. . . I know sometimes people’ll say, “Well, you’ve done everything possible, what’re you gonna do next? You can’t pitch a better ball game.” And I say to myself, “Well, why not? Why can’t I do more, why can’t I do a better job?” There’s nothing to stop me—except the hitters. You can always try to pitch a better ball game, the best you possibly can.
– Sandy, I’ve seen you after you’ve pitched and you sit at your locker and you look like World War II. At this stage of your career isn’t there any tendency on your part to jake it a little, not to put out quite so much?
– I can’t. I can’t. Sometimes you get enough runs and you try to take it easy and all of a sudden you’re in trouble.
– Yes, but you go out there and work like a guy who’s expecting to be cut right after the game.
– You’ve got to put out on every pitch. How do you know what the other pitcher’s going to do? He’s out there trying to get your team out, too. People say, doesn’t it make you a better pitcher because your team doesn’t score runs, doesn’t that make you bear down? Well, the Dodgers score more runs than people think, but even if your ball club scores a lot of runs I don’t think you can take the attitude that you can give up two or three runs and still win. You’ve got to say to yourself, “I don’t know how many I’m gonna get, but if I can keep the other side from scoring any I have a lot better chance.” So you put out on every pitch.
This is Sandy Koufax in a lengthy interview he did with Sports Illustrated back in December of 1965. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, especially Koufax’s self-deprecation with respect to his hitting.
I’ve always been curious about what makes professional athletes tick — what’s going on inside their heads that makes them the best in the world at what they do? Is there something off about them? I think that right there, the “I can’t. I can’t,” that he couldn’t take a single inning off, even with a swollen elbow, even in blowouts — I think that’s a big part of why Koufax was so good at what he did.