Clayton Kershaw and Joe Torre were the primary speakers ahead of the unveiling of a bronze statue of Hall of Famer Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax at the Centerfield Plaza at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.
Torre played against Koufax during the 1960s, and he opened his remarks with a quip, “I have to be careful how I word things, because I say I hit against Sandy Koufax, but I have to take that back. I faced Sandy Koufax.”
Kershaw has been mentored throughout his career by Koufax, a fellow left-hander whose entire career was played with the Dodgers.
Following the unveiling of the statue created by the same sculptor, Branly Cadet, who created the one of Jackie Robinson that was unveiled in 2015, the normally reticent Koufax spoke for 10 minutes.
Following a video of his career highlights, here is what Koufax said:
“I think the film said everything I wanted to say, so I’ll be leaving now. (laughs)
“Sixty-seven years ago, Jackie Robinson became my teammate and friend. At that time, sharing this space with him would have been absolutely unimaginable. And today it still is. It’s one of the great honors of my life. I’m also honored to have two very good friends here. Clayton and Joe, thank you for being here. Thank you for the kind words. It’s been fun knowing you both.
“Conventional wisdom has always said, ‘Don’t give an old man a microphone, he’s got too many years to talk about.’ I’m going to start way back at the beginning. In high school, my life was all about basketball, I didn’t even know baseball existed. After my senior of basketball was over, I decided I’m going out for the baseball team because my best friend was their best pitcher, Fred Wilpon.
“So I said, OK, I’m going out for baseball. They had two other good pitchers, so I ended up either in right field or at first base, wherever. But our catcher was Walter Laurie, whose father, Milton, ran a sandlot baseball team. He was at our practices and games sometimes. I have to thank him, I think he started this journey here. He asked me to come pitch for his team, and I didn’t know what the hell pitching was basically, but I said OK. He worked for the old Journal American newspaper and on game days his delivery van became the team bus. Without him, this probably wouldn’t have happened.
“The next year I went to the University of Cincinnati. I wasn’t a walk-on, I was invited to come. I didn’t have a scholarship. I made the team, I wasn’t a starter, I wasn’t great, I wasn’t bad. But the freshman coach was Ed Junker, who was also the baseball coach. The baseball team was going to New Orleans and I decided I wanted to go to New Orleans. So I volunteered. Freshmen weren’t eligible, so on that trip I pitched against an Air Force base and during the season I pitched two nonconference games.
“And so with that great amount of experience, that winter I signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Which was even more surprising than the thought of playing for the New York Knicks. But I went to spring training at Vero Beach with absolutely no clue of what to do. The only reason I was in the big leagues was they’d come up with a new rule to deter teams from giving out bonuses. If they gave you more than $4,000 to sign, you had to spend the next two years in the major leagues.
“My presence on the roster wasn’t a happy experience for a lot of people. You took other people’s jobs, maybe you took somebody else’s job. But Jackie went out of his way to make me feel welcome and I’ll never forget his kindness on that. The team was pretty special in 1955. To think that five guys on that team are now in the HOF and one more should be. Don Newcombe was probably the outstanding pitcher of that time, and Don took me aside right away and said, ‘Pitching is hard work. If you aren’t working hard, and are making it easy, you aren’t doing it right.’ I believe that and I lived by that.
“The Dodgers’ success in the ‘50s and the early ‘60s has the fingerprints of so many people on it. It’s hard to describe how so many of them performed so well to put us in a position to play on a grand stage, the World Series.
“The list of people is incredibly long, but I’m going to go through some as quickly as I can: My first pitching coach Joe Becker, he believed in me from the start and I’ve never figured out why. My second pitching coach, Lefty Phillips. My manager, Walter Alston, he was my only manager. I’m not sure if he was happy with me as a bonus player, but we came to have a pretty good relationship through the years. All my roommates, Doug Camilli, Dick Tracewski, Norm Sherry, Carl Furillo. When you spend so many hours in one room, you become like family.
“Most of all I thank my teammates, all of them. All the catchers. There is a special relationship between pitchers and catchers. John Roseboro, basically my catcher most of the time, our relationship was incredible. Never any doubt, when I looked in at the signs, really where I wanted throw, John didn’t create any doubt in my mind.
“Our all-switch-hitting infield, Jim Lefebvre, Wes Parker, Jim Gilliam, Maury Wills, they were great defensively. Jim Gilliam played anywhere you needed him. Maury Wills came up in the middle of 1959 and made himself through sheer will the most potent offensive player in the game. Every base hit, every walk, was a double or triple.
“Willie Davis, with his speed, ran down all your mistakes. Tommy Davis was one of the outstanding hitters of his time. You look at his numbers in 1962 when he batted. .346 with an incredible 153 RBIs. He was great. It’s just hard to remember everybody. We had two relievers: In 1963 Ron Perranowski was 16-3 in relief, and in 1966 Phil Regan was 13-1 in relief. So they weren’t pitching one inning of relief, they were pitching quite a few.
“And all the other guys who sat in the left-field bullpen. Our starting pitchers Johnny Podres, Carl Erskine, Joe Moeller, Don Sutton — the Dodgers only 300-game winner — and, of course, Don Drysdale. We were together 11 years and grew up together. We were friends but I think in some ways we were competitors because he set a standard of excellence I tried to live up to and I had an excellence he tried to live up to. And I think it made us both better.
“I can’t forget Al Ferrara because he’s from Brooklyn. . . . Frank Howard, not much to say about him except some of the balls he hit may still be going.
