Sandy Koufax, one of the best baseball pitchers of his time, could be found at the height of his fame sitting quietly in a back booth at Dick’s Diner in Ellsworth at 6 a.m. each morning.
Koufax moved to Winkumpaugh Farm in East Holden in 1971 to shun autograph-seekers and baseball’s spotlight. The following year, at age 36, he became the youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The celebrated six-time All Star who pitched 12 seasons for the Brooklyn/LA Dodgers, is, almost ironically, part of an upcoming exhibit of World Series memorabilia at Waterville’s Colby College. Donated by alum Kurt Cerulli, the 600-plus item collection of baseballs, tickets and programs dates back to 1941. It highlights much of baseball’s history, along with the the social and economic upheaval that accompanied the game in the 1960s and 1970s.
“I’m thrilled it will be in a place where people can see baseball’s social and historical context,” said Cerulli, founder of Boston-based financial data analysis firm Cerulli Associates. The collection, which he donated as he and his wife downsized from their Beacon Hill home, initially will be shown at Colby’s Miller Library, and later in downtown Waterville.
“Koufax’s was a very difficult autograph to get,” Cerulli added. “He signed programs from the 1963, 1965 and 1966 World Series, and they were inscribed with the fact that he won the Cy Young award those years.” Unlike many collectors, Cerulli acquired unsigned items over the years and then sent them through the player’s agent to be autographed with specific wording, like Koufax’s Cy Young inscriptions.
A 1978 Colby graduate in history, Cerulli is equally intrigued by events outside the game, such as Koufax refusing to pitch Game One of the 1965 World Series because it fell on the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday.
Koufax also signed a ball that sits next to one signed by Don Drysdale in the Colby display. The two men joined forces to skip spring training after the 1965 season in an ultimately successful effort to get more money from the team owners.
“It was ‘collective bargaining’ with two good players holding out and getting more,” Cerulli said. “At the time it was the only leverage a player had.”
One of the biggest changes for baseball players and the economics of the game started in 1969, when St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder and seven-time Gold Glove winner Curt Flood refused to be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, partly because of that city’s reputation as racist.
At the time, players were bound to a team by the “reserve clause,” which essentially gave the team all the power to keep or trade them. Flood sued Major League Baseball, and the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Flood lost his effort to become a free agent. But the case set in motion a movement for free agency, and Oakland A’s pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter became the first free agent in 1972 through a contract loophole.
“He changed baseball economics,” Cerulli said of Flood, who previously was best known for botching a fly ball that cost his team the 1968 World Series. “We just didn’t know it when he lost the ball.”
Cerulli has Flood’s signature and individual statistics on the American League’s World Series Program, but not on the one from the National League. At the time, each league produced its own program during the World Series,rather than today’s combined program.
The collection still is being valued, which could take several more weeks, but Cerulli estimates it’s worth $500,000 to $1 million.
Colby will display it in increments at the library. The first showing will be Oct. 19-21 at the Miller Library’s Special Collections section, followed by Oct. 27-29 in the library’s reading room. A permanent display on campus and a traveling display are slated for within a year.
“It is a remarkable archive of American and social and cultural history as seen through the lens of baseball,” Colby President David Greene said in a prepared statement.
Cerulli, who grew up in New Jersey loving Mickey Mantle and the Yankees, had family in Boston’s North End. He admits he became a Red Sox fan in 1967 while watching the “Impossible Dream,” pennant-winning season. He attended Monday’s Red Sox elimination game wearing a Terry Francona shirt because he still hopes “Tito” and the Cleveland Indians will win this year’s World Series.
Cerulli never met any of the players who signed his collection.
“It was a business situation,” he said. “Besides, some of them are cranky old guys.”