VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Reclusive Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax has an aura about him that I've seen from very few others. Muhammad Ali, certainly, when he made an appearance at the Los Angeles Angels' camp last spring in Tempe, Ariz. Other than that, I'd have to think a long time to come up with someone else.
What's interesting when Koufax appears at Dodgertown, as he usually does a few times each spring, is that the players react almost like fans themselves. And that's partly how it was Monday morning when Koufax showed up for a special tutoring session with a couple of Dodgers pitchers.
"I didn't know anything about this stuff until this morning," manager Joe Torre said. "It's a treat."
Koufax, tanned and trim in a lime green golf shirt and khaki shorts, spent 30 minutes or so working with reliever Scott Proctor and non-roster invitee Chan Ho Park on some back mounds just off the Dodgers clubhouse and administrative buildings.
"Park and Proctor both asked about it when they saw him here," Torre said. "He's aggreable to helping out when he can, but he's got a schedule."
Koufax has a good relationship with Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and appears to have a comfort factor with Torre. The two have known each other since the 1960s, when Koufax was at the top of his game and Torre was breaking into the majors. Both men are from Brooklyn, which gave them something in common, and each played in the National League, which sometimes put them on the same turf.
"I remember a Saturday in Milwaukee when he was pitching against us," Torre said. "I was 20, 21, and went up to hit and he struck me out three times in a row.
"The fourth time I said, 'I'm not going to let him strike me out this time' and I popped up. All you wanted to do against him was not strike out. He put that in your head.
"That night, we happened to be in the same restaurant, and that was the first time we talked socially."
Koufax sent Torre a telegram when the manager won his first World Series with the Yankees in 1996, and when Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, he said Koufax was one of the first people who called.
"He's been a very special friend," Torre said.
After that '96 World Series win, appearing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, Torre remembered it was raining so hard that his leather jacket was ruined and he looked like "a drowned dog."
"I get home and the phone rings, and it's Sandy," Torre said. "He didn't even say hello. He just said, 'I bet you're glad you said yes to that, huh?'"
Torre said that he expects Koufax to drop by to visit, help coach or offer tips a handful of times this spring.
Likes: I like Andy Pettitte, I really do. But he needs some time to pass and he needs the season to start. That's going to do him a whole lot more good than Monday's press conference. ... Don Mattingly in Dodgers camp and, hopefully, for now, the troubles with his estranged wife in his rear-view mirror. Mattingly, thought to be Torre's eventual successor as DOdgers manager, will be a special assignments coach this year. He was going to be Dodgers hitting coach but personal issues -- which came to a head when Kim Mattingly was arrested for public intoxication and refusing to leave his property -- interrupted that. ... Tommy Lasorda back as Dodgers manager for a week in March when the other half of the club is playing exhibition games in China. ... Who knew there was a Burt Reynolds Museum in Jupiter?
Dislikes: Eric Gagne's tepid "apology" to his Mitchell Report appearance. ... Disappointed in Shelby Lynne's new disc Just a Little Lovin' covering some of the songs of the legendary Dusty Springfield. My first mistake probably was in not simply cutting to the chase and picking up a Springfield disc insteada. Lynne's effort is intentionally stripped down, but there's no grit. No soul. It's like the music of Dusty Springfield for Lovers of Elevator Music.
Sunblock day? Odd mix of morning rain and mugginess yielding to a hot Florida sun meant you'd better have the sunblock within reach. Zoomed up into the upper 80s today despite the stiff breeze.
Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:
"There ought to be a law
"With no bail
"Smash a guitar
"And you go to jail
"With no chance
"For early parole
"You don't get out until you get some soul"
-- John Hiatt, Perfectly Good Guitar