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Saturday, February 6, 2010

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? Written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Andre Carrilho. Schwartz & Wade, Random House, 2009. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"You gotta be kidding! You never heard of Sandy Koufax? He was only the greatest lefty who ever pitched in the game of baseball."

Jonah Winter gives voice to a fictional baseball player who shared the bench with Sandy Koufax from the time he started his years with the Brooklyn Dodgers (who then became the Los Angeles Dodgers) until he hung up his glove in a surprise retirement announcement, following the 1966 season. That season's stats are shown...the league leader in wins, strikeouts, ERA, complete games and shutouts. It was the greatest last season of any major league pitcher. Real baseball fans will know his story but many (especially those in Jonah Winters' young audience) have not likely heard of the famous and reclusive ace pitcher.

Koufax didn't dream of playing in the major leagues; rather, his early niche was basketball and he was very good at it. He also liked to pitch for his pals on the sandlot and it was from there he was recruited to try his hand at pitching in the majors. The early years did not go well. He sat on the bench, had no control and had almost decided to quit. But, spring arrived and baseball beckoned once more. That year he became the pitcher he was meant to be. We also learn something of the man and his solitary nature, his dedication to his Jewish faith and his acknowledgement that his ability to use his left arm in the future was more important than staying in the game that was ruining it. The artwork is angular and full of motion, allowing us access to the team, the man and the game of baseball at that time. There is a glossary to help readers gain an understanding of baseball terms, and suggestions for online sites that were used to garner the stats used in the text. The 3D cover is way cool and sure to get readers interested in seeing what's inside...isn't that what covers are meant to do?

I love this story: "Satchel Paige, the great Negro Leagues pitcher, would sometimes load the bases intentionally. Then he would call all his teammates except for the catcher around the pitcher's mound - and have them all sit down. He would go to strike out the next three batters - and so end the inning. The crowd loved it!"

And the final comment by the old-timer who played with Sandy through his seasons with the Dodgers:

"Who was Sandy Koufax? Sandy Koufax was a guy who finally relaxed enough to let his body do the one thing it was put on the earth to do. And what a thing of beauty that was."

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