Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, whose brilliance on the mound captivated fans in the 1960s and defined the Dodgers’ greatest era in Los Angeles, has severed ties with the club in protest of another News Corp. subsidiary.
Koufax, a very private man who established a standard for pitching excellence in four of the most dominant seasons in the game’s history from 1963-66, recently informed the Dodgers he would no longer attend spring training here at Dodgertown, visit Dodger Stadium or participate in activities while they are owned by the media conglomerate, because of a report in the New York Post that apparently intimated that he is homosexual. The Post is owned by News Corp.
Through friend Derrick Hall, a Dodger senior vice president, Koufax declined comment Thursday night, but officials familiar with the situation said the legendary left-hander, and Vero Beach resident, broke off ties after 48 years in response to a two-sentence gossip item published in the Post on Dec. 19. The Post reported that a “Hall of Fame baseball hero” had “cooperated with a best-selling biography only because the author promised to keep it secret that he is gay. The author kept her word, but big mouths at the publishing house can’t keep from flapping.” Koufax, who was not specifically named by the paper, is the subject of Jane Leavy’s acclaimed biography, “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy,” published last September.
News Corp. is undertaking steps to sell the Dodgers, but the timetable doesn’t help team officials saddened by what they perceive as the Post’s unfair treatment of Koufax.
Expressing his feelings to the Dodgers through Hall shortly after learning of the report, Koufax said “it does not make sense for me to promote any” of the companies controlled by News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, adding he would “feel foolish to be associated with or promote one entity if it helps another.” Hall said Koufax stressed, “I have no problems with the Dodgers or their current or previous management. It’s more so about [News Corp.].”
Contacted Thursday by The Times, Leavy, a former Washington Post reporter, said she assumed the item was about her book. She called it “thoroughly erroneous on all counts. [The item] was blatantly unfair, scandalous and contemptible. It was thoroughly without basis in so far as it had to do with Sandy or any relationship I had with him professionally. It’s not the kind of journalism I practice.”
Leavy said she had not spoken with Koufax since the item appeared, about his feelings toward the Post, News Corp. or the Dodgers.
“Sandy Koufax is as principled a human being as I have ever met in my life,” she said. “If this is a stand he is taking, I certainly understand why he might feel that way and I totally support it.”
Hall, who had dinner with Koufax on Wednesday in Vero Beach before returning home Thursday, spoke on behalf of Dodger Chairman Bob Daly and President Bob Graziano.
“It was irresponsible and inappropriate,” Hall said of the Post’s report. “It’s unfortunate that this happened, but we fully support and understand Sandy’s position on this. It’s terrible because he’s an important part of this organization and its rich history. And most importantly, Sandy has a lot of friends who are hurt by this.”
At Dodgertown, word of Koufax’s break from the only franchise he had played for in a 12-year career stunned many longtime Dodgers, including Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda. Informed of the situation by a reporter, Lasorda expressed confusion and disappointment about how his friend had been treated by another division of a company that owns the Dodgers.
“This just ruined my day,” said Lasorda, who joined Koufax on the Brooklyn Dodger pitching staff for part of the 1955 season. “Sandy would always come by and say hello when the team would come to town, so I was wondering what was going on because I hadn’t seen him all spring. Now that I know what happened, I can’t tell you how bad I feel.”
Manager Jim Tracy lamented about how younger players would have benefited from working this spring with the three-time Cy Young award winner, whose No. 32 was retired in 1972.
“Does this man have expertise that is very, very useful? Do I have a tremendous amount of respect for him? The answer to both of those questions is, ‘Yes,’ ” said Tracy, shaking his head while driving off in a golf cart.
Koufax teamed with the late Don Drysdale to give the Dodgers a Hall of Fame 1-2 punch, helping them appear in four World Series from 1959-66, winning three titles. He was 165-87 with a 2.76 earned-run average and a team-record four no-hitters, including a perfect game.
Having enhanced his iconic status by walking away from baseball after winning 27 games at 30, Koufax has held a variety of minor league pitching positions with the Dodgers. He has been a fixture at spring training since his closest friend on the club, Dave Wallace, returned in 2000, tutoring pitchers during the exhibition season. Wallace, a senior vice president in baseball operations, also recently had dinner with the intensely private Koufax.
“The disappointment I feel can’t be expressed enough, and I feel saddest for the players who will miss the benefit of learning from Sandy, who has so much to offer,” he said. “To lose the knowledge of a guy of that stature ... I really don’t want to say anything else about it.”
Current and former players also supported Koufax while walking a fine line with their employer’s parent company.
All-Star right fielder Shawn Green, who like Koufax is Jewish, has become friendly with Koufax since joining the Dodgers in 2000. In 2001, Green sat out the last game of a series against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium in observance of Yom Kippur -- the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Koufax skipped his Game 1 start in the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins, also because of Yom Kippur.
“This is really a shame,” Green said. “Sandy is a great man, and he did so much for the organization, but he meant so much more than just wearing the uniform.
“I’ve always paid close attention to him because he’s a man of principle and he’s lived his life the right way. He feels very strongly about his beliefs, which is only one of many reasons I admire him.”
Said Chicago Cub first baseman Eric Karros, who developed a good relationship with Koufax during 11-plus seasons with the Dodgers: “Sandy is a living legend who brought a lot of credibility and tradition to the organization, so this is upsetting.”
Daly, a former Warner Bros. studio boss, has experience assuaging the egos of movie stars, and he hopes to broker peace between Koufax and News Corp. However, the only solution may be to wait for News Corp. to move on.
“For Sandy to do something like this, he obviously feels strongly about it,” Karros said. “And anyone who knows Sandy knows that his convictions are very strong.”
Staff writer Randy Harvey contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Sandy Koufax’s accomplishments as a Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger (1955-66)
*--* IP SO W-L ERA CAREER 2,324 1/3 2,396 165-87 2.76 WORLD SERIES 57 61 4-3 0.95 * Four no-hitters * Led NL in wins 1963, 65-66 * Led NL in ERA 1962-66 * Led NL in strikeouts 1961, 63, 65-66 * Cy Young winner in 1963, 65-66 * Most valuable player in 1963 * 382 strikeouts in 1965 (NL record) * Hall of Fame in 1972 FROM 1963-66, KOUFAX’S SEASON AVERAGES:
*--* Wins Shutouts CG Strikeouts ERA 24 8 22 307 1.86