By T.J. Simers
I was in Arizona with the grandkids over the weekend, my daughter giving me four of them over the years, the Father’s Day gift that just keeps on giving.
So, I missed the Koufax statue hoopla, a disappointment because it brought together three of the finest men I have ever met—lucky me.
Koufax, Torre and Kershaw_such a trio of greatness. Throw in a ton of breakfasts with Tom Lasorda, time spent in John Wooden’s condo and chats with Vin Scully while standing next to him in the Dodger Stadium press box restroom and tough to top those gifted moments.
Going to Vegas every year to bet the NCAA basketball tournament with the other daughter is right there, too, along with breakfast most every morning for more than 49 years with the wife.
She hasn’t aged a bit, and it’s still important after 49 years to score points when you can.
As for the trio of greatness, Clayton Kershaw is the youngest, but maybe the most eloquent in explaining what Sandy Koufax meant to him. I read a transcript of what Kershaw had to say at the ceremony and it was so generous and heart-warming.
Takes a lot to get me gushing with mush, but if your youngster has Kershaw’s name spelled across his back, he has the ideal role model. If your husband has it across his back, he’s just weird.
I was there in the beginning with Kershaw when he came to the Dodgers, and he was obviously raised right. He’s smart, polite and when it’s called for prickly. The post-season has done him wrong, but what a competitor and hero for helping the disadvantaged.
If you missed the ceremony, check out Kershaw’s comments on Koufax on the Times’ web site.
Kershaw appeared at my request on a night we had for Joe Torre and Koufax in the Nokia Theatre or whatever they call it now to raise money for Torre’s Safe at Home charity.
He came on stage and I introduced him to Angels’ owner Arte Moreno, who was sitting in the audience. In those days Arte commanded respect, and not the laughter his boorish ownership does today.
I had Kershaw put his hand against Koufax’s hand, and for a moment there it was gone. Koufax’s paw was massive, Koufax explaining that’s how he could get more spin on the ball.
I thought about calling a timeout and explaining it all to Moreno, but nobody really cares about the Angels. The Times monitors how many people read the Angels’ stories they run, and the numbers are so minuscule there is great internal reluctance to give the team much coverage.
The audience loved seeing Kershaw and Koufax together. After the show Koufax and Kershaw flew back to spring training together and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
It was fitting because the reclusive Koufax appeared at the event only because of his friendship with Torre.
Torre is one of the finest men I have ever had the good fortune to meet. We used to exchange Denny Crane shouts of joy when we would get together before a ball game, the William Shatner character from Boston Legal tickling Torre’s funny bone.
I never got visibly under his skin, making him the only one I ever came across who didn’t crack on occasion. Compared to Torre, Phil Jackson came off like Barney Fife.
Torre testified on my behalf in Trial No. 3, a friend doing a favor because he was asked to step forward. And how many times did I make fun of him on Page 2 in the LA Times?
Is there anything better than a friend who stands tall under tough circumstances? I thought I would say that about Jim Mora, but I am afraid I cannot.
It was because of Torre that I met Koufax. I remember it as a four-hour breakfast; he probably thought it felt like eight hours.
He rocked the Nokia Theatre a night later, and said the experience helped him emerge from the shadows, while insisting he never went into hiding.
He had so much to offer, telling the audience his grandfather taught him time was the important thing in life and why waste it dwelling on things that have happened in the past.
That’s why he said he didn’t spend much time appearing publicly to talk about his exploits.
I introduced him as the man who threw four no-hitters, while telling everyone Torre had hit into four double plays in the same game.
Torre hit into four double plays and I got booed.
Koufax also explained how he could never get Henry Aaron out, so one game he started him out with a changeup. Aaron drilled it into the chest of Tommy Davis, who was playing third.
Koufax was giddy with excitement at getting him out as Davis came over with the ball, wheezing and struggling to breath.
“Don’t ever throw him that pitch again,” Davis said, and the story as told by Koufax was hilarious because he imitated Davis’ breathing troubles.
There was so much more, every chance to spend time with Koufax, Torre and Kershaw a once in a lifetime treat.
And yet here I was in Arizona, watching the 16-year-old pour in 24 three-pointers in four games, and a few days later on Father’s Day watching the 12-year-old hit another half dozen threes.
I’m not complaining.