Illustration by Art Seiden

Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America

World War II to the Present:


Sandy Koufax: A Baseball Legend

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

Sanford "Sandy" Koufax, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball, was referred to as the "man with the golden arm." He established one record after another as he went through an 11-year career as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Koufax was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Evelyn and Jack Braun. His mother divorced his father when he was young and remarried Irving Koufax, a lawyer who played an important role in raising Sandy and his stepsister, Edith. He took the children to the Yiddish theater in New York City and he was very supportive of Sandy's participation in baseball and basketball in Brooklyn's Lafayette High School.

Koufax, who loved to play basketball, was constantly at the Jewish Community Center shooting baskets or playing with a team. When he was 15, he pitched for a team in the Baseball Ice Cream League, where baseball scouts watched him with great interest. After completing high school in 1952, he went on a basketball scholarship to the University of Cincinnati. However, the baseball scouts were still after him and finally he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954.

The first three years were hectic for Koufax, who had trouble controlling his fast ball. At times, he would walk two or three batters before getting the next man out.

Koufax convinced Dodger management to let him pitch more often. Under the guidance of pitching coach Joe Becker and Norm Sherry, a Jewish catcher, he learned to throw more curve balls and change-ups. The 1961 season brought him 18 wins; he struck out 269 batters for a league record. But the following year, 1962, was almost a disaster for Koufax. He developed a blood clot in his arm that almost cost him his index finger, but he managed to pull through and, in 1963, won two games against the Yankees in the World Series.

When a 1965 World Series game fell on Yom Kippur, Koufax requested that he not pitch on this holy day. Many criticized Koufax and maintained that his personal beliefs outweighed his professional beliefs.

Koufax, who received the Cy Young Award, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. During his baseball career he established many records, retiring at the end of the season in 1966 when he was plagued by arthritis. He moved to the west coast and turned to broadcasting baseball games and to selling real estate.

Koufax will always be famous for breaking records as a pitcher in baseball and not playing baseball on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana.

This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.

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