Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. ... It's a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest.
-- Ty Cobb
It was the best of times, but it was sure looking like the worst of times. When pushed to his limits, man is capable of extreme measures. A young boy is no different. What follows is my confession of a deed most foul that has been hidden from the pages of history for more than 50 years. I don't ask for your forgiveness, only your understanding. I was a young boy, innocent in the ways of the world in 1963 -- although I did watch The Nutty Professor that year at the movies and learned there are strange powers desperate men can turn to. Still, if confession is good for the soul, then here it is. Be warned, however, if you're seeking a heartwarming story of baseball and sun-flecked youth, turn elsewhere. Ahead lies defeat and arthritic elbows.
As a fledgling little league baseball player, my favorite professional team was the New York Yankees. The team was stacked with future hall-of-famers Micky Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. My older sister was a big fan and had been my touchstone for all things Yankees. She sent away for individual 5-by-7 photographs of the team, and only after strenuous begging and whining did I procure the Micky Mantle and Whitey Ford photos, which were neatly thumbtacked on the wall behind my bed.
The Yankees in 1963 were coming into the World Series matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers as defending champions, and my sister and I eagerly awaited the start of the series. We were eager to watch our beloved team pummel these crass Dodgers, who were led by the pitching sensation Sandy Koufax. Reader alert: Final warning; this column is about to get dark.
Sandy Koufax was coming off a devastatingly successful pitching year. His record was 25-5, he had 306 strikeouts, tossed 11 shutouts, had a 1.88 ERA and had won the National League Cy Young Award for best pitcher. I hated him. I was nervous for my beloved Yankees -- and with good reason. In game one of the World Series, Koufax threw a complete game, striking out 15 Yankees, and the Dodgers cruised to a 5-2 victory. The Yankees proceeded to lose the next two games as well with the Dodgers taking a 3-0 lead with only one game needed to win the World Series. And for game four, the starting pitcher would be Sandy Koufax again. Yikes!
I huddled with my sister, desperate for a way to stop this crazed demon pitcher. She suggested that there was only one option left to save our beloved Yankees from ignoble defeat. We must burn a Sandy Koufax image in effigy. Being quite worldly and allowed to see James Bond movies, my sister explained that there were forces in this world that could be tapped into that would curse the evil flamethrower. To my shame, I must admit, despite having a mostly unblemished attendance at the First Baptist Church, I freely and eagerly drew a Sandy Koufax picture, got a book of matches and went down to the basement, where we could conduct our sordid deed away from the prying eyes of our parents. After a few chants, I lit Sandy on fire, taking care to start the fire on his left arm. With our business done, we ran upstairs to watch the start of game four. Our work seemed for naught: Koufax was dominant, winning the deciding game 2-1, and was named World Series MVP.
But dark deeds linger at their own timetable. Just three years later, Koufax was forced to retire from baseball having developed crippling arthritis in his left arm. It was clear then to me that I was totally responsible. My deed had other ramifications: My little league career ended in 1964 with me riding the bench. Despite my obvious talent, it was clear I was being held accountable by said unseen forces.
So now I can finally come clean. Sandy Koufax, I am sorry. If it's any consolation, I gave up the dark arts. And no, Coach Morris, don't get any ideas later this fall when the Razorbacks play Alabama.
NAN Our Town on 07/25/2019