Sandy Koufax - Baseball Legend Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Sandy Koufax - Baseball Legend

1 Conversation

A guy that throws what he intends to throw, that's the definition of a good pitcher.

Sanford Koufax, known as 'Sandy' is one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. He was also probably, at his peak, the most dominant left-handed pitcher to ever play the game. He is truly a baseball legend.

Koufax was famous for his blazing fastball, but he often made his competitors strike out with late-breaking curve balls. One problem he faced in his pitching was his tendency to give away what kind of pitch he would use by his varying windups to the pitch. It was one weakness that could not be eliminated despite work with coaches to stop the tendency.

Life and Career

Sanford Braun was born on 30 December, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York in a Jewish family. When he was only three years old, his parents divorced. His mother then married Irving Koufax, and Sanford took his new step-father's surname. He also adopted the nickname 'Sandy', and thus came to be Sandy Koufax.

He was a terrific athlete, and naturally played basketball (partly because of his height of 6 feet, 2 inches) for much of the time during his early education, though he also played informal baseball during the summer, most often as first baseman. His basketball talents helped him earn a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati in 1953. There, he played basketball with distinction. During the baseball season, though, he occasionally pitched for University's team.

A Major League Start

He had pitched for only 32 innings for his University's team when scouts from the Brooklyn Dodgers (his home town) offered him a 140,000-dollar signing bonus and a contract to play for them. He accepted, leaving college in 19551. He debuted for his team on 24 June, 1955.

Koufax was unable to control his fastball, though he could throw very hard. He managed to keep a position as an occasional relief pitcher, but not a regular starting pitcher. However, despite being unremarkable at this point, he was becoming famous with Jewish fans of baseball.

On only his second major league starting game, Koufax managed to keep his opponents to only two hits, by hard throwing. This great performance built his confidence, convincing him that his method of throwing as hard as he could worked. He would later say:

I threw real hard in the game, and it worked... It took me a long time to learn that it was wrong.

In fact, it took him about six years after his major league debut to find a way to harness his pitching. As with many pitchers with great power, Koufax was unable to control the tremendous force he had.

In 1958, the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Los Angeles, California. This is when he really showed signs of being a great player. He was 11-11 in 1958 , and tied the strikeout record of the time in 1959. He lost a World Series game to the White Sox that year, 1-0. In 1960, he struck out 197 batters in 175 innings. But though he truly showed signs of improvement, but he was not a strong pitcher yet.

Turning Point

Through his first six years, Koufax won 36 and lost 40. However, in 1961, during a spring training game against the Chicago White Sox, catcher Norm Sherry went to visit him on the mound, and advised him not to force his fastball, because it then gets wild. He asked him to ease off.

Immediately, Koufax applied this advice, and he struck out the next three batters easily. It was a turning point in his career, and he became a powerful pitching force almost overnight, winning 18 games that year. He led the league in 269 strikeouts that year as well. Koufax had begun the greater half of his career.

In 1962, the Dodgers moved into Dodger Stadium, which gave Koufax, as a power pitcher, an advantage because of a wide foul territory and a deep outfield. That year, he had a great season, doubling wins against losses with a 14-7 games record and a league leading 2.54 Earned Run Average. He also had his, as well as Dodger Stadium's, first ever Major Leagues no-hitter on June 30 against the New York Mets. An injury caused him to end his season early, though, and he only pitched in 26 games2.

In 1963, Koufax was easily the best pitcher in the league at a time when there were several great pitchers, who dominated the batters and arguably baseball in general. This was despite the fact he was in terrible pain from 1963 on, because of arthritis in his arm. He earned a 25-5 record3, a 1.88 ERA, 306 Strikeouts, was unanimously voted winner of the Cy Young Award of the National League4 , and because of his statistics, the National League Triple Crown5. He was also awarded the National League Most Valuable Player award that year6. Winning the MVP title, a Cy Young award and the Triple Crown honour in one year really attracted attention to the young pitcher, who was only 27 years old.

