Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Rookie and the Legend

September 24th, 1966 was Yom Kippur. On that day the two most winning Jewish pitchers in the history of baseball were not at the ball field because they chose to honor their heritage. The pitchers were Sandy Koufax and Ken Holtzman. Sandy is a legend, one of the greatest pitchers the game has ever seen. In 1966 he won the Cy Young Award which is given to the best pitcher in the major leagues. He had also won the honor the previous year and two years before that, he was simply dominating. Today I can say that Ken Holtzman is the winningest Jewish pitcher of all time, he won 174 games, Koufax won 165. I can also say that he owns 5 world series rings, played in two all star games and pitched two no hitters. But in 1966 Kenny, as he is called, was a rookie. I can only wonder what he was thinking and feeling in Synagogue on September 24th, knowing that the next day he was to take the mound against a living legend, Sandy Koufax.

On that Yom Kippur day in 1966 Koufax owned a 25-8 record, he was still on top of his game but his arm was ravaged. He would retire only a few weeks later. The two Jewish southpaws would face each other only this once, the rookie versus the legend.

Kenny was a Chicago Cub and the game was played at Wrigley field so the visiting Dodgers were up first. Kenny took the mound and quickly laid down the Dodgers one two three. In retrospect Kenny seems to thrive under pressure, he has a 4-1 record and a 2.55 ERA in World Series play. The Cubs scored the only two runs they were to get that day in their first try at bat. So Kenny had a 2-0 lead but with Koufax on the mound you had to know that the lead would not grow. In the second inning Kenny was to face the heart of their lineup, the number 3-4-5 hitters. Not a problem, he struck out number 3 and 5 and the cleanup hitter grounded to short. This went on all game. Koufax pitched a complete game giving up only four hits and one earned run. But that day the rookie out dueled the master. After eight full innings, Kenny had not given up a hit let alone a run. If it wasn’t for a third inning walk to Dick Schofield he would have had a perfect game going into the ninth and final inning. As it turns out Schofield was the first batter he had to face in the final inning and he hit a single up the middle. Kenny ended the game with a two hitter and the win. …And that’s the story of the greatest game two Jews ever pitched against each other.

I get to pitch and coach for Kenny this summer. I will get the inside scoop on that game and many others and report back.

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