Sandy Koufax: American baseball player (1935-)
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Sandy Koufax
American baseball player

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American baseball player
A.K.A. Sanford Braun Koufax, Sanford Koufax
Is Athlete Baseball player Actor Television actor
From United States of America
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio Sports
Gender male
Birth 30 December 1935, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
Age 87 years
Star sign Capricorn
Columbia University School of General Studies
Lafayette High School
Associated Press Athlete of the Year 1963
Associated Press Athlete of the Year 1965
Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player Award 1963
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum 1972
Cy Young Award 1963
Cy Young Award 1965
Cy Young Award 1966
Sports Teams
Los Angeles Dodgers
Cincinnati Bearcats baseball
Cincinnati Bearcats men's basketball
The details (from wikipedia)


Sanford Koufax (/ˈkfæks/; born Sanford Braun; December 30, 1935) is an American former baseball pitcher who played 12 seasons in Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers from 1955 to 1966. Widely regarded as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, Koufax was the first three-time winner of the Cy Young Award, each time unanimously and the only pitcher to do so when a single award was given for both the leagues, and was also named the National League Most Valuable Player in 1963. Retiring at the age of 30 due to arthritis in his pitching elbow, Koufax was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1972 at the age of 36, the youngest player ever elected.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Koufax was primarily a basketball player in his youth and had only pitched a total of twelve games before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers at age 19. Due to the bonus rule under which he was signed, Koufax never pitched a game in the minor leagues. As a result, the first half of his career was marred with inconsistency and control problems with flashes of brilliance in between. He set a modern record by striking out 18 batters in a game in 1959 and pitched brilliantly in the 1959 World Series. However, the lack of playing time frustrated Koufax and he almost quit after 1960. After making adjustments prior to the 1961 season to improve his control, Koufax quickly rose to become the most dominant pitcher in the major leagues. He was an All-Star in each of his last six seasons, leading the National League (NL) in earned run average each of his last five years, in strikeouts four times, in wins and shutouts three times each, and in winning percentage, innings pitched and complete games twice each. He was the first NL pitcher in 20 years to post an earned run average below 2.00, doing so three times. After setting the modern NL record in 1961 with 269 strikeouts, he became the first pitcher in 17 years and the first left-hander since 1904 to strike out 300 batters, with 306 in 1963. In 1965, he set a then-major league record with 382 strikeouts. He was the first pitcher to record a 300-strikeout season three times. Koufax tied his own record of 18 strikeouts in a game in 1962, and later became the first pitcher to record three immaculate innings.

Koufax won the Major League Triple Crown three times, leading the Dodgers to a pennant in each of those years. He was the first major league pitcher to throw four no-hitters, including a perfect game in 1965. He was named the World Series MVP twice, the first player to do so, leading the weak-hitting Dodgers to titles in 1963 and 1965. At the time of his retirement, Koufax's career earned run average of 2.76 trailed only Whitey Ford among pitchers with at least 2,000 innings pitched since 1925; his .655 winning percentage ranked third among both left-handers and modern NL pitchers. Despite his comparatively short career, his 2,396 career strikeouts ranked seventh in major league history at the time, trailing only Warren Spahn (2,583) among left-handers; his 40 shutouts were tied for ninth in modern NL history. He was the first pitcher in history to average more than nine strikeouts per nine innings pitched, and the first to allow fewer than seven hits per nine innings pitched. He is also one of the outstanding Jewish athletes in American sports; Koufax's decision not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, like Hank Greenberg before him, garnered national attention and made him an icon in the American Jewish community.

Since retiring, Koufax has kept a low profile and makes public appearences on rare occasions. In December 1966, he signed a 10-year contract to work as a broadcaster for NBC; uncomfortable in front of television cameras and with public speaking, he resigned after six years. In 1979, Koufax returned to the Dodgers to work as a pitching coach in the Dodgers' farm system; he resigned from the position in 1990, reportedly due to a strained relationship with Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda who resented his work with Dodger pitchers. From 2013 to 2015, Koufax worked in an executive position for the Los Angeles Dodgers, as an advisor to owner Mark Walter. In 1999, he was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. His number 32 was retired by the Dodgers in 1972 and he was honored with a statue outside the centerfield plaza of Dodger Stadium in 2022. That same year, Koufax became the first player to mark the 50th anniversary of his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Early life

Koufax was born Sanford Braun on December 30, 1935, to Evelyn (née Lichtenstein) and Jack Braun in Borough Park, Brooklyn. His parents divorced when he was three years old. The son of a single working parent, he spent most of his childhood with his maternal grandparents. Evelyn, an accountant, eventually remarried when her son was nine years old, to Irving Koufax, an attorney whose name Sandy took. Koufax also had a stepsister, Edie, Irving's daughter from a previous marriage.

Shortly after his mother's remarriage, the family moved to the Long Island suburb of Rockville Centre. The day after Koufax graduated from ninth grade, in June 1949, they moved back to Brooklyn, settling in the neighborhood of Bensonhurst.

Koufax attended Lafayette High School where he was better known for basketball than for baseball. He started playing basketball for the community center team at the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, winning a few local titles with them. After a teacher's strike, which had caused a blackout of all school athletics, Lafayette brought back their basketball team and Koufax went on to become team captain in his senior year; that year, he ranked second in his division in scoring, averaging 16.5 points per game. He made newspaper headlines for the first time when, during a preseason exhibition game between the Lafayette basketball team and the New York Knicks, he dunked twice and showed up Knicks star Harry Gallatin.

