Sandy Koufax
A smiling man in a white baseball jersey and dark baseball cap with an interlocked white "LA" on the front.
Koufax with the Los Angeles Dodgers, c. 1965
Born: (1935-12-30) December 30, 1935 (age 88)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Batted: Right
Threw: Left
MLB debut
June 24, 1955, for the Brooklyn Dodgers
Last MLB appearance
October 2, 1966, for the Los Angeles Dodgers
MLB statistics
Win–loss record165–87
Earned run average2.76
Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Baseball Hall of Fame
Vote86.9% (first ballot)

Sanford Koufax (/ˈkfæks/; né Braun; born December 30, 1935), nicknamed "the Left Arm of God", 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 winning unanimously and the only pitcher to do so when a single award was given for both the leagues; he was also named the National League Most Valuable Player in 1963. Retiring at the age of 30 due to chronic pain 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 handful of 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, and in wins and shutouts three times each. He was the first NL pitcher in 20 years to post an earned run average below 2.00, doing so three times, and the first to record a 300-strikeout season three times, including a then-major league record of 382 in 1965. 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, 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. 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. Koufax, along with teammate Don Drysdale, became a pivotal figure in baseball's labor movement when the two staged joint holdout and demanded a fairer contract from the Dodgers. 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 appearances 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 but continues to make informal appearances during spring training. From 2013 to 2015, Koufax worked in an executive position for the Dodgers, as special advisor to chairman 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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

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.[2] 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.[4][5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

A team photograph of the 1954 University of Cincinnati baseball team.
A team photograph of the 1954 University of Cincinnati freshman baseball team.
Koufax with the 1954 University of Cincinnati baseball team (right; top row, 5th from the left) and freshman basketball team (left; standing, 2nd from the right)

Koufax attended the University of Cincinnati where he studied architecture.[8] 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.[2]

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 part because the team was planning a last-minute road trip, starting with New Orleans.[9] 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.[10]

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 team's front office a glowing report that was filed away and forgotten.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] 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."[14] The Pirates, however, failed to offer Koufax a contract until after he was already committed to the Dodgers.[15]

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.[16][17] He was also urged by Pat Auletta, the owner of a sporting goods store and founder of 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.[18] 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."[19][20]

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.[21] Having 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 ($227,000 today) – $6,000 salary (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 had his baseball career failed.[2][22]

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 ($55,000 today), the team was required to keep that player on their 25-man active roster for two full seasons; 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.[23]

Prior to Koufax, the Dodgers had signed Roberto Clemente to a contract with a signing bonus of $10,000 and placed him in their Triple-A affiliate, the Montreal Royals of the International League, subsequently losing him to the Pittsburgh Pirates.[24] 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.[25]

During his first spring training, Koufax struggled with his new training regime and suffered from a sore arm most of the time.[26] 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.[27]

Early years (1955–1960)

"A ticket from an August 1955 game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds at Ebbets Field."
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.[28]

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."[29] 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.[30]

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.[31] He did not start again for almost two months.[32]

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.[33][34] His only other win in 1955, on September 3, was also a shutout, this time a five-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates.[35]

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.[36] 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.[37]

"A young baseball player wearing a ballcap with the initial 'B'."
Koufax warming up at Wrigley Field, c. 1957

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.[38] 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.[39]

To prepare him for the 1957 season, the Dodgers sent Koufax to Puerto Rico to play winter ball for the Criollos de Caguas.[40] 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.[41] 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.[42]

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.[43]

"Two men in military uniform at an Army base, ponder over instructions on how to change parts of a military truck."
Koufax and teammate Don Drysdale 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 in Fort Dix, New Jersey and Van Nuys, California after the end of the 1957 season and before spring training in 1958.[44]

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 benign tumor on his rib cage, necessitating him to undergo surgery in the off-season to have the growth removed.[27] As a result, he finished the season at 11–11 and leading the majors in wild pitches.[45]

In 1959, on June 22, he set the record for a night game with 16 strikeouts against Philadelphia Phillies.[46][47] 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.[48][49][50]

That season, the Dodgers won a tight pennant race against the Giants and the Milwaukee Braves, 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.[51][52]

In early 1960, Koufax asked Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi to trade him because he believed 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.[53] 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.[36]

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.[54]

Domination (1961–1964)

"Headshot of a young man wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap, looking to the left."
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."[55] 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.[2][56]

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.[57] 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.[58]

On March 23, Koufax was chosen to pitch in a B-squad game against the Minnesota Twins in Orlando, Florida, by teammate Gil Hodges who was acting manager for the day. 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.[2] 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.[59][60]

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.[2][61]

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.[62]

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.[36]

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.[63]

That year, he was named an All-Star for the first time and appeared in both All-Star Games.[a] 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.[65]

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 Dodger Stadium. The new park was pitcher-friendly, with 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 4.22 to 1.75.[66] Subsequently, he recorded what would his first great season, leading the NL in ERA and the majors in hits per nine innings and strikeouts per nine innings.[36]

"A man in the Los Angeles Dodgers home uniform and cap with a glove, posing in fielding position."
Koufax at Dodger Stadium, c. 1962

On April 24, Koufax tied his own record of 18 strikeouts in a 10–2 win over the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field.[67] On June 13, against the Braves at Milwaukee County Stadium, he hit his first career home run off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, providing the winning margin in a 2–1 victory.[68]

On June 30, he threw his first career no-hitter against the expansion New York Mets. In the first inning of that game, he struck out all three batters on nine total pitches, becoming the sixth NL pitcher and the 11th pitcher overall to throw an immaculate inning; he remains the only one to do so in a no-hitter.[69][70] 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.[71]

Throughout the first half of the season, Koufax dealt with an injured pitching hand.[27] In April, while at bat, he had been jammed by a pitch from Earl Francis of the Pirates. A numbness soon developed in the index finger on his left hand, and the finger became cold and white. Due to his strong start to the season, Koufax ignored the problem, hoping that the condition would clear up. By July, however, his entire hand was becoming numb and, during a start against Cincinnati, his finger split open.[72] 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.[73]

Koufax was finally able to pitch again in September, when the team was locked in a tight pennant race with the Giants.[74] 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.[75]

Before the playoffs began, manager Alston asked Koufax if he could start the first game. With an overworked pitching staff, Koufax obliged. However, still rusty from the long layoff, he was knocked out in the second inning, after giving up home runs to 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.[76]

1963 season

In 1963, Major League Baseball expanded the strike zone as a way to combat what they perceived as too much offense.[77] 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%.[78] 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.[36]

"Two men pose for an image; the shorter one is dressed in pinstripes and a wears a ballcap with an interlocking 'NY' while the taller one wears a plain uniform with 'Dodgers' across the front and a ballcap with an interlocking 'LA'."
Koufax and Whitey Ford prior to Game 4 of the 1963 World Series

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.[70]

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.[79][80]

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.[36]

In 1963, Koufax won the first of three pitching Triple Crowns, leading the league in wins (25), strikeouts (306) and earned run average (1.88).[81] 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, with 13 shutouts in his iconic 1968 season (known as "the year of the pitcher"), has thrown more since.[82]

Koufax won the National League Most Valuable Player Award,[83] and was the first-ever unanimous selection for the Cy Young Award, winning at a time when only one was awarded for both leagues.[b][84] 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.[85]

Clinching the pennant on September 27, the Dodgers went on to face the New York Yankees in the 1963 World Series who were heavily favored to win. 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. The Dodgers won Games 2 and 3 behind the pitching of Johnny Podres, Ron Perranoski, and Don Drysdale. Koufax completed the Dodgers' series sweep in Game 4 with a 2–1 victory over Ford, the only run he allowed being a home run by Mickey Mantle.[86][87]

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.[88][89][90]

Salary dispute

After his successful 1963 season, Koufax decided to ask the Dodgers for a salary raise to $75,000, later writing in his autobiography: "I felt I was entitled to a healthy raise. Like double of the $35,000 I had received the year before, plus another $5,000 for good measure, good conduct, and good luck. They could hardly say I didn't deserve it."[91] However, during his meeting with Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi, the latter stated Koufax had not earned such a big raise, using numerous excuses to justify his stance, including that he had not pitched enough innings the year before. Bavasi instead offered him $65,000.[92]

Angered at Bavasi's reasonings, Koufax held his ground. After tense negotiations, the pair finally agreed to $70,000 and Koufax signed just before the team was about to leave for spring training.[93] Soon after his signing, however, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner published a story which incorrectly stated that Koufax had threatened to leave baseball if he did not get a salary of $90,000. Angered and shocked that the story had painted him as greedy, Koufax responded in an interview with Frank Finch of the Los Angeles Times that he did neither of those things, saying: "I've been hurt by people I thought were my friends."[94]

