Sandy Koufax — who many of you know is my baseball hero, dating back to my childhood in Southern California during his heyday with the Dodgers — has been a renowned recluse for much of his post-baseball life.
It’s part of his mystique, as this fabulous profile in SI by Tom Verducci in 1999 displayed. Verducci never did land an interview with Koufax, part of what made the story so compelling, in a perverse way.
It’s not like Koufax went into hiding, mind you. He’d show up in Dodgertown at Vero Beach every year to instruct Dodger pitchers, and even make an occasional stop at the Mets’ camp at the behest of their owner, Fred Wilpon, a high school classmate of Koufax’s in Brooklyn. One of my favorite spring-training moments ever occurred one year when I was in Vero doing a Dodgers’ story. I can’t remember the year, but Tommy Lasorda was the manager, so that places it back to 1996 or earlier. I was in Lasorda’s office interviewing the manager — ie, listening to him pontificate — while occasional visitors would pop in to say hello to Tommy. That’s how it always worked with him. One time, when I was covering the Giants, I was in Lasorda’s office at Dodger Stadium and all the reporters were suddenly ushered out because Torvill and Dean, the British figure skaters, wanted to meet him. I never understood that one.
Anyway, back to that day in Vero. At one point, Ann Meyers Drysdale, Don’s widow (and former UCLA basketball star), came in to say hello. And then, a few minutes later, in strolled none other than Koufax. Lasorda actually introduced us, and I got to shake the hand of my hero. It was the only time I’ve ever been in awe of someone I met covering sports. Sandy, understandably, was far more interested in talking to Ann Meyers Drysdale, who was lingering in the office.
I’ve been delighted, and somewhat startled, to see that this spring, at age 74, Koufax seems to be becoming more of a public figure. All the pictures in this post are from his appearance this week at the Dodger facility in Glendale, Arizona. He has already been in Port St. Lucie to work with some Mets, and he willingly submitted to interviews.
Perhaps most surprising to those who know him is that he agreed to go on stage with Joe Torre in Los Angeles recently to help raise money for Torre’s Safe At Home Foundation to combat domestic abuse. In front of a sold-out crowd of 7,100 at the Nokia Theater, in a conversation monitored by T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times, Koufax and Torre discussed their careers. I’d have paid good money to see that (and a lot of people did).
One can only hope that in his twilight years, Koufax is finally gaining comfort in his public persona. It’s going to be fun getting to know him.
(Photos by Associated Press)