In 1951, at the age of 15, Koufax also joined a local youth baseball league known as the "Ice Cream League", playing for the Tomahawks. He started out as a left-handed catcher before moving to first base. He joined Lafayette's baseball team as a first baseman in his senior year at the urging of his friend Fred Wilpon. While playing with the high school team, he was spotted by Milt Laurie, a newspaper deliveryman and a baseball coach who was the father of two Lafayette baseball players. Laurie noticed Koufax's strong throwing arm and recognized that he might be able to pitch. He recruited the 17-year-old to pitch for the Coney Island Sports League's Parkviews.

Sandy Koufax
1954 University of Cincinnati baseball team photo with Sandy Koufax (top row, 5th from the left)

Koufax attended the University of Cincinnati where he studied architecture. He was a walk-on for the freshman basketball team, a complete unknown to coach Ed Jucker; he later earned a partial basketball scholarship. In his freshman year, Koufax averaged 9.7 points per game. In the spring of 1954, after the basketball season ended, he tried out for the college baseball team, which was also coached by Jucker. In his only season of intercollegiate baseball, Koufax went 3–1 with a 2.81 earned run average, 51 strikeouts and 30 walks in 32 innings pitched.

Major League tryouts

While with the college baseball team, Koufax began to attract the attention of baseball scouts. Bill Zinser, a scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers, sent the Dodgers front office a glowing report that was filed away and forgotten. Gene Bonnibeau, a scout for the New York Giants, found out about Koufax through a story in one of the Cincinnati newspapers and invited him to try out for the team at the Polo Grounds after the end of his freshman year. The workout did not go well for the nervous Koufax, who threw wildly over the catcher's head, and he never heard from the Giants again.

In September, Ed McCarrick, a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates, showed interest in Koufax after seeing him in a few sandlot games with the Parkviews. At McCarrick's behest, Branch Rickey, general manager of the Pirates at the time, sent his scout Clyde Sukeforth to see Koufax. Sukeforth was impressed with Koufax and invited him to Forbes Field for a tryout in front the Pirates front office. Upon seeing Koufax pitch in person, Rickey remarked to Sukeforth, "This is the greatest arm I've ever seen." The Pirates, however, failed to offer Koufax a contract until after he was already committed to the Dodgers.

Al Campanis, a Dodgers scout, heard about Koufax from Jimmy Murphy, a reporter from the Brooklyn Eagle who covered sandlot teams in Brooklyn and who had seen him pitch a few times for the Parkviews. He was also urged by Pat Auletta, the owner of a sporting goods store and father of author Ken Auletta, and who founded the Coney Island Sports League in which the Parkviews played, to come and see Koufax pitch. Auletta arranged a workout at the Lafayette High baseball field; after watching Koufax throw, Campanis arranged a tryout for him at Ebbets Field. With Dodgers manager Walter Alston and scouting director Fresco Thompson watching, Campanis assumed the hitter's stance while Koufax started throwing; he later said, "There are two times in my life the hair on my arms has stood up: The first time I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the second time, I saw Sandy Koufax throw a fastball."

Koufax also had a tryout with the Milwaukee Braves, to which he had previously committed, after returning to university. Afterwards, John Quinn, general manager of the Braves, made him an offer of $30,000. However, as he was already committed to signing with the Dodgers, Koufax declined. Irving Koufax negotiated a contract with the Dodgers on behalf of his son. Koufax signed with the Dodgers for $20,000 ($218,000 today) – $6,000 salary (the league minimum at the time), with a $14,000 signing bonus; he had planned to use the money as tuition in order finish his college education should his baseball career have failed.

Professional career

At the time of Koufax's signing, the bonus rule implemented by Major League Baseball was still in effect. The rule stipulated that when a major league team signed a player to a contract with a signing bonus in excess of $4,000 ($52,000 today), the team was required to keep that player on their 25-man active roster for two full seasons and failure to comply with the rule would result in the team losing the rights to that player's contract, and the player would then be exposed to the waiver wire.

Prior to Koufax, the Dodgers had signed Roberto Clemente to a contract with a signing bonus of more than $4,000 and placed him in their Triple-A affiliate, the Montreal Royals of the International League, subsequently losing him to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unlike with Clemente, the Dodgers decided to keep Koufax on their major league roster for at least the next two years. To make room for him on their 40-man roster, the Dodgers sold infielder Billy Cox and pitcher Preacher Roe to the Baltimore Orioles.

During his first spring training, Koufax struggled with his new training regime and suffered from a sore arm most of the time. Having only pitched twelve games in the sandlots and in college combined, he did not know much about pitching such as how to properly field a ball, how to hold a runner on base, or even pitching signs, later saying, "The only signs I knew were one finger for fastball and two for a curve, and here there were five or six signs." His lack of minor league experience meant Koufax never fully mastered all aspects of the game and took a lot longer to develop as a pitcher.

Early years (1955–1960)

Sandy Koufax
A ticket from the August 27, 1955 game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Redlegs, where Koufax earned his first career win

Having injured his ankle in the last week of spring training, Koufax was placed on the disabled list for 30 days; he would be activated by the Dodgers on June 8. To make room for him, they optioned their future Hall of Fame manager, Tommy Lasorda, to the Montreal Royals. Lasorda would later joke that it took "one of the greatest left-handers in history" to keep him off the Dodgers major league roster.

Koufax made his major league debut on June 24, 1955, against the Milwaukee Braves, with the Dodgers trailing 7–1 in the fifth inning. Johnny Logan, the first batter Koufax faced, hit a bloop single. Eddie Mathews bunted back to the mound, and Koufax threw the ball into center field. He then walked Henry Aaron on four pitches to load the bases, but struck out Bobby Thomson on a 3–2 fastball for his first career strikeout – an outcome Koufax later came to view as "probably the worst thing that could have happened to me", leading, as it did, to five seasons spent "trying to get out of trouble by throwing harder and harder and harder." Koufax ended up pitching two scoreless innings, inducing a double play to end the bases-loaded threat and picking up another strikeout in a perfect sixth.

