Sandy Koufax

Position: Pitcher
Teams: Brooklyn Dodgers, 1955-1957; Los Angeles Dodgers, 1958-1966

The Master at Work
Watching Sandy Koufax pitch was an education. Reading about him today might make you think that it all came easily to him, once he mastered his control.

But the fact is: No one -- including Bob Gibson -- was more intense on the mound (even though the ferocity of Gibson’s demeanor might fool some). To Koufax, every pitch was an opportunity to prove he was better than the hitter.

It was especially noticeable on an 0-2 count (and there were plenty of them). Whereas most pitchers see that count as a chance to “waste” a pitch -- toss a fastball high and outside -- Koufax viewed it much differently. He would wipe the sweat from his brow with his left thumb, take the sign, and spin a curve just out of the hitter’s zone. He was tempting the hitter. And oftentimes the batter would swing and miss at a pitch he could never have hit. Koufax wasted nothing.

Sandy Koufax put together one of the most dominating stretches of pitching in baseball history. Over a five-year span, he led the NL in ERA five times, spun four no-hitters, and compiled a 111-34 record. However, an arthritic elbow forced him to retire at age 30.

Sanford Koufax was born in Brooklyn in 1935, and while he liked baseball, he was very interested in basketball. In 1953, he went to the University of Cincinnati on a basketball scholarship. When he heard the baseball team was going to make a trip to New Orleans, he decided to sign up. He stunned everybody with his blazing fastball. He had tryouts with several clubs interested in a lefty with such impressive smoke.

Late in 1954, Koufax signed with his hometown Dodgers for $25,000, even though the Braves offered more. He knew that as a bonus baby he would have to serve his apprenticeship in the majors (rules at the time required that anyone signing a bonus had to remain with the major-league club for two years), and he thought he would more easily adjust at home.

Koufax started only five games in 1955, showing bursts of brilliance surrounded by intervals of wildness. His schooling continued for the next two seasons, when he got 10 and 13 starts and received much of his work out of the bullpen. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles before the 1958 season, and Koufax posted an 11-11 mark with a 4.40 ERA in 26 starts and 40 appearances.

He had 23 starts, an 8-6 mark, and a 4.05 ERA in 1959, but was showing signs of brilliance. In three consecutive starts he fanned a total of 41 opponents, setting a record. In the middle game of the three he struck out 18, tying Bob Feller's all-time mark. Koufax was 8-13 with a 3.91 ERA in 1960.

In spring training of 1961, catcher Norm Sherry advised Koufax to slow his delivery, to throw changeups and curveballs, and to relax. Following that advice, Sandy recorded his first record over .500, going 18-13 and leading the league in Ks with the eye-popping total of 269.

In 1962, the Dodgers moved to Dodger Stadium. Sandy developed a frightening numbness in his left index finger. He managed just 26 starts; had he tried for more he very well could have lost the finger. He was 14-7 with a league-leading 2.54 ERA that year, and he also pitched a no-hitter.

Sandy Koufax
Sandy Koufax garnered his first NL winning percentage crown in 1964. He also
collected the third of his record five consecutive ERA titles.

The 1963 season was Sandy's best. He went 25-5, leading the NL with 25 wins, a 1.88 ERA, 11 shutouts (most ever by a lefty in the modern era), and 306 strikeouts (the first 300-plus season in National League history). Not surprisingly, he won both the MVP and Cy Young Awards. He tossed his second no-­hitter, and he won two games in the Dodgers' World Series victory.

In 1964, Koufax was 19-5 with a league-best 1.74 ERA, and included an 11-game winning streak. But after diving back into second base on a pickoff attempt in August he jarred his left elbow, which triggered his arthritis, and his season was over.

He came back in 1965 and continued to pitch with the help of cortisone shots and ice for two more seasons, winning the Cy Young Award in 1965 and '66 and finishing second in MVP voting both years. He had league-best ERAs of 2.04 and 1.73, and he won 26 and 27 games. He also tossed two more no-hitters, including a perfect game.

However, rather than face the possibility of lifetime arm crippling, he retired after the 1966 World Series. In 1972, when he was inducted in the Hall of Fame, he became the youngest person ever to receive the honor.

Here are Sandy Koufax's major league totals:


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