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A Brief, Brilliant Career: Why we canít forget Sandy Koufax.
Weekly Standard ^ | 1-/3/11 | David G. Dalin

Posted on 10/03/2011 4:59:47 PM PDT by rhema

For five memorable seasons, Sandy Koufax dominated baseball as no other major league pitcher ever had before. From 1962 to 1966, Koufax led the National League in earned run average, the only pitcher ever to do that. At the same time, he compiled a record of 111-34, a winning percentage of .766, that has never been equaled. Koufax led the National League in wins, ERA, and strikeouts for three consecutive seasons. He pitched 4 no-hitters, including a perfect game. In 1963, he threw 11 shutouts, more than any other pitcher has since in one season. In 1965, he went 26-8 and set a major league record by striking out 382 batters in one season. In 1972, he was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, becoming Cooperstown’s youngest member at the age of 36. He remains today only the second Jewish player to enter the pantheon.

Born in Brooklyn on December 30, 1935, Koufax attended Lafayette High School in Bensonhurst, where one of his friends was the television talk show host Larry King. At Lafayette, Koufax played on the basketball team, earning a reputation as one of the best players in Brooklyn. He didn’t play on the baseball team until his senior year, and then usually as a first baseman who would sometimes pitch in relief of another friend, Fred Wilpon, Lafayette’s pitching star and later the co-owner of the New York Mets.

Koufax won a basketball scholarship to the University of Cincin-nati, where he planned to study architecture. In the spring of his freshman year, he became the overnight pitching sensation of the university’s baseball team, striking out 34 batters in his first two games and gaining the attention of sportswriters and baseball scouts throughout the country. Before long, close to a dozen major league scouts, including the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Al Campanis, converged on Cincinnati and offered him contracts. Accepting the Dodgers’ offer of $20,000—a salary of $6,000 and a signing bonus of $14,000—Koufax left college after his freshman year for Ebbets Field.

The Dodgers owners, as Koufax biographer Jane Leavy has noted, were overjoyed, regarding “the signing of a Jewish ballplayer the way others regarded the coming of the messiah. The Dodgers were so desperate for a Jewish presence, given the demographics of Brooklyn … Koufax was a marketing godsend.” The team’s owner, Walter O’Malley, proclaimed him “the great Jewish hope” of the franchise, telling a reporter: “We hope he’ll be as great as Hank Greenberg.”

At first, Koufax failed to meet such exalted expectations. His first few seasons were mediocre at best, a disappointment to management and fans alike. Koufax pitched in only 12 games in 1955, winning 2 and losing 2. In 1956, his second season with the Dodgers, Koufax won 2 games and lost 4. In 1957, his record was 5 and 4. Ironically, it was only after the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles that Koufax began his remarkable ascent to superstardom. In August 1959, pitching against the San Francisco Giants, who had also recently moved west from New York, Koufax tied the major league record of 18 strikeouts set by Bob Feller in 1938.

With the 1962 season, his metamorphosis complete, Koufax began to make baseball history, pitching the first of his 4 no-hitters, striking out 18 batters in a game for the second time in his career, and leading the major leagues with an ERA of 2.54. In 1963, the season in which he pitched his second no-hitter, his statistics were monumental. He led the National League with 25 games won, a 1.88 ERA, and 306 strikeouts, winning the pitcher’s Triple Crown. He was the unanimous winner of the Cy Young Award, as the National League’s best pitcher, and was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player as well. In the 1963 World Series against the New York Yankees, during which he won two games, Koufax set a new World Series record by striking out 15 batters in one game, and was voted the World Series MVP.

For many baseball fans, Koufax’s meteoric rise symbolized the coming of age of baseball in the American West. A virtual unknown when the Dodgers moved to California in 1957, Koufax, by the time of his retirement in 1966, was a household name. He had become the greatest pitcher of his era, a baseball celebrity second only perhaps to Willie Mays.

In 1965, despite arthritis in his elbow, Koufax had what many consider the best season any pitcher ever had, leading the major leagues in victories, strikeouts, complete games, innings pitched, and ERA. Then on September 9, 1965, in a game against the Chicago Cubs, he pitched his fourth no-hitter and his first perfect game. Like Willie Mays’s over-the-shoulder catch during the 1954 World Series and Bobby Thomson’s home run “heard round the world” three years earlier, Koufax’s perfect game would become the moment for which he would be remembered.

And yet, Koufax’s contribution to baseball that season cannot be measured by statistics alone. Less than a month after the perfect game, Koufax achieved, as Jane Leavy put it, “another kind of perfection by refusing to pitch the opening game of the World Series because it fell on the holiest day of the Jewish year,” Yom Kippur. By refusing to pitch, “Koufax defined himself as a man of principle who placed faith above craft.” Like Hank Greenberg’s similar decision 31 years earlier, this became a defining moment for a new generation of American Jews, and a source of inspiration for Jewish baseball fans. Bruce Lustig, the senior rabbi at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C., and a fan since childhood, has pointed to Koufax’s decision not to pitch “as a transforming event, providing the catalyst” for many Jews “to acknowledge and honor their religion.” Koufax’s action “both reinforced Jewish pride and enhanced the sense of belonging—a feat as prodigious as any he had accomplished on the baseball field.”

So, too, his successful joint salary holdout with his teammate Don Drysdale, in their 1966 preseason contract negotiations with the Dodgers, as several baseball historians have pointed out, was a “transforming event” that paved the way for Marvin Miller’s challenge to the reserve clause and the beginning of free agency. In hiring an attorney to bargain for them and in demanding contracts of more than $100,000 annually—a salary ceiling no player had ever exceeded—Koufax believed they were fighting for a basic principle: “That ballplayers aren’t slaves, that we have a right to negotiate.”