The story continued into spring training, with the usually quiet and reserved Koufax telling his side of the negotiations to sportswriters. He strongly suspected that somebody in the front office must have leaked the story. It took both Bavasi and Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley meeting with Koufax separately that finally led to him to dropping the matter. However, due to the bitter negotiation and what he felt was disrespect from the front office, Koufax's relationship with both men would never fully recover.[95]

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.[96] 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.[70] 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.[97]

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.[98][99]

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.[c][101] 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.[36]

Playing in pain (1965–66)

A dark-haired man looks on while his arm is placed in a tub of ice
In his final seasons, Koufax iced his arm for hours after every game he pitched

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.[102]

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.[103]

Before each start, Koufax 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 to prevent swelling; during the ice treatments, he often wore a rubber sleeve fashioned from an inner tube to prevent frostbite. If his elbow swelled up after a game, the fluid needed to be drained with a syringe. For the pain, Koufax took Empirin with codeine every night and occasionally during a game. He also took Butazolidin, a drug used to treat inflammation caused by arthritis at the time but which was eventually taken off the market due to its toxic side-effects on the body's immunity.[104]

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. He won his second pitching Triple Crown, leading the Majors in wins (26), earned run average (2.04), and strikeouts (382).[81] Koufax captured his second unanimous Cy Young Award,[84] and was runner-up for the National League MVP Award, behind Willie Mays.[83]

Koufax's 382 strikeouts broke Bob Feller's modern record of 348 strikeouts in 1946, and was the highest modern-day total at the time.[d] 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.[36]

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.[106] 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?" Not wanting to get Koufax ejected in the middle of a crucial game, Roseboro replied, "I'll handle it."[107]

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.[108] After the game resumed, a shaken up Koufax walked two batters before giving up a three-run home run to Mays. While he eventually settled down and pitched a complete game without allowing more runs, the Dodgers ended up losing the game 4–3.[109]


Main article: Sandy Koufax's perfect game

"a man dressed in a baseball uniform smiles for the camera while holding four baseballs, two in each hand."
Koufax holds four baseballs, signifying a then-record four career no-hitters, including his perfect game

On September 9, 1965, Koufax became the sixth pitcher of the modern era, and eighth overall, to throw a perfect game. The game, pitched against the Chicago Cubs, was Koufax's fourth no-hitter, setting a then-major league record, and the first by a left-hander in the modern era. He struck out 14 batters, the most recorded in a perfect game, and struck out at least one batter in each inning in the 1–0 win.[110]

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.[111] Both pitchers had no-hitters intact until the seventh inning. The winning run was unearned, scored in the fifth inning 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. The only hit came in the seventh inning, and was a bloop double hit by Johnson to shallow right.[112]

World Series and Yom Kippur

The Dodgers won the NL 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.[e][114]

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.[115] 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."[116]

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.[117][118]

For his performance, he won the World Series MVP Award, the first player to be awarded it multiple times. Koufax also won the Hickok Belt for a second time, also the first time anyone had won the belt more than once.[85] That year, he was named the Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated and also named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for a second time.[119]


Main article: Koufax–Drysdale holdout

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 still harbored ill feelings towards Bavasi which dated back to the contract dispute prior to the 1964 season.[120] 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 Bavasi had been playing one pitcher against the other.[121]

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.[122][123]

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 ($9.4 million today), divided equally over the next three years, or $167,000 ($1.57 million today) 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. The front office began to wage a public relations campaign against the pair.[123]

"Four men sit on a couch; three look on as the fourth speaks to a group of reporters off camera"
Koufax and Drysdale, with Dodgers' GM Buzzie Bavasi and actor Chuck Connors, at the press conference announcing the signing of the pair to one-year contracts

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.[123] Meanwhile, Hayes unearthed a state law, the result of the De Havilland v. Warner Bros. Pictures case, that made it illegal to extend personal service contracts in California beyond seven years; he began to prepare a lawsuit which would have challenged the reserve clause. When Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley found out about this, the team's front office softened their stance towards the pair.[123]

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 ($1.17 million today) and Drysdale for $110,000 ($1,033,000 today).[123] The deal made Koufax the highest paid player in Major League Baseball for 1966.[124]

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.[125]

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.[126]

He posted a 27–9 win-loss record, with 317 strikeouts and a 1.73 earned run average, winning his third pitching Triple Crown.[81] Koufax won his third unanimous Cy Young Award, the first pitcher ever to win three,[84] and was again runner-up for the National League MVP Award, this time finishing behind Roberto Clemente of the Pirates.[f][83]

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.[127] On two days rest, Koufax pitched a 6–3 complete-game victory to clinch the pennant, the final win of his career.[128]

