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Sandy Koufax

(1935 - )

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.

On September 25, 1966, Koufax and Ken Holtzman - the two greatest Jewish pitchers in history - faced off against each other for the one and only time in their careers.  The game came the day after both had attended synagogue on Yom Kippur. Holtzman was finishing his first full season in the major leagues and Koufax was in his final season.  The rookie Holtzman twirled a no-hitter for eight innings and beat the veteran Koufax 2–1. It was the last regular-season loss of Koufax's career.  He retired at the end of the season, being plagued by arthritis in his pitching hand, but still won his third Cy Young Award for being baseball's best pitcher.

Koufax, who received the Cy Young Award three times (1963,1965,1966), was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

After retiring, 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 Hashanah.

Sources: Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America.

This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 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.