Sandy Koufax: The Doctors Were Worried They Might Have to Amputate the Finger

Harold FriendChief Writer INovember 28, 2011

LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 28: Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers waves to the crowd during ceremonies honoring memebers of the 1955 World Champion Dodgers before the game with the Houston Astros on August 28, 2005 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers won 1-0. (Photo by Stephen Dunn /Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

As he was eating a lunch that consisted of barley soup, a tongue sandwich and a regular Coke, Sandy Koufax spoke about his injured index finger.

“The trouble was down here in the palm, here where the fleshy part of the thumb joins the palm. There was a blood clot right there, and that cut off the circulation to the index finger and partly to the next finger and thumb.

“Early last season I decided to bat lefty, because that way my right arm would be nearer to the pitcher than my left, and if I was going to get hit by a pitch I'd rather have it hit my right arm than my left.

“I got jammed by a pitch right on my hands, and I think that's when the trouble started."

By July 12, 1962, Sandy Koufax was 14-4 with 209 strikeouts. Then his season ended. He could no longer pitch because of the injury described above.

The injury cost the Los Angeles Dodgers the pennant. It might have cost Koufax much more.

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Koufax  lost circulation in his left index finger. It became raw and ripped. He described it as a piece of raw meat and he didn’t realize how bad it was because he was concerned with how much time he would miss.

“…The doctors told me later that at the time they weren't worried so much about when I was going to pitch again as they were that they might have to amputate the finger."

Koufax recovered fully, and in 1963 he had the first of possibly the four greatest consecutive seasons any pitcher ever produced. But the injury made him realize that greatness can be fleeting.

"All last winter, while my finger was healing, I didn't know if my career was over or not. I had no idea.

“Who knows what's gonna happen. When is it gonna end? I feel that if I could play till I'm 40 or 38 or 36 and be successful till then—sure, then I would have everything I want. But if it's over next year, what have I got?”

A writer asked Koufax if he ever had such thoughts while pitching.

"I'll tell you," he responded, "some nights out there you feel alone, scared and naked."

Koufax knew the score. He valued what he had while recognizing how quickly it could end. It didn’t end as suddenly as it seemed to the fans at the time.

His arthritic elbow had been a problem for a while when he was told that he could lose proper function of his left arm, discretion became the better part of valor. 

Imagine if he had remained healthy.

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