DoubleDay Double Talk Remembers: Sandy Koufax

Doubleday Double Talk Remembers is designed to connect fans with the game of baseball’s past one player and story at a time. A Doubleday Double Talk Remembers will be published every Friday and will go over the life and legacy of the players from our past, from Babe Ruth to Hank Aaron to Steve Dalkowski to Eddie Gaedel, every player has a story and Daryll Dorman and Giuseppe Vitulli are here to provide you with just that. Sometimes we forget about how important baseball’s past is, so Doubleday Double Talk Remembers is simply the writers at Doubleday Double Talk’s way to pay homage to the past of the beautiful game of baseball.

One of the greatest left handed pitchers of all time whose career was cut short is famous Dodgers left-handed pitcher Sandy Koufax. Koufax pitched for just 12 seasons and in that span compiled a record of 165-87. Yet it was in 5 seasons alone that Koufax made his case as one of the best all time. He never pitched past his age 30 season and had to retire due to arthritis. It is very curious to see what his career might have been with the advent of modern medicine.

From 1962-66 he led the ERA in wins 3 times with totals of 25, 26, and 27. He led the ERA all five years with a high of 2.54 in ’62 and as low as 1.73 in 1966. He struck out 382 in 335 IP in 1965 and in his final two seasons threw 27 complete games in each of those two seasons. In 1963 and 1965 he won the MVP and Cy Young Award and just the Cy Young in 1966. Yet those accolades only describe how he compared to others of his era. What did people who saw him play think?

Fellow pitcher Don Sutton remarked, “A foul ball is a moral victory.” Pirates slugger Willie Stargel said that “Trying to hit him was like trying to drink coffee with a fork.”.

Even famous baseball linguist Yogi Berra got a line in about Koufax: “I can see how he won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost 5.”.

Koufax was also famous for his Jewish beliefs. Game 1 of the 1965 World Series fell on Yom Kippur, and Koufax refused to pitch due to the religious holiday, earning him both derision and praise.

Koufax was born in Brooklyn and debuted with the Dodgers at 19 years old in 1955. He made just 5 starts and 12 appearances and had trouble mastering his control. In 1958 he led the league in wild pitches with 17 but did make 26 starts to a 4.88 ERA.

Yet he was maturing as a pitcher and a person. He described his maturation this way: “I became a good pitcher when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it.”

He earned his first All Star game selection in 1961 at 25 years old and led the league in strikeouts at 269. Then came that incredible five year run. Despite his success, he had to fight through incredibly painful arthritis in his left shoulder which led to his retirement at 30 despite never slowing down his performance. He then became the youngest player inducted into the Hall of Fame.

He threw four no hitters including a perfect game and was known for stepping up in the post-season. He was MVP of the 1965 and 1967 World Series, winning Game 5 and 7 of the ’65 World Series to clinch it for the Dodgers. Dodgers fans today are still waiting for Clayton Kershaw to see such similar post-season dominance. His post-season ERA was 0.95 in 7 starts, 4 of which were complete games.

Many see Johan Santana as a contemporary to Koufax – who did continue to pitch past his several seasons of absolute brilliance and argue that Koufax simply left a brighter shine leaving on top but that his overall career numbers don’t quite get him to Cooperstown. Yet the dominance that Koufax had was not matched by Santana – particularly in the post-season. Comparing five seasons you can see similarities (Sanatana slightly higher career WAR) – but in the post-season Santana has an ERA near

Sandy Koufax was known for not being afraid to brush hitters back and letting them know when they needed to step away from his plate. He described his pitching philosophy as a simple one: “Pitching is the art of instilling fear”.

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