He had become the most anticipated visitor to spring training, a slim, silver-haired philosopher bearing tips to tame a young pitcher's curveball or rouse a veteran's confidence. But for one of the few times in the past half century, Sandy Koufax, 67, will not make an appearance at Dodgertown. The legendary lefty has cut ties to the team with which he spent his Hall of Fame career, all because of a bit of tabloid innuendo that was ignored by almost everyone but the famously private Koufax himself.
Koufax's disaffection stems from a Dec. 19 blurb in the New York Post that asked, "Which Hall of Fame hero cooperated with a best-selling biography only because the author promised to keep it a secret that he is gay?" The reference was to Jane Leavy's 2002 biography Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, and since the Post is owned by News Corp., which also owns the Dodgers (as well as Lefty publisher HarperCollins), Koufax called team vice president Derrick Hall a few days after the item ran and calmly told him that he was severing ties. "Just like Sandy, so under control," says Hall.
Last week, when reporters noticed that Koufax was absent from camp, Hall went public with the news, saying that Koufax said he "felt foolish" working with an entity connected to News Corp. Though Koufax was seen at the Port St. Lucie, Fla., training complex of the Mets—who are owned by his high school friend Fred Wilpon—he had, at press time, eluded all media. Even Leavy, who condemns the Post item as "fallacious," had been unable to reach him. Koufax's silent protest, she says, "is an act of principle consistent with his person."
Last Saturday the Post apologized, saying the item "sparked a series of unfortunate consequences for which we are very sorry." Yet those who know Koufax say he is unlikely to reconnect with the Dodgers until News Corp. sells the team, as it is trying to do. "Sandy's hurt, and I don't blame him," says Dodgers managing partner Bob Daly, "but I hope he'll come to realize this was just a mistake by a guy who writes a column for a paper." In the meantime Dodgertown isn't the same. "Sandy knows a lot about pitching, about as much as anyone around," says Dodgers ace Kevin Brown, who credits Koufax with fixing his mechanics in the late 1980s. "I can understand his position, but he'll be missed. He really will."