“Our trainers Bill Buhler and Wayne Anderson did their best to keep us on the field. Inside the clubhouse, our equipment manager and also good friend was Nobe Kawano. Vin Scully, well there’s a lot of talk these days about the greatest of all time. GOAT used to be a bad thing, now it’s greatest of all time. Well, that’s the end of the discussion. Vin Scully is the greatest of all time. No discussion. It’s him. The O’Malley’s were great owners who did their best to make our lives as comfortable as possible.
“I think my only regret today is that so many are no longer with us and I’m unable to let them know how much I thank them and appreciated them. Thank you to all the fans who treated me so well, and tell them how lucky they are to have such a competitive team to root for for so many years. Andrew Friedman and his staff, and the owners who made this team possible . . . and my other favorite No. 32, Magic Johnson.
“For all of you who came out thank you. To my family and friends. . . . I love you one and all. I’m done.”
Koufax and Kershaw bonded years ago. Kershaw became emotional during his speech at the statue unveiling. Here is what he said:
“It really is an honor to speak today. Sandy and Jane [Koufax] have meant so much to my family throughout the years, so to have the opportunity to do this is really special.
“After getting drafted by the Dodgers, whether you ask for it or not, you get indoctrinated on the history of the organization and all the players who have come before you. More specifically as a pitcher, you begin to understand the excellence on the mound that has characterized the organization and what will be expected of you.
“There have been so many incredible pitchers in the Dodgers’ storied history, and you get to hear about them a lot, but Sandy stood out, he always did.
“I remember one of the first times I got to sit down and speak to Sandy, it was on a flight to L.A. for Joe’s charity event. And I was sitting there, and I thought, Sandy and Joe, some old ballplayers, I’m just gonna have to sit through ‘Back when we played,’ or, ‘This is how I used to do it,’ and I thought I was going to have to sit through that the whole flight.
“But it was a far cry from that. I got to know Sandy on that flight and after that I thought, Wow, Sandy genuinely cares about how I’m going to do in this game. From then on I was able to talk to Sandy. He’d call me when good things happened and congratulate me. He’d call me when bad things happened to encourage me. He’d even call during the offseason to check in on Ellen and I and see how the chaos of our life had gone with our four kids.
“And Sandy, I hope someday I can impact someone the way you have championed me. You really have, left-handed pitcher or not, just in life. And on Thursday, I called Harlan, our mutual friend, just to see what I should say, what I should talk about up here. And you happened to be there with him at the time, and you took the phone and you said, ‘I heard you were struggling with your breaking ball, let me help you.’ And he told me to stay tall. That was it. It was simple, it was helpful and it also was caring. It was also genuine, and those are the qualities that I admire most.
“In the years and generations to come, I hope a kid sees this statue and asks his mom or dad about Sandy Koufax, and I hope they tell him he was a great pitcher, but more than that he was a great man who represented the Dodgers with humility, kindness, and passion, and class. And for every rookie who sees this statue for the first time and asks, was he any good?, I hope the veterans tell him simply that he was the best to ever do it.
“And for me, I was looking back at the time we were at Vin’s retirement ceremony on the field and something you said stuck with me, about Vin. You said that the thing you treasure most about Vin is that he allows you to call him a friend. And that’s the same for me. So, I’m grateful for that Sandy [Kershaw holds back tears]. I know you don’t believe it, but there is no one more deserving of this honor. Congratulations.
Joe Torre, the former Dodgers manager who played against Koufax, spoke first. This is what he said:
“I look around and I can probably say safely I’m the only one in this crowd right now who faced Sandy Koufax. (Laughs)
“One thing about it, when I was playing, at that time there were newspapers, so you’d look at probable pitchers in a series coming up, and when you played the Dodgers you’d look and I’ll be darn if it wasn’t Koufax and Drysdale again, every four days.
“I have to be careful how I word things because I say I hit against Sandy Koufax, but I have to take that back: I faced Sandy Koufax.
“I like to say he was one of a kind. Very special. I was a teammate of another one of a kind, and that was Bob Gibson. These two are in a class, I don’t know what you can say other than the trust factor was so huge and when they went out there it was nothing but business.
“Think about facing Sandy. Fastball, curveball, pretty simple, right? However, and I was watching a video Hank Aaron did, and they asked him about Sandy’s fastball, and Hank would say, ‘Yeah, it would start here (points to his belt) and finish up here (points to his neck).’ And the person doing the interview said, ‘That can’t happen.’ And Hank would say, ‘Well, maybe it can’t happen, but it happens.’
“If I was looking for Sandy’s fastball, one I wanted to hit, it would have to, in my eye, be ankle high to start with because then it would finish somewhere in here (motions to thigh high). And then the curveball would have to be up here somewhere (motions above head) because if you looked for it at a hitter’s spot, it’d be in the dirt.
“He was remarkable. And you knew he was pitching because you could hear it, whether it was his fastball or his curveball, you could hear it go, pffffft. That’s rotation, or as they say, spin rate, right? That’s what they talk about nowadays, spin rate.
“He was a winner. He went out there and gave you everything he had, and if it was good enough, good for him. If it wasn’t, to be it, he’d be out there again in two, three or four days. I did find a little bit of a hiccup though. We were doing an interview 10 or 12 years ago and I looked up some stats and I saw his  numbers, you know 25-5, earned-run average 1.88, and there was one thing that caught my attention. There were seven intentional walks. Now, when you have a 1.88 ERA, who the heck are you afraid to pitch to? So I posed that question to Sandy, and he said, ‘They are all named Henry Aaron.’
In his career, and his career was abbreviated, 12 years if you want to count the first two when he had less than 100 innings pitched, he put some numbers together. Celebrating his 50th year in the Hall of Fame, which is amazing. He’s a special man, not only his ability to pitch and be a teammate, but being a friend. And I love this man.
So I’m just proud to be here to share what we are all going to see in a few minutes. But, it’s great seeing you Sandy.