This story ran in the Sept. 9, 2005 edition of The Telegraph.
Bobby Hendley isn't rude when the question is asked, just genuinely puzzled.
"I'm not sure why you'd want to talk to me about something that happened 40 years ago, but we can if you like," he said.
Forty years ago today, Hendley squared off with Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in what is generally considered to be the best-pitched game in baseball history.
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Koufax was in the midst of another Cy Young season and the Dodgers were in the heat of a pennant chase that eventually ended with the 1965 World Series crown. Hendley was in the middle of what was a journeyman's career that included a trade from the San Francisco Giants to the Chicago Cubs midway through the season.
What resulted from their matchup that day in Dodger Stadium was a key piece of baseball lore, the only time in the modern era (after 1900) that two teams combined for exactly one hit --- a hit that had absolutely no bearing on the final outcome.
In the end, Koufax came out on top, pitching his fourth career no-hitter and the eighth perfect game in baseball history. Hendley, a Macon native, finished with a one-hit, one-run loss and a rare place in history for a pitcher with a 48-52 career record.
"I'm not sure there's ever been a game with fewer hits," said Jeff Torborg, who was the Dodgers' catcher that night. "Bob pitched a terrific game. He was always a good pitcher, but Sandy was going right along with him."
Like Hendley, Ron Fairly also was born in Macon, but didn't grow up here. It was his sacrifice bunt in the fifth inning that advanced Lou Johnson, who had walked and would later get the game's lone hit, to set up the only run.
"(Hendley) didn't throw the ball as hard as Sandy," said Fairly, now a broadcaster with the Seattle Mariners. "It was probably one of the best games of his career. It was great pitching all night long."
In the end, Hendley was a part of one of baseball's defining moments, but hasn't let the moment define him.
"I was 30 when I was out of baseball," said Hendley, now 66. "But I don't have any regrets. I stepped directly into coaching. I worked with a lot of good people, a lot of good people."
Success, near-misses get similar treatment
Is there another sport besides baseball that relishes the near-misses and the what-might-have-beens as much as the successes?
There's Ernie Banks never playing in the postseason, the many times the Red Sox came up short in the World Series, and Harvey Haddix pitching 12 perfect innings, only to lose the game in the 13th.
Hendley's game against Koufax certainly qualifies.
When Jane Leavy wrote the biography "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy," a couple of years ago, she took the approach of alternating chapters. She started with the first inning of the perfect game in the first chapter, then went into Koufax's life in the next, and rotated back and forth the rest of the way.
"I wanted it to be big," Leavy said. "Not about a person or a career but about the time. ... I wanted to use a game of his (to highlight) and there's nothing quite like a perfect game."
What struck Leavy were the similarities and differences between Koufax and Hendley, both 6-foot-2 with Koufax about 20 pounds heavier at 210 when they played. Both started out as hard-throwing left-handers and both suffered severe elbow problems that would shorten their careers.
Koufax pitched through painful arthritis that would force him to retire after the 1966 season while still in his physical prime.
Hendley suffered an elbow injury in 1960 while still in the minors. Though he made it to the majors, he never regained the great velocity he had before the injury and had to rely on guile to stay ahead of hitters.
"The more I found out about him, I saw how contrary his career was to Sandy's, how their careers could've been interchanged," said Leavy, who couldn't locate Hendley for the book until remembering his given name was Charles Robert Hendley. "(Early on) he probably threw as hard as Koufax, but got by with smarts and junk the rest of his career. His highest point happened to coincide with the night Sandy Koufax was perfect."
Hendley was a fireballer pitching for Lanier High School. He went 16-4 and struck out 204 in two seasons, pitching Lanier to two consecutive region titles while pitching every region game. He threw three no-hitters in high school and was the MVP of the 1957 North-South All-Star Game.
Hendley originally signed a baseball- basketball scholarship with Georgia, but opted to take a pro contract with the Milwaukee Braves instead. Between seasons, Hendley decided to further his education at Mercer and joined the Army reserves, which required six months of active duty and five-and-a-half years of reserves.
"If baseball hadn't been going good, I probably would've been a second lieutenant," Hendley said.
But baseball was going good. Unfortunately for Hendley, his time in the reserves might have been costly to his athletic career. He's convinced that the many pull-ups he did for physical training tweaked something in his elbow.
When Hendley went to spring training in 1960, he threw too hard too soon and something popped in the elbow. He was never the same after that.
"I can't tell for sure," Hendley recalled. "We did a lot of physical training, a lot of pull-ups, and to this day, I think that's what did it. (Koufax) was roughly 30 when his career ended as well."
In some respects, though, the elbow injury taught Hendley a couple of valuable lessons. For one thing, he developed into a pitcher rather than a thrower. It also cemented the importance of education in his mind.
During the offseasons, Hendley took a or two course at Mercer, finally graduating in 1970, 13 years after he started.
"It's an important thing I'd say to my students," Hendley said. "You can get (degree) if you work at it. I didn't know when my (baseball) career would end, but when it did, I'd be ready to step into something else."
