Trying to hit him was like trying to drink coffee with a fork.
- Hall of Fame Pirates slugger Willie Stargell
Sandy Koufax (1935- ) was the best left-handed pitcher in baseball history.
Koufax came up to the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955 at the age of 19 on the strength of his blazing fastball, but he struggled with his control, going 36-40 over the next six seasons and posting 405 walks in only 691 2/3 innings.
Then in 1961, Koufax finally gained command over his fastball and started to develop a deadly curveball, beginning a six-year reign of terror in which he dominated his sport like no other pitcher before or since. In those years from 1961 through 1966 Koufax went 126-47 for an astounding .733 winning percentage, posted a miniscule 2.19 ERA, won three Cy Young Awards, and tossed an NL record four no-hitters, including a perfect game. Koufax helped lead the Dodgers to the World Series in 1963, 1965, and 1966, and was named MVP of the first two, which the Dodgers won.
Now that he had found his control, Koufax became a devastating strikeout pitcher. His big overhand curveball was particularly nasty, breaking about 20 inches horizontally while dropping two feet vertically. Koufax led the league in the strikeouts in 1961, 1963, 1965, and 1966, and twice struck out 18 batters in a game, an NL record until 1986. In 1965 he shattered Rube Waddell's old single-season record of 349 K's by striking out 382, still second only to Nolan Ryan's 383 in 1973.
In 1966 Koufax pitched his finest campaign, going 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA, but his left elbow had become arthritic, and doctors told him he would lose the use of his arm if he continued to pitch. That November he retired at the very top of his game. He was only thirty-one years old.
Koufax remains a hero to this day, not only to baseball fans, but to fellow Jews around the world. Koufax played at a time when openly Jewish players were not welcome in the game, but he refused to conceal his faith despite threats and discrimination. He famously refused to pitch in game one of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement and holiest day of the year - an event that made a deep impact on many Jews and is still remembered vividly to this day.
Koufax continues to work as a roving minor league pitching instructor and many current pitchers claim that a few minutes with Sandy did more for their game than other coaches acheived in several years.
Koufax was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, his first year of eligibility.
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