Bookshelf review: Sandy Koufax: Strikeout King

August 14, 2012

by Arnold Hano. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1964.

After reading his classic A Day In The Bleachers and interviewing him for a Bookshelf podcast, I was thrilled to find this little gem available through my local library coop.

What makes Sandy Koufax: Strikeout King interesting is the fact that it was published before his famous decision to sit out the first game of the 1965 World Series, which fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year. (In fact, there is not mention I recall of Koufax’s religion.) As such, Hano has to “just” go with the future Hall of Famer’s on-the-field story. Who, at that time, could have known that Koufax was just a couple of years away from an early retirement?

Remember, this was before the Ball Four/tell-all era. There’s precious little about Koufax’s private life, so the question of “Who is Sandy Koufax?” the author posits is fairly non-in the book’s final chapter. To continue at length:

He is a liberal tipper, as most athletes are.

He drinks and smokes in extremely small quantities. He refuses to sit still for cigarette- or liquor-advertising testimonials. He does not like to be photographed, either smoking or drinking.

He does not talk about his dates.

He owns three or four suits, eight to ten sports jackets, eight to ten pairs of slacks, a half-dozen or so vivid alpaca sweaters.

Hano continues about a few other personal items and Koufax’s one serious hobby: music recordings.

Other than that, it’s straight reporting and admiration for what the young man had accomplished to that point. The author credits catcher Norm Sherry for turning Koufax from a wild-pitcher with a sub-.500 record into a world-class pitcher, whose career was cut short by injury, which Hano also offers in some detail.

As was pretty much the custom, the book seems to have been tailored for a younger readership, although copyright pages in those days did not identify categories as juvenile material.To his credit, Hano does not “dumb down” his material.

SKSK is a nice nostalgic look (wow, just writing “nostalgic” about the 1960s seems age-inducing) at a simpler time in sports literature.


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