Tuesday, February 25, 2003

My man Koufax

In learning to be a columnist, I had to get used to the idea of using my own feelings and memories as material. That's very different from the journalism that I was taught to practice. This column won the Sun-Sentinel's readers' poll for their favorite commentary of the year:


Date: Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

I was about 10 years old, sitting in the box seats with my dad at Wrigley Field, cheering for the visitors.

The Dodgers were my favorite team, though I was a Chicagoan who had never been to Brooklyn or Los Angeles. I loved their lore, their soul, their exquisite heartbreaks against the Yankees.

Out of the bullpen in the late innings, the Dodgers called on this kid Koufax.

"Oh, I've heard of him," I told my father. "He's really fast."

I'd heard right. Tall, gangly, strong, the young Sandy Koufax threw the fastest balls I ever saw.

And they were balls, not strikes. Koufax kicked his big right leg high, stretched it impossibly far, uncoiled his long left arm and sent the ball sailing into the backstop.

A couple of years went by. Koufax learned control. And dominated baseball as perhaps no pitcher ever has.

In four incomparable years, 1963 to 1966, he pitched four no-hitters, including a perfect game.

He led the Dodgers into the World Series three times. And in 1965, he refused to pitch the Series' opening game because it was Yom Kippur.

Out of respect for his forebears and the sacrifices they made for their beliefs, he wouldn't play that day. He taught a couple of generations of Jewish kids that some things were more important even than the World Series.

Long into adulthood, many of us -- even the doubters and disaffiliated -- would consider it sacrilege to work on the High Holy Days because of Koufax's unforgettable example.

And then he was gone. Quit at age 31, after winning 27 games in 1966, rather than risk permanent damage to an elbow rent by arthritis.

Sandy Koufax became a willing ghost, a legend who resisted the limelight.

"Sandy is somebody," his biographer, Jane Leavy, has said, "who craves his anonymity."

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Marching to Iraq

This column seems tame now. But I wrote it at a time when anything less than 100 percent gung-ho agreement with the White House brought you heaps of invective. I heard from a lot of angry readers over this one. Many of my misgivings look prescient, but I too was fooled into thinking that Iraq was hiding WMDs.

Date: Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

Like many Americans, I am divided on Iraq. My lack of resolve shows in the internal polls I've been taking.

According to my mind's pollster, I am 85 percent certain that Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator whose greatest contribution to the world would be to leave it.

I am 95 percent sure that Hussein is hiding weapons of mass destruction, including terrible gases, chemicals and germs. And I am 75 percent sure that the United Nations will lose even more of its credibility if it lets Hussein off the hook.

But I am 90 percent sure a U.S. invasion of Iraq will bring death to many innocent people, encourage Hussein to unleash the very weapons we fear he has, and radicalize new generations of Arab and Muslim suicide bombers to haunt us.

Those aren't the only conflicting opinions I'm holding.