Sandy Koufax statue unveiling ceremony a time of gratitude

He rolled up the sheets of paper that lay before him, tight, tight, even tighter.

Standing behind his newly unveiled statue in the center field on Saturday morning, Sandy Koufax graced Dodger Stadium with a final throw.

It was a stunning curveball, fittingly.

It was, amazingly, a 10-minute speech from a man who hasn’t spoken that much in public in 50 years.

It was miraculously humanizing the Phantom Legend of Los Angeles, a rare public pulse of a pitcher whose size existed primarily in Dodgers mythology.

Turns out, at the age of 86, he just wanted to say thank you.

Sandy Koufax stands in front of his statue at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.

Sandy Koufax stands in front of his statue at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.

(Jon SooHoo / Los Angeles Dodgers)

“Folk wisdom has always said you shouldn’t give a microphone to an old man, he’s too many years old to talk about it,” said Koufax, who looked eternally young with his stylish sunglasses and a full head of white hair. “Well, I’ve tried not to, but I’ll start from scratch…”

And he was gone, spending his entire speech tracing his career from high school outfielder to Hall of Famer and expressing his gratitude to figures both great and obscure, from Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe to Sandlot coach Milton Laurie and Clubhouse Manager Nobe Kawano.

“The list of people is incredibly long, but I’ll go through a few asap,” he said, and he did, from his first pitching coach, Joe Becker, to all four of his housemates, each by name, Doug Camilli , Carl Furillo, Norm Sherry, and Dick Tracewski.

He thanked his catchers. He thanked his coaches. He thanked his helpers. He thanked his field players. He thanked his infielders. He thanked two different Dodgers ownership groups. He thanked the fans.

“Most of all, I thank my teammates, everyone,” he said, before naming almost everyone.

In all, he thanked 46 people within 10 minutes, certainly a record for inclusion and gratitude.

He spent the whole speech talking about others, which said everything about him. These were the true roots of his reclusive legacy. Koufax was never about Koufax. He never wanted to talk about himself because he had always believed that his greatness was for those who he believed carried him there.

This was the Koufax that few have ever seen. This was the Koufax that nearly brought an emotional Clayton Kershaw to tears during a short Saturday speech about his mentor and friend.

“In the years and generations to come, I hope that a kid sees this statue and their mom or dad asks about Sandy Koufax and I hope they tell him he was a great pitcher, but more than that, he was a great one Man who represented the Dodgers with humility, kindness, passion and class,” Kershaw said.

That humility, kindness, passion and class was indeed the culmination of a sentimental ceremony that will forever pair Koufax with Robinson, the bronze Koufax, who is just steps from the bronze sliding Robinson at Dodger Stadium’s new front door .

“67 years ago, Jackie Robinson became my teammate and friend,” said Koufax. “Back then it would have been absolutely unthinkable to share this space with him. And today it is still like that. This is one of the greatest honors of my life.”

The speech, delivered to a small group of family and friends before Koufax was later honored during the Dodgers game with the Cleveland Guardians, also marked the happy ending of a rollercoaster relationship between Koufax and the Dodgers since he forged their connection with of the city during her early days in Los Angeles.

Beginning with the opening of Dodger Stadium in 1962, Koufax had the longest five-year streak of any pitcher in history, winning five straight ERA titles, three Cy Young Awards, two World Series Championships and an MVP. Indeed, his most impressive headlines came on a day when he was not working, when he refused to compete in the 1965 World Series opener because it was the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. He ended the streak by knocking out the Minnesota Twins twice in four days to give the Dodgers the championship.

After retiring at the age of 30 in 1966 because of an arthritic elbow, the quietest of stars became something of a ghost in the Chavez Gorge, showing up unannounced, leaving without comment, always on the sidelines but never in the middle.

Over the years, with scant video evidence or taped interviews, his size has become almost like a fable, invisible everywhere except in the record books or box seats on the occasional opening day.

Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax speaks at the unveiling of his statue at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.

Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax speaks at the unveiling of his statue at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.

(Jon SooHoo / Los Angeles Dodgers)

He quietly began working as a minor league pitching instructor at his home in Vero Beach, Fla. in 1979, but quit suddenly in 1990 due to apparent dissatisfaction with the Dodgers’ farm system.

Back then, in a rare interview, he told me: “Nothing against the job, I just didn’t want it anymore.”

He rarely linked publicly with them over the next decade, officially cutting all ties in 2003 when he was unhappy with how he was portrayed in a New York Post story that printed rumors about his personal life. The Post and the Dodgers were both owned by Rupert Murdoch.

A year later, new owner Frank McCourt brought him back, but Koufax remained on the sidelines, even making appearances at other teams’ training camps, until Guggenheim and co-owner Stan Kasten officially brought him home within days of buying the team in 2012. The following spring Koufax wore a Dodgers uniform for the first time in over 20 years.

“There is nothing more than the obvious,” Kasten said Saturday when asked why he brought Koufax back as an instructor. “He’s Sandy Koufax. That’s the quote. He’s Sandy Koufax.”

When Koufax showed up for spring training in 2013, it was clear his love for his only team had never waned over the years.

“They’ve done a lot with the team, I understand they’ve done a lot with the stadium and it’s the only organization I’ve ever played in or been in,” Koufax said at the time. “I came here with Jackie and Gil and Duke… and played with great people like Don and Tommy and Willie and Maury. … It feels good.”

Koufax noted in this 2013 interview that he never wore another jersey in all the years he attended different spring training venues.

“I wouldn’t do this anywhere else,” Koufax said. “Everywhere else they said I work with jugs, I went to see friends, I didn’t work with jugs. People would ask if you could do that [wear another jersey] … I said I can’t.”

Unveiling of the statue of Sandy Koufax on Saturday, June 18, 2022 Photo by Jon SooHoo/© Los Angeles Dodgers, LLC 2022

Sandy Koufax speaks at the unveiling of his statue at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.

(Jon SooHoo / Los Angeles Dodgers)

He will now wear that jersey forever in a sculpture that plunges him into Dodgers eternity.

He wants everyone to know he won’t be pitching alone.

“I think my only regret today is that so many are gone and I can’t tell them how much I thank them and appreciate them,” he said.

The phantom legend then vanished again, exiting the midfield plaza stage of Dodger Stadium in a voice as loud as his immortal grip on an ever-revered city and its baseball team.

“I love you more than anything,” said Sandy Koufax. “I’m done.” Sandy Koufax statue unveiling ceremony a time of gratitude

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