Book Review

Jane Leavy, who will be at the 2002 Austin Jewish Book Fair, "goes out of her way trying to distinguish the 'real' Sandy Koufax from the perception held by many of an aloof recluse" in her new biography of the Dodgers lefty.

Book Review

Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy

by Jane Leavy

HarperCollins, 282 pp., $23.95 In 1965, at the pinnacle of his illustrious career and as the dominant sports figure of the day, Sandy Koufax refused to pitch the opening game of the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. To the Jewish community, Koufax was the source of unimaginable pride at the time, barely 20 years after the Holocaust, when mainstream assimilation was an unspoken ideal. To the general American populace in the throes of present and impending turmoil at home and abroad, his actions were an embrace of bedrock personal values and an acknowledgement of a higher calling. As the "national pastime," baseball has always been a sociocultural barometer of the American experience. Washington Post sportswriter Jane Leavy understands the intricacies of this truism, and it's one reason why her biography of Koufax is so compelling. The media, labor relations, and religious bigotry are just a few of the topics she blends into the tale. Although Koufax wouldn't agree to be interviewed for the book, he gave his permission for others to cooperate. Through hundreds of discussions with players, managers, fans, and fellow sportswriters, Leavy pieces together the story of the handsome, articulate, complex, reticent, Brooklyn-born southpaw who conquered baseball and the sports world at large. Leavy uses an inning-by-inning account of Koufax's perfect game of Sept. 9, 1965, as a dramatic touchstone that runs throughout the narrative. This game marked the apex of an astounding career that started unremarkably but blossomed beyond anyone's dreams. In the Sixties, Koufax's L.A. Dodgers won two World Series, and he pitched four no-hitters -- including the aforementioned perfect game. He is the foremost left-handed pitcher of all time. Despite it all, Koufax shunned the limelight, refusing to flaunt or cash in on his celebrity status. He shocked the sports world when he retired at 30 because of arm problems, virtually disappearing from public view. Leavy goes out of her way trying to distinguish the "real" Sandy Koufax from the perception held by many of an aloof recluse. Her constant juxtaposing of people's memories of events with the cold, hard reality of baseball box scores and statisticians' precise figures gives us an intriguing insight into the creation and sustenance of mythology and legend.

Jane Leavy will be at the Jewish Community Association of Austin at 7:30pm on Monday, Nov. 11, as part of the 2002 Jewish Book Fair. The event is free and open to the public. Call 735-8040 or check for more information.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Jay Trachtenberg
Top Books of 2020 That Struck a Literary or Musical Chord
Top Books of 2020 That Struck a Literary or Musical Chord
A writer's fictional joyride, a rock & roll memoir, and jazz fairy tales are books that sang this year

Dec. 18, 2020

New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
What we’re listening to

Dec. 18, 2020


Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, Jane Leavy, HarperCollins

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle