On this date Nov. 18, 1966, Sanford “Sandy” Koufax retired from the sport of baseball at just 30 years old. In 12 seasons for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, he compiled a resume of seven all-star appearances, three Cy Young Awards, a Most Valuable Player award, three pitching triple crowns, five-time ERA leader, four World Series rings and two World Series MVPs. His prime five seasons are regarded by many as arguably the greatest five seasons that any player has had. From 1962 to 1966, Koufax posted a win-loss record of 111-34, an ERA of 1.98 and 1,444 strikeouts. He also only allowed a batting average of .192 to opposing hitters.
Koufax was born in Brooklyn, New York on Dec. 30, 1935. Koufax excelled at basketball before playing baseball as a student at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn. After high school he attended the University of Cincinnati where he made the basketball team as a walk-on. In the spring of his first-year he made the baseball team and got a 3-1 record, a 2.51 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 32 innings. This attracted interest from multiple MLB teams – the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn Dodgers. After trying out for all three the Dodgers signed him for a salary of $6,000 a year and a signing bonus of $14,000.
Koufax made his big league debut at just 19 years old on June 24, 1955. In this game he faced off against two other future Hall of Famers, Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. In this season, the Dodgers won their first-ever World Series, but Koufax didn’t appear in a game. After a solid rookie year, the next season was a struggle for Koufax. He got benched for weeks at a time and finished the year with a 4.88 ERA, the highest of his career. In his final season, teammate Jackie Robinson got into heated discussions with the coaching staff about how they were misusing their young lefty pitcher. The next few seasons were the definition of a roller coaster. He was in and out of the rotation, and had ERA’s ranging between 3.88 and 4.48.
In 1959 the now LA Dodgers won their second championship, with Koufax pitching nine innings across two games, allowing one run and not getting a victory or a loss. It was during the ‘61 season when Koufax started to put together his magical run. In this campaign, he first broke the single-season strikeout record with 269, a record that he would go on to break another two times in his career. This was also the first time he was selected to the National League All-Star team. The next three seasons were consecutively better for the southpaw’s ERA having been 2.54, 1.88 and 1.74 respectively, to a point where he was basically unhittable.
He also threw his four no-hitters, including a perfect game during this period, to go along with All-Star selections and the 1963 NL MVP, World Series MVP and Cy Young Award. His final two seasons were more of the same, picking up two more Cy Young’s and another World Series MVP. It was in the 1965 World Series that he attracted national attention for choosing not to play in game one because of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. He ended up pitching game two and the team lost despite a fine performance from Koufax.
Before the start of the next season, Koufax, as well as fellow All-Star teammate Don Drysdale, held out of spring training over a contract dispute. It was also during this time that a doctor told him that his elbow could not take another season. He ignored the advice and went on to pitch a truly insane amount of innings at 323 and won the Triple Crown once again. The team once again made it to the World Series before being swept by the Baltimore Orioles. This was the last time the baseball world saw Koufax on the mound. He went on to get into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.