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Sandy Koufax offers thoughts on Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw

Dodgers great Sandy Koufax likens Puig to Bo Jackson, but wants to see more disciplined play from him. As for Kershaw, what's not to love?

February 17, 2014|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Former Dodger great Sandy Koufax chats with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and ace Clayton Kershaw during spring training last year.
Former Dodger great Sandy Koufax chats with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

PHOENIX — Sandy Koufax pitched in an era when major league baseball players didn't flip their bats or admire their home runs.

You know, the types of things Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig did last season as a rookie that infuriated some opponents.

Koufax, 78, who is in his second year as a special advisor to team owner Mark Walter, was visiting the Dodgers' spring-training complex Monday when he was asked about Puig's theatrics.

"If the showmanship doesn't involve bad decisions, yeah, it's fine," he said. "People love it."

While Koufax didn't call for Puig to temper his exuberance, he said he wanted to see the 23-year-old develop into a more fundamentally sound player.

"You have a great arm, you want to show it off, but I'd like to see him throw it to the right place all the time," Koufax said. "He's young. The biggest thing is he's not played against competition as good as he is. So you're always able to have your physical ability make up for whatever else you do.

"He's learning. I'm sure it's going to happen. He has too much talent."

Koufax said Puig's physical gifts reminded him of a couple of former two-sport athletes.

"Everybody makes the comparison to Bo Jackson," Koufax said. "The Cardinals had a guy who played football and baseball, Brian Jordan. These guys are so strong and so fast. Big, strong and fast — a combination you don't always see."

Koufax said Puig's throwing arm was in the same class as that of Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.

"Good arms are good arms," he said. "Can you say this one's better than that? Clemente had a great arm. [Willie] Mays had a good arm, but Mays never missed the cutoff man, never threw to the wrong base. And I'm not sure Roberto did, either."

Koufax added, "I'm not comparing him to Clemente after two, three months in the big leagues."

Koufax said he was captivated by Puig's electrifying performances during his first weeks in the major leagues.

"It was crazy," he said. "It was just fun to watch."

The Dodgers were in last place when Puig was promoted from double-A Chattanooga on June 3.

"This was exciting because the team was struggling," Koufax said. "He came up and kind of ignited what eventually happened. It looked like in May that they were going to be having a really dismal year. He and a couple of other things turned it around."

Koufax also spoke at length about Clayton Kershaw. Last month in New York, Koufax presented Kershaw with his second Cy Young Award.

"He's just a very special person — a special pitcher, a special person," Koufax said. "I had the opportunity to watch him since he started and it's something I just felt I wanted to do."

Kershaw has been compared to Koufax since he was a teenage prospect in the Dodgers farm system. Koufax said that never bothered him.

"I hope by the time it's over, it will be a big honor," Koufax said.

Recalling his days pitching in a rotation that included fellow All-Stars Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres, Koufax said Kershaw and Zack Greinke would benefit from each other's presence.

"It's a friendly competition but you know what other guys are doing," he said. "Of course, it pushes you. Guys make each other better."

Koufax didn't think much of the Dodgers' increasingly intense rivalry with the Arizona Diamondbacks, with whom they brawled in June.

"It happens," he said. "You're in the same division. You play each other so many times in the spring and so many times during the season. People get mad at each other."

Asked if he thought the Dodgers and Diamondbacks might fight again in their season-opening series in Australia, he replied, "Absolutely not. After that long on an airplane, you won't have a temper."

Koufax will offer advice to the Dodgers pitchers while he is in camp. But unlike last year, Koufax doesn't plan to be in uniform.

"It's not my job," he said.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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