During the fifth inning, Koufax injured in his back while pitching to Gary Sutherland who was pinch-hitting for Bunning. After the inning was over, he went straight to the trainer's room where the injury was diagnosed as likely being a slipped disc. Dodger trainers Bill Buehler and Wayne Anderson applied Capsolin on his back and, along with former Dodger Don Newcombe, pulled Koufax in opposite directions until the disc slipped back into place.[129]

The Dodgers went on to face the Baltimore Orioles in the 1966 World Series. As Koufax had pitched the pennant clincher just three days earlier, Walter Alston was reluctant to start him in Game 1 for what would have been two consecutive starts on two days' rest. Instead, Drysdale started in Koufax's place; he proved to be ineffective, however, recording only six outs and losing 5–2.[130]

Game 2 marked Koufax's third start in eight days. Despite being fatigued, Koufax shut out the Orioles for the first four innings. However, three errors by Dodgers centerfielder Willie Davis in the fifth inning produced three unearned runs. The only earned run allowed by Koufax was the result of Davis losing a fly ball hit by Frank Robinson which fell for a triple; Robinson subsequently scored on a single by Boog Powell. Koufax 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.[131]

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. Claude Osteen and Drysdale both lost by a score of 1–0 in Games 3 and 4 respectively, with the offense failing to score a single run after having scored just two in Game 1.[132]


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.[133] He cited constant pain in his pitching arm and the 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.[134]

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... 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.[135]

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.[36]

Career overall

Statistics and achievements

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.[136][137] He remains, over half a century later, on the very short list of pitchers who retired with more career strikeouts than innings pitched.[36]

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).[138] 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.[36] His run of five consecutive ERA titles is a Major League record.[139] Additionally, he also led the majors in WHIP four consecutive times and FIP six consecutive times, both also records.[140][141]

Since the start of the live-ball era, Koufax is one of only nine pitchers to record multiple 10+ WAR seasons. He is also the only one to record an ERA under 1.90 in three different qualifying seasons. In each of his last ten seasons, from 1957 to 1966, Koufax finished top ten in strikeouts, including top three finishes in seven; this was despite him being a part-time starter in three of those seasons and suffering a season-shortening injury in two.[142]

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.[143][144] 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.[36]

He was selected as an All-Star for six consecutive seasons and made seven out of eight possible All-Star Game appearances those seasons.[g] 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.[65]

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.[84] 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.[145]

Total 165 87 2.76 397 314 137 40 9 2,324.1 1,754 806 713 204 817 48 2,396 18 131 2.69 1.106 6.8 9.3 [36]

Pitching style and repertoire

a baseball pitcher on the mound and in full-stride, throwing towards homeplate
Koufax striding towards home plate

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 unusually large hands also allowed him to put heavy spin on his pitches and control the direction in which they would break.[146]

Throughout his career, Koufax relied heavily on two pitches.[147] 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.[148] 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.[149] Koufax also occasionally threw a changeup and, in his final years, added a forkball to his repertoire.[150]

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.[2] 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 against him due to his precise control and the effectiveness of his pitches.[151]

Post-playing activities

"Two men wearing Los Angeles Dodgers uniforms and caps; one is older with hands on his hips and listens to the younger man make conversation."
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 ($9.1 million today) to be a broadcaster on the Saturday Game of the Week.[152] During his tenure, he also served as the color commentator for the All-Star Game and as a pre-game analyst for the World Series.

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.[153][154]

In 1979, Koufax was hired by the Dodgers to be a minor league pitching coach in their farm system.[155] 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.[156][157] 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.[158]

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.[159]

During this time, Koufax also began to make spring training visits with other teams, particularly with the New York Mets who were, at the time, owned by his childhood friend Fred Wilpon.[160] Notably, Mets pitcher Al Leiter credited Koufax in helping him become a better pitcher.[161][162]

In 2002, the New York Post published a false story about Koufax in connection to a biography on him by sportswriter Jane Leavy, titled Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, incorrectly insinuating that he only agreed to the biography because Leavy had threatened to out him as gay if he did not cooperate.[163] Koufax cut ties with the Dodgers as both the team and the newspaper were, at the time, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and he did not want to help promote any of their subsidiaries.[164] He reconnected with the organization in 2004, when the News Corp sold the Dodgers to Frank McCourt.[165]

Prior to the 2013 season, 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.[166] Koufax retired from the front office role prior to the 2016 season.[167]

