In honor of Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown tonight, where Jews spend the day in synagogue asking for atonement for the sins of the past year, it is my tradition to run this passage from Jane Leavy’s excellent biography on Sandy Koufax.
Among Jews, Koufax is remembered as more than a great pitcher because of what he did, or more accurately, didn’t do on Yom Kippur 50 years ago in 1965.
By the way, if you haven’t read Leavy’s biography, you should. One of the best sports books ever.
In 1961, Yom Kippur began at sundown on September 19 and ended at sundown September 20. Koufax, as usual, fasted during the holiday. On the night of Sept. 20, though, he was on the mound and pitched the Dodgers to victory with a 13-inning, 15-strikeout, 205-pitch performance.
In 1965, the Dodgers had a big lead in the National League. It was announced that Oct. 6 would be game 1 of the World Series. Oct. 6 was Yom Kippur. They asked Koufax what he would do. He said,
“I’m praying for rain.” He also said he would consult a Rabbi. He never did.
Koufax told a Rabbi: ‘I’m Jewish. I’m a role model. I want them to understand they have to have pride.”
Thousands of Jews said they saw Koufax at various synagogues in Minneapolis. In fact, he never left his hotel room.
Don Drysdale, a Hall of Famer, pitched Game 1. He got bombed, giving up 7 runs. When the manager went out to pull him, he said, “Don’t you wish I was Jewish too?”
Always loved that Drysdale line. I got to know Don when he was the White Sox play-by-play voice in the 1980s. Like Koufax, he was a Hall of Famer way beyond the pitcher’s mound.