SI Vault
Robert Creamer
March 04, 1963
A sore finger knocked Sandy Koufax out of action last July and cost the Dodgers the 1962 pennant. Now the Dodgers worry: is the finger better?
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March 04, 1963

An Urgent Matter Of One Index Finger

A sore finger knocked Sandy Koufax out of action last July and cost the Dodgers the 1962 pennant. Now the Dodgers worry: is the finger better?

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Let us talk of sore arms.

In the old days the manager of a big-league baseball team would ask his star pitcher, "How's the old arm, Lefty?"

Lefty would reply, "It don't feel so good."

The manager would shrug and say, "Well, rub a little liniment on it and maybe it'll work itself out."

If it didn't, Lefty was back in East Greenbush, milking cows and telling lies around the general store.

Nowadays, we are more sophisticated. You can find ballplayers named Claude and Carleton and Roland, but you won't find a Lefty if you look all week. Doctors, not managers, prescribe for arm trouble. And never does a modern pitcher admit to an ailment as generalized as "sore arm." He specifies. He has a strained supraspinatus muscle, or bone chips in his elbow, or calcium deposits in his shoulder.

The ultimate refinement along these lines may have been reached in the case of Sanford Koufax, the Los Angeles Dodgers' magnificent left-hander (see cover), who was knocked out of action last July in the middle of one of the best seasons any pitcher ever had by a condition later described as a "circulatory malfunction adversely affecting the left index finger." But though Sandy's sore arm is one of the smallest in baseball history—his left index finger can't be more than four inches long—it has become indelibly famous. The Finger cost the Dodgers the National League pennant, it will have a great deal to say on whether the Dodgers win or lose in 1963 and it has brought Koufax more publicity than his extraordinary pitching achievements ever did. Let another pitcher develop a similar condition some time in the future, and you can bet that the doctors will diagnose it as a case of koufax index, or Sandy's Finger.

Sandy brought The Finger to Miami Beach in the middle of February, a couple of weeks before he was scheduled to begin spring training with the Dodgers in Vero Beach. He had a date to appear in a nightclub act at the Fontainebleau Hotel with Milton Berle and five Dodger teammates—Duke Snider, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Frank Howard and Willie Davis. The act had run for four weeks in Las Vegas, and Berle had arranged for an 11-day, two-shows-nightly repeat performance in Miami Beach. This worked out perfectly for Koufax and the other Dodgers, who did not have to report to Vero for training until the day the act ended. It also gave them a chance to play in the annual Baseball Players Golf Tournament in Miami.

Koufax flew in to Miami from Studio City, outside Los Angeles, where he lives by himself in a house filled with stereo and electronic equipment. His mother and father live in Los Angeles, his grandmother lives in Miami, his sister lives in Westchester County, New York, but Sandy, a bachelor, lives alone. Koufax is a type of the new American cosmopolite. He grew up in Brooklyn, went to college in Ohio, lives in California, winters (or more precisely, spring-trains) in Florida, knows his way around most of the major cities of the country, dresses in the expensive and quietly flamboyant clothes that ballplayers like to wear off the field, speaks casual but grammatically correct English in a pleasantly modulated voice that has none of the inflections that mark eastern, midwestern, southern or southwestern speech patterns. He is on easy and familiar terms with the publicized names of sport and show business, has financial interests in a motel and an FM stereo station in California, is a liberal tipper, golfs in the 80s.... In other words, he is the very model of a modern major-leaguer, except for that damn finger.

Koufax has been with the Dodgers since he signed a bonus contract with them in December 1954. He was at the University of Cincinnati on a basketball scholarship, but he went out for baseball as a freshman and showed such an impressive fast ball that major league scouts swarmed around. Now, at 27, he is entering his ninth major league season and, with the exception of Duke Snider, Junior Gilliam and Johnny Podres, is the oldest Dodger in point of service.

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