Only The Agent Was Free
Last September, I republished an article written by my Dad for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram about Sandy Koufax's perfect game. The title of that entry was "It Was Forty Years Ago Today..." Well, in the spirit of 40-year anniversaries, I bring you two more specials from the "Best of George Lederer" series.
Here are the articles exactly as they appeared in the Long Beach newspaper on March 30 and March 31, 1966.
FINAL OFFER REFUSED
Dodgers Give Up on Big 2
By GEORGE LEDERER
VERO BEACH, Fla. - There's no business like show business left for Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
The baseball curtains fell on them and the Dodgers Tuesday night. It fell with the impact of an iron curtain with the announcement from Dodger general manager, Buzzie Bavasi:
"There is no sense in negotiating further."
Six weeks of cold war and the battle for two signatures ended with heavy losses on both sides. It ended with only one signature - club owner Walter O'Malley's letter of truce.
The man accustomed to waving pennants did not wave the white flag because he refused to give in to the bitter end. He considered the incident closed, kissed the boys goodbye and wished them luck.
"We have no apology," said O'Malley. "We think they're great boys and great performers. One had a chance for absolute greatness. But many of us have had a chance to change professions and have done so.
"We wish them great success. While I am sorry the incident is being closed, I am pleased to say it is ending on a note minus hard feelings and name calling. They leave baseball with our very good wishes. They're entitled to go out with the greatest amount of dignity."
Bavasi made his final offer to Koufax, Drysdale and their agent, Bill Hayes, Tuesday afternoon and was turned down by all three.
The offer was $112,500 for Koufax, $97,500 for Drysdale, each on a one-year contract.
Bavasi, unable to see Hayes in New York Monday as planned, flew to Los Angeles Tuesday morning and spoke with Koufax and Drysdale.
"Let's get this nonsense over with," he told them. He asked them to "give up this business, the three-year contracts, etc., because if it comes to money alone, my offer will be the highest in the history of baseball to two players on one club."
Bavasi was told he would have to see Hayes. He called the agent and described him as a "friendly and decent sort of guy."
Flattery got Bavasi nowhere. Hayes turned down the deal.
"This must be distressing to you and your club," Bavasi quoted Hayes. "But, let's face it - the deal is the same as before. The boys want three-year contracts and $500,000 apiece. Sandy will not settle for less than Willie Mays ($125,000).
"Let's not drag this thing out. The boys have an interesting offer for a new television show, a movie contract and plans for a lucrative exhibition tour of Japan."
Convinced that Hayes would not budge, Bavasi called O'Malley and suggested they terminate negotiations.
"I think we've been more than fair," Bavasi told his boss. "Let's close the incident. Let's wish the boys well. They've been darn good Dodgers and we can't blame them if they can improve their future, even if it takes them out of baseball. There is no sense in negotiating further."
O'Malley backed his general manager 100%.
The next question is: Will the fans continue to back the Dodgers?
O'Malley believes, "We'll manage to survive. We have a record sale of season tickets (estimated at 16,000). We have not had a parade of cancellations, even though these negotiations have been dragged out in the newspapers for six weeks.
"I think the fans are buyers of good attractions. What kind of an attraction we will have remains to be seen. Maybe this is a good way to find out."
Manager Walter Alston also believes the club will survive.
"I'm disappointed. I can't lie about that," said Alston. "But it's not exactly a shock. I've felt this coming on for a couple of weeks now. I'm not mad at them. They've won too many games for me.
"I don't know where we'll finish this season, but this club showed me last year that it won't throw in the sponge now. I've been optimistic about our young pitchers all spring. Once given the opportunity, they may do even better than we think.
"Hell, if I didn't think we'd win tomorrow's game, I'd stay in bed."
Pitching coach Lefty Phillips vowed, "I'll do the best I can with the fellows I've got and get ready for the man who runs the club."
John Roseboro, who has caught most of the 309 games won by Koufax and Drysdale, said, "Well, we've played without 'em for a month now - I guess we can go six months more."
