The pigeonholing of Koufax began early. In a column written the day Koufax signed with the Dodgers, the New York Post's Jimmy Cannon lamented his lack of exuberance, describing him as "courteous and aloof." A spring training story written by Bill Roeder for the New York World-Telegram bore the headline KOUFAX, UNORTHODOX, READS BOOKS and mentioned that he might go back to school and study architecture if baseball didn't work out. Two weeks later the Post said he had "...both feet on the ground, except he reads books and stuff like that."
Koufax was different. He played golf, like many of his teammates, but he invested his money in real estate and in a radio station (KNJO, 92.7 on your dial), the first in Southern California built for stereo. He admitted to reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and listening to classical music—and later regretted saying it because no one seemed to believe that he also read best-sellers, that he listened to Sinatra as well as Beethoven. " Sandy Koufax belongs in baseball about the way Albert Schweitzer belongs in a twist joint," Los Angeles Times writer Jim Murray wrote in 1963.
He was different on the mound, too. "Koufax don't throw at nobody. He don't need to throw at nobody." That was the refrain from opposing players. He wasn't one of the pitchers Brooks Robinson had in mind when he said, "Your heart's in it, but your rear end isn't." Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal and Don Drysdale made .300 hitters sleepless. Hitters didn't fear Koufax; they feared being embarrassed by him. "Nobody could undress you the way Sandy could," longtime manager Gene Mauch liked to say.
"Too nice to be great," Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills used to say of him. Unlike his fellow Dodger Drysdale, who glowered for effect and exploited his reputation as a headhunter, Koufax burned inwardly. More than one of Koufax's black teammates attributed his rectitude to his minority status. "Stayin' right in his own house," as Dodgers outfielder Lou Johnson put it, knowing minorities are always held to a higher standard. If Koufax were a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant who played clean and kept his nose clean, he'd have been proclaimed the second coming of Jack Armstrong. But he was a Jew, so he was said to be moody, aloof, intellectual. Different.
At the heart of any bias lie inchoate assumptions, the stereotypes to which we unconsciously succumb. Jewish men are nebbishes or wise men, shylocks or scholars, concave-chested specimens who docilely walked into Hider's ovens. The stereotype is expressed in 17th-century monographs and a 21st-century haiku: "Seven-foot Jews/In the NBA slam-dunking/My alarm clock rings." Early Zionist leaders advocated a new, "muscular Judaism" to counter such bias. This did not deter Henry Ford, America's best-known anti-Semite, who declared in 1921, "Jews are not sportsmen. Whether this is due to their physical lethargy, their dislike of unnecessary physical action or their serious cast of mind, others may decide.... It may be a defect in their character, or it may not; it is nevertheless a fact which discriminating Jews unhesitatingly acknowledge."
Eddie Liberatore, the late Dodgers scout, said, "There were certain guys in the organization who referred to him as 'a gutless Jew' because he was wild. When he got control and began to be a big winner, they all jumped on his bandwagon."
Koufax made his major league debut on June 24, in the fifth inning against the Milwaukee Braves, with the Dodgers trailing 7-1. A mop-up man. The crowd noise, which seemed benign in the bullpen, swelled up to greet him, and through the intimidating crescendo he heard the public-address announcer mispronounce his name—"Koo-fax"—as Johnny Logan stepped up to the plate. Logan hit a bloop single. The next hitter was slugger Eddie Mathews, who surprised Kou-fax by bunting back to the mound. Koufax calmly threw the ball into centerfield. The third hitter was Hank Aaron. He walked on four pitches. Bobby Thomson—that Bobby Thomson, slayer of Dodgers dreams—followed Aaron to the plate. The count went to 3 and 2 before Thomson swung and missed, thus becoming the first man ever struck out by Sandy Koufax.
His first major league start came two weeks later against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He walked eight batters in 4? innings and didn't get another start for seven weeks. "Oh, no," Dodgers coach Jake Pitler moaned when Dodgers manager Walter Alston announced that Koufax would start against the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 27. Birdie Tebbetts, the Reds' manager, got a scouting report from Joe Black, who had been acquired from the Dodgers in June. "He throws hard," Black said.
It was a glorious Saturday afternoon. Koufax struck out 14, most that season in the National League, and surrendered only two hits, a first-inning single to Ted Kluszewski and a ninth-inning double to Sam Mele. It was his first major league victory, a complete-game shutout. "Every pitch was whomp! whomp! Whomp!" Black said. "Next day Birdie says, 'That rookie made us look terrible. Where the hell they been keeping him?' "
On the bench was where. He made only 12 appearances in 1955, pitching 41? innings, walking almost as many men (28) as he struck out (30). His only other win that season was another shutout. "He was totally inconsistent but brilliant," says Bob Rosen, a baseball statistician for the Elias Sports Bureau.