Koufax's first start was on July 6, the second game of a doubleheader against the Pirates. He lasted only 4.2 innings, giving up eight walks. He did not start again for almost two months.

On August 27, Koufax threw a two-hit, 7–0 complete game shutout against the Cincinnati Redlegs for his first major league win. He struck out 14 batters, the most in a single game by an NL pitcher that season, and allowed only two hits. His only other win in 1955, on September 3, was also a shutout, this time a five-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In his rookie year, Koufax threw 41.2 innings in 12 appearances, striking out 30 batters and walking 28, with a record of 2–2 and 3.02 earned run average. The Dodgers went on to win the National League pennant and the 1955 World Series over the New York Yankees, the first title in franchise history; however, Koufax did not appear in the series. During the fall, he had enrolled in the Columbia University School of General Studies, which offered night classes in architecture; after the final out of Game 7, Koufax went straight to Columbia to attend class.

The 1956 season was not very different from 1955 for Koufax. Despite the blazing speed of his fastball, Koufax continued to struggle with his control. He saw little work, pitching only 58.2 innings with a 4.91 earned run average, 29 walks and 30 strikeouts. When Koufax allowed baserunners, he was rarely permitted to finish the inning. Teammate Joe Pignatano remarked, years later, that as soon as Koufax threw a couple of balls in a row, Alston would signal for a replacement to start warming up in the bullpen. Jackie Robinson, in his final season, clashed with Alston on Koufax's usage. Robinson saw that Koufax was talented and had flashes of brilliance, and objected to him being benched for weeks at a time.

To prepare him for the 1957 season, the Dodgers sent Koufax to Puerto Rico to play winter ball for the Criollos de Caguas. For the Criollos, Koufax compiled a record of 3–6 with a 4.35 earned run average and 76 strikeouts in 64.2 innings pitched. Two of his wins were shutouts, including a one-hitter and a two-hitter, with Roberto Clemente getting both hits against him in the latter.

On May 15, the restriction on sending Koufax down to the minors was lifted. Alston gave him a chance to justify his place on the major league roster by giving him the next day's start. Facing the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Koufax struck out 13 while pitching his first complete game in almost two years. For the first time in his career, he was in the starting rotation, but only for two weeks. Despite winning three of his next five with a 2.90 earned run average, Koufax did not get another start for 45 days. In that start, he struck out 11 in seven innings, but got no decision. On September 29, he became the last man to pitch for the Brooklyn Dodgers before their move to Los Angeles, throwing an inning of relief in the final game of the season.

Sandy Koufax
Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax changing parts on a 2 1⁄2-ton truck at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Van Nuys, California

Koufax and fellow Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale served six months in the United States Army Reserve at Fort Dix in New Jersey after the end of the 1957 season and before spring training in 1958.

Koufax began the 1958 season 7–3, but sprained his ankle in a collision at first base on July 5 against the Chicago Cubs, resulting in a long layoff. Throughout the season, he was also plagued with back pain which was the result of a tumor on his rib cage, requiring surgery in the off-season. As a result, he finished the season at 11–11 and leading the majors in wild pitches.

In 1959, on June 22, he set the record for a night game with 16 strikeouts against Philadelphia Phillies. On August 31, against the Giants, he set the NL single-game record and tied Bob Feller's modern Major League record of 18 strikeouts, and also scored on Wally Moon's walk-off home run for a 5–2 win.

That season, the Dodgers won a tight pennant race against the Braves and the Giants, going on to beat the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. Koufax pitched two perfect relief innings in the Series opener, though they came after the Dodgers were already behind 11–0. Alston gave him the start in Game 5, at the Los Angeles Coliseum in front of 92,706 fans. In what would have been the series-clinching game, Koufax allowed only one run in seven innings but lost the game 1–0 when Nellie Fox scored on a double play and the Dodgers failed to score a run in support. Returning to Chicago, the Dodgers won Game 6 and the Series, their first in Los Angeles.

In early 1960, Koufax asked Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi to trade him because he was not getting enough playing time, a request that was denied. On May 23, he pitched a one-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowing only a second-inning single by pitcher Bennie Daniels and striking out 10 batters in the process. However, the game was a highlight in an otherwise bad year for Koufax in which he went 8–13 with a 3.97 earned run average.

By the end of the year, frustrated with his lack of progress, Koufax was thinking about quitting baseball entirely. In his first six seasons, he had posted a record of 36–40 with a 4.10 earned run average. After the last game of the season, he threw his gloves and spikes into the trash, having decided to retire and devote himself to an electronics business in which he had invested. Nobe Kawano, the clubhouse supervisor, retrieved the equipment in case Koufax decided to return the following year.

Domination (1961–1964)

Sandy Koufax
Koufax in 1961

Koufax decided to try one more year to succeed in baseball; years later he recalled, "That winter was when I really started working out. I started running more. I decided I was really going to find out how good I can be." During the offseason, Koufax underwent tonsillectomy due to recurring throat issues and, as a result, reported to spring training thirty pounds under his normal playing weight. Koufax later stated that it forced him to regain the lost muscle mass and weight through exercise and nutrition, allowing him to get into the "best shape" of his life. From then on, he made it a point to report to spring training under his playing weight.

During spring training, Dodger scout Kenny Myers discovered a hitch in Koufax's windup, where he would rear back so far he would lose sight of the target. As a result, Koufax tightened up his mechanics, believing that not only would it help better his control but would also help him disguise his pitches better.

