‘Ironic’: Koufax statue unveiled on Shabbat


By Louis Keene, The Forward

Jewish baseball lovers have long doted on Sandy Koufax not only for his dominance on the mound, but also for his choice to sit out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.

Now, with the legendary southpaw being immortalized in bronze at Dodger Stadium, some of those fans will face a similar dilemma: The new Sandy Koufax statue will be revealed before the Boys in Blue face the Cleveland Guardians on June 18, a Saturday afternoon.

That’s right: The Koufax unveiling — and accompanying replica statue promotional giveaway — fell on Shabbat.

The scheduling conflict vexed Sabbath-observant Angelenos who see Koufax as a Jewish hero and a totem of their faith.

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As one observer tweeted: “It is certainly ironic that a man who is idolized by observant Jews for refusing to play on Yom Kippur will be honored on Saturday (Shabbat),” when observant Jews won’t be able to attend.

Benjy Bain, an Orthodox Dodger fan who collects bobbleheads, called Koufax “the quintessential culmination” of his Jewishness and fandom.

Though Koufax famously skipped his World Series start before Bain, 33, was born, the moment resonates deeply with him.

“That a Jewish player could even be considered good — but he was great, if not one of the greatest — and for him to make a point of embracing his identity, that’s definitely notable for a religious Jew like me,” he said.

Before each season, Bain reviews the Dodgers’ promotional calendar and picks out one or two games to attend. He looked at the Koufax celebration as “a really cool thing to go to.”

But when he realized it was planned for 4:15 on a Saturday, he says he remembered thinking “how ridiculous that was. Just really, really poor thinking on the part of the team.”

Making it even more perplexing was the apparent care the Dodgers put into planning the season’s other giveaways. Japanese Heritage Night is planned for a game against the Angels — whose star, Shohei Ohtani, is Japanese. Justin Turner’s bobblehead night is against the Mets — the team that released him.

It’s possible that Koufax’s date was planned for the anniversary of Clayton Kerhaw’s no-hitter — Kershaw, the Dodgers’ Hall of Fame-bound ace, is seen as Koufax’s baseball heir. The two lefties have a close relationship.

The Dodgers did not return a request for comment.

Most Jews do not observe the Sabbath, among them Koufax, now 86, who is expected to attend Saturday’s ceremony.

That made Ephraim Moxson, who writes the Jewish Sports Review, a semimonthly guide to Jewish athletes, okay with it — though Moxson qualified that he was “about as un-religious as they come.”

“If Sandy’s going to be there and it doesn’t bother him, it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s great that he’s having a statue. It should have been done a long time ago.”

But even some non-Sabbath observant fans could be off-put.

Ron Rimmon, who grew up in Los Angeles when Koufax was hurling his notorious overhand curve, wears Koufax’s No. 32 jersey — which has been retired by the team — on every trip to the ballpark. He calls Koufax, who won three Cy Young awards and Most Valuable Player in 1963, “the most important Jewish player” of his time.

He does not refrain from driving on Shabbat, and said he likely would have gone to Saturday’s game if he were not out of town this weekend.

But Rimmon, 65, still thought it was “a little weird” to fete Koufax on a Saturday.

“There are only six other options available to them,” he said drily. “Obviously they don’t have a yiddishe kopf running the operation.”

The statue will be located outside the centerfield entrance, next to a statue of Jackie Robinson, which was fashioned by the same sculptor, Branly Cadet.

The first 40,000 fans in attendance received a miniature version of the sculpture.