Dodgers Dugout: The 25 greatest Dodgers of all time, No. 1: Sandy Koufax
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and let’s get right to No. 1 in our countdown. By the way, you can see who finished Nos. 26-40 at the end of this newsletter.
The 25 greatest Dodgers, No. 1: Sandy Koufax (3,528 first-place votes, 81,849 points)
Sandy Koufax was the first pitcher to win multiple Cy Young Awards (1963, ’65 and ’66), as well as the first pitcher to win a Cy Young Award by a unanimous vote (1963, when he went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA). He also was the first to throw four no-hitters.
In fact, many people will tell you that the greatest pitcher in baseball history was Sandy Koufax on four days’ rest. Second greatest? Sandy Koufax on three days’ rest.
In 1999, Sporting News came out with a list of baseball’s 100 greatest players. Koufax was No. 26. He was also one of the 30 players named to the Major League Baseball All-Century team.
Let’s take a look at just one of his seasons to show how great he was. In 1965, Koufax made 41 starts and pitched 335 2/3 innings. Of his 41 starts, he completed 27 and threw eight shutouts. He finished 26-8 with a 2.04 ERA and struck out a then-record 382 batters. He led the league in wins, ERA, complete games, hits per nine innings, strikeouts per nine innings, walks per nine innings and WHIP.
Oh, and he also pitched two games in relief and earned a save each time.
But that’s not all. In the World Series that season, Koufax started Game 2 and held the Minnesota Twins to one earned run in six innings, striking out nine in a 5-1 loss. Three days later in Game 5, he pitched a four-hit shutout striking out 10 as the Dodgers took a 3-2 Series lead. The Dodgers lost Game 6, leaving manager Walter Alston with a Game 7 choice: Start Don Drysdale on three days’ rest, or start Koufax on two days’ rest. Alston went with Koufax.
And all Koufax did was hold the Twins to three hits in a 2-0 victory, striking out 10. His arm was so sore that all he could do was throw fastballs, so he beat a team with one pitch.
Koufax solidified his standing with the Jewish community during that Series too. Game 1 fell on Yom Kippur, and Koufax refused to pitch.
“It was the beginning of changed feelings about being Jewish in America,” Michael Paley, a rabbi and scholar at the Jewish Resource Center of UJA-Federation of New York, said in a 2015 interview. “Because of Sandy, we were admired.”
One of my favorite stories: With Koufax not pitching, Alston turned to Don Drysdale for Game 1. It did not go well. With the Dodgers trailing, 7-1, in the third inning, Alston walked to the mound to remove Drysdale. While handing him the ball, Drysdale said “I bet you wish I was Jewish too.”
Koufax retired after the 1966 season (in which he won another Cy Young Award) because of an arthritic left elbow. He was the youngest person ever elected to the Hall of Fame when he was elected in 1972. He was only 36.
By the way, in 1966 Koufax had a contract that paid him $125,000.
Quotes from Koufax:
While announcing his retirement: “I don’t regret one minute of the last 12 years, but I do believe I would regret one minute too many. I don’t know if cortisone is good for you or not. But to take a shot every other ball game is more than I wanted to do and to walk around with a constant upset stomach because of the pills and to be high half the time during a ball game because you’re taking painkillers … I don’t want to have to do that.”
“In the end it all comes down to talent. You can talk all you want about intangibles, I just don’t know what that means. Talent makes winners, not intangibles. Can nice guys win? Sure, nice guys can win — if they’re nice guys with a lot of talent. Nice guys with a little talent finish fourth, and nice guys with no talent finish last.”
Or perhaps Willie Stargell said it best when he said, “Trying to hit him was like trying to drink coffee with a fork.”
Note: I received 8,382 ballots from newsletter readers who sent me their choices for the top 10 Dodgers of all time. Points were assigned based on ranking, with the first-place choice getting 12 points, second place getting 10, third place eight, down to one point for 10th place. Today, on opening day, I’m revealed No. 1 and 2. Feel free to revisit any of the top 25 all-time Dodgers.
If we were going to expand the greatest Dodgers of all time to a 40-man roster, here are the other people who would have made the team, the ones who finished 26th to 40th in the voting.
26. Dazzy Vance
27. Willie Davis
28. Johnny Podres
29. Davey Lopes
30. Carl Furillo
31. Kenley Jansen
32. Babe Herman
33. Pedro Guerrero
34. Johnny Roseboro
35. Carl Erskine
36. Wes Parker
37. Justin Turner
38. Jaime Jarrin
39. Eric Gagne
40. Peter O’Malley
On Friday, we’ll take a look at the season opener.
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