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WORLD FOCUS: Legendary Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax left his mark

I think a confession is in order. Namely, that I have never set foot in a baseball park and never even watched a full game of baseball on TV.

I have no idea what is going on at the ballfield, and the rules of the game are Chinese to me.

Thus, the essay Mitchell Reiss, the former president and CEO of Colonial Williamsburg, and before that presidential envoy to the Northern Ireland Peace Accords, sent me from London was a bit of a puzzle.

Reiss was in the United Kingdom to assist the British government in its effort to calm the rising political tension in Northern Ireland.

The essay, written by Carl Cannon for Real Clear Politics, was to commemorate Sandy Koufax’s retirement from baseball 53 years ago. Koufax was a world-famous major league baseball player who was considered the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time, and an icon to American Jewish kids.

What made Koufax especially appreciated among Jews was his decision not to pitch game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

According to the essay, Koufax was a basketball and baseball star in the Borough Park neighborhood of his native Brooklyn. In 1955, he signed a professional baseball contract with his hometown team. By 1961, he had established himself as the best pitcher in baseball.

A year later, he would pitch the first of his four career no-hitters — a record at the time — and he did so in consecutive seasons, culminating in a 1965 perfect game.

It is said that those who have seen Koufax pitch in his prime were witnessing baseball played nearly to perfection. Dodgers’ General Manager Al Campanis was quoted saying, “There are two times in my life the hair on my arms has stood up: the first time I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the first time I saw Sandy Koufax throw a fastball.”

Writer Carl Cannon notes that Koufax became famous 10 years after the Holocaust was ended by the Allies’ liberation of Europe, and American Jews needed a representative whom people looked up to.

Koufax led the Dodgers to the National League pennant, then he declined to pitch game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. By not pitching on the Day of Atonement, he gave Jews all over the country a sense of pride.

Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley, a Catholic, quipped to ask the pope about making it rain that day.

I shared Cannon’s essay with Dr. Joel Levine, who for 41 years served as NASA’s senior scientist. He is a world-renowned expert on moon dust and the human exploration of Mars, and he serves currently as research professor at the College of William & Mary.

Dr. Levine is a native of Brooklyn.

“I am particularly interested in Sandy Koufax since I grew up in nearby neighborhoods in Brooklyn and as child. I saw him pitch a number of times at Ebbets Field,” Levine wrote to me. “My cousin lived on Koufax’s block, and his mother was interested in her dating her son. She never did!”

Decades forward!

Dr. Levine was invited by the Indian government to give a lecture on the exploration of Mars, at the Parliament in New Delhi. Levine edited and wrote five chapters in a 974-page book on this subject. His offered honorarium was $50,000 U.S. dollars, and all expenses paid for him and his wife.

The lecture was scheduled to coincide with the Jewish Day of Atonement, and it had to be on that date since the next day the Parliament of India was voting whether they should allocate funds to look into a human mission to Mars.

Dr. Levine declined to accept the offer.

(Shatz is a former resident of Lake Placid and a current resident of Williamsburg, Virginia. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his columns.)