Jane Leavy, Sandy Koufax, A Lefty’s Legacy. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
Full disclosure, I am left-handed and enjoy pitching a ball at an opposing person holding a bat. Second point? I do not have a particularly strong ability to do that task well.
Jane Leavy’s book on Sandy Koufax is less biography and more commentary on the man and his position in the game and the time period in which he excelled. Her text has been sitting on my bookshelf for about a decade but I had yet to open the pages – I’ve missed out.
The narrative is as smooth and powerful as Koufax’s pitching. Leavy has constructed a strong portrait of a man who was often reticent to discuss his abilities and his fame. In her preface, Leavy outlines not only why Koufax appealed to so many fans of baseball and people in general, but the difficulties she faced in constructing the book in the first place. The opening pages are filled with examples of people who were fans or whom she interviewed in the process of pursuing the project, including poet laureate Robert Pinsky. Pinksy had a poster of Koufax in his office years ago – he used it to emphasize for his students what he wanted them to know about writing: “balance and concentration; a supremely synchronized effort; the transfer of energy toward a single, elusive goal.” (p x)
One of the most effective organizational tools used by Leavy is her presentation of Koufax’s perfect game in 1965. The game is both bookend and framework for the chapters to the entire book. Copies of the box score to the game appear at the front and back of the text and Leavy gives readers pregame and inning by inning chapters interspersed with her story of Koufax’s life. There are critics who have complained that this idea is lifted from the novel and film For the Love of the Game, but I found this organizational tool interesting and effective. If nothing else, the reader learns how quirky baseball can be as this particular game featured two very good performances by the starting pitchers as Koufax’s opponent Bob Hendley surrendered only one hit and one run in eight innings.
A very good basketball player, Koufax became one of the single best pitchers in the history of baseball, then retired at age 30. My father insists that Warren Spahn was probably better in many ways, including, obviously, longevity, but few players can lay claim to Koufax’s records and virtually no others can say they walked away from their profession on top. Even retiring so young, Koufax was a lock for the baseball Hall of Fame, to which he became the youngest player elected. Leavy’s treatment of Koufax the man, Koufax the player, Koufax the mystic (his use of heat/ice treatments was both legendary and inspirational), and Koufax the enigma is consistent, clear, and revealing. The legacy of Koufax is strong enough on its own – Leavy helps readers see why.