Captain Maury Wills believes the Dodgers "still are a first division club - definitely. I'm sorry to hear we've lost Sandy and Don. It's a great loss to both sides - to baseball and to them.
"But now that it's settled, we can expect to play better. Up to now, we've all sat around, waiting and hoping. It's been distracting. Now we can concentrate on the job at hand. We still have a good club.
"No, I don't hold a grudge against them."
Koufax and Drysdale will launch their acting careers in Paramount's "Winning Shot," starring David Janssen. They'll start shooting April 11.
When the Dodgers start shooting the next night, Koufax and Drysdale still will be listed on the 28-man roster, said club vice president Fresco Thompson.
"Ten days after the opening of the season, they'll go on a restricted list, for players who fail to sign contracts. If they should change their minds and decide to sign, they would be eligible immediately. If they don't sign, then they go off the roster April 23."
Under baseball's reserve clause, they cannot sign with any other club unless the Dodgers give them their outright release. This the Dodgers will not do, nor will they consider a trade.
"We have been approached by several clubs about a deal," said O'Malley, "but at no time have we seriously discussed this as a matter of fact or strategy. We were approached by clubs that were interested in letting their public know they'd like to have them. That's all."
After the Dodgers all but gave up hope in signing Koufax and Drysdale, the future Hall of Famers agreed to end their 32-day holdout. Dad was right there to bring his readers the news.
'THE GREAT HOLDUP' ENDS
Sandy, Big D Sign for ONE Year
By GEORGE LEDERER
VERO BEACH, Fla. - Twenty-four hours ago, 32 and 53 equalled 86 "Outsville," as the saying goes.
Today, things are back to normal. Thirty-two and 53 equal $220,000.
That's baseball biz!
To refresh memories, 32 and 53 are numbers of a couple of movie actors named Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who have decided to play ball with the Dodgers.
For six weeks they have co-starred as villains in the comedy-drama, "The Great Holdup," receiving more newspaper space than John Barrymore and Helen Hayes in entire careers.
The script, written by Bill (No-Cut) Hayes, called for Koufax and Drysdale to extract one million dollars from the bank of O'Malley over a three-year period.
There was only one flaw. The bank was burglar proof and owner Walter O'Malley announced so daily. Chief teller Buzzie Bavasi wouldn't fill the paper sack because, if he did, he would have have to fill 23 others accordingly.
The plot needed revision. It began to drag and needed a shocker before the happy ending. The shocker came Thursday night when the would-be bank robbers were told they had a right to change professions and "go with our very good wishes. . .and with the greatest amount of dignity."
Wednesday, the entire production wound up on the cutting room floor. There would be no way to sell such a farcical ending.
The teller not only filled the sack, he shook hands with the villains upon reaching a compromise.
The actors, realizing they might be a bit rusty since the filming of their last hit, "World Series of 1965," settled for salaries totaling $220,000 for one year, only $780,000 and two years short of their original demands.
Koufax will receive "in excess of $115,000," Drysdale $105,000.
Hayes (Bill, not Helen) apparently will be the spy who was left in the cold. There was no mention of a commission for him. He might, however, sell his press clippings. They're worth their inches in advertising.
O'Malley compared the sudden turn of events to a poker game.
"It is a little difficult to understand after what happened Tuesday," he explained. "I can only say it is somewhat like a poker game where players are entitled to change their minds and draw another card.
"Sandy and Don came in as an entry and wanted to split the pot. They wanted a long-term contract and a no-cut (in salary) contract. This was difficult for us to meet.
"I made it clear the other day that money never was the problem. The deterents were this entry business and three-year contracts, important not only to the Dodgers, but to baseball generally.
"The entry could have led to practices we could not tolerate in baseball. What happened in the past is relatively unimportant. I am pleased to report that the boys changed their minds, negotiated as individuals and will report to the club in Phoenix on Friday."
