Who could have predicted that by season's end Koufax would pitch 335? innings and set a major league record by striking out 382 men (an average of 10.25 per game). He never missed a turn.
With a 3-2 lead in the '65 Series after Koufax's Game 5 shutout, the Dodgers were so confident that they checked out of their St. Paul hotel the morning before Game 6. But they lost that game, forcing management to scramble for rooms and Alston to make a difficult decision: who to pitch in Game 7. Alston summoned his coaches—Preston Gomez, Danny Ozark, Lefty Phillips—to a gloomy tribunal. Drysdale was the logical choice: It was his turn in the rotation, and he would be pitching on three days' rest, while Koufax would have had only two.
All three coaches put their heads down when Alston broached the question. Ozark recalled the scene. " 'Jeez,' Lefty Phillips says, 'Koufax does real well against them, maybe he can go.' Alston says, 'Who's gonna ask him?' Everyone got laryngitis. Me, the big dumb Polack, says, 'I'll do it.' I find out later on that there were differences between [Sandy] and Alston."
Koufax's teammates knew he harbored ill feelings about how the Dodgers had handled him early in his career. "He felt he always had something to prove with Walter Alston," pitcher Ron Perranoski says. "He wasn't used when he was young, and when he was used, he wasn't trusted. He always had this thing in the back of his mind about the way he was treated, that he didn't get a chance. He knew what he was made of, what he was capable of."
When Koufax was interviewed in 1999 by Charley Steiner for ESPN's SportsCentury series, he was asked, off camera, whether he believed anti-Semitism had hurt him early in his career. "I don't even want to think about that," Koufax said. He has never addressed the issue publicly, but as Steiner, now the radio voice of the Yankees, says, "When he says he hasn't thought about something, you know he's thought about it a lot."
Koufax's black teammates noticed who pitched on Opening Day, whose face appeared on Dodgers yearbooks and press guides and in the newspapers. Drysdale. "Don was blond and blue-eyed and more marketable as far as being the Dodgers' image," Wills says. "Sandy was second fiddle. All the black players felt that. Don was the poster boy. It was always Don and Sandy. We knew it was Sandy and Don."
In 1985, 30 years after Koufax's rookie season, there was a celebration in Vero Beach. "[Dodgers G.M. Buzzie Bavasi] was there, and they were telling stories, and Buzzie's laughing," Tom Villante recalled. "And then Sandy starts with Buzzie about, Why the hell didn't Alston pitch me [more]? Buzzie was giving him some double-talk, but Sandy was getting mad all over again. I'll never forget it. Sandy was transformed into this 19-year-old kid again, puzzled [about] why the hell Alston didn't pitch him."
Alston later told Mel Durslag, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner writer, that giving the ball to Koufax for Game 7 was the hardest decision he ever made as a manager. "He was worried about Drysdale's feelings and afraid of saying something anti-Semitic," Durslag recalled. "He was an uptight guy.... People intimated that he might have been anti-Semitic."
The players weren't told of Alston's decision, but rumors started flying on the bus back to the hotel. "You don't have to ask our ball club, 'Who do you want to see pitch?' " Gomez said later. "The whole world is going to say, 'Give the ball to the Jew.' "
Koufax and Drysdale arrived at the ballpark the next morning unshaved—indicating that neither knew the skipper's decision. In fact, it was a ruse. Koufax knew but wasn't supposed to tell anyone, not even his roommate. Alston announced his decision at a team meeting before the game. "He says, 'We're going to start the lefthander,' " Tracewski says. " 'After that we have Drysdale in the bullpen, and if we need it, we'll finish off with Perranoski. And if that's not good enough, we are in trouble.'