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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Some Great Koufax Stories From Wired

David Dobbs in Wired has some fantastic stories about Sandy Koufax, one of the greatest left-handed pitchers ever to throw the ball (and until Randy Johnson, arguably the greatest). The whole story is worth your time (it also gets into why the curveball is so effective: it combines physical movement with an optical illusion), but I wanted to focus on this excerpt:
2. A Koufax story I read a few years back, either in Leary’s bio of him or perhaps an Angell piece. Koufax, retired almost 20 years and in his 40s, was pitching batting practice to the Dodgers (whom he often helped coach) between post-season series in the mid-1980s. This was the great-hitting Dodger line-up with Sax, Garvey, Baker, Cey, and others. Koufax is just throwing easy minor-league 45-year-old man fastballs for BP, letting the hitters groove their swings. One of the hitters calls for the famous curveball. This Koufax usually didn’t throw, lest it aggravate his elbow. But this hitter wanted to see the thing, see if he could hit it, so Koufax indulges him.

This is a major league hitter who knows what pitch is coming, batting against a man in his mid-40s.

Curve comes in, drops like a stone — a swing and a miss.

Hitter calls for another. Same result.

Several more; the same.

By now the hitter’s teammates, watching, are in hysterics. They’re howling. The batter gives up, walks off, tells his buddies, Fine then, you try it. And one by one they do. This great Dodger line-up comes up, every hitter knowing what pitch he’s getting, and no one can connect. Koufax is 45 or so — and with one pitch, pre-announced, he is unhittable.

...

As the story goes, manager Lasorda walked out to the mound and, using the pretext he wanted to protect Koufax’s arm, asked him to stop — but to Koufax he said, Cut it out already, I don’t want my hitters mentally destroyed just before a post-season series because they can’t hit a one-pitch man in his 40s.

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