Consistency Hendley's trademark
Hendley made it to the majors in 1961 and played at that level through 1967. Consistency was his best attribute.
Ironically, that 1965 season was the only year his ERA exceeded his career average of 3.97. Every other year, it ranged between 3.60 and 3.94. His winning percentage hovered each season around his career mark of .480.
Hendley spent three seasons with the Braves before heading to the Giants in 1964. After the trade, he stayed in Chicago until '67, when he was dealt during the season to the New York Mets, his last team.
"If there's one word I'd use to describe him, I'd say 'professional,'" Torborg said.
The game against Koufax might have been Hendley's most memorable, but it wasn't the only time he flirted with a no-hitter.
When he was with Milwaukee, he held St. Louis hitless for 8 1/3 innings. But a Cardinals batter reached on an error, and Curt Flood followed with a two-run home run to end the bid.
Hendley pitched most of his career with intermittent pain in his elbow. He doesn't look back at his career with any regret, but he does sometimes wonder what he might have accomplished had he been healthy.
"I think 48-52 with a bad elbow was OK," he said. "I probably had 100 wins in pro baseball. I wonder what it would've been like if I'd had a good arm. I could've played 'til I was 45, 50 years old, no problem. When I was throwing batting practice (while coaching high school), I threw 200 pitches a day, no problem. I enjoyed doing it.
"I'd have liked to have played it healthy, in terms of my arm. I had two elbow operations, and I never got over it. If I'd been playing today, with all the advances, I'd have played for years."
Though Koufax will be remembered for many things in his illustrious career, Hendley's career is forever linked with that one September night.
It didn't seem like history would be made at the game's outset. It took Koufax awhile to find his groove.
As Leavy recalled in the book, Cubs second baseman Glenn Beckert told third baseman Ron Santo, "We got him where we want him tonight. He's not throwing it that good." Beckert nearly killed the perfect game in the first inning with a line drive down the left-field line that was foul by inches.
"Not when it started," Hendley said. "Only when it got into the third or fourth inning. Then we knew it was developing into something special."
The Dodgers weren't a bad hitting team that year; they were atrocious. The team batting average was .245. The only player to hit above .300 all season was pitcher Don Drysdale.
The Dodgers were so inept offensively during that era that Torborg recalled Drysdale's famous line when Koufax threw his third no-hitter the year before. Drysdale wasn't at the game and was told about it later. "Did he win?" was Drysdale's response.
The way Hendley was throwing that night, if the Cubs had been able to get Koufax early, they had a chance. Hendley entered the game 2-0 lifetime against Koufax, and would beat him again a week after the perfect game.
But fate wasn't on Hendley's side. He surrendered a walk to Johnson to lead off the fifth, and that started trouble. Fairly followed with the sacrifice to move Johnson to second. There was no question in Johnson's mind what was going to happen next.
"No one was focusing on me," Johnson said. "(The game) was beyond special. Hendley wasn't giving up nothing. We had to scrap for everything. But with Koufax pitching, if we got half a run, we won it. ... If I got on base, I was going. I was going to try to steal a run."
That's exactly what happened. Hendley didn't pay enough attention to Johnson, who got a big lead and broke for third. Catcher Chris Krug's throw sailed past Santo, and Johnson easily scored. Hendley was losing 1-0, but still had the no-hitter going.
"People talk about Chris Krug throwing the ball into left field," Hendley said. "But it was nobody's fault. I'm the guy who let Lou Johnson get too big a lead."
Johnson today echoes what Koufax said after the game. "If we didn't get that run, we'd probably still be playing," Johnson said.
With the Dodgers' anemic hitting, one run was often enough for Koufax.
"We'd usually say to him, 'there's your run,'" Torborg said with a laugh.
It was all Koufax needed this night. The Cubs never threatened the rest of the way as Koufax struck out the final six batters of the game.
Hendley lost his own bid for immortality in the seventh when Johnson flared a ball over the outstretched glove of Banks at first base that ended up a double. Hendley bore down though to retire the side. Hendley held out hope the rest of the night that the Cubs might scratch out a run, but saw those hopes diminish rapidly as Koufax got stronger and stronger.
"That last inning, I remember people were standing on the dugout steps," Henley recalled. "(Koufax) was coming out from under his hat after every pitch. You watch this guy, and you know this is special. I didn't think it was special for me, but it was special for him. The guy was dynamic, overpowering.
"The next day, it set in. We went to San Francisco and I was sitting in a coffee shop. I was thinking, 'Man, this is pretty special.' But I've said it many times: If you're going to get beat, get beat by class. (Koufax) was the best."
Torborg, who went on to catch no-hitters by Nolan Ryan and Bill Singer later in his career, believes it was Koufax's best-ever performance.
"With Sandy and Nolan, (no-hitters) were always in the back of your mind," he said. "But it didn't start to register until the fifth or sixth inning. When Glenn Beckert hit that foul by inches, I remember thinking that Sandy didn't have his real good curve that night. I realized it was a unique game in the sixth or seventh.
