Oy Vey! Sandy Koufax, Yom Kippur, and the 1965 World Series

Sandy Koufax had a left arm envied by southpaws from Malibu to Miami, a curveball rivaling Mulholland Drive’s bends for arc intensity, and a fastball comparable to a bullet shot from a Winchester.

None of these assets were on display, however, during Game 1 of the 1965 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Because the game took place on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, Koufax opted not to play.  It was a choice that reverberated in synagogues from, well, Malibu to Miami.  And Seattle to Syracuse.  And Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine.

“I tried to deflect questions about my intentions through the last couple of weeks of the season by saying that I was praying for rain,” wrote the left-hander in his 1966 autobiography Koufax with Ed Linn.  “There was never any decision to make, though, because there was never any possibility that I would pitch.

“Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish religion.  The club knows that I don’t work that day.  When Yom Kippur falls during the season, as it usually does, it has always been a simple matter of pitching a day earlier, with two days’ rest, when my turn happened to be coming up.”

Don Drysdale started the game for the Dodgers.  “Most all of them are high-ball hitters, so I’ll naturally try to keep the ball down on them.  I don’t want to give them a chance to get the ball up in the air,” said Drysdale in a Los Angeles Times article by Charles Maher.  Instead, the fireballer encountered a vicious but rare pummeling—Dodgers skipper Walter Alston pulled Drysdale in the third inning, after the Twins tallied six runs, in addition to their one run in the second inning.

The story goes that Drysdale, indicating a self-effacing manner, told Alston, “I bet you wish I was Jewish, too.”

Final score:  Twins 8, Dodgers 2.

Although the fellas from the Land of 10,000 Lakes surpassed the heroes of Chavez Ravine by a six-run margin, both teams had an equal number of hits—10.  Every Dodger starter but Drysdale hit safely, as did pinch hitter Willie Crawford.

Times sports writer Paul Zimmerman wrote that Drysdale showed “surprising complacency” in explaining what happened.  “It simply was a case of bad command,” said Drysdale.  “I couldn’t get the ball anywhere near where I wanted it and when you can’t do that you don’t deserve to win.”

Mudcat Grant pitched a complete game for the Twins.  It was, indeed, a glorious year for the Florida native—Grant led the American League in wins (21), pitched 14 complete games, and scored two World Series victories.

The 1965 World Series was a seven-game affair ending with the Dodgers returning baseball glory to southern California after overcoming an 0-2 deficit.  Koufax went 2-1 in the series, Drysdale evened his record at 1-1, and Claude Osteen also had a 1-1 output.

In 1965, Koufax led the major leagues in:

  • Wins (26)
  • Earned Run Average (2.04)
  • Win-Loss percentage (.765)
  • Complete Games (27)
  • Innings Pitched (335.2)
  • Strikeouts (382)

But it is what he did during Game One of the ’65 series that is talked about five decades later at Passover seders, in Hebrew school classes, and in sermons during the High Holidays.

Or, rather, what he didn’t do.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 28, 2016.

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