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Sandy Kofaux: Both a Baseball and Jewish Icon

Sandy Kofaux is one of the most heralded baseball pitchers of his generation, and ranks high for all time. He is also heralded in the the Jewish community for skipping game 1 of the 1965 World Series to observe Yom Kippur. Let’s travel back in time and examine the life and career of Sandy Kofaux.

Sandy Kofaux was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, on December 30, 1935. Sandy’s parents were named Jack and Evelyn Braun, and at the age of 3 they divorced, with Sandy going with his mother. How did he get the last name Kofaux? Well, Evelyn eventually remarried Irvin Kofaux when Sandy was 9, and moved to Long Island, New York. Just before his sophomore year of high school, they moved once again, this time to a suburb of Brooklyn known as Bensonhurst. Being athletic, it would be no surprise that Sandy would be part of a sports team, though surprisingly he was a basketball player, not a baseball player.

It wasn’t until his senior year attending the University of Cincinnati that he participated on the baseball team, though he dabbled since the age of 15. Going 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 31 innings, he collected 51 strikeouts with only 30 walks. He caught the eye of Dodgers scout Bill Zinser, who promptly went to the front office, which they did nothing with.

After college Sandy tried out for the New York Giants and Pittsburg Pirates. During his tryout for the Pirates, he hurled his fastball and broke the thumb of the teams bullpen coach named Sam Narron. At that point Sandy Kofaux impressed the Pirates general manager, Branch Rickey, so much that he told the Pirates scout, Clyde Suckforth, that Sandy was the greatest arm he had ever seen. Unfortunately for the Pirates, the Brooklyn Dodgers swept in when a scout named Al Companies, who heard about Sandy from a part-time scout named Jimmy Murphy, and the Brooklyn Dodgers invited Sandy to try out and it was the beginning of Sandy Kofaux as a Dodger.

Due to the rules of baseball, Sandy didn’t have to start in the minor leagues due to his impressive $14,000 signing bonus on top of a $6,000 salary, which was more than the $4,000 minor league cap. On June 24th, 1955 Kofaux made his debut against the Milwaukee Braves, he came out of the bullpen in the 5th inning because the Dodgers were trailing 7-1. The first batter he faced hit a bloop single, the second batter bunted and Sandy threw the ball into center field. Then the next batter, Hank Aaron, he walked but ended up getting out of the inning with no damage done, but that taught him a lot. His first major league start was July 6, 1955, and it was disastrous. He only went 4 2/3 innings giving up 8 walks. His next start, which was his first win, he pitched a complete game shut out against the Cincinnati Reds. In all, that season he pitched 12 games striking out 30 batters, walking 28, in 42 2/3 innings pitched with 2 wins, and both of those wins were shut out wins.

After the 1955 regular season was done Sandy enrolled in Columbia University to study architecture. He did this to finish his education, but also because he didn’t make the post season roster that year. That was a year that the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series. After game 7 Sandy went to celebrate with his team. From 1956 to 1960, Kofaux struggled and kept being sent down and called back up. In 1961, that all changed and he cemented his role in becoming a dominant pitcher. He posted an 18-13 record with 269 strikeouts, which led the league and broke the single season record, set by Christy Matthewson 58 years earlier. 1961 was Kofaux’s first all-star year.

In the 1965 season, Sandy Kofaux was injured a lot but he was still dominant, winning both the triple crown (having 26 wins) and an era of 2.04 with 382 strike outs. During the 1965 World Series, Sandy Kofaux was slated to pitch game 1. That year game one was on Yom Kippur, so he decided to not pitch. For those who don’t know, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year. This was a big deal, in that you don’t have to sacrifice your faith for your career.

Sandy Kofauxes career came to an end October 2, 1966 and he ended with a record of 165-87 with a 2.76 era with 2,396 strikeouts, 7 All-Star appearances, 3 World Series, and 3 Cy Young awards. Sandy Kofaux was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972 with 86.87% of the vote on his first ballot.

Article contributed by Harmony Davis.

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