Preferred Basketball As Youngster
Sandy Koufax was born Sanford Braun on December 30, 1935, in Brooklyn, New York, to Jack and Evelyn Braun, though his parents soon divorced. As a youngster, Koufax stayed with his Jewish grandparents, Max and Dora Lichtenstein, while his mother, an accountant, worked. When Koufax was nine, his mother married a lawyer named Irving Koufax. Young Sandy took his stepfather's last name and pretty much severed ties with his birthfather.
Growing up, Koufax's true love was basketball. At Brooklyn's Lafayette High School, the 6-foot-2 Koufax dominated the league. With his Herculean arm, Koufax could launch a basketball the length of the court to a teammate waiting under the basket.
Koufax was a shy kid who preferred staying out of the spotlight, yet his muscles continually drew him in.
In Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, author Jane Leavy recalled that a childhood friend noted that strangers at the beach gawked at the teenage Koufax's build, calling him "a Greek god."
Though Koufax loved basketball, he dabbled in baseball and played in a sandlot league. Legend has it that when Koufax pitched, his teammates sat down because they didn't expect any hits: Koufax either walked the batters with his wild pitches, or struck them out with his fastball.
Following high school, Koufax headed to the University of Cincinnati in 1953, hoping to study architecture. He made the basketball team and earned a partial scholarship from coach Ed Jucker. Jucker also coached the baseball team and by the spring of 1954, Koufax was on the roster. That season, Koufax had 51 strikeouts in 32 innings, coupled with 30 walks. Despite his wildness, the Brooklyn Dodgers saw potential and signed Koufax in 1954. Because Koufax received a large signing bonus, the Dodgers had to place Koufax on their roster. The rule was supposed to keep wealthy clubs from signing all the best prospects. Unfortunately for Koufax, who had pitched only one season of college ball, skipping the minor leagues proved disastrous.