Opinion: They say you shouldn’t date your characters, but they weren’t talking about Sandy Koufax

Last month, the day after Father’s Day, my phone rang. Although the call was from an unknown number, I answered and heard a voice: “Hi, this is Sandy Koufax.”

I held my breath in surprise, even though our lives had briefly crossed paths just a few days ago.

My journey with Sandy began many years ago when I was a small child who idolized him. I was 9 years old when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958. The team brought me so much joy as I tried to get through the turbulence of a chaotic family life. I spent many nights with my transistor radio in bed, counting while Vin Scully told the story of the game and the players themselves—Jackie, Duke, Pee Wee, Don, and especially Sandy.

Living in Huntington Park in southeast Los Angeles, I was one of the few Jews in high school with no Jewish role models or heroes. Everything changed when Sandy took the mound. All baseball fans admired his outstanding know-hitters, complete plays and strikeouts. I was proud of Sandy because of his accomplishments and because he was Jewish.

This was followed by Game 1 of the 1965 World Series when the Dodgers played the Minnesota Twins. The game fell on the same day as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, one of the most significant holidays in the Jewish faith. Sandy decided not to pitch. Have spoke about his decision not to play“A person has a right to his faith, and I believe that I should not work on Yom Kippur. It’s just that simple…”

However, this one simple decision caused a stir that continues today. For me and many others, this made him a champion of religious conscience and an advocate for his beliefs. I believe this is one of the key reasons why I became a rabbi, striving for justice and doing humanitarian work. Fans often attribute great stories to our heroes, and it doesn’t really matter if they are true, if they help inspire us and give us hope.

On June 18, my son Mika and I made the pilgrimage from Northern California to Los Angeles to attend the opening of the Dodgers. statue of Sandy Koufax at Dodger Stadium. At our hotel, we entered the elevator, and as the doors closed, we realized that Sandy was standing behind us. At first I didn’t want to be “that guy” who infringes on the personal space of a famous icon, but then I forced myself to speak to him, sharing several passionate expressions of admiration and respect. If Sandy was embarrassed or uninterested, he didn’t show it with words or smiles. In those few moments, he went from the superhero of my childhood to a real warm and honest person.

Later that weekend, we saw Sandy at the hotel restaurant for breakfast. We didn’t want to disturb him, but arranged for his food to be brought to our room and gave the waiter a note to pass on to him. We left L.A. delighted to have treated Sandy Koufax to breakfast.

Then the phone rang. Sandy said he wanted to say thank you and we had a wonderful 10 minute conversation. This simple act speaks of the person we always thought he was, a person who treats others with respect and strives to do the right thing.

His words at the unveiling of the statue that weekend showed the same thing. They have been commended and commended by others. As I listened to him speak, I finally realized that this highly secretive person has a far less complex self-image than the one that many of us project onto him.

Now I feel differently about Sandy’s decision not to perform on Yom Kippur. This is no longer the grandiose act that I imagined. As with his phone call, he was simply doing what was right for him and his conscience. He wasn’t trying to be a model for anything more.

Viewing Sandy’s actions through this light strengthens me that the world is not transformed by words and statements, not by bold heroic deeds, but by everyday acts of thoughtfulness and decency that anyone can take. These acts, which are central to human experience, are needed today more than ever before.

Lee Baisel is a rabbi, vice chairman of the California State Development Board, and author of Refugees in America: Stories of Courage, Resilience, and Hope.