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THE GREAT HOLDOUT
Buzzie Bavasi
May 15, 1967
The outspoken general manager of the Dodgers, currently baseball's most successful executive, begins a four-part series on his joys and troubles in the front office with an account of the famous contract hassle in which pitching stars Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale 'came at me as a pair'
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May 15, 1967

The Great Holdout

The outspoken general manager of the Dodgers, currently baseball's most successful executive, begins a four-part series on his joys and troubles in the front office with an account of the famous contract hassle in which pitching stars Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale 'came at me as a pair'

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To tell the truth, I wasn't too successful in the famous Koufax-Drysdale double holdout in 1966. I mean, when the smoke had cleared they stood together on the battlefield with $235,000 between them, and I stood there With a blood-stained cashbox. Well, they had a gimmick and it worked; I'm not denying it. They said that one wouldn't sign unless the other signed. Since one of the two was the greatest pitcher I've ever seen (and possibly the greatest anybody has ever seen), the gimmick worked. But be sure to stick around for the fun the next time somebody tries that gimmick. I don't care if the whole infield comes in as a package; the next year the whole infield will be wondering what it is doing playing for the Nankai Hawks.

You can learn a lot about the problems of journalism by studying the printed record of the life of Sandy Koufax. As far as I am concerned, nobody since Rudolph Valentino ever had as many myths, legends and pure balderdash written about him as Sandy. The reason is simple: Sandy is a warm, friendly, honest, intelligent human being, one of the finest human beings I have ever known, but the truth is he was never very colorful. In an age when self-promotion has been raised to a fine art, Sandy mastered the fine art of quiet effectiveness. He spoke clearly and briefly, and he did not go into lurid details about how he struck out this batter with a clever fast ball on the inside corner when the batter had been expecting a slider, or how he crossed up the offense by swinging away in the eighth inning when they were expecting him to bunt, or how he expected to win even more games next year, or how he intended to murder them in the World Series with his high hard ones. A Billy Loes he was not. And as far as his private life was concerned, Sandy kept that completely personal and confidential.

You should have heard Sandy in the clubhouse after pitching one of his typical wins, like maybe a 1-0 or a 2-1 job. He'd sit there bedraggled, sweaty and crumpled in front of his locker, smoking a cigarette, and the reporters would crowd around, and he'd stay till the last one had finished his last question, and when he was absolutely sure that everybody had asked everything conceivably possible including what he had had to eat before the game, Sandy would shower. And if you added all his answers together, they would come out something like: "Yes, it was very satisfying to me. No, all the games are important now. Yes, that was a great play Gilliam made in the eighth. No, I stayed with the fast ball all the way. Yes, Rosey called a great game. No, my arm didn't hurt any more than usual." I mean, that was it, game after game. Sandy Koufax was just not one of those guys who rise to great heights of rhetoric when they talk about themselves. It always looked to me like Sandy would rather be in the dentist's chair.

But don't ever forget that Sandy Koufax was the name in baseball, and certain sports editors waiting back in the office weren't going to sit still for ordinary answers. As a result, a few writers were tempted to extend or embroider their quotes or even to distort a little here and there. Sandy being the kind of guy he was, he never complained. The hell of it is, the distortion is still going on, long after Sandy hung up his spikes, and I suppose it will go on as long as baseball is played. Not long ago I saw two different magazines with big cover splashes on how Sandy Koufax can be lured back into baseball. Now, anybody that knows Sandy at all knows that nothing will lure Sandy back into baseball. There is no way! Sandy is out, finished, kaput. He made his decision. It was a highly intelligent decision, consistent with Sandy's usual clear thinking, and I didn't like it and neither did the Dodger fans, but he made it and if you know Sandy at all you know he'll stick with it. A magazine that makes broad hints about Sandy's return to baseball is only trying to exploit the magic that still goes with his name. How Sandy must cringe when he sees those magazines on the newsstands!

But it has always been that way with Sandy. A kid as quiet and dignified as he is, a kid who flatly refused to let the press play with any part of his private life, is a challenge. In fact, the stories that came out about his holdout with Drysdale and, later on, his retirement from baseball—well, most of them were 90% fiction. Unfortunately, at the very end of his career Sandy accidentally added to some of the confusion, partly because he was juggling a lot of important things (including helping the Dodgers win the pennant) and partly because Sandy, God bless him, is evidently his own worst biographer. I enjoyed his book, Koufax, but, to tell you the truth, I didn't recognize some of the details in it, especially the chapter on the double holdout. I'm not saying that the chapter is untrue; I'm just saying that my memories of the double holdout and Sandy's memories are two different things.

