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Koufax unfairly blindsided by shoddy journalism

Sandy Koufax was twice married. Today, the extraordinary old Dodgers pitcher shares his life with a girlfriend, a New York single mom named Jane.

They were rocked by a New York Post column, to which no writer or editor showed neither class nor courage to affix a byline, suggested that a "Hall of Fame baseball hero . . . cooperated on a best-selling biography only because the author promised to keep the secret that he is gay."

Koufax is the hero.

Several newspapers, including some of America's largest, run regular features in which items are often unattributed and/or unsigned. Some go under cutesy headings like "The Nose" or "The Buzz." Here, on Page Two, my editors promise a sassy but professional and fair tone.

When opinion is penned, whether by a Gary Shelton or a Mary Jo Melone or a Bill Maxwell or a bloke named Mizell, there should be demands to back up words with facts and/or scruples. None of us is flawless, but we must work hard to trying to be. Standards should never stoop below extremely high.

I have long disapproved of "blind" commentary, which can include weak rumors, shabby innuendo and garbage that masquerades as humor. It can have tabloid stench. Some newspapers and many talk radio shows are too prone to such ethical, personal violations.

But back to Sanford Koufax, the greatest thrower of a baseball I ever saw. A quiet man, he's as private as Pete Rose is public. If there was a pitching Rembrandt, it was Sandy.

He says no to all interview requests but, thanks to mutual friends, I had three big swatches of time with Koufax in recent years. What a wonderfully gentle, unceasingly fascinating man.

Now, after a lifetime of heroic ties to a ballclub he first joined in Brooklyn, due to an erroneous branding in a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media colossus who also possesses the Los Angeles baseball franchise, Sandy has split with the Dodgers. No more stadium appearances. No more wearing No. 32.

I spoke this week with one of 67-year-old Koufax's closest friends, Terry Collins, former Devil Rays coach and manager of the Anaheim Angels. Now a Dodgers administrator, he said there is "absolutely nothing" to the Post item that included a faulty reference to a new book "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy," written by former Washington Post writer Jane Leavy and published by HarperCollins, another company owned by Murdoch.

Richard Johnson, editor of Page Six where the New York Post stab appeared, apologized "to both Koufax and Leavy for getting it wrong." Wrong? How about also for getting it by using journalistic methods beyond pitiful? How about doing the right thing now and deep-sixing Page Six , with a hope that all other reputable newspapers follow suit with their own ill-staged columns?

Surely there will be a suit.

Koufax doesn't lose many.

Still my hero, Sandy.

OH SAY CAN YOU SEE?: Two college basketball players, women from Manhattanville College and the University of Virginia, chose to use their First Amendment rights in turning away from the American flag as the national anthem played, protesting the idea of going to war against Iraq.

If they'd been my daughters, I would've cautioned, guarding against being naive about the depth of such stances; understanding the rage and disgust that such defiance triggers among millions of Americans, many who have paid major prices as freedom protectors.

It's more than a game.

Toni Smith of Manhattanville, an upstyle New York liberal arts school 25 miles north of where the World Trade Center once stood, was first to turn a back to our flag during a pregame Star-Spangled Banner playing. Then, a week ago freshman Deidra Chatman made a similar gesture prior to her Cavaliers upsetting the North Carolina Tar Heels. Having experienced a backlash, Chatman told the Washington Post she would not repeat her protest.

To say you're against current U.S. initiatives in the Middle East is entirely acceptable. Free speech is the American way. I often see athletes seemingly bored at the anthem and flag, but nobody needs to burn or stomp or blatantly snub Old Glory, a needlessly deep cut into a wealth of Yanks who have seen blood shed and lives lost in guarding the rights that allow such dissent.

I don't want war. I don't want U.S. kids killed on Middle East sands or seas. I don't want us doing the inappropriate. But, whatever transpires, it's still my country and my flag and there are so many who earned my unwavering respect for ideals we share.

If I disagree, I would aim to do it with judgment, intelligence and respect for those who have well earned it.

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