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Sandy Koufax Statue to Be Unveiled at Dodger Stadium June 18

This season also marks 50 years since Koufax became the youngest inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame at age 36.
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June 9, 2022
Sandy Koufax attends the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 26, 2015 in Cooperstown, New York. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

A statue of Sandy Koufax, arguably the most famous Jewish athlete in American sports, is set to be unveiled at Dodger Stadium this month.

The statue’s unveiling will take place before the Dodgers’ home game on June 18 at 4:15 p.m. against the rechristened Cleveland Guardians in an inter-league matchup.

This season also marks 50 years since Koufax became the youngest inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame at age 36. He began his career with the Dodgers in 1955, when they played their final years in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York. 

The left-handed pitcher would go on to play his entire career with the Dodgers, first in Brooklyn, then in Los Angeles from 1958, when the team decamped from Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field to Los Angeles, until he retired in 1966.

Among Jews, Koufax is best-known for sitting out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. 

During his 12-year career, Koufax won 165 games and lost 87, with a lifetime earned run average of 2.76 and 2,396 strikeouts. He played on three World Series champions (and was the Series MVP for two of them), won three Cy Young Awards, won the pitcher’s Triple Crown (wins/ERA/strikes) three times and appeared in seven All Star Games. He pitched four no-hitters, including a perfect game in 1965. But among Jews, Koufax is best-known for sitting out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. 

The Dodgers won the 1965 World Series over the Minnesota Twins in seven games. Koufax started three games and won two, on his way to winning his second World Series MVP.   “(A) Man is entitled to his belief and I believe I should not work on Yom Kippur. It’s as simple as all that and I have never had any trouble on that account since I’ve been in baseball,” Koufax told the late journalist Milton Richman of United Press International.

A lesser-known fact is that Koufax sat out a game that fell on Rosh Hashanah during the 1959 World Series, among several others. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown lists the other days when Koufax chose Judaism over baseball: “In April 1959, Koufax requested to skip his start on April 22 due to it being the first night of Passover. Similarly, in 1961 and 1963, Koufax skipped his turns in the rotation which conflicted with Rosh Hashanah. In 1963, Koufax more than made up for the trouble in rearranging the pitching staff’s schedule by striking out a record 15 Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series.”

The legend of Koufax choosing the High Holidays over the World Series has been seared into the minds of Jewish sports fans for generations.

“Every little Jewish kid in LA heard about [Koufax sitting out a World Series game] because our mothers, mine included, gave us trouble about playing little league on Yom Kippur ever after,” said Richard Lovich, a native Angeleno and Dodger fan since birth, 1957. “Also, my extended family is in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the 1965 World Series was being played and my cousins always repeated the rumor that Sandy went to services at their Temple — Temple of Aaron.”

A lesser-known fact is that Koufax sat out a game that fell on Rosh Hashanah during the 1959 World Series, among several others.

Another life-long Dodger fan, Kim Fischer, described why after more than 60 years of LA Dodger baseball, Koufax is still his favorite player of all time. “He meant a tremendous amount because of his Jewishness and because of his ability and being known,” said Fischer. “Everything about him was good in terms of character and how he was portrayed through the radio by Vin Scully, the work that he would do and the dedication he had to the Dodgers. He helped bring a knowingness and respect not just to the LA community but outside the Jewish community. There weren’t a lot of Jewish public figures out there at the time but here he was — one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball.”

Fischer, his younger brother Jon and their sister grew up in the Fairfax neighborhood. When they weren’t in section 12 at Dodger stadium during a game, they were listening as a family at home, which was walking distance from Canter’s Deli, where a giant Koufax mural could be seen. 

“[Koufax] is one of those rare sports individuals where all you do is mention his name and everybody shakes their head and says, ‘yeah,’” said Jon Fischer. “It’s been a family thing since our early childhood and it was very special to our dad, so when we’re watching a Dodger game, we’re showing our respect to our dad, our team and to the city. This is who we are.” 

Since retiring in 1966 at age 31, Koufax has continued to be a revered figure in the Jewish community. His story has endured through generations of baseball fans and Jews alike. He was even honored on a national level at the first ever Jewish American Heritage Month reception at the White House in 2010. 

Although there are 16 Dodgers in the Hall of Fame, the only Dodger who has been honored with a statue at the stadium is Jackie Robinson, whose statue was dedicated in 2017, the 70th anniversary of his breaking baseball’s color line.  

Koufax and Robinson were Brooklyn Dodgers teammates in 1955 and 1956.  In a press release, Stan Kasten, the team’s president and CEO, noted they will be rejoined at Dodger Stadium and will greet fans at the centerfield gate for generations to come.

Since his retirement, Koufax has guarded his privacy. Although the 86-year-old pitcher has made sporadic appearances at home games in recent years, the team has not announced if Koufax will attend the unveiling ceremony.

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