On Koufax’s 75th  birthday:  75 things to know


Sandy Koufax: No HitterSandy Koufax

Today is the 75th birthday of Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax. Here are 75 reasons to celebrate (thanks to Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy, by Jane Leavy; direct quotes from her book; see No. 75):

1. Born Sanford Braun, he took the last name Koufax when his mother remarried. Koufax was 9. In his autobiography Koufax wrote, “When I speak of my father, I speak of Irving Koufax, for he has been to me everything a father could be.”

2. Koufax’s grandparents lived next door in Brooklyn to future comedian Buddy Hackett. Hackett’s sister was one of Koufax’s early babysitters.

3.  Koufax said his mother requested an early copy of his autobiography so she could learn something about him.

4. Robert Pinsky’s poem, The Night Game.
I devised a left-hander
Even more gifted
Than Whitey Ford: A Dodger.
People were amazed by him.
Once, when he was young,
He refused to pitch on Yom Kippur.

5. When Koufax learned years later that a younger Pinsky, seeking Ford’s autograph, had been spurned, he sent the poet an autographed ball. It was inscribed: “Whitey’s really a good guy.”

6. Koufax attended the University of Cincinnati and walked on to the basketball team. He earned a partial scholarship.

7. The Pirates, run by Branch Rickey, sent Clyde Sukeforth to scout Koufax. Sukeforth was a part of baseball history — Jackie Robinson’s first major-league manager and the Dodger coach who answered the phone in the bullpen in the 1951 NL playoffs when the call came for Ralph Branca (“The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant”).

8. Koufax’s father agreed to a deal with the Dodgers for $20,000. When the Braves and Pirates offered more money, the Koufaxes refused to renege because they had shaken hands with the Dodgers. 

10. A “bonus baby,” Koufax had to be kept on the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers roster. The spot he took would have gone to another left-handed pitcher, Tommy Lasorda. Lasorda did pitch in four games for the ’55 Dodgers (ERA: 13.50) and received a World Series ring.

11. The first pitch Koufax ever threw in spring training went over the screen and landed on the roof of the press room. Legend has it that it landed with such a sound that it woke up a napping sports writer inside.

12. Koufax’s major-league debut was on June 24, 1955, pitching mop-up vs. the Milwaukee Braves. He allowed a single, committed an error and walked Hank Aaron to load the bases with nobody out. He then fanned Bobby Thomson — the 1951 NL playoff hero — for his first strikeout and got a double-play ball from Joe Adcock.

13. In Koufax’s first big-league start on Aug. 27, 1955, he beat Cincinnati 7-0 on a two-hitter — a Ted Kluszewski single in the first and a Sam Mele double in the ninth. Ten years later, Sam Mele was manager of the Twins when the two teams met in the World Series. After Koufax won Game 5 by another 7-0 count, Mele congratulated Koufax, who then reminded Mele of the double. 

14. On the day in 1955 the Brooklyn Dodgers won their only world championship, Koufax, a 19-year-old rookie, asked his professor for permission to skip class at Columbia so he could attend the team’s victory party.

15. Milton Berle said Koufax was the greatest Jewish athlete since Samson (of the Old Testament).

16. At a pig roast at teammate Duke Snider’s, Snider’s wife worried what Koufax would eat. Koufax told her he’d “have some of that ‘turkey.’ ”

17. A portrait of Koufax by artist R.B. Kitaj was once on display in the Los Angeles County Museum.

18. Once when stuck in traffic on a bus in Miami, one of the Dodgers’ coaches blurted out: “You can give this damn town back to the Jews.” Said Koufax: “You know, we’ve already got it.”

19. Koufax pitched so little in his first two years (41.2 innings in 1955, 58.2 innings in 1956) that famous sports writer Dick Young described him as “the young, ignored lefty.”

20. Koufax was the last Brooklyn Dodger pitcher ever — he pitched the eighth inning of a 2-1 loss at Philadelphia (Roger Craig started) in the final game of the 1957 season. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles for the 1958 season.