On March 23, Koufax was chosen by teammate Gil Hodges (acting as manager of the team) to pitch in a B-squad game against the Minnesota Twins in Orlando, Florida. As teammate Ed Palmquist had missed the flight, leaving the team short one pitcher, Hodges told Koufax he needed to pitch at least seven innings. Prior to the game, catcher Norm Sherry told him: "If you get behind the hitters, don't try to throw so hard." This was due to Koufax's tendency to lose control of his temper and throw hard when he got into trouble. The strategy worked initially before Koufax temporarily reverted to throwing hard and walked the bases loaded with no out in the fifth. Sherry reminded Koufax of their discussion, advising him to settle down and throw to his glove and to throw more breaking pitches. The advice worked; Koufax struck out the side and then went on to pitch seven no-hit innings.

Additionally, Dodgers statistician Allan Roth helped Koufax tweak his game in the early 1960s, particularly regarding the importance of first-pitch strikes and the benefits of off-speed pitches. Like Sherry, Roth also urged him to take a little speed off his pitches in order to improve his control.

1961 season

All the improvements and changes made in the offseason and during spring training resulted in 1961 becoming Koufax's breakout season. He posted an 18–13 record and led the majors with 269 strikeouts, breaking Christy Mathewson's 58-year-old National League mark of 267, and doing so in 110 innings fewer than Mathewson had.

That season also marked the first time in his career that Koufax started at least 30 games (35) and pitched at least 200 innings (255.2). He lowered his walks allowed per nine innings from 5.1 in 1960 to 3.4 in 1961 and led the NL with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.80.

On September 20, Koufax won a 13-inning contest against the Chicago Cubs for his 18th win of the year. He pitched a complete game, throwing 205 pitches, striking out fifteen batters.

That year, he was named an All-Star for the first time and appeared in both All-Star Games. In the first game, he faced only one batter, giving up a hit to Al Kaline in the ninth inning before being removed by NL manager Danny Murtaugh. In the second game, he pitched two scoreless innings.

1962 season

In 1962, the Dodgers moved from the Los Angeles Coliseum – a football stadium which had a 250-foot (75 m) left-field line, an enormous disadvantage to left-handed pitchers – to the pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. The new park had a large foul territory and a comparatively poor hitting background. Koufax was an immediate beneficiary of the move, lowering his earned run average at home from 4.29 to 1.75.

Sandy Koufax
Koufax at Dodger Stadium in the early 1960s

On April 24, Koufax tied his own record of 18 strikeouts in a 10–2 win over the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field. On June 13, at Milwaukee County Stadium, he hit his first career home run off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves, providing the winning margin in a 2–1 victory.

On June 30, against the expansion New York Mets, he threw his first career no-hitter. In the first inning of that game, he struck out all three batters on nine total pitches, becoming the sixth National League pitcher and the 11th pitcher in Major League history to throw an immaculate inning. His no-hitter, along with a 4–2 record, 73 strikeouts and a 1.23 earned run average, earned him the Player of the Month Award for June. It would be the only time in his career he earned this distinction.

Koufax had a strong season despite dealing with an injured pitching hand. In April, while at bat, he had been jammed by a pitch from Earl Francis of the Pirates. A numbness developed in the index finger on his left hand, and the finger became cold and white. Koufax was pitching better than ever, however, so he ignored the problem, hoping that the condition would clear up. By July, though, his entire hand was becoming numb. During a start in Cincinnati, his finger split open after one inning. A vascular specialist determined that Koufax had a crushed artery in his palm. Ten days of experimental medicine successfully reopened the artery, preventing the possibility of amputation.

Koufax was finally able to pitch again in September, when the team was locked in a tight pennant race with the Giants. However, after the long layoff, he was rusty and ineffective in three appearances and, by the end of the regular season and in part due to Koufax's absence from the Dodgers rotation, the Giants caught up with the Dodgers and forced a three-game playoff.

The night before the playoffs began, manager Alston asked Koufax if he could start the next day. With an overworked pitching staff, Drysdale and Johnny Podres having pitched the prior two days, Koufax obliged; he later said, "I had nothing at all." He was knocked out in the second inning, after giving up home runs to future Hall of Famer Willie Mays and Jim Davenport. After winning the second game of the series, the Dodgers blew a 4–2 lead in the ninth inning of the deciding third game, losing the pennant.

1963 season

In 1963, Major League Baseball expanded the strike zone as a way to combat what they perceived as too much offense. Compared to the previous season, walks in the NL fell 13%, strikeouts increased 6%, the league batting average fell from .261 to .245, and runs scored declined 15%. Koufax, who had reduced his walks allowed per nine innings to 3.4 in 1961 and 2.8 in 1962, reduced it further to 1.7 in 1963, which ranked fifth in the league. The top pitchers of the era – future Hall of Famers Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson, and Koufax himself – significantly reduced their walks-per-nine-innings ratio for 1963 and in subsequent years.

On April 19, Koufax threw his second immaculate inning, this time in a two-hit shutout win against the Houston Colt .45s, becoming the first NL pitcher and the second pitcher ever (after Lefty Grove) to throw two immaculate innings.

Koufax threw his second career no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants on May 11, besting Giants ace Juan Marichal – himself a no-hit pitcher on June 15. Koufax carried a perfect game into the eighth inning against the powerful Giants lineup which included future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Orlando Cepeda. The perfect game ended when he walked catcher Ed Bailey on a 3-and-2 pitch. He closed out the game after walking pinch-hitter McCovey on four pitches with two out in the ninth.

From July 3 to 16, he pitched 33 consecutive scoreless innings, pitching three shutouts to lower his earned run average to 1.65. On July 20, he hit the second and last home run of his career, coincidentally again in Milwaukee. He hit a three-run shot off Braves pitcher Denny Lemaster to propel the team to a 5–4 win; it was his only game with three runs batted in. The Dodgers won the pennant, and Koufax won the first of three pitching Triple Crowns, leading the league in wins (25), strikeouts (306) and earned run average (1.88). He threw 11 shutouts, eclipsing Carl Hubbell's 30-year, post-1900 mark for a left-handed pitcher of 10 and setting a record that stands to this day. Only Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals, with 13 shutouts in his iconic 1968 season (known as "the year of the pitcher"), has thrown more since.

