The first arm immortalized in a Dodger Stadium statue will be the one once known as “The Left Arm of God.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax will be honored with the second statue at the stadium. The statue is scheduled to be unveiled next year, in what the team is calling a new entertainment plaza beyond center field. The Dodgers plan to move the Jackie Robinson statue, installed two years ago on the reserve level, to the entertainment plaza, flanking the Koufax statue.
Koufax, 83, dazzled Los Angeles and all the major leagues with five of the most electric seasons ever recorded. He led the National League in earned-run average every year from 1962-66. He won three Cy Young awards — all unanimously — and the 1963 most valuable player award.
The Dodgers won the World Series in 1963 and 1965; Koufax was the World Series MVP in each series. In 1965, he started three games and completed two, including a three-hit shutout in the clincher on two days rest.
However, he gained his greatest fame in that series when he decided against pitching in Game 1 of the World Series so he could observe Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. In the wider American culture, that quiet act transformed Koufax from an excellent pitcher into a Jewish icon.
At a White House event honoring Jewish Americans in 2010 – almost a half-century later – President Obama told the crowd: “We are both lefties. He can’t pitch on Yom Kippur. I can’t pitch.”
In 1966, Koufax and fellow Dodgers ace Don Drysdale staged a successful holdout in spring training, before the rise of the Major League Baseball Players Assn. or the advent of free agency. The Dodgers had paid Koufax $85,000 in 1965 and offered him $100,000 for 1966; he earned $125,000 through a holdout that many fans did not appreciate.
“It was astonishing to me,” Koufax wrote in his 1966 autobiography, “to learn that there were a remarkably large number of American citizens who truly did not believe we had the moral right to quit rather than work at a salary we felt — rightly or wrongly — to be less than we deserved. . . . Just take what the nice man wants to give you, get into your uniform, and go a fast 25 laps around the field.”
Koufax stunned Los Angeles and the baseball community by retiring after the 1966 season. He was 30, but he was concerned that continued wear and tear on his arthritic elbow could permanently impact the use of his left arm for the rest of his life.
Koufax treasures his privacy, but he has graced the Dodgers with his regal presence in recent years, including appearances at the World Series. He has become good friends with Clayton Kershaw, who is almost certain to someday will join Koufax as the lone Dodgers left-handers in the Hall of Fame.
Times staff writer Jorge Castillo contributed to this report.