Sandy Koufax and Yom Kippur

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    Many people on YWN might not know who Sandy Koufax was. He was an assimilated Jew who was born in Brooklyn in the late 1930’a and had very little Jewish education.

    He was the greatest Baseball pitcher of his era and perhaps the best left handed pitcher of all time/

    His team won the National League championship in 1965 and he was expected to pitch the first game of the World Series. The problem? It was on Yom Kippur. Koufax, however , stunned everybody by announcing that he would not pitch or come to the ballpark that day. Reporters, who knew he was not a practicing Jew, asked him why.

    He said he was aware that many young Jews were under pressure to work or play team sports on Jewish holidays. By not pitching in such an important game, he felt that these Jews could strengthen their resolve and reply to those pressuring them by saying if Sandy Koufax could refuse to pitch on Yom Kippur, I can refuse to work or play a game. And his action did provide chizuk.


    I am so happy to see this CR thread. Sandy Koufax not pitching in game 1 of the 1965 World Series was my real first Jewish memory.

    This motzei Yom Kippur I took the time to research Koufax’s entire career. It appears that he never pitched on Yom Kippur at any point in his entire career. It took 45 minutes of internet searches, but I was able to compile this record from his 12 years in professional baseball, all with the Dodgers (first Brooklyn, then Los Angeles). The dates are the dates of YK (night, then day), and what follows are what Koufax did or did not do that year on or immediately before/after YK:

    1955 September 25-26. The regular season ended September 25; Koufax did not pitch. (He had only pitched in 12 games all season.)

    1956 September 14-15. Koufax did not pitch either day. (He only pitched in 16 games all season.)

    1957 October 4-5. Regular season was over and Dodgers were not in World Series.

    1958 September 23-24. Koufax did not pitch either day. (He had pitched and won 9/21.)

    1959 October 11-12. World Series was over October 8.

    1960 September 30-October 1. Koufax pitched in relief (7th and 8th innings) in the night game October 1.

    1961 September 19-20. Koufax pitched 13 inning complete game victory in the night game September 20. (YK ended 7:30pm; night games started at 8pm back then.)

    1962 October 7-8. Playoff was October 1-3 and Dodgers lost, ending their season.

    1963 September 27-28. Koufax did not pitch. (He had won his 25th game September 25.)

    1964 September 15-16. Koufax was on the disabled list.

    1965 October 5-6. Koufax would have pitched game one of the World Series on October 6, but sat out the game, which the Dodgers lost. He pitched and lost game two, but won games 5 and 7.

    1966 September 23-24. Koufax would have pitched in Chicago for a day game (the Cubs didn’t have night games yet) on September 24, but sat out the game, which the Dodgers lost (Ferguson Jenkins pitched a 4 hit shutout for the Cubs). Koufax pitched the next day and lost to another Jewish pitcher, Ken Holtzman, who was pitching on his regularly scheduled rotation day.

    Sandy Koufax was not from a religious family and he was never religious himself in the way we think of being religious — except that he never pitched on Yom Kippur.


    People think we can learn lessons only from highly censored bios of Gedolim; esoteric compilations portrayed through their own preconceived prisms, brushed over picture perfect. Nothing at all could be farther from the truth.


    Don Drysdale gave up 6 runs in the third inning of that historic day that Koufax sat. When Drysdale was being pulled after giving up that atrocious inning, he told manager Walter Alston, “I bet you wish that I was Jewish too.”

    Burnt Steak

    Disclaimer: not trying to say Koufax wasn’t great, just saying he isn’t the only one.

    Sandy Koufax was not the first great Jewish ballplayer. Hank Greenberg also refused to play on Yom Kippur in 1934 when the Tigers were in the middle of a pennant race. He was also beloved by that generation of Jews.


    There was a punter or kicker for the Pittsburgh Steelers who was asked if he was planning on playing on Yom Kippur when Sandy Koufax didn’t. He replied “Yes I am going to play, Koufax had someone to take his place in the rotation, I dont.”

    The Steelers lost that game.

    My father who was in an office football pool, was the only one to pick the Steelers to lose and was the only one to get it right! One of the other partners claimed my father cheated since he had inside information.


    It’s interesting that a frei Jew occasionally does a mitsva, but all the people mentioned above played routinely on Shabbos and Yuntuf. If there were a model, they were for the ultra-assimilationist model of being a little bit frum once a year, and ignoring everything else. Observing Yom Kippur is one of the last mitsvos that Jews do before becoming totally assimilated – the analogy would be that the heart keeps beating after the lungs, kidney, brain, and digestive system have shut down, meaning that what comes next is death. Jews who observe only Yom Kippur are moribund – what comes next is total assimilation and being disappeared from Klal Yisrael.


    akuperma- Sandy Koufax was not brought up religious. I’m not saying he was a Lamed Vav tzaddik, but he did Sacrifice part of his life’s passion and fame for the last remnant of his Jewishness, and I think that is laudable.

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