Sandy Koufax's arrival at Camelback Ranch always sends ripples of excitement through camp, with fans chanting, "Sandy! Sandy!" when he moves between stations.
The most dominant left-handed pitcher of the 1960s visited Los Angeles Dodgers camp Thursday and spent time watching bullpens and chatting with Dodgers pitchers, particularly Zack Greinke. Afterward, Koufax -- a special advisor to the club -- spoke with reporters on a variety of topics.
Q. How do you like the offseason changes this team has made, particularly the switch to a more analytical front office?
A. It seems to me from everything everyone has said, they’re analytic, but they’re listening to the players and the manager and coaches. You talk about the analytical thing and it all started in Oakland, but nobody makes mention of the fact that [Billy Beane] was a player, so he could see talent. The analytics are one thing, but if he didn’t like what he saw, you don’t sign him. So, I think it’s a combination of both that’s important.
Q. Do the juices still flow for you when you get out here around the players?
A. The juices have gotten very thick. They don’t flow very well. It’s fun to be around the players. This is a nice time of year. Nobody’s lost their job, nobody’s got a job coming. It’s nice to be around the young players.
Q. You watched the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, left-hander Julio Urias, throw a bullpen session. What were your thoughts?
A. He’s impressive, he’s very impressive. That’s the first time I’ve seen him throw. It’s a long way from the driving range to the golf course, it’s a long way from side sessions to the game, and he has all the requisites, we just have to see what happens. Physically, he’s very impressive.
Q. What were your thoughts watching Clayton Kershaw struggling in those tough seventh innings in the playoffs?
A. If somebody had told me that anybody would beat Clayton twice in one series, I would have said, "No way." I probably would have cursed and said, "No way," but, you know, it happens. I have to say, I don’t know if you heard his acceptance speech in New York. That last line was as classy as it gets. On a night when you’re being honored to bring up what didn’t go right is pretty special.
Q. Do you think the fire will burn brighter in him because of what happened against the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs?
A. I don’t know if he has any extra fire burning, because I think he always has fire burning. He’s a great competitor. Would it be any extra? I hope not. You can just go so far. One hundred percent physical effort will kill you, because there’s no room for thinking. You can go to 99, but you’ve got to leave some room for the brain.
Q. Do you think he has something to prove about pitching in the playoffs?
A. I don’t think so, because I think he’ll be in a lot more postseasons and I think it’ll be totally turned around. The best pitcher in baseball is not going to have that happen to him, probably not ever again.
Q. Do you think pace of play is a problem for the game?
A. Possibly. I’m not sure what it is about pace of play is that’s bad, but it’s slower than it used to be. But you get three more pitching changes than you used to get, so that takes time. I think the strike zone has changed shape. It’s gotten narrower and taller and lower. I think a wider strike zone, not necessarily higher and lower, would speed up the game. That’s just my by no means humble opinion.
It’s not so much the time of game. I find it hard to watch a pitcher go to no balls and two strikes and end up 3-2. That happens much more than it should.
Q. Were there any teams you struggled against, much as Clayton has struggled in the playoffs against St. Louis?
A. Early on, there were a lot of them. It got better. I was really glad in the middle of the season, he shut them out. I was like, "OK, he’s proven to them that he can beat them." It just didn’t happen. It’s just bad timing. The games were turned around. The first one, he got enough runs to win. The second one he didn’t. If it had been turned around, it might have been a different story.
Q. What do you think will be different about this team from last year?
A. There is, I would hope, more fundamental baseball being played, moving people over. People poo-poo the clubhouse thing, but I think the clubhouse is important. I think it’s important players like each other. Did that happen in the past? I don’t know. I’m not in the clubhouse. I only know what I read.
Q. What would you like to see Yasiel Puig improve upon?
A. I’d like to see his natural talent and maybe his personality get out of the way. It’s not his personality. He enjoys himself. I think for me, probably he’s never played against talent that’s been his equal, so he thought, "OK, they’ll make a mistake. I can keep running and they’ll screw it up," and it doesn’t happen here. I think he’s learned that. He struggled at the end of the year hitting, but I don’t think he made the same mistakes, throws crazy out of nowhere, running the bases badly. I think there was a lot of progress, but when you’re struggling at the plate, everything looks bad.
Q. Were you disappointed when the veterans committee failed to elect Maury Wills or Gil Hodges to the Hall of Fame?
A. I think Maury changed the game. He revolutionized the game. He was the most dominant offensive force in baseball. Even though [Hank] Aaron might have been the best hitter, every time Maury got on it was a double or a triple. If you looked up he was on second and third. Gil’s contribution is not only as a player, but as a manager. A lot of people have been elected because they did both.
Q. If modern surgeries, particularly Tommy John surgery, were around in your day, do you think you would have pitched longer?
A. I didn’t have to have Tommy John. I could still throw. They just wouldn’t operate on an arthritic elbow in those days. It would have been a simple surgery. I had arthritic hooks that were scratching. My elbow would blow up and fill with fluid. They’d drain it and send you back out there. Surgery would have been easy. They would have done it when the season was over, you’d have been fine in spring training. They wouldn’t have cut anything.