Koufax won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, and was the first-ever unanimous selection for the Cy Young Award (at a time when only one was awarded for both leagues; separate awards for each league began in 1967). He was also named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for the first time, and was awarded the Hickok Belt as the athlete of the year.

In the 1963 World Series, the Dodgers faced the New York Yankees. In Game 1, Koufax beat Whitey Ford 5–2. He struck out the first five batters and 15 overall, breaking Carl Erskine's decade-old record of 14 (later broken by Bob Gibson in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series). In Game 4, Koufax completed the Dodgers' series sweep with a 2–1 victory over Ford, the only run he allowed being a home run by Mickey Mantle. During the series, Koufax struck out 23 batters in 18 innings, a record for a four-game World Series, and had a 2–0 record with an earned run average of 1.50; for his performance, he was awarded the World Series Most Valuable Player Award.

1964 season

Koufax's 1964 season started with great expectations. On April 14, he made the only Opening Day start of his career, pitching a 4–0 shutout against the St. Louis Cardinals. In his next start, he struck out three batters on nine pitches in the third inning of a 3–0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, becoming the first pitcher in Major League history to throw three immaculate innings. On April 22, in St. Louis, however, Koufax "felt something let go" in his arm during the first inning, resulting in three cortisone shots in his sore left elbow and three missed starts.

On June 4, against the Philadelphia Phillies in Connie Mack Stadium, Koufax threw his third career no-hitter, tying Bob Feller as the only modern-era pitchers to hurl three no-hitters. He only needed 97 pitches and faced the minimum 27 batters while striking out 13. The only full-count he allowed was to Dick Allen in the fourth inning; Allen walked and was thrown out trying to steal second base; he was the only baserunner for the Phillies that day.

On August 8, during a game against the Milwaukee Braves, Koufax jammed his pitching arm while diving back to second base to beat a pick-off throw by Tony Cloninger. He managed to pitch and win two more games. However, the morning after his 19th win, a shutout in which he struck out 13 batters, Koufax woke up to find his elbow "as big as his knee" and found that he could no longer straighten his arm. He was diagnosed by Dodgers team physician Robert Kerlan with traumatic arthritis. With the Dodgers out of the pennant race, Koufax did not pitch again that season, finishing with a 19–5 win-loss record and leading the National League with a 1.74 earned run average and 7 shutouts.

Playing in pain (1965–66)

After resting during the off-season, Koufax returned to spring training in 1965 and initially had no problems from pitching. On March 30, however, he woke up the morning after pitching a complete game against the Chicago White Sox to find his entire left arm swollen and black and blue from hemorrhaging. He returned to Los Angeles to consult with Kerlan who warned him that he would eventually lose the full use of his arm if he continued to pitch.

Kerlan and Koufax came up with a schedule which he would follow for the last two seasons of his career. Koufax initially agreed to stop throwing between starts but, as it had been a part of his routine for a long time, he soon resumed it. Instead, he stopped throwing sidearm pitches (which he often did against left-handed batters) and removed his rarely-used slider from his repertoire. Before each start, he would get a cortisone shot in his elbow and have capsaicin-based Capsolin ointment (nicknamed the "Atomic Balm" by players) rubbed over his shoulder and arm. Afterwards, he would soak his arm in a tub of ice. Koufax took Empirin with codeine for the pain every night and occasionally during a game, and also took Butazolidin for the inflammation, a drug that was eventually taken off the market due to its toxic side-effects.

1965 season

Despite the constant pain in his pitching elbow, Koufax pitched a major league-leading 335.2 innings and 27 complete games, leading the Dodgers to another pennant. Koufax captured his second unanimous Cy Young Award, and was runner-up for the National League MVP Award, behind Willie Mays.

He won his second pitching Triple Crown, leading the Majors in wins (26), earned run average (2.04), and strikeouts (382). His 382 strikeouts broke Bob Feller's modern record of 348 strikeouts in 1946, and was the highest modern-day total at the time. He walked only 71 batters, the first time a pitcher struck out 300 more batters than he walked (311), a feat replicated only once since, by Randy Johnson (372 strikeouts to 71 walks in 2001). Additionally, he held batters to 5.79 hits per nine innings, and allowed the fewest baserunners per nine innings in any season ever: 7.83, breaking his own record (set two years earlier) of 7.96.

Koufax was the pitcher for the Dodgers during the game on August 22, when Giants pitcher Juan Marichal clubbed Dodgers catcher John Roseboro in the head with a bat. The game, which came in the middle of a heated pennant race, had been tense since it began, with Marichal brushing back Dodgers outfielder Ron Fairly and shortstop Maury Wills, and Koufax retaliating by throwing over the head of Willie Mays. After Koufax's retaliation, both benches were warned by umpire Shag Crawford; despite this, he asked Roseboro, "Who do you want me to get?" to which Roseboro replied, "I'll handle it."

After the clubbing occurred, Koufax rushed from the mound and attempted to grab the bat from Marichal. A fourteen-minute brawl ensued in which he and Mays attempted to restore peace, with Mays dragging the injured Roseboro away from the fight. After the game resumed, a shaken up Koufax walked two batters before giving up a three-run home run to Mays, with the Dodgers eventually losing the game 4–3.


On September 9, 1965, Koufax became the sixth pitcher of the modern era, and eighth overall, to throw a perfect game. The game, thrown against the Chicago Cubs, was Koufax's fourth no-hitter, setting a then-major league record (broken by Nolan Ryan in 1981), and the first by a left-hander in the modern era. He struck out 14 batters, the most recorded in a perfect game (since tied by Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants in 2012), and struck out at least one batter in each inning in the 1–0 win.

