The man commanding the most attention at the Dodgers’ camp is also the least comfortable in the spotlight.
Through his work with the club’s pitchers, Sandy Koufax may prove himself to be a master mentor, Yoda and Mr. Miyagi rolled into one. But he’s never been one to embrace his celebrity. In that regard, this spring — even with Koufax donning a Dodger uniform for the first time in decades — is no different.
“It’s fun,” Koufax said during a brief media session Friday. “I’m having a good time. If I wasn’t having a good time, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
When the interview ended at Koufax’s behest, one reporter thanked the 77-year-old pitcher for years of inspiration as a Jewish professional athlete.
Ed Farmer, a radio color commentator for the Chicago White Sox, then wandered over from the Chicago side of Camelback Ranch. He stopped and thanked Koufax for helping him perfect a curveball, a pitch Farmer credited for his All-Star Game appearance in 1980.
“I’m always indebted to him,” Farmer said, then turned to Koufax. “God bless you.”
As Koufax goes about his business, sparing some time for autographs but mostly collaborating with players and coaches, these moments have been rare. Behind the scenes, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, Koufax is “really like one of the guys.”
“I know he’s got that aura about him. Everybody’s afraid to talk to him almost. With us he’s great. He’s fine.”
Chris Capuano, Chad Billingsley, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Paco Rodriguez all threw bullpens under Koufax’s watchful eye Friday. Earlier in the week, he helped Kenley Jansen quicken his footwork to home plate, and helped Ryu adjust the grip on his curveball.
“When he opens his mouth,” Jansen said, “you better listen.”
The humble Hall of Famer went out of his way Friday to explain that he’s trying not to overstep his bounds in his role as a special advisor.
“Rick Honeycutt and Kenny (Howell) are the pitching coaches. I’m just here to help them,” Koufax said. “If they hadn’t been OK with my being here, I wouldn’t be here. The first thing I did was call Rick and say, ‘how do you feel about my being here?’ If he had said, ‘Well I’d be a little uncomfortable,’ I wouldn’t be here because he’s the pitching coach. He’s responsible. He’s going to be here every day. I’ve known Rick for a long time — even when he was playing.”
The dichotomy between Koufax’s humility and celebrity is as much a part of his legend as anything he did on a mound for the Dodgers.
It just doesn’t necessarily make for good copy.