21. Koufax pitched twice in the 1959 World Series — two perfect innings in an 11-0 Game 1 loss, and a seven-inning five-hitter in a 1-0 Game 5 start. It was the first of three World Series losses for Koufax, in which the Dodgers combined to score one run.

22. In 1960, when a frustrated Koufax asked to be traded, Giants star Willie Mays said: “Trade him to us. He’s got a fastball you can’t see.”

23. Koufax struggled so much in the early years, Jim Kaat turned down a $25,000 bonus offer from the White Sox to sign for $4,000 with Washington so he could go to the minor leagues. Kaat won 283 major league games and was the losing pitcher to Koufax in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series.

24. In 1961 Koufax outdueled Bob Gibson on May 25, 1-0, with a three-hitter. His name was misspelled in an L.A. newspaper the next morning.

25. Koufax fanned 269 batters in 1961, breaking Christy Mathewson’s 58-year record of 267. He broke it again in 1963 and then the major league record in 1965 with 382.

26. On the day Yom Kippur ended in 1961, Koufax pitched a 13-inning, complete-game, seven-hitter, fanning 15, to beat the Cubs, 3-2. A fan then sent Dodgers manager Walter Alston a calendar for 1962 with all the Jewish holidays highlighted.

27. In 1962, he beat Warren Spahn 2-1 with a three-hitter. Koufax hit his first home run for the game-winning run.

28. Koufax pitched the first of four no-hitters in four years when he beat the Mets 5-0 on June 30, 1962. It was one of 120 games the Mets lost that year.

29. He pitched his second no-hitter vs. Juan Marichal and the Giants on May 11, 1963. He struck out only four.

30. Harvey Kuenn, a lifetime .303 hitter, was the final out of the second no-hitter. He also was the final out of Koufax’s 1965 perfect game.

31. Leading by two games with 11 to play in 1963, Koufax blanked the second-place Cardinals 4-0 on Sept. 17. The four-hitter was Koufax’s 11th shutout and 24th win of his first of three Cy Young seasons. His 25th and final regular-season win of 1963 was a combined shutout.

32. Koufax broke former teammate Carl Erskine’s strikeout record in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series when he fanned 15 Yankees in a 5-2 victory. Bobby Richardson, who fanned just 22 times in 668 plate appearances in the regular season, fanned three times.

33. Koufax struck out the first five Yankees he faced and retired the first 14 batters he faced in the record-breaking performance.

34. Harry Bright, a 34-year-old journeyman, was the 15th and final strikeout, and final out, of Game 1 in his first World Series at-bat. Said Bright: “I wait 17 years to get into a World Series and I strike out. (And) 69,000 people were rooting against me.”

35. Yogi Berra was in the on-deck circle when Bright struck out for the final out. Said Berra: “I can see how he won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

36. Koufax won Game 4 of the World Series 2-1, the last game of a Dodgers sweep, on a six-hitter. He fanned “only” eight.

37. Koufax’s father, watching on TV at home, turned the game off after the Dodgers botched a force out in the top of the ninth. Irving Koufax, who had had a mild heart attack that year, told his son he had felt a “flutter” in his chest. Said his son: “Dad, at that point, I felt a flutter, too.”

38. After Game 4, Koufax went to visit Yankee star Roger Maris at the team hotel. Maris had been injured and unable to play. After visiting Maris, Koufax returned to the Dodgers’ victory party.

39. Koufax received a Corvette for being named the World Series MVP, and immediately got a parking ticket at the luncheon. Said Whitey Ford, the losing pitcher in both of Koufax’s 1963 Series wins: “Koufax had only two apparent weaknesses. He can’t park and he can’t hit.”

40. Koufax threw his third no-hitter on June 4, 1964, beating the first-place Phillies 3-0. He fanned 12 and walked only one.

