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Monday, January 01, 2007

Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, And Walter Alston

Rich Lederer asked me in a private e-mail earlier in the week where I had gotten the idea that Walter Alston and Jackie Robinson had feuded over Sandy Koufax's playing time. What I wrote was
Koufax's career is generally divided into two parts, 1955-1960 (during which he was poorly used and generally ineffective because of it, something that caused friction between Walter Alston and Jackie Robinson), and 1961 through his retirement in 1966.
Since I was in Arkansas at the time, I was relying exclusively on my Net sources, and in this case, Wikipedia's Sandy Koufax article, which had this to say:
Jackie Robinson, in his final season, clashed with Alston on several different subjects, including Koufax. Robinson saw that Koufax was talented and had flashes of brilliance, and Robinson objected to Koufax being benched for weeks at a time.
But as we all know, you shouldn't trust Wikipedia, because anyone can edit anything at any time, and do so without any kind of corroborating source. Once I got home, it became a lot easier, as I was able to dig out my (so far mostly unread) copy of Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, which had this to say on the matter (p. 86):
Jackie Robinson, then in his final season, clashed with Alston on many subjects, including Koufax. [Broadcast coordinator Tom] Villante, who was affiliated with the Dodgers throughout the fifties and sixties, said, "The one thing about Jackie was, no matter who the hell you were, Jackie appreciated talent. If you were good, he was on your side. I think he saw that in Sandy. Added to that was the fact Jackie Robinson did not like Alston.

"Jackie always thought Alston was dumb. And the very fact that Sandy would every so often show this flash of brilliance and pitch a terrific game and not pitch again for thirty days would add to Jackie saying how dumb this guy was."

I should also close by mentioning that it was a good bit of an overstatement to call Koufax's early career "ineffective"; "erratic" would be more apt.


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