day 32: the left hand of gd

Today is 32 days, which is four days and four weeks of the omer: netzach she’b’hod.

Daniel pointed out that if I didn’t do Koufax today, I’d have to write a whole other post about why not (and I’m behind on my posts!), so today’s pick is . . . Dodgers southpaw Sanford Koufax: seven-time All Star, four-time WS champion (and two-time WS MVP), three-time Cy Young Award winner, three-time MLB wins leader, five-time NL ERA leader, four-time no-hitter and one-time perfect game pitcher, and, most importantly, MOT. He spent his whole career with Dodgers, and he was the youngest player ever to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Of Koufax’s pitching record in 1963, Hall of Famer Yogi Berra said, “I can see how he won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

OK, he sounds like a reasonable choice for today. Is there anything I’m forgetting?

OH YEAH HE DIDN’T PITCH GAME 1 OF THE 1965 THE WORLD SERIES BECAUSE IT FELL ON YOM KIPPUR. (It remains a mystery whether he actually went to services.)

That last fact has so endured in American Jewish collective memory that I probably would have chosen him for some day with the sefirah of netzach regardless of his number. He also showed some real perseverance after a pretty infelicitous start to his career. Joe Posnanski explains,

With Koufax, myth and magnificence weave together so tightly, it is hard to separate the two — but even more to the point, it seems unkind to separate the two. He had a strange career, an odd and potent blend of luck and misfortune. He was the shooting star who is remembered forever. He was utterly boring and, at the same time, the most fascinating person ever to throw a baseball.

It is pretty incredible that this kid from Brooklyn Park would grow up to play professional ball in a park less than five miles away, especially since the first glowing scouting report filed about him with the Dodgers club was apparently overlooked. When he did finally sign in 1955, he struggled with control his first few years, forcing himself to throw progressively harder to get out of jams — because of which he would later have to retire early with arm issues. He got infrequent playing time, and by 1960 he asked to be traded and then decided to quit baseball.

But he came back, and in the best shape of his life, and finally something clicked — at the very last second. In his first, unexpected start of the 1961 season (the slated starting pitcher missed the flight), Koufax walked the first three batters on 12 pitches. It seemed like it was going to be (bad) business as usual for old Sandy, but he got a pep-talk from his catcher, struck out the next three batters, and then went on to pitch seven no-hit innings. He ended that season with a league-leading 269 strikeouts.

You can watch some (kind of context-less) footage of Koufax pitching, and the compilation is interspersed with slo-mo shot of his wind-up and release, I think on the theory that Koufax was just too fast to observe properly at regular speed. But you can hear Vin Scully‘s famous voice calling the pitches, so that’s kind of cool.

Tomes have been written about this man (Jane Leavy’s is a good recent take), especially in American Jewish tradition, so I’ll end here with Dodgers manager Buzzie Bavasi‘s observation: “As soon as I saw that fastball, the hair raised up on my arms. The only other time the hair on my arms raised up was when I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.” Magnificence indeed.

We count Day 32 in honor of a player’s whose legacy very well encapsulates “splendor that manifests as endurance.”

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