Koufax helped the Dodgers to win the National League Pennant that year. In the World Series against the New York Yankees, Koufax won two games and got a 1.5 ERA for the Series. He also set a series record by striking out 23 batters in only 18 innings. He was voted MVP of the World Series as well.

In 1964, Koufax had a 19-5 record, seven shutouts and a 1.74 ERA - leading the league in all of these fields, despite missing 12 games because of shoulder problems.

In 1965, Koufax managed to win 26 games, losing only 8, which gave him a .765 winning percentage. He led the league in every category, including a 2.04 ERA and 382 strikeouts7. This easily won him the Cy Young, and of course the Pitching Triple Crown, for that year. He also pitched a Perfect Game on September 9 against the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium. He had had no-hitters the past three seasons as well, making him the first pitcher to ever have four no-hitters in four consecutive seasons.

Largely because of the work of the Jewish southpaw, the Dodgers managed to get to the World Series in 1965 against the Minnesota Twins. Koufax chose not to pitch on Game One because it intervened with his observance of Yom Kippur. The Twins took Game One and Game Two, but the Dodgers fought to force a Game Seven8, in which Koufax could pitch. After two days' rest, Koufax took the mound on October 14, 1965, to decide the Series. He dramatically managed a shutout with only three hits, winning his team the World Championship. He managed to strike out 29 batters in 24 innings, earning him a 0.38 ERA and a 2-1 Series Record. Again, he was voted Series MVP.

In 1966, Koufax again snatched the NL Cy Young Award and was again honoured with the NL Pitching Triple Crown. Pirate Slugger Roberto Clemente narrowly beat Koufax for the National League MVP honours. He won 27 games, losing only 9, got a 1.73 ERA and struck out 317 batters. It was his last year as an All-Star, which he had been constantly since 1961.


I think it's incredible because there were guys like Mays and Mantle and Henry Aaron who were great players for ten years... I only had four or five good years.

1966 saw the Dodgers led to a World Series again against the Baltimore Orioles. However the Orioles swept the series in only four games, although Koufax managed a 1.50 ERA. By the end of the Series, Koufax decided to retire due to terrible pain in his arm from arthritis. The Dodger doctor advised him that more pitching could cause permanent damage. He said at the last game of the Series on November 18, 1966-

I don't regret for one minute the 12 years I've spent in baseball, but I could regret one season too many.

Koufax was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 (when he was only 36, making him the youngest person ever inducted) and his plaque there now reads-

Sanford Koufax
Brooklyn N.L. 1955-1957
Los Angeles N.L. 1958-1966

Set All-Time records with 4 no-hitters in 4 years, capped by 1965 Perfect Game, and by capturing earned-run title five seasons in a row, 1962-1966. Won 25 or more games three times. Had 11 shutouts in 1963. Strikeout leader four times, with record 382 in 1965. Fanned 18 in a game twice. Most Valuable Player 1963. Cy Young Award Winner 1963-65-66.

Koufax worked for several years as a broadcaster for NBC, but retired to lead a private life in Brooklyn, New York.

Career Pitching Statistics

WinsLossesGames PlayedGames StartedComplete GamesShutoutsInningsWalksStrike Outs
  165   87       397       314          137     40 2324.3  817     2396

Further Reading

Related BBC Links

  • For the very latest on baseball and other American sports, stick with BBC Sports.

1Interestingly, when Koufax was accepted into the Dodgers, Tommy Lasorda was bumped off of the team. Lasorda would eventually become manager of the Dodgers.2Which is more than he had pitched in in the past, but fewer than a pitcher of his new talents should have pitched.3Of which Yogi Berra would later say: 'I can see how he won 25 games. What I don't understand is how he lost 5.'4The award given to the best pitcher in each league annually.5The Triple Crown is awarded to any pitcher in each league that leads in ERA, Strikeouts and wins.6It is a rare feat for a pitcher to be awarded the MVP award, which is the reason why the Cy Young Award was originally established.7A record that would stand until 1973, when Nolan Ryan beat his record by only one strikeout.8Which would be the deciding game of the Series, because the World Series is in a best-of-seven format.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Written by

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more