In those days, pitchers pitched. Modern pitchers now pitch "deep into the game," walking off the mound to hand the ball in the sixth or seventh inning to a "middle reliever," who, in turn, hands the ball off to a "closer." When the Dodgers beat the Minnesota Twins in the 1965 World Series, Koufax pitched games two, five and seven, astounding by modern standards.
Koufax pitched with grace, consistency and excellence. And by all accounts, handled himself the same way off the field. Handsome, almost regal, you simply could not take your eyes off of him as he pitched. He was the first major league pitcher to hurl four no-hit games, including, in 1965, a perfect game -- no runs, no hits, no walks, no errors. Twenty-seven batters up, and 27 batters down, a feat pulled off only 17 times in the major leagues since 1880.
The Dodgers played the Baltimore Orioles in the 1966 World Series, defying the odds-makers by losing in four straight. Koufax battled arm problems throughout his career, though in 1966 he went 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA. But by the time of the World Series, Koufax simply ran out of gas.
After the Dodgers' 1966 World Series defeat, I picked up the local newspaper and read the shocking headline -- Koufax To Retire. At age 31, the prince walked off the mound, never to return. I cried for two days.
Now, 40 years later, Koufax and I actually occupied the same space in the same hotel ballroom! I asked renowned Hollywood publicist Warren Cowan, seated at my table, "Is there anyway you can find Sandy Koufax, and ask him if I can go over to his table and shake his hand?"
Cowan left for a few minutes, then he came back and tapped my shoulder, "Done." We grabbed a photographer and approached Koufax's table. The Pitcher stood up. I told him the story of my poem, reciting the first stanza. "Mr. Koufax," I said, "you inspired me as a child, through your class, dignity, consistency, excellence and humility. And you inspire me to this day. It is an honor to shake your hand." He smiled and agreed to take a picture with me.
Oh, by the way, former Vice President Al Gore gave the keynote speech. I barely remember a word he said.