GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sandy Koufax wasn’t wearing a Dodgers uniform when he walked around the practice fields Monday at the team’s spring training camp.
“That’s not my job,” he said.
Even without the famed No. 32 on his back, players and fans alike knew who he was. At 78, the Hall of Famer is the face of Dodger tradition and represents what Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig and their current Los Angeles teammates hope to achieve.
In his second year as a special adviser to team chairman Mark Walter, Koufax arrived at camp Sunday to work with the pitchers. He will also serve as a consultant throughout the season.
Koufax also is an autograph magnet. He signed for plenty of crowds that lined up along the fences that surround the complex of fields at Camelback Ranch.
Koufax likes what he sees from a Dodgers club that reached the NL championship series last year before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in six games.
“This is a great team if it stays healthy,” he said after signing autographs for fans who lined up along the fences that surround the complex of fields at Camelback Ranch.
Koufax is enthused by the Dodgers’ good mix of experience and youth. He was as excited as anyone by what he saw last year in rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig.
“It was crazy,” Koufax said. “It was just fun to watch. This was exciting because the team was struggling. 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.”
Puig’s confidence and aggressiveness sometimes led to mistakes in the field and on the base paths.
“He’s so physically talented,” he said. “Everybody makes the comparison to Bo Jackson. 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.”
“If the showmanship doesn’t involve a bad decision, it’s fine. People love it. 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.
The 23-year-old Cuban hit .319 with 19 home runs and 42 RBIs in 104 games.
“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.
Dodger left-hander Clayton Kershaw, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, has been compared to Koufax. But Koufax, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, is uncomfortable with that link between the left-handed aces.
Koufax introduced Kershaw in January at a dinner in New York where the Dodgers’ young star accepted the 2013 Cy Young, his second in three years.
“When I was introduced, they said I was going to introduce my protege,” Koufax said. “So I wanted to start off by saying he’s not my protege. He’s his own man.”
Koufax foresees Kershaw as an even better pitcher in the coming years. Kershaw turns 26 on March 19.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he will monitor Kershaw’s workload this season in an attempt to get him some rest whenever possible. In 2013, Kershaw threw a career-high 259 innings.
“At 25, you don’t have to adjust,” Koufax said. “Talk to me when he’s 35. He just has to keep doing what he’s done. Every year, he’s gotten better. So if he keeps getting better, the sky is the limit. He’s a great pitcher. He’s special.”
Koufax also is hopeful that Josh Beckett can come back from midseason surgery. Beckett, who is trying to regain the fifth spot in the starting rotation, had rib and muscle tissue removed last July to alleviate pressure on a nerve that was causing numbness in his right hand.
“I thought Josh was going to have a great year last year,” he said. “I think he really wants to have great year this season. If he’s healthy, I don’t see a reason why he can’t.”