The game also set a record for the fewest hits ever in a major league contest, as Cubs pitcher Bob Hendley pitched a one-hitter and allowed only two batters to reach base. Both pitchers had no-hitters intact until the seventh inning. The winning run was unearned, scored without a hit when Dodgers left fielder Lou Johnson walked, reached second on a sacrifice, stole third, and scored on a throwing error by Cubs catcher Chris Krug.

World Series and Yom Kippur

The Dodgers won the National League pennant on the second-to-last game of the season, against the Milwaukee Braves. Koufax started the game on two days' rest and pitched a complete game 3–1 win, striking out 13, to clinch the pennant for the Dodgers.

Koufax declined to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series as it clashed with Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. His decision garnered national headlines, raising the conflict between professional pressures and personal religious beliefs to front-page news. Instead, Drysdale pitched the opener, but was hit hard by the Minnesota Twins. When Dodgers manager Walter Alston came out to remove Drysdale from the game, the latter quipped: "I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too."

In Game 2, Koufax pitched six innings, giving up two runs (one unearned), and the Twins won 5–1 to take an early 2–0 lead in the series. The Dodgers fought back in Games 3 and 4, with wins by Claude Osteen and Drysdale. With the Series tied at 2–2, Koufax pitched a four-hit shutout in Game 5, striking out 10 batters, for a 3–2 Dodgers lead. The Series returned to Metropolitan Stadium for Game 6, which the Twins' Jim Grant won to force a seventh, decisive game.

For Game 7, Alston decided to start Koufax over the fully-rested Drysdale against the Twins' Jim Kaat; on just two days of rest, Koufax pitched through fatigue and arthritic pain. Despite giving up on his curveball early in the game after failing to throw strikes with it, and pitching the rest of the game relying almost entirely his fastball, Koufax threw a three-hit shutout, again striking out 10 batters, and clinched the Series for the Dodgers.

His performance earned him a second World Series MVP Award, making him the first player to win the award twice. Koufax also won the Hickok Belt for a second time, also the first time anyone had won the belt more than once. That year, he was awarded the Sportsman of the Year award by Sports Illustrated and was named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for a second time.


In the offseason, prior to the 1966 season, Koufax and Drysdale met separately with general manager Buzzie Bavasi to negotiate their contracts for the upcoming season. Koufax already harbored ill feelings towards Bavasi which dated back to a contract dispute prior to the 1964 season. After his meeting, he met Drysdale and his wife Ginger for dinner, irritated that Bavasi was using his own teammate against him in the salary negotiations. Drysdale responded that Bavasi had done the same thing with him. The two compared notes on their separate negotiations, realizing that the Dodgers' general manager had been playing one pitcher against the other. Ginger Drysdale, who had previously worked as a model and actress and was once a member of the Screen Actors Guild, suggested to the pair that they negotiate together in order to get what they wanted. Hence, in January 1966, the pair informed the Dodgers of their decision to hold out together.

In a highly unusual move for the time, they were represented by entertainment lawyer J. William Hayes, Koufax's business manager. Also highly unusual was their demand of $1 million (equivalent to $9 million in 2022), divided equally over the next three years, or $167,000 (equivalent to $1.51 million in 2022) each for each of the next three seasons. They told Bavasi that they would negotiate their contracts as one unit and through their agent. The Dodgers refused to do so, stating it was against their policy, and a stalemate ensued. Instead, the front office waged a public relations campaign against the pair.

Koufax and Drysdale did not report to spring training in February 1966. Instead, both signed to appear in the movie Warning Shot, starring David Janssen. Additionally, Koufax had signed a book deal to write his autobiography, Koufax, with author Ed Linn. Hayes, meanwhile, unearthed a state law which made it illegal to extend personal service contracts in California beyond seven years, a law which resulted from the case of De Havilland v. Warner Bros. Pictures; he began to prepare a lawsuit against the Dodgers and to challenge the reserve clause. When Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley found out about this, the team's front office softened their stance towards the pair.

Actor and former baseball player Chuck Connors helped arrange a meeting between Bavasi and the two pitchers. Koufax gave Drysdale the go-ahead to negotiate new deals on behalf of both of them. At the end of the thirty-two day holdout, Koufax signed for $125,000 (equivalent to $1.13 million in 2022) and Drysdale for $110,000 (equivalent to $992,000 in 2022). The deal made Koufax the highest paid player in Major League Baseball for 1966.

The holdout is noted to be the first significant event in baseball's labor movement and the first time major league players had challenged the absolute stronghold the owners held in baseball at the time. That same year, trade unionist Marvin Miller used the Koufax–Drysdale holdout as an argument for collective bargaining while campaigning for players' votes during spring training; he would be soon be elected by the players as first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

1966 season

In April 1966, Kerlan told Koufax it was time to retire and that his arm could not take another season. By this time, Koufax could no longer straighten his arm and it occasionally went numb, causing him to drop anything he was holding. Despite this, Koufax kept Kerlan's advice to himself, having decided the year before to make 1966 his last season. He went out to pitch every fourth day, accumulating 323 innings and not missing a single start.

He posted a 27–9 win-loss record, with 317 strikeouts and a 1.73 earned run average, winning his third pitching Triple Crown. Koufax won his third unanimous Cy Young Award, the first pitcher ever to win three, and was again runner-up for the National League MVP Award, this time finishing behind Roberto Clemente of the Pirates.

In the final game of the regular season, the Dodgers had to beat the Phillies in order to win the pennant. In the second game of a doubleheader, Koufax faced Jim Bunning for the second time that season. On two days rest, Koufax pitched a 6–3 complete-game victory to clinch the pennant.