Since its founding, Koufax has been closely involved with the activities of the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping former Major League, Minor League, and Negro league baseball players through financial and medical difficulties. He has served as a member of its advisory board in the past,[168] and has been a regular attendee at the annual B.A.T. dinner.[169]

Honors and recognition

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. At 36 years and 20 days old, he is the youngest player ever elected, five months younger than Lou Gehrig had been at the time of his special election in December 1939.[h][171]

On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired Koufax's uniform number 32, alongside those of Dodger greats Roy Campanella (39) and Jackie Robinson (42).[172] On June 18, 2022, a statue of Koufax was unveiled at Dodger Stadium, next to that of Robinson, his former Brooklyn Dodger teammate.[173][174]

In 1999, The Sporting News placed Koufax at number 26 on its list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players".[175] That same year, he was also named one of the 30 players on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.[176] In 2020, The Athletic ranked Koufax at number 70 on its "Baseball 100" list, complied by sportswriter Joe Posnanski.[177]

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.[178] 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.[179]

In 2022, as part of their SN Rushmore project, The Sporting News named Koufax on their "Los Angeles Mount Rushmore of Sports", along with Los Angeles Lakers basketball players Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kobe Bryant.[180] That same year, writers voted Koufax as being the greatest player in Dodgers franchise history, just ahead of Jackie Robinson:

The greatest of the greats extend their on-field dominance and define the legacy of their franchise. Both Robinson and Koufax did for the Dodgers. Both are revered for their impact on the sport, but Jackie was a social icon and Sandy was a model for his franchise's pitching heritage. Robinson excelled despite the incomprehensible burden of breaking down racial barriers. Koufax compiled unapproachable statistics that obscured the toughness and unselfishness necessary to pitch in constant pain. In a photo finish, it's Koufax.[181]

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.[182] In April 2007, as a tribute, he was the final player chosen in the inaugural Israel Baseball League draft, by the Modi'in Miracle.[183]

A younger African-American man shakes hands with an older man; both of them are wearing dark suits. Next to the older man is a woman wearing a white suit, facing away from the camera
U.S. President Barack Obama greets Koufax during the White House celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month, May 2010

Koufax was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1979,[184] and in the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.[185] In 1990, he was inducted in the inaugural class of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.[186]

Koufax's likeness is a part of the mural outside Canter's Deli in Fairfax, Los Angeles which commemorates the history of the Jewish community in the city.[187]

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.[188] In his opening remarks, President Barack 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.[189]

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."[190]

In media culture

Television appearences

During his playing career, Koufax made a number of appearences in television programs. In 1959, he appeared as a character named Ben Cassidy in the western television series Shotgun Slade. The following year, he had brief cameos in three television series: in 77 Sunset Strip as a policeman, in Bourbon Street Beat as a doorman, and in Colt .45 as a character called Johnny.[191]

Twice, Koufax made appearences as himself on television series. In 1962, he appeared on Dennis the Menace in the episode "Dennis and the Dodger" in which he coached a little league team. In 1963, he had a non-speaking role on Mister Ed in the episode "Leo Durocher Meets Mister Ed." in which he gave up an inside-the-park home run to the title character, a talking horse.[191]

After the 1963 World Series, Koufax, along with teammates Don Drysdale and Tommy Davis, appeared on The Bob Hope Show where the three appeared a sketch with comedian Bob Hope before performing a dance routine.[192][193] After their joint holdout in 1966, Koufax and Drysdale appeared on The Hollywood Palace, with host Gene Barry and comedian Milton Berle.[194]

Cultural references

In 1965, as part of The Sound of the Dodgers, an album with songs dedicated to the team, comedian and singer Jimmy Durante recorded a song about Koufax called "Dandy Sandy".[195]

Koufax, along with Whitey Ford, is one of the central figures in Robert Pinsky's poem "The Night Game".[196] Though not named explicitly named, Pinsky alluded to Koufax in the final stanza as a "solution" to Ford whom he refers to in the poem as being "aristocratic" and "gentile":

Another time,
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.

