SI Vault
William Leggett
October 14, 1963
Led by Sandy Koufax, a mild young man with a lethal left arm, the Dodgers broke up the Yankees in four games. The Yankees were as shocked as their fans. Never before had the proud New Yorkers lost a World Series in this fashion; never had they been reduced to this impotency. In support of brilliant pitching, the Dodgers turned loose their speed at the right moments and hit just enough to win. Against such a team, sharpened by a fierce, competitive National League season, the Yankee attack collapsed. Having again made a farce of the American League pennant race, perhaps the Yankees really do belong in a different league—but it may be a third league, situated in some limbo between the American and the National.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 14, 1963

Koo-foo The Killer

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

Early in the morning of the day of the fourth game of the Series a man stood at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Figueroa Street in Los Angeles. Had a glass of Scotch and water in his right hand. Said the weather looked dandy. Wore a blue Dodger cap with bright white rabbit ears stretching skyward. Kept tuning up a transistor radio in his suit coat pocket. As each car came to the corner he raised his glass and offered one piece of advice: "Relax with Koufax."

Despite a two-hit pitching performance by Whitey Ford, it turned out that he was right. Only no one ever completely relaxed until the final out. Even with Whitey Ford on your side, the idea of Sandy Koufax on a pitching mound is a hideous thing for any opponent to contemplate. If Koufax gets a run he will protect it. Once he gets ahead, the opponent not only has to fight Koufax but also the idea that one run begins to look like 19. The best thing to do is hope that an error will push him into trouble and that you may then somehow get one or two hits behind it.

For three innings Koufax was excellent. No errors, no hits. Not as good, of course, as he was in the first game, but no one may ever be as good as Sandy Koufax was in the first four innings of Wednesday, October 2, 1963. In the top of the fourth inning on Sunday, October 6, however, Koufax was shoved into a jam. With the score 0-0 and the Dodger attack melting before Whitey Ford's ankle-high pitches, Maury Wills, Dick Tracewski and Willie Davis ran under a fly ball hit by Bobby Richardson to short center field. Each assumed that another would catch it. None did. The ball dropped, and Richardson stood at second base with the first Yankee hit. Koufax got himself out of the jam with a foul pop and a ground ball, but through the vastness of Dodger Stadium there trickled a sense of doom. Koufax had been hit; the Dodgers had bungled. Worst of all, the Los Angeles attack seemed all but immobilized by a renewed and vital Whitey Ford.

Could anybody really hit Ford? Could anybody give Koufax the one or two runs he needed to win? The answer came in the fifth. Ford threw a slow curve, almost contemptuously, to that improbable Dodger eminence, Frank Howard. Howard hit it 450 feet into the second tier in left field. Never before had a ball been hit into that tier. Never again will a run be needed quite as much.

The run did not hold up. Mickey Mantle came to bat in the seventh inning with one out. Mantle had suffered through a frustrating Series. He had hit two possible home runs in New York in the second game, but each fell short of the distant wall, nothing more than long outs. His lone hit in 13 at bats was a fluke bunt that sailed into the outfield in the third game. This time, however, on Koufax' first pitch, Mantle hit a home run. As he trotted across the plate the entire Yankee bench rose to greet him. For the first time in 34 innings the Yankees had come from behind to gain a tie.

That tie lasted for only two more outs. In the bottom of the seventh Jim Gilliam hit a hard, high bouncing ball toward third base. It seemed about to soar over Clete Boyer's head when the Yankee magician stretched his body like a jumping jack released from his box and got it. His throw to Pepitone was perfect, but Pepitone lost the flight of the ball in the white-shirted crowd. It bounced off the first baseman's wrist, his forearm, his chest and finally bounced off the fence, 70 feet away. By the time Pepitone got to the ball, Gilliam was on third base and Willie Davis was at bat.

"I knew when I went up there," said Davis later, "that I would hit the ball. I was going to swing right away if Ford came anyplace around the plate." Ford's first pitch came in, and Davis hit it to Mantle in right center. Despite Mantle's fine throw home, Gilliam scored standing up. In frustration, Elston Howard took the ball and fired it to Boyer, who was standing on third base. Boyer looked at Umpire Larry Napp, begging for Napp to say that Gilliam had tagged up and started home before the catch. Napp split his hands in a short safe sign and shook his head.

The Yankees got the tying run on base in the eighth inning and the possible winning run on in the ninth, but Koufax managed to turn them away. Sandy Koufax, for the second time in five days, had beaten Whitey Ford. He did it on six hits, a wing (his left one) and a prayer—and Joe Pepitone's error. Whitey Ford had allowed only two hits, but the name of the game is runs. Koufax' reward and that of the Dodgers was the biggest that baseball can offer: a world championship.

In the Dodger dressing room everyone wanted Koufax—radio, television, photographers, the press. Tommy Davis stood with tears in his eyes deep inside his dressing cubicle. This year he had led the National League in batting with a .326 average, and in the Series he had hit .400, the highest any Dodger has ever hit. Finally Koufax walked away from his pursuers and into Davis' cubicle. He threw his arms around Tommy, and Davis blurted out: "Sandy, you are the greatest pitcher that ever lived!"

Walter Alston, the manager, sat in his office, patiently refusing to say something derogatory about the Yankees. Alston was asked what he was going to do. Would he go out on the town? What did he think of his team's chances next year? "The thing I'm thinking about right now," he said, "is packing my bags and going back to Darrtown, Ohio. I'm going to drive back slowly, and when I get there I'm going to take my 10-year-old grandson out squirrel hunting. His name is Robin Dean Ogle. Robin for Roberts, Dean for Dizzy. He's a switch-hitting first baseman. When we get out hunting I guess I'll sit with him on an old log and watch the leaves fall."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6