"A perfect game and a one-hitter. The farther you get away from it, it becomes more special."
Koufax remains silent
It's pretty much impossible to get Koufax's take on the game. He is famous for avoiding the spotlight, and you can't even try to talk to him through the Dodgers' public relations staff. Even if the story is about Hendley.
"I know what you're going to ask, and the answer is no," the Dodgers' media representative said. "You want to talk to Koufax, right? The answer is no. Even we never talk to him. Sports Illustrated wanted to speak to him for a story they were working on a couple of years ago, and he didn't speak to them."
Koufax isn't even directly quoted in Leavy's book. She said he would confirm facts for her and gave permission to his friends to speak with her, but chose not to give up any of his privacy.
No one blames him, either. Even after 40 years, old teammates like Torborg and Johnson still speak of Koufax with reverence.
"I'm glad I'm not famous like him," Hendley said. "If I was, I'd probably be even more of a recluse. I'd be in Wyoming in the wilderness somewhere."
Koufax's quiet nature shouldn't be taken as pure reticence, however. Some years ago, Hendley's youngest son, Bart, clipped a newspaper article reminiscing about the game and sent it by mail to Koufax. To the family's amazement, Koufax autographed the article and sent it, along with a nice note, back to Bart.
The gesture touched Hendley greatly. When he spoke with Leavy, he asked that she put him in touch with Koufax so he'd have the chance to thank him.
"I just knew he was very reclusive," Hendley said. "But baseball is like a fraternity. People don't forget. ... Talking with him, it's like we were long-lost buddies. I always looked at him as a class guy. He said some good things about me. I just think he is a class act."
The lure of home
Hendley never really considered coaching at the professional level after he retired. He knew he wanted to return to Macon to be close to his family and have a chance to rear sons Brett and Bart rather than spend a lot of time on the road.
He started coaching in 1972, picking up a 35-12 record at Tattnall before going to River North Academy in 1975 where he won a state championship. After that, he served as an assistant coach at Stratford under Bubber Adams, where many of his players went on to play college ball and a few, including current Brewers third baseman Russell Branyan, made it to the pros.
Hendley's biggest thrill was getting to coach both his sons in high school. Brett went on to play at Georgia Southern and in the Oakland A's organization, while Bart played at Georgia College & State.
"Bobby really enjoyed what he did," said Jay Cranford, a Stratford alumnus who played at Georgia. "I don't think there was a day where he didn't enjoy what he was doing. He had a father-side to him, too. He was a really good mentor; he'd give you advice and watch over you. ... He was a good role model --- a very ethical, moral man with character."
Hendley's pro career rarely came up with his players, however.
"I coached for 30 years, but never brought it up," Hendley said. "There were kids who didn't know I played. I played; so what?"
Once, however, a middle schooler at Stratford informed Hendley he was the answer to a question in a trivia game, as the losing pitcher in Koufax's perfect game.
Ironically, the Dodgers' run off the error helped ingrain a lesson that Hendley would carry with him to his coaching days.
"You only get so many offensive and defensive opportunities," he said. "You win or lose not because of one thing, but an accumulation of things."
No career corner in the den
Hendley's house isn't exactly a museum to his career. There are a couple of autographed balls, but most of his memorabilia is in storage.
Koufax sent Hendley an autographed ball after Leavy put the two in touch, and at the All-Star Game Fan Fest in Atlanta a couple of years ago, Hendley and Johnson spotted each other while the latter was at a table signing autographs. Hendley also has an autographed ball from that meeting.
What Hendley does display in his house are pictures of his family, which is what is most important to him.
They have had a difficult summer. A niece died of cancer on May 6, and Brett's 6-year-old daughter Brooke, who suffered from a rare mitochondrial disorder called Leigh's Disease, passed away just more than a month later.
The community's response to Brooke's illness touched Hendley deeply.
"People have been absolutely wonderful to Brett's family, and my family overall," he said. "The Stratford Academy community have been super to my family, just tremendous. I couldn't even tell you how people have been good to us. The whole community has been super."
A Web site that had been set up to help Brooke got more than 30,000 hits.
"I really appreciated it," Hendley said. "It meant an awful lot to us."
Hendley has been retired from teaching and coaching for four years, but still remains active. He spends a lot of time trying to keep up with Brooke's brother, Blake.
"He's a clone of his daddy," Hendley said. "He's as strong as a bull. He plays T-ball, soccer, tae kwan do. ... We went to Tallulah Gorge up in North Georgia, and they have those steps there. It's like 750 steps. He didn't miss a beat; I was sweating like a horse. He's something else."
While Hendley doesn't know where some of the more interesting items from his career are located --- a silver teapot from serving as a batting practice pitcher in the 1963 All-Star Game or the vinyl record of the radio call of his only career home run --- he does keep a copy of Leavy's book, autographed to him by the author.
It says: "Bob, in my book, you'll never be the other guy."