My memories of Sandy Koufax go back a long way, incidentally, and right from the first I found out that the Koufaxes were stand-up people. Al Campanis, now our chief scout, had spotted Sandy in 1955, liked the looks of him and asked him to come to the Brooklyn Dodger front office with his father. The Giants and the Pirates and the Braves had looked him over already and all of them had liked him, but he hadn't signed with anybody. We met in my office: Sandy, a big, handsome kid right off the campus of the University of Cincinnati; his father, Irving, a lawyer and a straight shooter; Campanis and me. There was no horsing around. I asked Mr. Koufax how much money they wanted. He said $14,000 plus the usual minimum salary of $6,000. I said fine, and we all made a handshake deal. And that's about all there was to it, except that I told them that I had no room on the roster and asked them to wait for a contract until I could unload somebody to make room. That was O.K. with Mr. Koufax and the kid. To them a handshake was as good as a signed contract.

Now they get up to leave the office and, as they are walking down the stairs, who is walking up but a Pittsburgh scout, Ed McCarrick. You might wonder why a Pittsburgh scout was coming into our office as though he owned the place, and the answer is that Ed McCarrick had once worked for the Dodgers and felt right at home with us and used to drop in to shoot the breeze, which was fine with everybody. Ed sees the father and son going down our stairs and he panics. He figures that Sandy Koufax is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a scout, and after some fast action on the long-distance phone Ed gets in touch with the Koufax family and tells them that Branch Rickey of the Pirates has authorized him to offer $5,000 more than Brooklyn's top bid, whatever it is. Well, I don't have to tell you what most people would have done, especially since Sandy would have preferred pitching for Rickey and the Pirates because he had a much better chance of breaking into their rotation. But Mr. Koufax and his son never hesitated for a second; they told Ed that they had a deal with the Dodgers. I found out later that John Quinn, who was then general manager of the Braves, had offered Sandy $30,000 to sign, and the Koufaxes turned down that one, too. Now, if you start out a business relationship like that, you know what kind of people you are dealing with. And let me say right here that nothing Sandy did later, including the double holdout, changed my opinion one iota. If a kid squares off against you for a big stake and fights you tooth and nail with every tool he has, you may come out of the battle thinking he's one tough son of a gun, but you're not going to come out thinking he's dishonorable.

The double holdout started on February 26, 1966, when spring training opened and Sandy and Donald didn't show. It looked in the papers as though they had made a big salary demand on the club and the club had turned them down. But it wasn't that simple. Being three good friends, as I hope we still are, Donald and Sandy and I had met and talked things over. In the first meeting, right after the 1965 season, we got no place. We sat down in my office at Dodger stadium and they said they had an agent—Sandy's lawyer, Bill Hayes—and that they wanted a three-year no-cut contract totaling $1 million and that neither one would sign unless both were satisfied. I told them I would negotiate only with them, that any discussions they had with their agent were their own business but please keep him away from me, that the amount of money they were asking was ridiculous, and that nobody on the ball club, including me and Walter Alston, was ever going to get more than a one-year contract. As I recall, I said something like, "You're both athletes, and what you're selling is your physical ability, and how can you guarantee your physical ability three years in advance? If you guarantee me that you will both be healthy and strong and still winning 20 games each in 1968, I'll give you a three-year contract." Since not even Cassius Clay could make a guarantee like that, the meeting broke up. But there was plenty of time; this was only October, the World Series was barely over and I was in no rush to get them signed, especially at their asking price of $166,000 per year apiece. From the beginning I was willing to give them raises on their 1965 salary, which were $80,000 for Don and $85,000 for Sandy. I had it penciled into my budget: $100,000, more or less, for Sandy, and $90,000, more or less, for Donald.

A month or so later, when I had heard nothing, I called Donald and I said, "Look, time's passing and we'd better sit down and talk about this thing." He said, "Sure, Buzzie, let's meet at the restaurant of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel." The three of us sat at a corner table in one of those between-mealtimes when hardly anybody was there, and Sandy started working up some figures on the back of an envelope. He was suggesting things like instead of paying them $166,000 apiece for three years we could pay them $200,000 apiece for 1966, $200,000 apiece for 1967 and $100,000 apiece for 1968. I said, "Sandy, what are you trying to do to me? That still adds up to a million dollars over three years. I can't pay you or anybody else that kind of money, and you know it."

Well, we all hemmed and hawed around, and finally they made their first concession: they said each of them would sign for $150,000 per year on a three-year contract. That's $900,000, or down 10% from their opening position, but the amount was still out of line and the three-year contract was impossible.

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