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Sandy Koufax revels in roots, comes to help Dodgers bloom

By Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times Published: February 18, 2013

Since his stunning retirement in 1966 at the height of his career — he was only 30 — Koufax has taken other chances with his home team, but they have always ended uncomfortably.

He was a minor league pitching instructor from 1979 to 1990, but he quit over unhappiness with the direction of the organization. For the next decade, he rarely represented the Dodgers in public, finally officially disassociating himself from the Fox-owned team in 2003 when he was unhappy with how he was portrayed in a New York Post story about rumors of his personal life. Fox and the Post had the same owners.

Frank McCourt brought him back a year later, but he remained on the fringes, and actually showed up more frequently in other team's training camps until the new Dodgers owners made their pitch.

His words Sunday sounded like those of a man who, in his later years, believes it's finally time to put aside past disappointments and revel in his roots.

“They've done a lot with the team, I understand they've done a lot with the stadium, and it's the only organization I've ever played in or been in,” Koufax said. “I came here with Jackie and Gil and Duke … and played with great people like Don and Tommy and Willie and Maury. … It feels good.”

The number of times a Dodgers story contains one quote about playing with Jackie Robinson and Gil Hodges and Duke Snider and Don Newcombe and Tommy Davis and Willie Davis and Maury Wills? How about never? Much of Koufax's value lies in his unmatched ability in bridging the gap between past and future Dodgers greatness.

“I wouldn't do this anyplace else,” he said, noting that, in all these years of visiting other teams' training camps, he has never worn another uniform. “Anyplace else they said I was working with pitchers, I went to see friends, I wasn't working with pitchers. People would ask, could you do this (wear another jersey) … I said, I can't.”

Not that the greatest pitcher ever over a six-year period — from 1961-66 — can't still teach pitching. “Let me put it this way,” he said, “throwing hasn't changed, not since the caveman. Pitching might have changed a little bit, but it's still throwing. It's precision throwing.”

Just ask Chris Capuano, who worked with Koufax on Sunday and has relied on his wisdom in the past.

“As a left-hander, he actually told me some things that could help me right away when I was in New York,” Capuano said. “One of them was where my foot was on the rubber. … It helped me with my direction to the plate.”

For now, the Dodgers will celebrate the direction that Koufax's presence takes them. He is their glorious past become their promising future. Of all the remodeling done by the new ownership in the last year, this could be its finest addition.

Sandy Koufax was asked whether he felt as if he finally was coming home.

“Always,” he said.

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