Sandy Koufax: Cultural Icon, Examined in 3 Moments

As we celebrate the life of Dodgers great Sandy Koufax on his 80th birthday, DodgersNation own Brian Robitaille has discussed the greatness of the Left Arm of God on the field, here we celebrate three very important moments in his life beyond the baseball diamond.

Sandy is a terrific human being and his life could maybe be summed up in three points. Born. Baseball great. God-fearing great man. For the sake of this article though, we are going to dive a bit deeper into the man.

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  1. Sandy Koufax decides not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because of Yom Kippur religious observance.

Sandy decided not to start game 1 of the 1965 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Minnesota Twins. Conflicted feelings from both sides for sure. However, what Sandy did by deciding not to pitch was to (1) stand up for his faith and fellow believers; (2) he made his faith in God more important than the sport; and (3) he gave many in the Jewish faith a hero both on and off the field.

Here is how Vin Scully described the situation: “Most people admired Koufax for putting his religion before his job.  I’m sure there were others who were furious, saying that he wasn’t that religious — and I don’t think he really was — but that didn’t make any difference.  It was his decision and everyone respected it.  They understood.”

The Dodgers won the Series anyway and Sandy had a lot to do with it. His independence and commitment to his values was shown throughout his life and career.

  1. Sandy Koufax holds out with teammate and future Hall of Famer Don Drysdale.

Sandy and Don started what would later become collective bargaining (i.e., negotiating contracts). In an era with no player agents and where one-year contracts were given out before or during Spring Training every year, Sandy forced Dodgers General Manager Buzzie Bavasi to give each of them $30,000-$40,000 raises (the largest raises ever given at the time) and to negotiate with them as one. Remember, this was a time when teams essentially owned players. Sandy made roughly $600,000 a year in today’s money. Staggering, however, considering his dominating Hall of Fame performance over his career.

Sandy led the way, proven by the simple fact that current Dodgers great Clayton Kershaw makes $30.7+ million per year. Although players have not negotiated together since in baseball, which is currently not allowed under the Major League Agreement, Sandy and Don’s stance led to a union movement where salaries could be compared to other players, the implementation of arbitration for eligible service-year players, and much more protection and guarantees from the player standpoint.

For good measure, Sandy and Don also signed up to star in a Hollywood movie as a negotiation tactic before Bavasi and Owner Walter O’Malley offered the two better contracts. Sandy was relieved when he signed with the Dodgers because he knew he would not have to act.Sandy Koufax, Vin Scully

  1. Sandy Koufax retires in the prime of his career.

Sandy decided to retire after the 1966 season (one of his best) and states during his press conference that (paraphrasing) he would rather have use of his arm in the future than have more money. Again, Sandy made life and happiness more important than the game, a game of sport.

Here is a great YouTube video of Sandy Koufax’s life, courtesy of ESPN Classic Films.

Happy Birthday Sandy Koufax! We thank you for being you.

NEXT: Examining Koufax’s Impact on The Field

Jeremy Evans

Jeremy M. Evans is the Founder & Managing Attorney at California Sports Lawyer®, representing entertainment, media, and sports clientele. Evans is an award-winning attorney and industry leader based in Los Angeles.

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