The Dodgers went on to face the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, and Game 2 marked Koufax's third start in eight days. He pitched well enough, allowing only one earned run, but three errors by Dodgers centerfielder Willie Davis in the fifth inning produced three unearned runs. He did not receive any run support either; Baltimore's 20-year-old future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer pitched a four-hit shutout, and the Orioles won 6–0.

Alston lifted Koufax at the end of the sixth with the idea of getting him extra rest before a potential fifth game. Instead, the Dodgers were swept in four games, not scoring a single run in the last two games.


On November 18, a few weeks after the 1966 World Series, Koufax announced his retirement from baseball in a press conference at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. During the press conference, Koufax gave severe arthritis and constant pain in his pitching arm, and the medication and treatments that were required to make it possible for him pitch regularly as the reason for ending his career at age 30, saying:

I've got a lot of years to live after baseball and I would like to live them with the complete use of my body. I don't regret one minute of the last twelve years, but I think I would regret one year that was too many.

The announcement of his retirement came as a shock to baseball, particularly to his teammates. Soon afterwards, Koufax told an incredulous Dick Tracewski, his old Dodger roommate and close friend, that he could have continued to pitch but would have risked disability if he did so: "All my sport coats have two different arms in them. I can't go on doing this medication thing and pitching. It's going to kill me." He also added, "I can't keep using the cortisone... The doctors told me the cortisone will probably harm my kidneys and liver if I keep taking it. Lots of bad things could happen. I just gotta retire." Years later, Koufax stated that he never regretted retiring when he did but did regret having to make the decision to retire.

His retirement ended a five-year run in which Koufax went 111-34 with a 1.95 earned run average and 1,444 strikeouts. During that run, he led the Dodgers to three National League pennants and two World Series titles, in both of which he was named the series MVP. He won Cy Young Awards in each of the pennant-winning years, including the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1963. The year after his retirement, the Dodgers fell in the NL rankings, from 1st in 1966 to 8th in 1967.

Career overall

In his 12-season major league career, Koufax had a 165–87 record with a 2.76 earned run average, 2,396 strikeouts, 137 complete games, and 40 shutouts. He was the first pitcher to average fewer than seven hits allowed per nine innings pitched (6.79) and to strike out more than nine batters (9.28) per nine innings pitched. He remains, over half a century later, on the very short list of pitchers who retired with more career strikeouts than innings pitched.

Koufax became the first pitcher in baseball history to have two games with 18 or more strikeouts, and the first to have eight games with 15 or more strikeouts. He also set a then-record of 97 games with at least 10 strikeouts (now sixth-most all-time). In his last ten seasons, from 1957 to 1966, batters hit .203 against him, with a .271 on-base percentage and a .315 slugging average. His run of five consecutive ERA titles is a Major League record. Additionally, he also led the majors in WHIP four consecutive times and FIP six consecutive times, both also records.

Due to a lack of run support, Koufax's postseason record over the course of four World Series is an unimpressive 4–3; however, his 0.95 earned run average and two World Series MVP Awards testify to how well he actually pitched. In his three World Series losses, which were all starts, spread over three different Series, Koufax gave up one earned run in each; the Dodgers scored only one run in support across the three games, getting shut out twice.

He was selected as an All-Star for six consecutive seasons and made seven out of eight possible All-Star Game appearances those seasons. He pitched six innings across four All-Star games; Koufax was the winning pitcher in the 1965 All-Star Game, and was the starting pitcher in the 1966 All-Star Game, throwing three innings of one-run ball on two days' rest.

Koufax was the first pitcher to win three Cy Young Awards, an especially impressive feat because it was during the era when only one was given out for both major leagues. He is also the first pitcher to win the award by a unanimous vote – a distinction which he received twice more. Koufax and Juan Marichal are the only two pitchers to have more than one 25-win season in the post-World War II era, with each man recording three.

Total 165 87 .655 2.76 397 314 137 40 9 2,324.1 806 713 1,754 204 817 2,396 18 1.106 2.69 131 6.8 9.3

Pitching style

"Trying to hit Koufax was like trying to drink coffee with a fork."

Willie Stargell.

Koufax was a power pitcher and threw with a pronounced straight-over-the-top arm action. Most of his velocity came from his strong legs and back, combined with a high leg kick during his wind-up and long forward extension on his release point toward home plate. His large hands also allowed him to put heavy spin on his pitches and control the direction in which they would break.

Throughout his career, Koufax relied heavily on two pitches. His four-seam fastball gave batters the impression of rising as it approached them, due to heavy backspin he created by pulling on the seams. His overhand curveball, spun with the middle finger, dropped vertically 12 to 24 inches due to his arm action; sabermetrician Rob Neyer called it the best curve of all time. Koufax also occasionally threw a changeup and, in his final years, added a forkball to his repertoire.

At the beginning of his career, Koufax fought a tendency to "tip" pitches to the opposing team through variations in his wind-up, which included the position in which he held his hands at the top of the wind-up. When throwing a fastball with baserunners, his hand position in the stretch would be higher than when he threw a curveball. Once alerted, he made an effort to better disguise his deliveries. Late in his career, perhaps because of his injured arm, his tendency to tip pitches became even more pronounced. Good hitters could often predict what pitch was coming, but were still unable to hit it due to his precise control and the effectiveness of his pitches.

Post-playing career

Sandy Koufax
Koufax (left) as a pitching coach for the Dodgers during spring training, 1979

Soon after his retirement, Koufax signed a 10-year contract with NBC for $1 million (equivalent to $8.8 million in 2022) to be a broadcaster on the Saturday Game of the Week. A shy man, Koufax was never comfortable on the air; he had difficulty in talking baseball with people who had not played the game professionally. It was also challenging for him to describe pitchers whose repertoires and style of pitching differed from his, and to be critical of players he had played with and against. As a result, he quit after six years and his contract with NBC was terminated by mutual consent before the start of the 1973 season.

