Friday, March 01, 2013

From rookies to legends, Koufax leaves mark on camp

Special advisor to chairman provides
knowledge of game, link to Dodgers' past

Dodgers play-by-play legend Vin Scully sits
down with Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax to
discuss lefties, pitching and the Dodgers
By Ken Gurnick /

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Sandy has left the building.

In Elvis fashion, Sandy Koufax finished his initial 10-day Spring Training assignment as special advisor to the Dodgers chairman Thursday having left an unforgettable impression, even on fellow legends.

"The owners have done so many things correctly that have lifted the spirits of fans and everybody in the organization and by bringing Sandy back have added to the optimism," said another iconic Hall of Famer, Vin Scully.

"They've been able to bring back someone whose name has always been linked to the Dodgers, and I'm sure the fans think the owners have done another smart thing. That's the way I look at it. It's just great."

Zack Greinke might win 20 games this year, but the early leader for best acquisition is the 77-year-old Koufax, who won't throw a pitch. Koufax said he will attend an Old Timers Game at Dodger Stadium on June 8 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 World Series team and perhaps drop in on the club at a series or two on the East Coast.

"Beyond that, I really don't know," he said.

The hiring of Koufax has been universally praised as a coup by the new Guggenheim Partners ownership. In the past, Koufax has been a Spring Training visitor to see staff friends, but always as a private citizen. He hasn't worked for a club since a stint as a Dodgers Minor League instructor from 1979-89.

In addition to the obvious public relations bonanza of the hiring, management wanted to tap into Koufax's teaching strengths, as well as fortify an ongoing mission of reconnecting with players from the Dodgers' glory years.

"I grew up like that with the Yankees," said manager Don Mattingly. "[Mickey] Mantle, Catfish [Hunter], Whitey [Ford]. The Yankees would bring all of them back. Mickey just kind of hung around being Mickey. He was great. Catfish, he and I would go to a back field and he would pitch seven innings to me. He could still throw all right, and he'd try to get me out.

"If you have resources like that, it's just foolish not to use them. And having them around helps your players understand the history of the game. I want guys like that and Tommy Lasorda around, I want them asking why I did this and why I did that. I want the best information. I want Sandy challenging our way of doing things if he thinks there's a better way."

The Dodgers quickly slid Koufax into their daily program, and he worked one on one with many pitchers in camp, especially three of the starters he has counseled in the past -- Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett and Chris Capuano.

But Koufax also worked with relievers like Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra, and young Major Leaguers like Josh Wall. Midway through his stay, the role expanded to one-on-one morning sessions with the top pitching prospects in Minor League camp -- Zack Lee, Chris Reed, Angel Sanchez, Jose Dominguez and converted third baseman Pedro Baez, who Koufax said shocked him by displaying "four Major League pitches" even though he's thrown only one inning in his life, in instructional league.

"When I came back to the organization in 2001, one of the major goals was to get the Dodgers back to the way they taught pitching for so many years," said pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "They had gotten away from it, from the way it was taught by the great pitching coaches like Red Adams, Ron Perranoski, Dave Wallace and Sandy.

"The great thing about having Sandy around is to listen to the stories of success, not just his great talent pitching, but his ability to say in simple terms what we're trying to accomplish. I've always felt that I'm an extension of him in that way. And it was especially great for him to work with our Minor League coaches so we're all on the same page. Who better to learn from than the best?"

Koufax's presence lured autograph seekers in such numbers that management had to deploy metal crowd barriers after he was nearly overwhelmed the second day walking from one field to another.

If shy in public, Koufax was anything but when in his baseball element.

"All the great moments in my life that I cherish came back to the surface, being able to relive them with Sandy," said former teammate Maury Wills, still a bunting instructor at age 80. "Since he's been here, it's like reliving all those great moments.

"Surprisingly, he seems to be enjoying participating. He's so quiet and humble. But just to see him get involved is such a pleasure. I feel that two days from now, he'll realize how much he enjoyed it. It might get to the point where he's missing being here."

Koufax had a different but undeniable impact on players like catcher A.J. Ellis.

"What his presence says from the standpoint of the players and the people in the organization is that, through the ownership change, they are bringing back a Dodger legend and royalty that has earned and deserves to be part of the organization," said Ellis.

"The time between innings and bullpens, I'll never forget the insight he's given me to the mental side of pitching and game-calling, and it's something I'll carry into the season."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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