Fifty years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax — then the best pitcher in Major League Baseball — opted not to pitch in Game 1 of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins. Game 1 coincided with Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar — the Day of Atonement. Koufax elected not to pitch, but instead to atone. The decision surprised many who thought it would be reasonable for Koufax to let his profession supersede his religion for the occasion of the World Series. But it did not surprise those who knew Sandy Koufax, whose fortitude was perhaps the only thing stronger than his left arm.
Today marks Yom Kippur 2015, and Koufax’s decision still resonates. Pro players still draw criticism for missing games for the births of their children and other personal commitments. But the Koufax example remains a glowing touchstone. A character in the move The Big Lebowski, talking about Judaism, says “3000 year of beautiful tradition from Moses to Sandy Koufax.” Koufax never regretted his decision, even though the big reaction to it surprised him. That would have been the case too if he and the Dodgers hadn’t won Game 7, but they did.