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Happy Birthday Sandy

by Harvey Frommer

Back in 1991 I had the honor of being selected as the Guest Curator and Executive Producer of "Stars of David: Jews in Sports" at the Klutznik Museum in Washington, D.C. The exhibit was to run for six months and was envisioned as showcasing memorabilia and memories of Jewish athletes and their accomplishments.

I set out on my mission making phone calls and writing letters to such as Sid Luckman, Dolph Schayes, Red Holzman, Red Auerbach, Mark Spitz and Sandy Koufax, the man known in some circles as the "Greta Garbo of sports," who grew up in Brooklyn just like me.

Much to my delight and surprise, Koufax contacted me and said that his three Cy Young award trophies were at Dodger Stadium and not at the Baseball Hall of Fame and that he would tell Dodger owner Peter O'Malley to arrange to have them shipped to the Klutznik Museum so that they could be part of the exhibit. He also volunteered to send two autographed baseballs along - one for the exhibit and one for me.

Koufax's affability and generosity were beyond my wildest expectations. The only negative in the experience was the disappearance of the ball Koufax autographed to me. It seems, as the official explanation noted, it got lost somewhere.

Fortunately, that is not the case in "Koufax" by Edward Gruver (Talor Publishing Company, 288pp., $24.95). This is a book that does not get lost. It is highly focused and moves through the stages of the great hurler's life with a beat and flair. It is a wide ranging look at the life and times of the man many regard as the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.

Part of the strength of "Koufax" is the excellent fusion of Gruver's narrative and feeling for his subject along with the interesting and insightful quotes he has obtained from a variety of friends, former teammates, opponents and sports journalists including me.

Thus, veteran sportswriter Jack Lang goes back to Koufax's early years in Brooklyn; Juan Marichal a Hall of Fame pitcher in his own right and a former opponent calls Koufax "the greatest pitcher I ever saw; former Dodger manager Tom Lasorda who was sent down to make room for bonus baby Koufax on the Brooklyn Dodger roster --to this day Lasorda takes credit for Koufax's success.

There is a lot in the book that re-hashes the old stories( the refusal of Koufax to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series since it fell on the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur), the old statistics. There are also instances where Gruver, a sportswriter for the "Lancaster Intelligencer Journal" in Lancaster, Pennsylvania tells his stories without providing the required attribution to where they came from that any professional writer knows is standard fare (a reference to media critic Neil Postman is a case in point). There is a crying need for a full bibliography since the book's flap copy brags about it being the first book in nearly thirty years on Koufax.

Overall, "Koufax" is a welcome addition to the list of baseball books this season. It is rich with anecdotes and remarkable in its ability to bring a very private man to life in a very tactful way.

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