41. The next time Koufax was scheduled to pitch at Philadelphia, the game was postponed even though the sun was shining in town over the Dodgers’ team hotel. Said the Phillies’ clubhouse man: “The game’s been called. They think it’s going to rain.”

42. Because of Koufax’s various, and escalating, arm injuries the Dodgers planned for Koufax to pitch every fifth day and to start 34 games in 1965. He wound up starting 44 games (41 in the season, three in the Series), pitched in relief twice and hurled 359.2 innings.

43. Koufax pitched his fourth no-hitter and first perfect game on Sept. 9, beating the Cubs, 1-0. It may be the greatest game ever pitched in baseball; the losing pitcher, Bob Hendley, pitched a one-hitter, walked one and lost on an unearned run. There was not a base runner until Lou Johnson walked to start the bottom of the fifth, and Johnson scored on a sacrifice, stolen base and throwing error. Johnson was the game’s only base runner — his double in the seventh was the game’s only hit. 

44. Koufax fanned 14 in his perfect game, including the last six Cubs. Number six was the unfortunate Harvey Kuenn, the final out in a Koufax no-hitter for the second time.

45. The Dodgers trailed by 4.5 games with 16 to play after Hendley beat Koufax the next week 2-1 and the Dodgers lost the next day. The Dodgers then won 13 games in a row — three shutouts by Koufax — and 15 of 16 to win the pennant by two games. In his final seven appearances of 1965, Koufax allowed three runs, threw three shutouts, saved a game and clinched the pennant with a four-hit, 13-strikeout, 3-1 win over Milwaukee on the next-to-last day of the season.

46. Koufax did not pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. Don Drysdale did and lost 7-2. When Alston approached the mound to change pitchers, Drysdale said: “I know, Skip. You’re wishing I was a Jew.”

47. Koufax lost Game 2, but won Game 5 7-0 on a four-hit shutout and Game 7, on two days’ rest, on another shutout, 2-0. In the space of four days, Koufax pitched 18 innings, allowed seven hits, walked four and fanned 20.

48. The balm Koufax used on his injured was arm so powerful opposing starter Jim Kaat’s eyes started to water when the two posed for pictures before Game 7.

49. In the first inning of Game 7, Koufax walked Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew with two out. Drysdale started to warm up in the bullpen.

50. In his career, Koufax started eight times on two days rest and won six — three by complete-game shutouts. In every start on two days rest, he pitched at least seven innings.

51. After the 1965 World Series, AL batting champion Tony Oliva, 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in his last two games vs. Koufax, went to the eye doctor, convinced there was something wrong with his eyes. Oliva learned his vision was fine.

52. After Koufax and Drysdale teamed up to hold out before the 1966 season, Koufax protested when he learned they weren’t getting the same salary. The Dodgers wanted to pay Koufax $25,000 more. Koufax’s protest earned an additional $10,000 for Drysdale.

53. On July 27, 1966, Koufax pitched an 11-inning no-decision vs. the Phillies, fanning 16, before a crowd of 44,937, which included Ira Green, a Koufax fan visiting L.A. from Chicago. Ira Green later fathered Shawn Green, who hit 328 major league home runs — second only among Jewish players to Hank Greenberg’s 331. 

54. The 1966 Dodgers were three games behind beginning September. Koufax started eight games from then until the end of the season, winning six.

55. The Dodgers started the final day of the 1966 season with a 1.5-game lead; Drysdale pitched the first game of a doubleheader. When they lost Game 1, Koufax started Game 2 on two days rest and beat the Phillies 6-3, taking a shutout into the ninth inning.

56. He struck out 317 batters in 1966, becoming the first pitcher ever to fan 300 in three seasons. St. Louis fans gave him a standing ovation when he fanned Curt Flood for No. 300.

57. His mound opponent on the final day of the 1966 season, as it was the game Ira Green attended, was Hall of Famer and future Senator Jim Bunning, who was an opposing coach the year Koufax played basketball at Cincinnati.

58. Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey was behind the plate on the final day of the 1966 season. He never collected memorabilia, but for one exception: he bought an autographed picture of Sandy Koufax at an auction.

59. Koufax was 27-9 in 1966 after going 26-8 in 1965. His two-year totals: 658.2 innings, 457 hits, 699 strikeouts, a 1.88 ERA, 13 shutouts and 54 complete games in 82 starts.

60. Koufax won three Cy Young Awards in four years — 1963, 1965 and 1966. There was only one winner in all of baseball in those years.

61. Koufax was 4-3 in the World Series in his career, but his ERA was 0.95. He allowed only six earned runs in seven World Series starts.

62. Koufax’s career record in 1-0 games was 11-3. In his last two seasons, his record was 16-3 in September/October of the regular season.

63. Koufax’s last regular-season loss was in 1966 to Ken Holtzman by 2-1 (Koufax threw a four-hitter; Holtzman a two-hitter). It was the 11th win of Holtzman’s career. He went on to win 174 games, nine more than Koufax, to become MLB’s all-time winningest Jewish pitcher.

64. Koufax’s final game was Game 2 of the 1966 World Series. He and the Dodgers lost to Baltimore 6-0, thanks in part to three unearned runs on three errors by Willie Davis — an otherwise superior defensive player — in the same inning. When the inning ended, Koufax met Davis on the way in from the outfield, put an arm around his shoulder and whispered words of encouragement.

65. The final hit Koufax ever allowed was to Davey Johnson in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series. When Johnson saw Koufax in spring training in 1967 and reminded him, Koufax replied: “Davey, that’s why I knew I was washed up.” 

66. Koufax told San Diego sportswriter Phil Collier more than a year earlier that 1966 would be his final season. They both kept it secret until November when Koufax called Collier and said he would make it public at a press conference the next day. Having kept Koufax’s confidence that long, Collier had the big story to himself the day of the press conference.

67. No member of Dodgers management attended Koufax’s press conference to announce his retirement at age 30.

68. When asked why he was retiring Koufax said: “If there was a man who did not have the use of one of his arms and you told him it would cost a lot of money if he could buy back that use, he’d give every dime he had, I believe.”

69. Said Henry Aaron, the former all-time home run leader: “You talk about the Gibsons and the Drysdales and the Spahns. And as good as those guys were, Koufax was a step ahead of them. No matter who he pitched against, he could always be a little better.”

70. After Koufax retired, a golf pro told Koufax he’d do better if he straightened his arm on his swing. Said Koufax: “If I could straighten my arm, I’d still be pitching.”

71. Many years after Bob Hendley’s role in Koufax’s perfect game, the local paper in Georgia ran a story on Hendley. Hendley’s youngest son cut out the story and mailed it to Koufax, who signed it and returned it: “Say hello to your father,” Koufax said.

72. In 1998, when the Dodgers retired Don Sutton’s number, Koufax paid his own way to attend (they were teammates on the 1966 Dodgers, Sutton’s rookie year). When Sutton thanked him, Koufax said: “How could I not? You’re the only 300-game winner I ever played with.”

73. In 1999, when Yankees manager and old Brooklyn friend Joe Torre was diagnosed with cancer, Koufax showed up at the Yankees’ spring training camp to wish Torre well.

74. At former Dodger captain Pee Wee Reese’s 1999 funeral, Koufax said: “He was a teammate for four years, a friend for 40. What else is there to say?”

75. He is the subject of a great sports biography, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy, by Jane Leavy, from where these anecdotes are drawn. If you’ve made it this far and never read her book, read it before Koufax turns 76. If you have read it, read it again. It’s better the second time. (And if you’re a Yankee fan, read Leavy’s newly released book on Mickey Mantle.)

Other links
Boxscore of Koufax’s perfect game
Vince Scully calls the last three outs of Koufax’s perfect game against the Cubs

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