Playing in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY, the young Koufax was little used and plagued by control problems. When the team moved to the West Coast, he began showing flashes of brilliance - still, while the Dodgers were in explosive Memorial Coliseum, his numbers weren't terrific. From 1958 to 1960, his ERA was above the league average in each season and he lost more games than he won. In 1961, following the advice of part-time Dodger catcher Norm Sherry to let up on his speed to gain control, he went 18-13 and led the NL in strikeouts with 269.
When the team moved to spacious Dodger Stadium in 1962, Koufax made one of the great leaps of baseball history. Between 1962 and 1966, the maturing ace led the NL in wins and shutouts three times each, complete games twice, and strikeouts four times.
His 382 strikeouts in 1965 set a new modern day ML record. He broke record that had stood for 61 years, ever since Rube Waddell struck out 347 in 1904. Waddell's old record of 347 was apparently based on the compilations of George Moreland, an early baseball historian, and listed in Little Red Book. The Sporting News researchers later revise Waddell's total to 349.
He led in ERA a record five consecutive years, with his best mark 1.73 in his final year. He pitched a no-hitter each season from 1962 to 1965, with the last a 1-0 perfect game against the Cubs on September 9, 1965.
He led the Dodgers to pennants in 1963, 1965, and 1966, and won the Cy Young Award in each of those seasons. His 25-5 mark in 1963 also won him the MVP. His World Series performances were nearly perfect - in 1963, he tossed two complete games in Games 1 and 4 against the mighty Yankees to help the Dodgers to a Series sweep. In 1965, his complete game 3-hit shutout in a decisive Game 7 against the Minnesota Twins is one of the classic World Series performances of all time - it came on two days rest, because Koufax had spun a 4-hit shutout in Game 5. In 1966, the Dodgers were held to just 2 runs in a 4 game Series by Orioles pitchers, and valiant efforts by Koufax and teammates Claude Osteen and Don Drysdale went to waste.
Koufax and Drysdale formed one of baseball's all-time great lefty-righty duos (only Red Ruffing and Lefty Gómez in the great Yankee teams of the late 1930s, and the Atlanta Braves Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in the 1990s, are as good; maybe Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain in the late 1940s were close). They held out as a "package" in 1966, forcing the Dodgers to meet their terms.
"The game has a cleanness. If you do a good job, the numbers say so. You don't have to ask anyone or play politics. You don't have to wait for the reviews."
- Sandy Koufax
"Pitching is the art of instilling fear."
- Sandy Koufax
"Show me a guy who can't pitch inside and I'll show you a loser."
- Sandy Koufax
"A foul ball was a moral victory."
- Don Sutton, referring to an at-bat against Koufax
"Career highlights? I had two. I got an intentional walk from Sandy Koufax
and I got out of a rundown against the Mets."
- Bob Uecker
"Either he throws the fastest ball I've ever seen, or I'm going blind."
- Richie Ashburn
"He throws a 'radio ball,' a pitch you hear, but you don't see."
- Gene Mauch
"I can see how he won twenty-five games. What I don't understand is how he lost five."
- Yogi Berra
"The day I got a hit off (Sandy) Koufax was when he knew it was all over."
- Sparky Anderson
"Trying to hit him was like trying to drink coffee with a fork."
- Willie Stargell
"We need just two players to be a contender. Just Babe Ruth and Sandy Koufax."
- Whitey Herzog
Picture from National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc.
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