Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Koufax Dons Dodgers Uniform for First Time Since 1980s

                                                  [Paul Sancya/Associated Press]
Sandy Koufax signing autographs in Phoenix on Thursday.
February 22, 2013

By Karen Crouse
New York Times

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ed Farmer, the voice of the Chicago White Sox, will tell you that as a teenager he heard the voice of God and that it belonged to Sandy Koufax, the Dodgers' Hall of Fame left-handed pitcher.

When Farmer heard Friday that Koufax was working with pitchers on a field at the Dodgers' spring-training site at Camelback Ranch, which it shares with the White Sox, he made his way over to pay homage to the man he credits for his 11-year major league career.

At 18, Farmer said, he was introduced to Koufax by Alvin Dark, who was managing Farmer in Cleveland, the team that drafted him in the fifth round of the 1967 draft. According to Farmer, Koufax commented on the size of Farmer's hands and said, "You're going to have a big curve

"He showed me how to throw the curve," Farmer said. "He made me a lot of money."

For the first time since the late 1980s, Koufax is back in a Dodgers uniform. He is spending 10 days at training camp as a pitching instructor, lured back to the franchise that made him famous by the
team's head of marketing, Lon Rosen, and president, Stan Kasten.

During a morning throwing session, he gave pointers to Zach Lee, Chris Capuano, Chad Billingsley and Ryu Hyun-Jin, a left-hander from South Korea who said Koufax is a celebrity in his country too.

"That's because of Chan Ho Park," Koufax said with a shrug, referring to the first South Korean-born player in the majors, who broke in with the Dodgers in 1994.

Koufax, who spent 11 years beginning in 1970 as a Dodgers minor league instructor, said he was approached by Rosen about returning to the franchise in some capacity at a Dodgers game last summer, proof, he said that he is not the J.D. Salinger of baseball as has been written. "I'm at the Final Four, I go to ball games, I go to golf outings, I go to dinner," he said. "I live my life."

Koufax is 77 and wiry, 35 pounds lighter than his pitching weight but nimble enough to toss a baseball and shag balls after bunting practice. Asked about his arthritic left elbow, which hastened his
retirement in 1966, Koufax joked, "You haven't seen me throw anything, have you?"

The art of pitching is summed up in his book in one sentence: "Get people out."

"There are so many ways to pitch," he said. "There's the best way to throw and then there's pitching."

Koufax said he is impressed with what he has seen so far from the Dodgers pitchers, a star-studded group that includes Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett and Zack Greinke.

One of his favorite aspects of baseball, in his day and now, Koufax said, is the camaraderie of the clubhouse. The players, he said, "have kind of included me in some stuff." He added, "It's kind of fun."

He noted that camps are far smaller than in his day. "We had 600 players in camp," he said. "Players were wearing A,B,C,D on their uniforms beside their numbers."

He described baseball as if it were some precursor to today's reality television shows, where a small cast is assembled from mass tryouts. "This was before free agency," Koufax said. "So you'd have 600 players in camp and if 100 players were injured, they went out and signed 100 more."

Now, he added, "It's about protecting your assets because you don't have too many."

In Koufax, the Dodgers have a golden resource. He is able to connect with players young enough to be his grandchildren. Among fans of all ages, he remains a beloved figure. A man approached Koufax to tell him his Southern California-reared Jewish mother grew up with a massive crush on him.

Then there was Farmer, who shook Koufax's hand vigorously. After Farmer told his big hands story, he and Koufax put their palms together to see whose hand was bigger (Koufax appeared to have the
edge, by a fingertip). Farmer produced a black-and-white photo in which he is throwing a curve and showed it to Koufax so he could see that that 18-year-old absorbed his lesson well.

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