The Dodgers gave in to Koufax’s contract demands, and in 1966 he earned $135,000, the highest salary ever paid a baseball player. That was his last season, and he won 27 games, with a phenomenal 1.73 ERA, and received his third unanimous Cy Young Award, despite the fact that the chronic arthritic condition in his pitching arm that had afflicted him through much of his pitching career had worsened. At season’s end, in constant pain and warned by physicians that if he continued pitching he might lose the use of his left arm, Koufax shocked the baseball world with his announcement that he was retiring at the age of 30.

Today, 45 years after his retirement at the top of his career, Sandy Koufax should be remembered as the last of the greatest pitchers of baseball’s golden age. Now 75, Koufax should also be admired for his refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur and his role in winning the right of a baseball player to negotiate over salary—achievements off the field that have done much to shape his enduring legacy.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Miscellaneous; US: California; US: New York
KEYWORDS: baseball; dodgers; koufax; sandykoufax; sports
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1 posted on 10/03/2011 4:59:52 PM PDT by rhema
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To: BluesDuke

And now, for the rest of the story . . .


2 posted on 10/03/2011 5:00:50 PM PDT by rhema ("Break the conventions; keep the commandments." -- G. K. Chesterton)
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To: rhema

I wanted to name my son Sandy, but the Missus wouldn’t have it.


3 posted on 10/03/2011 5:01:25 PM PDT by NativeNewYorker (Freepin' Jew Boy)
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To: rhema

Justin Verlander passed up one of his records this year. 24 wins and a no hitter in the same season.

BTW Playoff thread over here. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2786167/posts


4 posted on 10/03/2011 5:02:45 PM PDT by cripplecreek (MLB Playoff thread http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2786167/posts)
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To: rhema; BluesDuke; ken5050

Koufax was as good a pitcher as I’ve ever seen pitch, and I’ve seen ‘em all over the past 50 years. When the Dodgers came to Chicago, and Koufax was scheduled to pitch, it was an event! Lots of folks would come just to see him pitch.


5 posted on 10/03/2011 5:04:13 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson (Lifelong baseball fan)
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To: rhema

Didn’t the Dodgers have Koufax, Drysdale and Juan Marichal (unsure of spelling) on the same team at one time?


6 posted on 10/03/2011 5:05:35 PM PDT by yarddog
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To: yarddog

Not Marichal...he was a Giant.


7 posted on 10/03/2011 5:06:35 PM PDT by perez24 (Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap.)
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To: perez24

Thanks my memory is pretty much no good, tho if someone had mentioned the Giants I would have remembered.


8 posted on 10/03/2011 5:08:22 PM PDT by yarddog
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To: abigail2; AgThorn; al baby; BAW; bboop; BenLurkin; Bob J; Brad's Gramma; BunnySlippers; bunster; ...
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Attention Southern Californians

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9 posted on 10/03/2011 5:08:48 PM PDT by EveningStar
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To: rhema

Should have never let him get away from Cincinnati.


10 posted on 10/03/2011 5:09:19 PM PDT by nkycincinnatikid
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To: rhema

Koufax was remarkable, but I always considered Bob Gibson the last of the greatest pitchers of the era...


11 posted on 10/03/2011 5:11:58 PM PDT by magritte
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To: yarddog
Kofax, Drysdale and Sutton.
12 posted on 10/03/2011 5:12:40 PM PDT by bwc2221
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To: yarddog
Drysdale and Koufax, they did. My '65 Twins managed to pin a World Series loss on each of them, but then they got tougher and won 3 of the last 4 games.
13 posted on 10/03/2011 5:13:58 PM PDT by rhema ("Break the conventions; keep the commandments." -- G. K. Chesterton)
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To: rhema
Koufax was pretty wild in his early years, but once he gained control, he was awesome.

I saw him pitch once, when I was a kid, that was at the Coliseum, he did not make it past the first inning, he walked at least two, and had at least two wild pitches, before they pulled him.

I remember it more because my Uncle, whom I went to the game with, often told the story over the years.

14 posted on 10/03/2011 5:16:48 PM PDT by Michael.SF. (When you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras.)
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To: rhema

He was my boyhood idol growing up as a lefty (baseball lefty not political lefty).

As Ernie Banks said about him: “You can’t hit what you can’t see.”


15 posted on 10/03/2011 5:17:48 PM PDT by Scott from the Left Coast
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To: rhema

And even Jews joke that Jews can’t play sports. Want another incredible Jewish baseball star? Hank Greenberg got 183 RBI and 58 home runs. Due to wars and health, he only played nine full seasons.


16 posted on 10/03/2011 5:18:32 PM PDT by dangus
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To: magritte
Mickey Lolich show Gibson who was boss in the 1968 winning three games and besting Gibson 4-1 in game 7.

In game 6 Curt Flood discovered what happened when you misplayed a ball in center-field at old Tiger Stadium (440 feet to straight-away center).

17 posted on 10/03/2011 5:18:52 PM PDT by bwc2221
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To: cripplecreek
Justin Verlander passed up one of his records this year. 24 wins and a no hitter in the same season.

Not passed up, Verlander had an excellent year but he's not at Koufax' level yet, not even statistically.

18 posted on 10/03/2011 5:19:46 PM PDT by Scott from the Left Coast
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To: magritte
Gibson certainly was the meanest!

(On the mound anyway).

19 posted on 10/03/2011 5:21:46 PM PDT by Scott from the Left Coast
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To: bwc2221

Lolich was a good pitcher for the Tigers...not HOF material of course, but good.

Flood misjudged it, cost them the game and the Series. It happens.


20 posted on 10/03/2011 5:27:22 PM PDT by magritte
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