Dodgers Dugout: The 25 greatest Dodgers of all time, No. 1: Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw pitcher, is seen in action.
Sandy Koufax pitches in the 1965 World Series.
(Associated Press)
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Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and we continue the top-25 countdown.

Readers voted in droves, submitting 15,212 ballots by email, Twitter and Facebook. Voters were asked for their top 10 Dodgers in order from 1 to 10, with first place receiving 12 points, second place nine points, third place eight, all the way down to one point for 10th place.

The last time we did this was in 2018, and there have been some changes in the rankings.

So, without further ado:

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The 25 greatest Dodgers: No. 1 — SANDY KOUFAX (5,679 first-place votes, 150,826 points)
2018 rank: 1st

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 three days’ rest. Second greatest? Sandy Koufax on two 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.

Sandy Koufax was born Sanford Braun on Dec., 1935 in Brooklyn. His parents were Evelyn and Jack Braun. When Sandy was 3, Evelyn and Jack divorced. Sandy was 9 when Evelyn married Irving Koufax.

As a kid, Koufax could already throw the ball hard, but was very wild. He once walked nine batters in two innings of an Ice Cream League (the equivalent of Little League) game

Koufax was great at one particular sport growing up: basketball. He went to the University of Cincinnati on a basketball scholarship. He was a star on the freshman team, leading in rebounds and third in scoring. The freshman coach, Ed Jucker, also coached the baseball team and was low on players, so asked his basketball players to come out for the team. Koufax was the only one to show up. He was still wild but could still throw hard. He struck out 18 against Louisville, a school record. He was 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA in his first season, with 51 strikeouts and 30 walks in 31 innings.

Scouts were interested, especially Al Campanis of the Dodgers. He signed Koufax for $20,000. MLB rules at the time stated that any player given more than a $6,000 bonus to sign could not be sent to the minors, so the Dodgers added him to the major league team. He was injured early and put on the disabled list. When he was activated on June 8, the Dodgers made room for him by sending down another wild left-hander: Tommy Lasorda.

Koufax was on the 1955 World Series champion Dodgers but did not pitch much. The game was different back then, and starting pitchers were expected to complete games. If they faltered, manager Walter Alston had a very specific structure to the bullpen that didn’t leave much room for a wild, rookie pitcher. Koufax’s first game was June 24, 1955. He came in with Brooklyn trailing Milwaukee 7-1 and pitched two scoreless innings. Koufax made five starts and had two shutouts and finished the season 2-2 with a 3.02 ERA in 41.2 innings. He did not pitch in the World Series, or in the 1956 World Series. In his first two seasons with the Dodgers, he appeared in only 28 games, starting 15, with a 4.13 ERA.

By the way, some trivia to stump your friends: Who was the last person to throw a pitch for the Brooklyn Dodgers? Koufax.

Koufax was very mediocre in 1957 and 1958, going 16-15 with a 4.24 ERA combined, but he was pitching a little more. However, he got off to a brutal start in 1959 and considered quitting. After four starts, he had a 12.27 ERA. Alston gave him a show of support, but he started to turn things around in June. The Dodgers played in the World Series and Koufax started Game 5, giving up one run and five hits in seven innings, striking out six. Unfortunately, that run was the only run of the game. That was the game, Koufax has said later, that he began to fully believe he could pitch in the majors.


After another mediocre 1960 (8-13, 3.91 ERA) it appeared that Koufax was destined to be a journeyman pitcher, a good No. 4 guy on the staff.

During spring training in 1961, catcher Norm Sherry told Koufax that he shouldn’t try to throw so hard. He thought it was causing the wildness. Sherry said, “Why not have some fun out there, Sandy? Don’t try to throw so hard and use more curveballs and changeups.”

And that was the missing piece. Koufax led the league in strikeouts in 1961, which set up his next five seasons, perhaps the best five consecutive seasons by any pitcher in history.

Let’s take a look at just one of those 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 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.”

At the end of the 1963 season, Koufax was dealing with a lot of pain in his elbow, which was diagnosed as traumatic arthritis. Starting in 1964, to get ready for a start, Koufax would do the following:

An hour before the game, the trainer rubbed Capsolin (an ointment made from the stuff that makes chili peppers hot) on his elbow and arm. So much Capsolin was used that Koufax’s arm would occasionally blister. Koufax was also given an anti-inflammatory called phenylbutazone alka, which was intended for horses and is no longer approved for human use.

But Koufax continued to pitch: 311 innings in 1963; 223 in 1964 (arthritis sidelined him a few games that season); 335.2 in 1965; 323 in 1966. He completed 27 starts in 1965 and in 1966.

