Friday, February 25, 2011

#300 Sandy Koufax

#300 Sandy Koufax
It should go without saying that this card is one of the crown jewels of my 94% complete 1965 set. A number of the big-ticket players (Aaron, Clemente, Mantle) are still missing, but Max was good enough to pass Sandy Koufax along to me. I love the pose in this photo, too; it looks like he's staring down a batter and receiving signs from Johnny Roseboro.

Fun facts about Sandy Koufax:

-A native of Brooklyn, NY, Sandy briefly attended the University of Cincinnati. He tried out for the Giants and Pirates before signing with the Dodgers for a $14,000 bonus in 1954.

-As a "bonus baby", he had to go straight to the majors at age 19 in 1955. The Dodgers used him sparingly, but he did grab attention with a pair of shutouts for his first two big league wins. The first of these was a spectacular two-hitter on August 27 in which he struck out 14 Cincinnati batters.

-Early in his career, Koufax struggled to harness his gifts. In three of his first four full seasons, he struck out more than ten batters per nine innings, yet he was also routinely among the top five in the league for most walks allowed. Through the 1960 season, his record was a mediocre 36-40 with a 4.10 ERA and 5.3 walks per 9 innings.

-In 1961, the 25-year-old emerged with an 18-13 record, a 3.52 ERA, 15 complete games, and league-leading marks in strikeouts (269), fewest hits per nine innings (7.5), strikeouts per nine innings (9.5), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.80). He was also a National League All-Star for the first of six consecutive seasons.

-A finger injury in 1962 limited Sandy to 26 starts, but he captured the first of five straight ERA titles with a 2.54 mark. He was 14-7, and struck out 216 men in only 184.1 innings with a league-best 1.03 WHIP.

-Fully healthy in 1963, the lefty entered the stratosphere, winning both the Cy Young and MVP awards with N.L.-leading numbers including wins (25-5), ERA (1.88), shutouts (11), strikeouts (306), WHIP (0.88), hits per nine (6.2), and strikeouts-to-walks (an absurd 5.28). He kept the good times rolling with complete-game victories in both of his World Series starts against the Yankees, including a 2-1 win in the sweep-clinching Game Four. He earned Series MVP honors with an overall ERA of 1.50 and 23 strikeouts in 18 innings.

-Koufax captured his second Cy Young in 1965, thanks to career highs of 382 strikeouts, 27 complete games, an 0.86 WHIP, 5.8 hits per nine, and 5.38 strikeouts to every walk issued. He also topped the league with 26 wins, a 2.04 ERA, and 10.2 K/9. He also repeated as World Series MVP with two shutouts of the Twins and an 0.38 ERA in the Fall Classic; he allowed a single earned run in six innings in a Game Two loss before blanking Minnesota in Games Five and Seven.

-He twirled four no-hitters in his career, a record since broken by Nolan Ryan. The most impressive of these may have been a perfect game on September 9, 1965 in which he struck out 14 Cubs. The game was notable because the Dodgers had only one hit and three base runners themselves, and they scored the only run off of unfortunate Cubs starter Bob Hendley via a throwing error by catcher Chris Krug.

-Sandy stunned the baseball world by retiring at age 30 after the 1966 season, another superlative year in which he won his third Cy Young with a 27-9 record and 1.73 ERA (both personal bests). He also struck out a league-best 317 batters and was runner-up in MVP voting for the second year in a row. However, arthritis in his pitching arm was causing him constant agony, so he got out while he could.

-In 12 seasons, Koufax was 165-87 with a 2.76 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and 2,396 strikeouts in 2,324.1 innings. The Dodgers retired his #32 in 1972, the same year that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a first-ballot honoree.
#300 Sandy Koufax (back)


  1. If you've ever seen video game footage from the 50s and 60s, and even into the 70s, you can understand why some of us older folk like the posed photos, like this Koufax. In that era of 3 networks and that was it, we didn't get to see what the players looked like close up - this Koufax is classic!

  2. I never had Koufax card only world series card show him. For that matter, I didn't ever have a drysdale either. Aaron and Gibson not until the 70's.

    I think Koufax legend is enhanced by how he left baseball, a pitcher without a peer. I can only think of Jim Brown in football doing likewise.

    I know ESPN classic sometimes shows game 7 of the 65 series. Sit down and watch if you get the chance. It is archive of how baseball used to be in a different age.

    Mike -- The more I read blogs like this, I think the advent of action cards was a response to the reuse of player pictures. But cards were incredibly important in my knowledge of baseball. For instance, I never knew what the Texas Rangers uniforms look like until the 73 set came out.

  3. Nowadays folks have all these fancy sliced and diced numbers to refer to. A bunch of those folks will give you any number of reasons why Sandy Koufax is 'over rated' or 'not worthy of Top Ten all time status', etc.

    Those folks likely never saw him pitch. He's the best lefthander, and along with Bob Gibson, one of the two best pitchers I've ever seen.

    If you are interested in his life and career I really recommend Jane Leavy's book. Great read.

    Kevin, thanks for posting this one. You've tossed up Murray (2x), Maris and Koufax within just a few days time. Nice.

  4. If you search on "LHP Sandy Koufax" on YouTube right now you can see a beautiful short film of his wind-up and delivery.

  5. Greg - Wish I had one to offer you.

    Mike - I see what you're saying. Even now, some posed photos are still more charming than run-of-the-mill action shots. Some players are better than others at expressing their personalities.

    Anon - I've never seen that game, but MASN (the local sports network) sometimes shows Orioles World Series games from 1970. For someone born in the 1980s, it really helps give a sense of another time.

    Bob - There are more legends coming this week! BTW, I too have heard the detractions to Koufax, chiefly that his career was too short. But really diving into the stats to write this post, I was blown away. No one has ever had a peak like his. It's a true measure of quality over quantity.

    Doug - Thanks! I'll give it a whirl.

  6. I love the Los Angeles script on the Dodger road uniforms too, which the team went away from for many years (having Dodgers home and away) but went back to a couple of years ago. Similar to how the New York Giants went back to the NY logo on their helmets. I love the classic uniforms.

    I think the argument isn't that Koufax was overrated, but that his numbers need to be put in the context of the era and the ballpark he pitched in. Although I haven't done the research myself, apparently there is a fairly significant home/road split. He also had the advantage of a higher mound, especially in Dodger Stadium. And, yes, some people complain about his short career. I don't think anyone seriously questions that Koufax was a great pitcher. But it's clearly more difficult to pitch today than it was in the sixties. For example, I read Ted Williams' book where he mentions that in the 1963 World Series, a lot of the hitters couldn't see because of the white shirts in centerfield (the games were all in the day). Today, you have green hitting backgrounds. I think the overrated charge is more often made about Nolan Ryan.

  7. My favorite card in my favorite set...the Maris and Koufax cards are beautiful!

  8. Marc - There's no question that Koufax's numbers look better because of his era, home ballpark, etc. But he was still leaps and bounds above his peers. And yes, Nolan Ryan is a tad overrated, due to his gaudy strikeout totals and magical 324-win total.

    Brox - Yes they are. The photos and the card design blend together well.