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December 31, 2002

The Good, the Bad and the Sacrilegious

There's no nice way to say this. Women should not write baseball books.

"Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy," by former Washington Post reporter Jane Leavy, is mostly readable, somewhat enlightening and pretty much factual, but spend your twenty-five bucks on one of those "Game Over" Eric Gagne t-shirts with the funny blue Brillo Pad beard.

After a slow start, and a load of gooblygoop about torque and muscle fiber and physics and Koufax's use of motion to create pitching that was so completely innovative, all of which has you wondering why if that were so, how could the man have been toast at thirty, Leavy gets humming with her portrayal of Brooklyn in the early 1950s.

Borough stories about Bensonhurst and Lafayatte High, and slice of life episodes including Joe Pignatano, the Aspromontes, the Torres, Buzzie Bavasi, Al Campanis and Tommy Lasorda are interesting, and shed some light on Sandy Koufax that perhaps we haven't seen elsewhere.

Also intriguing is the way the author weaves into the biography signs of the times, from Vietnam to the JFK assassination to the thin black ties and knit sweaters Koufax used to wear, to the overdependence of sports medication used to keep athletes on the field of play.

If you're looking for the Jewish angle, it's there. Perhaps that's why the "Los Angeles Jewish Journal" gave Leavy one of her few favorable reviews.

The inside jacket of the front and back covers illustrates Koufax's perfect game with a boxscore. A nice touch. Between each chapter of the book, Leavy devotes a few pages to an inning of the game, "September the ninth, 1965, in the City of Angels..." and all that. Poor Bob Hendley. "Two and two to Harvey Kuenn." You know.

Well, I've been more than fair. There's absolutely nothing more I can say about "A Lefty's Legacy" that would be even remotely conceived as friendly and I'm done trying.

With the possible exception of Doris Kearns Goodwin, who sometimes borrows from men, women should not write baseball books. I'm sorry, they just shouldn't. Ken Burns shouldn't either, OK. If you writers don't really get it, please leave baseball to those who do. It's not enough to be an historian or a reporter. Not with baseball.

"Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy," takes, shall we say, liberties. Lots of them.

Maybe it's ticky-tack to nail the author on her overfamiliarizing of names, one guesses, to make it look like she was there, but like I said, this is baseball, and Jane Leavy was not there.

It's a small point, but the longtime public address announcer at Dodger Stadium was John Ramsey, never "Johnny." Ken Holtzman was never "Kenny." Not ever.

Thankfully, Drysdale was always Don, although about Big D there was this bizarre sentence: "Nobody said Don Drysdale was nice until he was dead."

The beer at Dodger Stadium was Pabst Blue Ribbon, not Blatz, and the Tropicana Hotel was on Santa Monica Blvd., not the Sunset Strip. Close, but distinctly off the plate.

And it was the "Message Board" above left field which warned of freeway exit closures during the first Los Angeles riots, not the "scoreboard," which was in right field and could only form symbols like "wild" for a pitch that got away, or "E-6," used primarily when Jose Offerman was a Dodger.

The lines of chalk to the left and right of home plate generally form what is known as the "batter's box." I'm not sure what a "baller's box" might be, but perhaps that's what was really up on Sunset Blvd.

Don't they have editors at HarperCollins?

What's most galling about this volume is the utter disdain Leavy shows for the term "world series," written continuously in lower-case, "w" and "s."

I looked it up in five dictionaries. According to Random House and American Heritage, and in three editions of Webster's, World Series is to be capitalized always, without exception. Failure to do so is not only sacrilegious, but patently disgusting. "World Series" is a proper noun, and one of the most beautiful in the English language.

And trust me, in a story that unfolds in New York and Los Angeles during the 50s and 60s, there are a ton of references to the last round of October ball we loving call the World Series. "Fall Classic" is acceptable too.

Leavy refers to Pee Wee Reese in upper-case letters as "The Captain," talks about Koufax's left limb as "The Great Arm," and refers to "Number 32," "East Coast Establishment," and believe it or not, "The Pill." Yet, we have "world series." For this Jane Leavy deserves a scolding reserved only for those who desecrate the most hallowed of traditions.

That Washington Post style book belongs with the vision of all past and future Washington Senators franchises, at the bottom of the Potomac. Let's leave it there, shall we?

And there certainly is no need for this: "Orlando Cepeda, newly inducted into the Hall of Fame [correctly capitalized], was resplendent in a three-piece, burnt-orange zoot suit. 'Sweet Lou' Johnson packed his effusive self into a snugly fitting 'Bob Gibson All-Star Classic' golf shirt. Sandy Koufax wore his own shirt--an impressionistic tableau of palm trees and blue skies."

Only a woman would think to include this and not a man alive would care. Oh, and "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy" is an impressionistic tableau of baseball and book...

Howard Cole


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