At the end of the 1966 season, Koufax’s left arm was bent at a 22.5-degree angle because bone spurs and the arthritis made it impossible to straighten it. He could no longer comb his hair with his left hand because of the pain.


Koufax retired after the 1966 season (in which he won another Cy Young Award). 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 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.”

—”I became a good pitcher when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it.”

—”The only time I really try for a strikeout is when I’m in a jam. If the bases are loaded with none out, for example, then I’ll go for a strikeout. But most of the time I try to throw to spots. I try to get them to pop up or ground out. On a strikeout I might have to throw five or six pitches, sometimes more if there are foul-offs. That tires me. So I just try to get outs. That’s what counts — outs. You win with outs, not strikeouts.”


—”There is among players a far closer relationship than the purely social one of a fraternal organization because we are bound together not only by a single interest but by a common goal. To win. Nothing else matters, and nothing else will do.”

—At the news conference announcing his retirement: “I don’t regret for one minute the 12 years I’ve spent in baseball, but I could regret one season too many. 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 tried to do a consistently good job — that was my goal. I loved to play. I loved the game. And, I’ll miss it. My only regret is leaving baseball. I still don’t know how much I am going to miss it, but I know I am going to miss a lot of things.”

Quotes about Koufax:

Willie Stargell: Trying to hit him was like trying to drink coffee with a fork.”

Don Sutton: “A foul ball was a moral victory.”

Bob Uecker: “Career highlight? I got an intentional walk from Sandy Koufax.”

Yogi Berra, after seeing Koufax strike out 15 Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series: “I can see how he won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

Ernie Banks on what it was like to face Koufax: “It was frightening. He had that tremendous fastball that would rise, and a great curveball that started at the eyes and broke to the ankles. In the end you knew you were going to be embarrassed. You were either going to strike out or foul out. He was the greatest pitcher I ever saw. Most of the time we knew what was coming. He held his hands closer to his head when he threw a curveball, but it didn’t matter.”


No. 2: Jackie Robinson


No. 3: Vin Scully

No. 4: Clayton Kershaw

No. 5: Duke Snider

No. 6: Don Drysdale

No. 7: Roy Campanella

No. 8: Tommy Lasorda


No. 9: Pee Wee Reese

No. 10: Fernando Valenzuela

No. 11: Maury Wills

No. 12: Zack Wheat

No. 13: Gil Hodges

No. 14: Walter Alston


No. 15: Steve Garvey

No. 16: Branch Rickey

No. 17: Walter O’Malley

No. 18: Don Sutton

No. 19: Orel Hershiser

No. 20: Mike Piazza


No. 21: Don Newcombe

No. 22: Mookie Betts

No. 23: Dazzy Vance

No. 24: Kirk Gibson

No. 25: Eric Gagné

26. Freddie Freeman

27. Ron Cey

28. Willie Davis

29. John Roseboro

30. Jim Gilliam

31. Tommy Davis

32. Justin Turner

33. Pedro Guerrero

34. Johnny Podres

35. Jaime Jarrin

36. Pete Reiser

37. Carl Erskine

38. Davey Lopes

39. Wes Parker

40. Carl Furillo

41. Manny Mota

42. Steve Sax

43. Mike Scioscia

44. Peter O’Malley

45. Bill Russell

46. Eric Karros

47. Andrew Friedman

48. Kenley Jansen

49. Dusty Baker

50. Shawn Green

Others named on at least 20 ballots: Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, Dave Roberts, Adrian Beltre, Babe Herman, Dixie Walker, The fans, Clem Labine, Wally Moon, Claude Osteen.


The 2018 list

Here’s how they finished when we last did this in 2018:

Ballots: 8,382

No. 1: Sandy Koufax

No. 2: Jackie Robinson

No. 3: Vin Scully

No. 4: Duke Snider

No. 5: Don Drysdale

No. 6: Clayton Kershaw

No. 7: Roy Campanella

No. 8: Tommy Lasorda

No. 9: Fernando Valenzuela

No. 10: Pee Wee Reese

No. 11: Orel Hershiser

No. 12: Maury Wills

No. 13: Gil Hodges

No. 14: Steve Garvey

No. 15: Walter Alston

No. 16: Walter O’Malley

No. 17: Branch Rickey

No. 18: Don Sutton

No. 19: Mike Piazza

No. 20: Zack Wheat

No. 21: Don Newcombe

No. 22: Kirk Gibson

No. 23: Ron Cey

No. 24: Tommy Davis

No. 25: Jim Gilliam

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

And finally

A tribute to Sandy Koufax. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

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