When Dean Chance won the Cy Young award last year he said in a moment of remarkable humility, "I'm not the best pitcher. Koufax is. He may be the greatest pitcher who ever lived. Everyone knows he can't be beat when he's right. That's what you call a pitcher. I really admire him."
Sandy did not touch a baseball in the off season, and when he came into camp this spring he was as "right" as ever. For about a month. Then he had to leave Vero Beach and fly to Los Angeles for treatment of a "traumatic arthritic condition of the left elbow." The elbow joint was filling with fluid, as in water on the knee. The doctors said it had been developing for a "considerable time." Tremors ran through Florida, California, Wall Street and Walter O'Malley's heart.
There was speculation that this time Koufax was really through, out of baseball just as he reached the juicy $70,000 bracket. But after some treatment the doctors said he probably would be able to pitch once a week. Finally, after he pitched well at the end of spring training, they allowed him to take his regular turn. The Dodgers would settle for once a week if they had to, but—cross your fingers, knock on wood, say a prayer—they have not had to.
Koufax' physical well-being is entrusted to the team physicians, Dr. Robert Woods and Dr. Robert Kerlan, and Trainers Wayne Anderson and Bill Buhler, expert rubbers and kneaders. Sandy is sensitive to inferences that he is a house orchid in need of constant loving care, and friends are quick to defend him.
"I've read reports that Sandy Koufax is a guy who lays on tables and gets worked on two hours at a time," says Anderson. "It's not true and it's not fair. People will begin to think he's a hypochondriac.
"He's been an unfortunate guy. He's got guts. I've seen him whip things that would make other people go home and get the lunch pail. He's had two serious ailments. The guy has a big heart."
Big back muscles, too. More muscular than any pitcher Anderson has seen in 18 years in the big leagues. He says Sandy has even bigger back muscles, in fact, than Ted Kluszewski, the King-Kongish citizen who used to make pitchers tremble when he came to bat for Cincinnati in his sleeveless shirt. Although the muscles help explain Sandy's great fast ball, they also make it difficult for him to get loosened up properly much before the third or fourth inning of a ball game. In two of his three losses he was in trouble early, and it was in the second inning that Houston scored its two runs against him last week. After that, zero.
One thing that helps Koufax loosen up is Capsolin, an evil-looking red ointment that should be handled only by people with asbestos instead of flesh on their hands. Someone, as a gag, smeared some of it over the team photographer's back a few seasons ago and the poor man had to be treated for shock.
"Sandy needs a lot of Capsolin, more than any pitcher I've ever seen," says Anderson. "We put a whole tube of it on his shoulder and back. Don Newcombe is the only guy who ever came close to using as much."
In addition, Koufax gets a light back rub and a light arm stretch. Fifteen minutes before the game he is completely dressed and ready to throw on the sidelines, building up to the last few pitches, which he throws just as hard as if he were in a game.