In the 1975 film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, after not being allowed to watch it on television, Jack Nicholson's character R.P. McMurphy narrates an imaginary account of the 1963 World Series in which Koufax gets knocked out of the game after surrendering a double and two home runs to Bobby Richardson, Tom Tresh, and Mickey Mantle, respectively.[197]

In the 1998 film, The Big Lebowski, John Goodman's character Walter Sobchak mentions Koufax in his response to being told he was "living in the fucking past": "Three thousand years of beautiful tradition from Moses to Sandy Koufax...You're goddamn right I'm living in the fucking past!"[198]

Personal life

"A elderly man in formal wear makes a speech at a podium during a dinner party."
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".[199] His refusal to pitch on Jewish holidays throughout his career, most notably not starting Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it coincided with Yom Kippur, was made out of respect for his heritage rather than religious devotion.[i][201]

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.[202] He married his third wife, Jane 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.[203]

After receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Harold Pump Foundation in 2012, Koufax revealed that he had been diagnosed with cancer in 2010 during his acceptance speech: "Twenty-six months ago, I was a so-called cancer victim. Today, I'm a survivor."[204]

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.[205] His close friend, Mets owner Fred Wilpon had recommended to Koufax that he invest with Madoff.[206] Despite this, Koufax supported Wilpon and offered to testify on behalf of the Mets' ownership before a settlement averted a civil trial.[207][208]

In 2014, during a spring training visit in Camelback Ranch, Koufax was hit on the head by a stray line drive, resulting in a cut on his head.[209][210] He underwent a precautionary CT scan which came out clear and returned to the spot where he had been hit the following day.[211]

He currently resides in Vero Beach, Florida.[212]

In his forties and fifties, Koufax became a marathon runner and exercise enthusiast, and also took up fly-fishing.[213] A lifelong golfer, he often entered amateur golf championships and participated in pro-am charity tournaments and still remains active in the sport. Koufax is also a college basketball fan and regularly attends the NCAA Final Four championships.[214]

See also


  1. ^ Major League Baseball held two All-Star Games for the years from 1959 to 1962.[64]
  2. ^ Separate Cy Young Awards for each league started being awarded in 1967, the year after Koufax retired.
  3. ^ Dr. Frank Jobe, inventor of the Tommy John surgery, later disagreed with Koufax's diagnosis. He believed that Koufax suffered from a torn ulnar collateral ligament but stated there were no means to diagnose or treat such an injury when Koufax was an active player.[100]
  4. ^ The record was broken by Nolan Ryan's 383 strikeouts in 1973, but remains the top mark for National League pitchers and left-handers.[105]
  5. ^ In his career, Koufax pitched in nine games on two days' rest, starting eight times. He never lasted less than seven innings, winning seven of those games and pitching a complete game six times.[113]
  6. ^ While Koufax received more first place votes than Clemente did in the 1966 MVP race, the latter had a higher vote share, edging out Koufax by 78% to 74%.
  7. ^ Koufax was not on the roster for the second All-Star Game in 1962.
  8. ^ In 2022, Koufax became the first person to mark the 50th anniversary of their election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.[170]
  9. ^ Other than Yom Kippur, other Jewish holidays Koufax would not pitch on included the first night of Passover and Rosh Hashanah, notably not attending workouts before Game 4 of the 1959 World Series.[200]


  1. ^ "Sandy Koufax (SABR BioProject)". Society for American Baseball Research. Sandy Koufax was born as Sanford Braun on December 30, 1935. His parents were Evelyn (née Lichtenstein) and Jack Braun, Sephardic Jews of Hungarian descent.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Orfalea, Gregory (October 6, 2016). "The Incomparable Career of Sandy Koufax". The Atlantic.
  3. ^ Koufax and Linn, pp. 19–22; Leavy, p. 29.
  4. ^ Koufax and Linn, pp. 22–28; Leavy, pp. 37–40.
  5. ^ Sandomir, Richard (August 14, 2012). "Koufax's Roundball Once Trumped His Fastball". The New York Times.
  6. ^ "Sandy Koufax (SABR BioProject)". Society for American Baseball Research. At the urging of friends, Koufax did go out for baseball in his senior year at Lafayette. He played first base. The team captain was Fred Wilpon, a lefty with a "crackling" curveball, who decades later became the owner of the New York Mets.
  7. ^ Koufax and Linn, pp. 32–39.
  8. ^ Koufax and Linn, p. 30.
  9. ^ Koufax and Linn, pp. 43–44.
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Book sources

Further reading




Awards and achievements Preceded byDon Drysdale Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day Starting pitcher 1964 Succeeded byDon Drysdale Preceded byBob Purkey Major League Player of the Month June 1962 Succeeded byFrank Howard Preceded byJim Bunning Perfect game pitcher September 9, 1965 Succeeded byCatfish Hunter Preceded byEarl WilsonJack KralickKen JohnsonJim Maloney No-hitter pitcher June 30, 1962May 11, 1963June 4, 1964September 9, 1965 Succeeded byBill MonbouquetteDon NottebartJim BunningDave Morehead