Saturday, March 9, 2019
Book Learnin' with Sandy Koufax and Jane Leavy
Before the best-seller that came out this summer on Babe Ruth, Big Fella, Jane Leavy completed what can now be considered the definitive volume on the great Sandy Koufax. Leavy's book starts out with a preface that hints at the difficulties in writing a biography of such a private public figure - many of the friends and teammates and colleagues that Koufax met along the way were only willing to talk after first getting Sandy's o.k. But Leavy was able to get Koufax to cooperate, in his way, and the results are stunning.
The depth of research and volume of interviews that Leavy conducted for this book is evident from the very first chapter. Starting with the second chapter, the book comes back again and again to the perfect game that Koufax threw in September of 1965. First hand accounts from everyone the team trainer Bill Buhler, the Cubs' Byron Browne making his MLB debut, dozens of fans who were in the stands- - all come together with primary sources like newspaper clippings and the weather report to form a picture so vivid that you would more credibly be able to claim you were there yourself than all of the folks out there that pretend they were one of the 29,139 in attendance.
What makes the book work so well goes beyond the research - it's Leavy's prose that makes the book difficult to put down. Her mastery of the rhythms of the various locales in the book bring each to life. As you would expect from a biography, the early chapters delve into Sandy's childhood and teen years leading up to his signing with the Dodgers. And yet woven into the flashbacks are anecdotes that bring you back to the present (the book was published in 2002).
Leavy has also written a book about Mickey Mantle, The Last Boy, and a novel about baseball Squeeze Play. She was a staff writer for the Washington Post in the 80s. As you may have guessed from the subjects of her three biographies, Leavy grew up in New York. A fan of the Yankees, and Mickey Mantle in particular, Leavy also idolized the columnists of the New York Times Sports pages. Her Master's essay for the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism was on one of those columnists, the great Red Smith. I highly recommend this book on Sandy Koufax. Having been born well after his last pitch, I knew Koufax was a great pitcher, but the image was always fuzzy. This book makes his legacy much clearer to me.