skirball chasing dreams exhibition

A view of legendary pitcher Sandy Koufax’s wind-up, as shown in the gallery for Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American. Photo by Peter Turman.

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When the Dodgers left Brooklyn, I was eight years old. Their arrival in Los Angeles was a major event in my life. I was one of those little boys who played baseball, lived baseball, collected baseball cards, followed the fortunes of my favorite players as if their triumphs and failures were my own. In baseball there is mostly failure. The Dodgers had learned that in Brooklyn. They always played the Yankees in the World Series, and except for one glorious year (1955), they always lost.

But that changed in LA. In 1959 the Dodgers won the World Series, and again in 1963, when they swept the mighty Yankees in four straight games. The hero of that season was Sandy Koufax, the best pitcher in all of baseball, and my idol. I was not alone in this, of course, but particularly for a Jewish boy growing up in Los Angeles, Sandy was both victor and avatar.

Then came the World Series of 1965, and impossibly, Sandy rose to still greater heights. On the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, the best pitcher in baseball refused to pitch. Despite the expectation and indeed the desperation of Dodgers fans everywhere, who could not imagine anything more important than a World Series, Koufax, with quiet dignity, made a statement more powerful than words, and bigger than baseball. He did not claim to be an observant Jew, merely a self-respecting one, and his integrity meant more than a World Series game.

For American Jews of my generation, this was a moment that transcended sport. It not only made us surpassingly proud; it helped to shape our own identity.

Today the Skirball seeks to explore the relationship between Jewish heritage and American democratic ideals. Fifty years ago, thanks to Sandy Koufax, I learned the meaning of both.

—Robert Kirschner, Skirball Museum Director