The All-Star game for the professional sport formerly known as America’s pastime—with its dwindling ratings, parochial fan bases, and shiny, gargantuan stadia—was held in Cincinnati last night. Prior to the game, Major League Baseball allowed fans to vote on the “greatest living players.” Four were selected from this ballot, with these accompanying statistics:
Hank Aaron — AVG: .305, HR: 755, RBI: 2297
Johnny Bench — AVG: .267, HR: 389, RBI: 1376
Barry Bonds — AVG: .298, HR: 762, RBI: 1996
Ricky Henderson — AVG: .279, HR: 297, RBI: 1115
Sandy Koufax — W: 165, ERA: 2.76, K: 2396
Pedro Martinez— W: 219, ERA: 2.93, K: 3154
Willie Mays— AVG: .302, HR: 660, RBI: 1903
Tom Seaver — W: 311, ERA: 2.86, K: 3640
From this list Koufax, Aaron, Mays and Bench were chosen by fans. Here’s Koufax throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to Bench, for a strike:
GIF: Sandy Koufax drops in a strike with the ceremonial first pitch pic.twitter.com/sSElABud9N
— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) July 15, 2015
A case can be made for Bonds, of course; my only real issue with this list is the exclusion of Martinez, whom I grew up watching paint corners ala Hall of Famer Greg Maddux—speaking of, why isn’t the 355-game winner on the list? (And if I may, please revisit this Pedro gem from the 1999 All-Star game in Boston.) The MLB also listed the winners of a number of other “greatest players” categories, including by each team.
Koufax, of course, is a Jewish baseball hero, who chose to observe Yom Kippur rather than take the mound for Game 1 of the 1965 World Series. In the collection Jewish Jocks, Koufax biographer Jane Leavy highlights another one of Koufax’s famous feats during the 1963 World Series:
On October 2, a Wednesday afternoon, in front of 69,000 New Yorkers witnessing the Los Angeles Dodgers’ first appearance at Yankee Stadium since the diaspora, Koufax declared his preeminence by striking out the first three Yankees on 12 pitches. In the second inning, he struck out two more guys—The M&M Boys, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. The ineffable nexus of pitching intellect and physiological dominance thrroughout the series left mantle muttering imprecations such as, “How the fuck are you supposed to hit this shit?”
The Dodgers, of course, would go on the beat the 104-win Yankees four games to none to win the crown. Here’s footage of Game 1, when Koufax threw a complete game, bettering Whitey Ford:
And for good measure, here’s Vin Scully calling the final inning of Koufax’s perfect game on “September the ninth, nineteen hundred and sixty-five” against the Chicago Cubs:
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Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.