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Dodgers Hope for Changeup From Koufax

Club guardedly optimistic that Post's apology could prompt Hall of Famer to reconsider severing of ties.

February 22, 2003|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

VERO BEACH, Fla. — The Dodgers expressed hope Friday that Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, who severed ties with them in protest of an item that appeared in the New York Post, may reconsider because of a published apology.

Both the Dodgers and Post are owned by News Corp.

The newspaper announced it would apologize to the Dodger icon in today's editions after intimating in a two-sentence gossip item published Dec. 19 that he is homosexual.

In response to that report, Koufax recently advised the Dodgers that he would no longer attend spring training here at Dodgertown, visit Dodger Stadium or participate in activities, as long as the team is owned by News Corp. The story triggered a tumultuous 24 hours for the media conglomerate.

Apparently spurred by the fallout, the Post said it had made a mistake and moved quickly to set the record straight, releasing a preview of its one-paragraph retraction.

The Post's release:

"A two-sentence blind item we ran here on Dec. 19 about a 'Hall of Fame baseball hero' has sparked a series of unfortunate consequences for which we are very sorry. The item said the sports hero 'cooperated with a best-selling biography only because the author promised to keep secret that he is gay.' Two weeks later, the [New York] Daily News' Michael Gross, after finding 'Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy,' by Jane Leavy on the bestseller list, named Koufax as the player and ran a photo of him. Koufax himself, an intensely private man, was deeply offended by our item. The author has denied making any deal with Koufax and called our item 'erroneous.' We apologize to both Koufax and Leavy for getting it wrong."

The news of the Post's reversal was met with enthusiasm at Dodgertown, where the Dodgers had spent most of the day lamenting that Koufax, who continued to decline comment through friends, would not be working this spring.

Many who know Koufax well said they doubted the Post's move would immediately cause him to soften his stance but said at least there was reason for optimism now.

"That is just really, really great news," said Tom Lasorda, who has known Koufax for 48 years. "First of all, I'm happy they admitted the mistake, because this was totally unfair for Sandy to have to deal with. Whenever something is written about you in the press that you know is not true, you want to see them get it right.

"They went out and admitted what they had to, and now we'll see what happens. I hope Sandy looks at this and changes his mind. I certainly hope he would, but you just don't know how mad he is, and he certainly has a right to be. You don't know how it's going to turn out, you just have to wait until he reads [the retraction] and find out how he feels after that. I know I want to see it."

Leavy, a former Washington Post reporter, made her feelings known in Friday's editions of The Times, saying the New York Post's report was "thoroughly erroneous on all counts. [The item] was blatantly unfair, scandalous and contemptible. It was thoroughly without basis insofar as it had to do with Sandy or any relationship I had with him professionally. It's not the kind of journalism I practice."

She added, "If this is a stand he is taking, I certainly understand why he might feel that way and I totally support it."

The Dodgers were pleased by Leavy's comments, believing they contributed to the Post's changing course.

"How do I feel about this? I'm ecstatic about it," said Dave Wallace, a club vice president and one of Koufax's closest friends in the organization. "We all felt terrible that Sandy had to go through this because he's one of the best people you'll ever meet, and it was just ... very upsetting.

"As far as whether this will change Sandy's mind about anything, I don't know. Someone with the principles and convictions of Sandy doesn't change his mind easily when he feels very strongly about something. I would be surprised."

But Koufax also walked away from the club in 1990, reportedly upset with the handling of the farm system. The three-time Cy Young Award winner eventually returned, and players are hopeful he will again.

"You want him to be a part of the organization, you want him to be around, not just because of everything he has to teach, but also because he's just genuinely a great person to be around," catcher Paul Lo Duca said. "An apology is the first step toward making something better, so maybe getting that first step will be a start."

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