MEMORIES OF LOST WORLDS (Occasional Sports Moment #23)

Here’s to the stoics:

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First, a fun fact, from an appreciation of Sandy Koufax that is worth reading in full:

A commenter at Joe Posnanski’s site who calls himself Moeball wrote that he had looked up famous pitchers’ best half decades, and none ever won half of his games in which his team had provided him with two runs or less…

Except for Sandy Koufax. From 1962–1966 he went 27–24 when given 2 runs or less of support. He’s the only regular starting pitcher in history to be able to do this. He’s the only one who even comes close to being .500. He did a better job of “pitching to the score” in a low scoring game than any other pitcher in major league history. And it’s not even close.

Of course, that raises the question of why the Dodgers played so poorly behind Koufax.

One reason is that the Dodgers weren’t terribly good batters in general. Their only .300 hitter in 1965 was Drysdale, whose seven homers put him close to the team leaders in that category, who hit merely twelve.

But another reason Koufax won so many 2–0, 2–1, and 1–0 games was that the Dodgers would go out drinking the night before he pitched.

If the starter the next day would be merely Drysdale, Osteen, Johnny Podres, or Don Sutton, they’d get their sleep.

But if Sandy were going to pitch tomorrow, well, you were a Los Angeles Dodger, it was the 1960s, and the night was young.

Reading the whole article, I realized that Koufax walked away from baseball at 30, after going 24-7 and winning the seventh game of the World Series on two days rest, for basically the same reason that Steffi Graf walked away from tennis at 30, two months after winning the French Open.

It was this: The only part of the game they liked was the game.

I write as someone who never had the good fortune to see Koufax pitch and failed to sufficiently appreciate Graf when she played (too damn good to root for…I’m trying not to make that mistake with Serena Williams, who enjoys and embraces the limelight Graf and Koufax disdained, and who will, at 34, attempt to match Graf’s Open-era record of 22 major titles this weekend).

But I still find it worth commending those for whom the fortune was nice–but no more than that. And for whom the fame meant nothing at all.

It was just something they had to endure to ply their trade and secure the life they really wanted. Not for them, I suspect, an Age where walk-off victories in major league baseball games played in June are celebrated like last inning heroics in the World Series and mid-round victories in tennis majors routinely end with players prostrate on the court, convulsed in sobs.

I don’t know either of them personally. But I like to think I know how they feel about this, the Age of Celebration. You know–of, by and for Celebrities Celebrating Themselves.

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