VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The estrangement has been painful, its origin still shrouded in mystery and its embarrassing duration spoken of only in whispers.
But, for the first time in six years, there are indications that the greatest living Dodger might be coming home.
"There's only one place I'd work in baseball," Sandy Koufax said yesterday in a rare interview, ". . . and that would be for the Dodgers."
The classy Hall of Famer many regard as the best pitcher ever to grace a major-league mound should be a treasured resource for the club. Instead, his vast knowledge has been lost to a generation of Dodgers pitchers, a circumstance one insider termed "a black mark on the entire organization."
Koufax turns 60 in December, but remains tanned, trim and fit by indulging his passion for golf.
His abrupt retirement 29 years ago, after a 27-9 season in 1966, took place before 31 of the 40 members of this year's Dodgers roster were even born. That is but one reason many hope the setting is now right for a resolution, because time speeds on without concern for the unfulfilled wishes of its subjects.
Koufax, who resides near Vero Beach, consulted yesterday at Dodgertown with pitching coach Dave Wallace and closer Todd Worrell on a mechanical adjustment to Worrell's delivery.
It was the third camp visit of the spring by Koufax, the first in which he worked with one of the team's pitchers. The normally reclusive left-hander even signed a few autographs afterward.
The Dodgers hope it is the sign of a new beginning, facilitated by Wallace's decade-long friendship with the pitching great who cherishes his privacy.
After posting a 165-87 record, winning three Cy Young awards, pitching four no-hitters and earning a 1972 Hall of Fame induction, Koufax returned to the Dodgers in 1981 as a roving minor-league instructor. He was free to come and go as he pleased to work with the club's young arms, but left under hidden circumstances in 1990.
Rumors abound as to why. Various theories had Koufax feeling disrespected when his opinions of organizational decisions were disregarded. Others had him offended that club president Peter O'Malley backed a new department head in a dispute over Koufax's schedule. Still others claim the rift snowballed from a trivial conflict over travel expenses.
Whatever the cause, the relationship has appeared cool since, a sad reality for a club that prides itself on its tradition and loyal family image, a club that already has lost Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Drysdale.
That might be changing. Wallace's close relationship has seemingly made it more comfortable for Koufax to drop in. The Dodgers say they are leaving an open door, and Koufax himself suggested a new role could be discussed.
"I have a good relationship, I just don't work there," Koufax said. "If anything, I'd work a week or two in spring training. But I never want to go on the road again. I'm no child."
Koufax said he is aware many believe a rift exists, but denied that is the case.
"No, there was never a falling out," he said. "I know that's the perception. It's not the Dodgers, it's me. I've seen enough hotels, especially bad ones. There's no animosity as far as I'm concerned. Peter O'Malley has been my friend for years. I just don't want to be involved on a full-time basis.
"If someone thought I could help over a short period, that would be different."
The Dodgers say they are receptive to any arrangement Koufax desires, but apparently have not approached him recently.
"There is a lot of communication, but it's basically a case of what Sandy wants to do," Dodgers executive vice president Fred Claire said. "But I'd consider the relationship to be very strong."