Koufax arrives, eager to take on new role with club
Dodgers Hall of Famer gets right to work, joining Honeycutt on pickoff practice
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A Dodgers team loaded with big names welcomed the biggest name of all to Spring Training on Sunday.
Sandy Koufax, the iconic Hall of Famer recently hired as special advisor to chairman Mark Walter, arrived for the final 15 minutes of Sunday's practice. He immediately went into action, assisting pitching coach Rick Honeycutt as he worked on pickoff moves with a handful of pitchers that included arguably the closest lefty that the Dodgers have had to Koufax, Clayton Kershaw.
The hiring of Koufax, now 77, was one of many fan-friendly moves by the new Guggenheim Partners ownership. In the past, Koufax has been a Spring Training visitor to see staff friends, but always as a private citizen. He said he will be in camp for a week to 10 days.
"It just sounded like it would be fun," he said of the official return to the only Major League organization for which he played. "If I can help, it will be fun. It's still a one-year contract. If I don't enjoy it, it will be one year."
Fans lucky enough to be attending Sunday's workout got a bonus of Koufax stopping to sign a handful of autographs. He was still in street clothes, but said he will be back in uniform No. 32 on Monday.
"It's been a long time," he said.
Koufax said his hiring was the result of conversations that began last summer with club president Stan Kasten and vice president Lon Rosen.
"It's the only organization I've played in or been in," he said of the Dodgers. "I came in with Jackie [Robinson], John [Roseboro], Duke [Snider] and played with Willie [Davis] and Don [Drysdale] and Maury [Wills]. I'd like to see the organization be a winner again. I don't know if I can do that much, but hopefully I can help."
Koufax said the only other known commitment he has is a June 6 appearance at Dodger Stadium for an old-timers game commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the club's 1963 World Series championship team.
"As the year goes on, they'll decide what they want me to do," he said.
From numerous earlier visits to various training camps, Koufax has developed a relationship with Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano and Josh Beckett, among others. His ties with Honeycutt date back to the 1980s.
Koufax said the decision to return to a role with the club required weighing some loss of his valued privacy.
"The hard part is, my life is good," he said with a smile. "Am I taking a chance of ruining it with you guys [the media]? Open myself up to all of this again? I felt I'd take a chance. It's a year."
Koufax said he had been offered jobs by other clubs in the past, but always turned them down because he considers himself a lifetime Dodger.
"I said I just can't do it," he said.
Along with former teammate and current Dodgers bunting instructor Wills, Koufax brings to Spring Training the quality of a champion. He was a member of the Dodgers' World Series championship teams in 1955, '59, '63 and '65, earning MVP honors in '63 and '65. His postseason record was 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA. He was selected to seven consecutive All-Star games from 1961-66.
Koufax retired at the age of 30, his elbow ravaged by arthritis and a torn ligament in need of Tommy John surgery, which didn't yet exist. Despite the pain, he had 27 wins and 27 complete games that year, a National League Cy Young Award, a 1.73 ERA and a World Series berth. He turned to broadcasting, working for NBC for six years.
In 1979, Koufax began an 11-year stint with the Dodgers as a Minor League pitching instructor. He was estranged from the organization while it was owned by News Corp., which also owned publications that delved into Koufax's private life.
He resurfaced when the club was bought by Frank McCourt and was an occasional Spring Training visitor, as he has been with the Mets, who are owned by Koufax's childhood friend, Fred Wilpon.
Koufax was a three-time unanimous Cy Young Award winner with four no-hitters, an MVP award, three 25-win seasons and five consecutive ERA titles to his credit. In each of his Cy Young Award seasons, he led the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. He threw a combined 54 complete games in his last two seasons, led the league in strikeouts four times and innings pitched his last two years.
He is the benchmark by which all great Dodgers pitchers after him have been judged. Former manager Joe Torre, seeing Kershaw's second Spring Training appearance at age 19, compared him to Koufax.
More to the point of his new role, Koufax has the rare ability of translating mechanical themes and mental approach into simple language easily understood by pitchers young and old.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.