March 2, 2010, 11:59 a.m. Say it with me now, everybody – And he's out from me to you!
But OK. By all accounts, "Koufax & Torre" was a great success. Over $700,000 raised for the Safe at Home Foundation, some well-expressed thoughts about domestic abuse from the Dodger skipper, and a long-awaited expression of love, from Los Angeles to Sandy.
Then T.J. Simers showed up. The show came off anyway. Sandy and Joe took the stage first, to a rousing standing ovation. Simers obviously planned to enter solo, so as not to mix the boos with the cheers, and said as much to open the program.
Obnoxious is T.J.'s shtick, and it doesn't bother me. But there was no way he was going to play nice on this or any other in-the-limelight evening. Trouble is, Simers is a writer, not a performer, and while obnoxious generally comes across as intended on paper, live in front of thousands not so much. Such was the case Saturday night, when Simers was unable to rise to the occasion.
I'll say verbatim what I said about Simers in 2000, when he and I started our respective columns within weeks of each other: "Simers just tries too hard to be obnoxious. The real trick is to be naturally obnoxious."
While T.J. has become more natural over time (mastered it, you it might say), the act appeared both forced and tired on stage. Struggling with his timing and repeating himself often, Simers was clearly nervous, and it showed for the full 90-plus minutes.
What surprised me was how little Simers seemed to know about the subject. Faulting his researcher, daughter Tracy Simers, on more than one occasion, (again, with a glibness that came across as forced as the rest), T.J.'s questions were about as basic as can be. It was almost as if Koufax had been invited to a non-sports talk show, taking place pretty much anywhere other than in Los Angeles.
While Sandy shared some neat stories, and I learned a few things (more on that in a minute), Simers kept saying "most people don't know this," only to follow with something that's been common knowledge for years, if not decades.
We don't know about Sandy's first love being basketball? University of Cincinnati, Oscar Robertson, that whole thing? Palming the ball with those big Brooklyn hands? Please.
And if we didn't know forever that Sandy was adopted as a young child, and that he was born Sanford Braun, we've certainly been aware since Jane Leavy's wildly-popular "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy." Copyright 2002. One or two Simers family members may not have read the book until recently, but plenty in attendance the other night sure had.
Simers' references to Koufax being "soft" were just plain odd, and while Sandy handled it well, I have no idea where T.J. could possibly have come up with the idea. Before he won an NBA championship, David Robinson was considered soft by many. And Pau Gasol about three years ago, sure, but Sandy Koufax?
There was also a Simers-prompted story, in which Torre explained how he had supposedly said, if he could have one pitcher for a must-win game, he'd give the ball to Bob Gibson. In actuality, on the final day of the 1982 season, tied with the Dodgers and managing the eventual National League West winning Atlanta Braves, and with Gibson serving as his pitching coach, Torre had told club owner Ted Turner that he'd take Gibson over the likes of Rick Mahler and Bob Walk, if only he could.
Torre went on to explain how the Braves lost in San Diego that day, while the Blue dropped their game as well, sending Atlanta into the playoffs. OK class, now what happened to the Dodgers that fateful day? Duh, Terry Forster. Simers missed it completely.
Simers also confused Milwaukee Braves' outfielder Lee Maye with Reds' first baseman Lee May. Good thing Torre was there to solve that mind-bender for Page Two. And doubly-good that neither Frank Thomas made it into the conversation.
The host gave himself an executive producer credit, so if you wondered why in the world T.J. instead of a better interviewer, there you go. Vin Scully would've been perfect, but this was Simers' baby, so there was no getting around it. Or him.
But enough with the T.J. trashing and references to fat tubs of goo. Like I said, the event was a success, and there were some extremely cool moments. Like, in perhaps the line of the night, from Koufax: "A quality start is the pitcher shaking hands with the catcher."
And like Sandy explaining how he'd first injured his prized left arm in 1964, diving back to second base on a missed bunt attempt by Jim Gilliam. Now that's something new.
Torre was relaxed and gracious throughout. Funny, genuine, self-deprecating. Koufax was exactly as you'd expect him to be: a little nervous at times, probably more out of humility than self-consciousness; warm and always putting team first.
Regarding the perfect game, September 9, 1965, Koufax wasn't "lonely" (Simers' word, not Sandy's) because he had eight Dodgers on the field alongside him.
And about the perfect game, there was this: "There are times when everything was right. I don't know if I've ever had better stuff, or better control than I did the last two innings of that game. Everything was right, everything worked. I didn't have much doubt that everything was going to be OK. The first two innings, I wasn't sure, but the last two."
Nothing but high praise for Tommy Davis, Don Drysdale, Lou Johnson and Jackie Robinson. Conspicuous in its absence were the words "Walter Alston" Saturday night, but perhaps a small point.
The names Norm Sherry and Gil Hodges came up, however, in a Spring Training story from 1961. Preparing to manage a B-game and a minus a few pitchers, Hodges told Koufax he was going eight, period.
Sherry and Sandy put their heads together and decided to have Koufax conserve energy by trying not to throw the ball as hard as usual, and by concentrating more on the strike zone than he had to that point in his career. Sandy walked the bases loaded in the first, got out of it, and went the eight as ordered, with a no-hitter.
Look, L.A. got a night out of Sandy Koufax, it was an absolute treat, and all for a good cause. So we had to put up with T.J. Simers for a couple of hours. BFD. A small price to pay for greatness, and everyone involved gets a share of the credit. Even Page Two…
Talkback: Your comments are always encouraged…
Did you catch Ron Belliard's fat-tub-of-goo-revelation? From IBWAA member Tony Jackson's ESPNLosAngeles.com article. Forget watching what he eats, says Belliard; all has to do is watch the clock. "I still can eat everything, so that doesn't matter. I just think whatever I eat, I have to eat it early in the day." Can't you just hear Jim Healy's belch sound effect now?
Statue for Sandy: "Koufax & Torre" raised a ton of money, and Simers can toot his own horn, rather than celebrate Torre's efforts, all he likes. Knock yourself out, T.J., God bless ya.
Let me just say that sports sculptor and co-sponsor of this e-petition, Malcolm DeMille (along with yours truly) has a plan to raise a similar figure for Dodgers' charities, that he's eager to share with Sandy and the club. We think it's just a matter of bringing like minds together, being creative, and rolling up our sleeves a tad.
So, as I keep saying and will keep on saying, the Koufax in bronze campaign continues. Please Vote “Yes on 32.” And tell a friend…
Remember, glove conquers all….
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