Hall of fame career? At first sight one might think not. Career wins: 165. The normal standard is 300 wins. Strikeouts: 2,396. The normal standard is 3,000. But when you look closer you will be shocked to see how crazy impressive Sanford Braun’s (Sandy’s birth name) short 12 year career was. Even more so the last six years. Obviously, most would agree being that Sandy was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1972 at the age of 36. 36 years old ? Hall of Fame? What? Well, here is the break down.
Sandy’s debut was on June 24 1955, a 2-8 loss to the Milwaukee Braves, and his final game played was October 6th 1966, game two of the 1966 world series, a 0-6 loss to the Baltimore Orioles with rookie future superstar pitcher Jim Palmer getting the win. The two losses are the only thing similar about the start and finish of Sandy’s career. From 1955-1960, Koufax amassed 36 wins against 40 losses with 22 complete games in 174 games played. With 683 strikeouts in 691.7 innings pitched and a 4.04 ERA (earned run average). That’s 3.92 strike outs per game on average, or 1.01 strike outs per innings pitched on average. 22 complete games and 1 strike out per inning. Not bad, but nothing compared to the second half of his career.
From 1961-1966 Sandy had 129 wins against just 47 losses with 115 complete games out of 223 games played. Are you crazy? More than half the games he played in were complete games. It’s no wonder he had to retire so early because of arm problems. In that 6 year span Sandy had 2,721 innings pitched an average of 272.1 innings per year (WOW). And add to that an ERA of just 2.24, a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of .980 and 1,713 strike outs. That’s an outrageous average of 7.68 strikeouts per game and 1.58 per inning.
I would say Sandy Koufax was a power house of a pitcher. Sandy played through injuries and pain, some very bad. In the end Sandy was wise enough to get out before causing more damage than needed and while on top of his career. In his final year of 1966 Sandy put up one of his best years with 27 wins and 9 losses with 317 strikeouts in 323 innings pitched and a 1.73 ERA. Not to mention winning his 3rd Cy Young award and finishing 2nd in the MVP voting while being voted to his sixth all star game in as many years. Oh yeah, I failed to mention Sandy also won the Triple Crown and helped lead his team to the World Series, losing to the Baltimore Orioles 0-4. And that’s just one year. Not a bad year to walk away from.
So looking at Sandy’s first 6 years against his second 6 years is like night and day. Anybody should be impressed with what he accomplished in such a short amount of time. I know you are probably saying, “Wow I didn’t realize how dominant he was.” But I’m not finished yet. There is more. Come on, what else could one accomplish in such a short amount of time? Well, you are about to find out. Now remember this is supposed to be a comparison against Sandy’s first 6 years. From 1955-1960 the Dodgers won two World Series (55,59) but Sandy did not pitch in the 55 series as a rookie and was 0-1 in the 59 series. Sandy was not voted to an All Star game, did not have a no hitter, didn’t win an MVP, or a Cy Young award. But from 1961-1966 Sandy had three more world series seasons (63,65,66) winning two of the three while going 4-2 in six total starts and winning the world series MVP in 1963, and 1965. On top of that Sandy won the Cy Young award three times (63,65,66) was voted to 6 straight all star games, won the NL MVP in 1963 and had three triple crown seasons (63,65,66). Sandy was also voted NL pitcher of the year for four consecutive seasons (63-66) and ML player of the year in 1965. Last but not least and most impressive, Sandy had four no hitters in that six year span (6/30/62, 5/11/63, 6/4/64, 9/9/65 ) ,one of them a perfect game (9/9/1965).
I don’t think there are too many pitchers in modern baseball history that had a run of amazing seasons like Sandy Koufax was able to put together, and he did it clean and in an era that boasted some of the best hitters in baseball history. If you are interested in learning more about the life of Sandy Koufax, I would highly recommend a book that was lent to me by my father-in-law, the same book that turned me into a huge fan and led me to write this piece: Sandy Koufax : A lefty’s legacy by Jane Leavy gives great insight into Sandy’s life and career. Check it out. Sandy is on the top of my list of people I would love to meet and get to know. I hope this piece reminds people that baseball was a great sport before its image was smeared by cheaters like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who I wouldn’t even mention in the same sentence as the man I wrote this piece about. The least you could do is admit your mistakes. Remember if you wait too long you will be treated like Pete Rose was after he finally told the truth. And that wasn’t good.