Sandy Koufax may have been one of the best pitchers in baseball; although the peak of his career lasted only six seasons, from 1961 to 1966, Koufax made quite an impact on many of the game’s greatest hitters. Willie Stargell once said that “trying to hit Koufax is like trying to drink coffee with a fork.”

Koufax, born Sanford Braun on December 30, 1935, raised by mom, Evelyn, and step-father Irving Koufax, a lawyer, breathed inYiddishkeit in Borough Park. For the “uninitiated,” Brooklyn wasn’t merely a borough of New York City. It was its own planet, plunked, unaware and uncaring next to Manhattan and Queens.

Your “block” is what you remembered, back when Brooklyn was the world. And it was. Immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia abounded. But Jews and Italians defined it. Yiddish and Italian made a secular turn to Yinglish and Italiadish with a brave new world; one waffling equator between the old and new. From pushcarts you could get arbus; from barrels, pickles. While you got your chicken flicked, you could tell Mrs. Abrams your remedy for corns – in Ameridish. In the summer, you headed to Coney Island, or Nathan’s. Or … sit. Stoops were more than hunks of sidewalk. They were box seats in your personal stadium. Streets, teeming with animation were the cheapest ticket in town for the greatest show in town.

But there was another. For the kids, there was “the new.” That stadium. Ebbets Field and the beloved Dodgers. Immigrant children were learning about America. And America was baseball. For many of the new generation, “Dem Bums,” was more than a team. Their fortune represented the fortune of Brooklyn itself.

Sandy Kaufax was rooted here. Like other Jewish kids, he enjoyed Yiddish theater, and a local Jewish Community Center, where he excelled at basketball. A good thing?

Despite the fact that We Jews have been “running” for 3,000 years, athletics and Judaism has always been an uneasy mix. The Judaic point of view disparages blood sports, but most important, many Jewish scholars, while appreciating the healthful benefits of athletics, fear the lure of “the game.” A Jewish lad is expected to study Talmud, not throw baseballs.

But unlike a lot of Jewish kids, Sandy’s stepfather encouraged the young athlete, who went on to become captain of the basketball team at Lafayette High School. At age 15, Koufax joined the “Ice Cream League,” where he honed his pitching brilliance. It was here he was spotted and at 17, recruited to pitch for the Coney Island Sports League’s Parkviews.

“And the rest,” as they say, “is history.” A Dodger, both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles from 1955 to 1966, he broke record upon record for wins, and awards.

In 1972, he was the youngest former player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

About this entry