* * * *
The signing took place in Bavasi's office at Dodger Stadium exactly 24 hours after Bavasi announced "there is no sense in negotiating further. Let's close the incident and wish the boys well."
The incident was reported when Bavasi called the entry late Tuesday.
"It is fair to assume - in fact, I know it to be so - that Buzzie raised the ante on the basis of individual negotiations," said O'Malley.
"It is, however, not fair to say than an agent was not involved. Buzzie said some complimentary things about Hayes Tuesday and I am sure this helped.
"There were also certain things present in the negotiations that were awkward, to say the least, but it all worked out well."
How well they work out will be determined when Koufax and Drysdale make their first appearances in Dodger Stadium. Will their long holdout and the resulting furor be detrimental to the players' reputations?
"No, I don't think so," said Bavasi. "If anything was detrimental, it was done by the news media. Then, too, you have to look at the good side of it. It kept baseball in the newspapers."
Bavasi's analysis must have come as another shock to O'Malley, who immediately issued a more diplomatic statement to the press:
"This has been a real rough story for you writers to 'sit out' and I wish to say that had you not handled it with restraint and professional dignity, the present satisfactory result would NOT have been reached. My sincere thanks to each."
Manager Walter Alston, who had reason to smile after Claude Osteen shut out the Reds, 4-0, on two hits, had even more cause after attending the press conference.
Alston said Osteen still will be the opening night pitcher, but promised "to find a spot" for Koufax and Drysdale.
"I don't know how soon they'll be ready," he said, "but I imagine they'll be ready for a certain amount of work within 10 days. Until I have a chance to see how fast they can get in shape, we'll have to play it by ear."
Drysdale has been working out the past week and announced his intention to "pitch a couple of innings this weekend."
Koufax, who has not touched a ball since the World Series, said he did not begin workouts because "I'd all but given up hopes of reaching an agreement. Now I wish I had worked out."
The Dodgers will fly to Phoenix after a game against their minor leaguers here this afternoon.
Believe it or not but Sandy Koufax started the second game of the regular season on Wednesday, April 13, 1966 vs. the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. He was knocked out of the box in the fourth inning with the following line:
IP H R ER BB SO
3 5 5 1 2 2
The Dodgers lost the contest, 7-6, yet Koufax was spared the loss. He threw six shutout innings four days later, beating the Chicago Cubs, 5-0. Sandy tied a career-high by giving up 13 hits in his fourth start and lasted only 1 1/3 innings two outings later, before running off eight consecutive complete-game victories--a period in which he gave up only 43 hits and nine runs (six earned) while striking out 75 batters and allowing just 13 walks.
Koufax finished with the most wins (27) and the lowest ERA (1.73) of his career. In what turned out to be his final season, Sandy led the league in W, ERA, K (317)--the Triple Crown of pitching--as well as IP (323), GS (41), CG (27), and SHO (5). He was credited with the most victories in the NL by a left-hander since 1900 and set a ML record with his fifth consecutive ERA title. Koufax won the Cy Young Award (which was only given to one pitcher in all of baseball back then) and placed second--behind Roberto Clemente--in the NL MVP voting, despite garnering more first-place votes than anyone else.
Drysdale started the fourth game of the season on Friday, April 15, 1966 vs. the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers won, 4-2, although Drysdale didn't figure in the decision.
IP H R ER BB SO
6 8 2 2 1 3
Interestingly, in a sign of the times, the Dodgers drew only 24,049 for Koufax's start and 28,596 for Drysdale's. The latter won fewer than half as many games (13) as Koufax and his ERA (3.42) was nearly twice as high. With the exception of Don's final season when he only pitched 62 2/3 IP, his ERA+ of 96 was the lowest of his career. Big D's batting (.189/.211/.264) even suffered in 1966, a year after hitting .300 with 7 HR!
I don't know if Drysdale earned his pay that year, but Koufax certainly gave the Dodgers a pretty good return on their investment in his swan song season. I wonder what he would be worth today?