In 1979, Koufax was hired by the Dodgers to be a minor league pitching coach in their farm system. During his tenure, he worked with a number of pitchers, including Orel Hershiser, Dave Stewart, John Franco, Bob Welch, and fellow Hall of Famers Don Sutton and Pedro Martínez. Koufax, with the help of former teammate Roger Craig, taught himself how to throw a split-finger fastball, a popular pitch in the 1980s, in order to be able to teach it to pitchers in the Dodgers minor league system.

He resigned from his position in 1990, saying he was not earning his keep as the Dodgers had cut back his workload; most observers, however, blamed it on his uneasy relationship with manager Tommy Lasorda who reportedly resented Koufax working with his pitchers. Despite this, Koufax continued to make informal visits to spring training.

In 2002, after the New York Post published a false story on him, Koufax cut ties with the Dodgers as both the team and the newspaper were, at the time, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. He reconnected with the organization in 2004, when the Dodgers were sold to Frank McCourt, and resumed his informal visits to spring training.

During this time, Koufax also made spring training visits with other teams, particularly with the New York Mets who were, at the time, owned by his childhood friend Fred Wilpon. Notably, Mets pitcher Al Leiter credited Koufax in helping him become a better pitcher.

In 2013, the Dodgers again hired Koufax, this time in a front office role as a special advisor to team chairman Mark Walter, to work with the pitchers during spring training and consult during the season. He retired from the front office job prior to the 2016 season.


Sandy Koufax
Sandy Koufax's number 32 was retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1972.

Koufax was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, his first year of eligibility, just weeks after his 36th birthday. He was the youngest player ever elected, five months younger than Lou Gehrig was at the time of his special election in December 1939. On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired Koufax's uniform number 32, alongside those of Dodger greats Roy Campanella (39) and Jackie Robinson (42). On June 18, 2022, a statue of Koufax was unveiled at Dodger Stadium, next to that of Robinson, his former Brooklyn Dodger teammate.

In 1999, The Sporting News placed Koufax at number 26 on its list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players". That same year, he was also named one of the 30 players on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. In 2020, The Athletic ranked Koufax at number 70 on its "Baseball 100" list, complied by sportswriter Joe Posnanski.

Koufax was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1979, and in the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. In 1990, he was inducted in the inaugural class of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

In 1976, sportswriter Harry Stein published an article called the "All-Time All-Star Argument Starter" in Esquire magazine, consisting of five ethnic baseball teams; Koufax was the left-handed pitcher on Stein's Jewish team. In April 2007, he was the final player chosen in the inaugural Israel Baseball League draft, by the Modi'in Miracle. Former New York Mets player Art Shamsky, manager of the Miracle, said of the honorary pick, "His selection is a tribute to the esteem with which he is held by everyone associated with this league".

Koufax was voted as one of the four greatest living players by Major League Baseball fans, alongside Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, and Johnny Bench, as a part of the 2015 season's "Franchise Four" vote. Before the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, he threw the ceremonial first pitch to Bench from in front of the base of the mound.

On May 27, 2010, Koufax was included amongst the group of prominent Jewish Americans honored at the White House reception for Jewish American Heritage Month. During his welcoming remarks, in reminiscence of Koufax's decision not to play on Yom Kippur, President Barack Obama remarked: "Sandy and I actually have something in common – we are both lefties. He can't pitch on Yom Kippur; I can't pitch." Obama directly acknowledged the high esteem in which Koufax is held within the Jewish community: "This is a pretty... distinguished group. We've got senators and representatives. We've got Supreme Court justices and successful entrepreneurs, rabbinical scholars, Olympic athletes – and Sandy Koufax." The mention of Koufax's name drew the loudest cheer in the room.

That same year, he was one of the two main subjects of the film Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, alongside Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers. Koufax agreed to sit down for a rare interview, remarking to Ira Berkow, the writer of the film: "It doesn't make sense if it's 'Jews and Baseball' and I'm not in it."

Personal life

Sandy Koufax
Koufax at the 2014 Baseball Writers' Association of America dinner

Koufax has been described as being a secular Jew, with biographer Jane Leavy describing him as a "very Jewish being". His decision to not pitch on Yom Kippur in 1965, made out of respect for his heritage, was highly significant for Jewish-Americans.

Other than Yom Kippur, there were other Jewish holidays when Koufax did not pitch, including Passover Seder and three times on Rosh Hashanah, one of which was Game 4 of the 1959 World Series.

Koufax married Anne Widmark, daughter of actor Richard Widmark, in 1969; they divorced in 1982. His second marriage, to personal trainer Kimberly Francis, lasted from 1985 to 1998. Neither marriage produced children. He married his third wife, Jane Dee Clarke (née Purucker), in 2008. Koufax is the stepfather of Clarke's daughter from her previous marriage to artist John Clem Clarke and has two step-grandchildren.

Koufax served as a member of the advisory board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping former Major League, Minor League, and Negro league baseball players through financial and medical difficulties.

In 2009, Koufax was listed amongst the clients who had invested with financier Bernie Madoff and was one of the victims of his Ponzi scheme. His close friend, Mets owner Fred Wilpon had recommended to Koufax that he invest with Madoff. Despite this, Koufax supported Wilpon and offered to testify on behalf of the Mets' ownership before a settlement averted a civil trial.

He currently resides in Vero Beach, Florida.

In his forties and fifties, Koufax was a marathon runner and exercise enthusiast. Since his twenties, he has remained an avid golfer. After retiring, he often entered amateur golf championships and still takes part in pro-am charity tournaments. Koufax is also a college basketball fan and regularly attends the NCAA Final Four championships.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 14 Sep 2023. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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