I’m always ready to field the ball. If I’ve got a lot of time to make a play at a base, I don’t like it. I’m likely to throw the ball away. I’d rather be hurried, but sometimes I hurry so much I don’t give the fielder enough opportunity to get to the base.

Those people who think I’m ready for the Hall of Fame forget that this was my first good full season. I’ve won only 93 games in my career. I must win a lot more before I can be put in the class of a Warren Spahn, who has won 20 games or more for 13 seasons. Early Wynn finally made it 300 wins this season. That’s the true measure of greatness; not a single season. Since I’m 27 now, I’d like to win 350 games over my career. If Spahn at 42 can still win 23, maybe I can pitch that well that long.

I set high standards for myself, but object to somebody else setting a standard for me. Some of the fans have the idea that I should pitch a no-hitter every time and strike everybody out. I admit that I try to pitch a no-hitter each time. I don’t expect to, but go out there trying. When I give up a hit, I try to pitch a one-hitter. I try for a shutout each time. When I allow one run, I try to keep the other team from getting two. What does a shutout mean? Just that if I’ve got one run and they have none, I win in nine innings. Many times, I gave up only one run, but the score was 1-1 in the 9th or 10th or 12th, and I left for a pinch hitter.

The point is that I’m only human. I’m trying not to let those two victories in the World Series change my life. Furthermore, there is a part of myself I intend to keep private and separate from baseball.

1963 Topps baseball card - Sandy Koufax

I know it’s difficult to prevent exaggerated stories being told about a person once he’s in the public eye. There’ve been a few false ones told about me: how I live, why I’m a bachelor, my tastes in literature, music, clothes and female companionship. I’m supposed to be an introvert, an intellectual and a loner.

I would like to correct some of these accounts. For example, they say I live in a 12-room house like some kind of luxurious hermit. Actually, I only bought the house in Studio City, Calif., about two months before the season ended. Not until after the Series did I get a chance to live in it even part-time.

About 10 years old, and in contemporary Southern California styling, the house sits on the San Fernando side of the Hollywood hills. It has a living room, den, two bedrooms, a small dining area and a kitchen, and out back there’s a small swimming pool, but no cabana. It’s a comfortable house, but certainly no mansion. If I included the bathrooms and closets and space in the two-car garage, maybe it would count to 12 rooms.

I’ve got a log-burning fireplace, a stereo hi-fi, some paintings on the walls and some books in the bookcases. Sure, I like to read, listen to music, live in pleasant surroundings and dress well, but that doesn’t make me unique among ballplayers.

One report made me out to be some kind of egghead who reads authors like Aldous Huxley and George Santayana. I’ve read one or two of their books, but I don’t particularly remember them. I read anything I feel like reading, the latest novels, historical fiction and well-researched nonfiction.

As far as I can see, my taste in literature is diversified, and a sampling of half a dozen titles from a bookshelf in my home shows it: The Agony and the Ecstasy, by Irving Stone; Mila 18, by Leon Uris; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shiner; Japanese Inn, by Oliver Statler; The Making of the President, 1960, by Theodore H. White; and The Age of Louis XIV, by Will and Ariel Durant. I also read the comic sections on Sundays. I’m not ashamed to admit that either. I read a good deal on the road when there’s an awful lot of time to fill before night games. I read at home because I enjoy being in my house.

My taste in music varies just as much. When I awaken in the morning, I’ll turn on the radio, stereo or tape. I just like music, period. I don’t particularly enjoy jazz, but I have read somewhere that I have an aversion to it. Some jazz I like. In some, I don’t hear anything. It’s the same with classical music or opera. I have a few longhair recordings, but I must have about 200 records all told, and the classics are just a small percentage of the collection.

I don’t have a large wardrobe, maybe three or four suits, probably eight or ten sports coats and about the same number of slacks. I own a half dozen or so alpaca sweaters, generally of brighter colors than my suits, which usually are black or gray. I would classify my clothes as conservative in cut.

That brings me to the nonsense about my being a loner and an introvert. I am a little bit shy. Sometimes I’m uncomfortable meeting people. I don’t enjoy going to luncheons, dinners and other functions. There are a number I must attend, but I’m embarrassed when I have to sit on a dais or make a speech.

I knew that immediately after the Series there would be all sorts of demands made of me. Some I wanted to fulfill, some I had to, others I refused. I didn’t want to accept every invitation. I wanted to be left alone. I was tired. I wanted to sort out the things that had happened to me, but the telephone kept ringing. There were so many demands on my time that I became more confused than I’ve ever been in my life. I finally hired a business manager and a secretary.

Many of the people calling me meant well, but I’m not looking for people to show me a good time. I’ll make my own, and that’s why I live alone. I stay with my own friends a good deal of the time and not necessarily with my teammates on the Dodgers. Most of them are married and have their own family interests. I’m still a bachelor.

When I meet the right girl, I’ll get married too. But so far, I haven’t met her. I don’t even know what qualities I want in a girl with whom I’d spend the rest of my life. Who does? You meet a girl and enjoy her company. Do you really know why? Then there are some things a girl may not like about me. A ballplayer’s life isn’t exactly stable. He’s away no much of the time. He works nights and weekends when other people are home.


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Source publication: Look

Publication date: December 31, 1963


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