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:
LEFTY'S LEGACY: FIGHTING FOR WHAT'S RIGHT
Date: Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B
Byline: HOWARD GOODMAN COMMENTARY
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."
He played when athletes weren't automatic millionaires. When players spent whole careers on one team. When superstars were called "heroes" without irony.
When a star's private life could stay private.
Now Koufax is 67, living obscurely in Vero Beach, where the Dodgers have trained for half a century.
And he just recorded his latest shutout -- staring down Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., whose New York Post printed a gossip item in December that tried to ensnarl Koufax in the celebrity mill he has so steadfastly resisted.
The Post item said: "Which Hall of Fame baseball hero cooperated with a best-selling biography only because the author promised to keep it a secret that he is gay?"
The reference clearly was to Leavy's Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy.
In reaction, Koufax quietly cut all ties to the Dodgers organization, another News Corp. property.
Reporters discovered his boycott last week when they failed to find him in training camp, where he had long been a fixture as an unofficial pitching coach.
The Post quickly apologized and admitted its item had no basis in fact. But Koufax, linked to the team 48 years, refuses to wear Dodger Blue until Murdoch sells the team.
In our celebrity-crazed culture, the most private secrets of the famous are considered public property. Koufax refuses to allow himself to become a commodity. He won't be fodder for our titillation.
He is saying no to the culture's tabloid-ization.
The other day, I dug into a dresser drawer and pulled out a sealed-up plastic bag. I untied the knot and gently withdrew a baseball, turning it in my fingers until I could see two words written in blue ink:
I got that ball when I was in my 30s. Something had made me drive over to a memorabilia show where Koufax was making a rare appearance.
His hair was silver, but he was movie-star handsome. Lithe, graceful, polite. He signed the ball, and I was 10 again.
I tucked that ball away with other semi-embarrassing relics of young enthusiasms.
Now I think I'll get a case for it. Display it.
Koufax is a hero of mine. Again.