Koufax’s fastball inspired scientific debate, pitting the empiricism of the batting eye against scientific principle. The laws of physics and logic dictate that an object hurtling through space must lose height and momentum. Anyone can make a whiffle ball rise, sure. But a man standing on a fifteen-inch-high mound of dirt throwing a five-ounce horsehide sphere downhill? “Rise, my butt,” Roseboro, the skeptic, says.
Hitters scoff at science. Their expert testimony is unanimous.
Stan Musial: “Rose up just before it got to the plate.”
Willie Mays: “I don’t know how much it rose, it just rose. Ain’t got time to try and sit there and count how high it goes. You just know it went up—very quickly.
Hank Aaron: “It did something, you know?”
If Koufax’s fastball defined him in the popular imagination, his curveball distinguished him in the minds of major league hitters. They had a whole vocabulary to describe his curve and what it did to them. They called it an overhand drop. (Started at twelve, ended at six.) They called it a yellow hammer. They called it a biter and they called it a bitch. Mostly, they called it unfair. It started a foot over your head and headed south in a hurry. Hitters swore it broke two feet. From the letters to the knees. From the table to the floor. From heaven to God’s green earth. They said it fell out of the sky.
Guys would swing at it like they were chopping wood and end up hitting only the plate. Juan Marichal once broke his bat in half that way. It fooled batters, umpires, and sometimes his own catcher. The first time Jimmy Campanis, Al’s kid, caught Koufax, he stood up to catch the ball and it hit him in the knee.
Sandy Koufax | Jane Leavy