During the 1960's, Sanford Braun "Sandy" Koufax was the most dominant pitcher in baseball. He had a blazing fastball and knew how to mix up his pitches and changed speeds well.
Koufax was born five days after Christmas on Dec. 30, 1935. He was born in Brooklyn, New York. He had a rough upbringing, as his parents broke up when he was just three years old.
Koufax attended Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, where he was actually known for basketball. As a senior, he averaged 16.5 points per game. However, baseball was his natural sport. As a 15 year old sophomore, he was playing recreational baseball, not on the high school team. He started playing catch with his high school coach and the coach convinced him to play for the team.
Before he knew it, he was attending the University of Cincinnati on a basketball scholarship, but was also dominating in baseball. In 1954, at 19, he was on the baseball team and was 3-1 with 54 strikeouts in 30 innings as a freshman.
Dodgers scout Al Campanis took an interest in him.
"There are two times in my life the hair on my arms has stood up. The first time I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the first time I saw Sandy Koufax throw a fastball," said Campanis.
In 1955, the Dodgers gave Koufax a $6,000 contract and a $14,000 bonus. Koufax used the money to pay his way through college.
Koufax made his debut in June of that year. Koufax had a rough debut, to say the least. He allowed a bloop single, made an error, walked a man, struck out one with the bases loaded and left.
But this was in relief.
The Dodgers would later learn that Koufax was dominant in the starting pitcher role. As a rookie, he threw a complete game shutout against the Cincinnati Reds.
And so it started.
However, his wildness was a problem, like it was at the University of Cincinnati. He walked almost as many as he struck out as a rookie. His stats as a rookie weren't very bad, he was 2-2 with a 3.02 ERA, but only started five games, two of which were complete game shutouts.
1956 was about the same. Koufax was 2-4 with a 4.91 ERA, walked one less then he struck out and had a very minimal impact on the Dodgers.
1957 was another little impact season. He was 5-4 with a 3.88 ERA, but there were some encouraging signs. He pitched over 104 innings, which was by far a career high. He also got his wildness under control, he had 51 walks and 128 strikeouts. It was clear he was a power pitcher.
In 1958, 1959 and 1960, Koufax rotated in the Dodgers starting five because of injuries. In those years, he was 27-30 with a very bad 4.85 ERA. So I'm sure you're wondering, how is this guy a Hall of Famer? Well, I'll get to that later.
In the 1961 offseason, he wanted to be more then just a mediocre pitcher.
"That winter was when I really started working out. I started running more. I decided I was really going to find out how good I can be," said Koufax.
He found out.
In 1961, he won 18 games with a 3.52 ERA and struck out 269 batters in 255 2/3 innings.
In 1962, the stadium move worked to Koufax's benefit. The Dodgers moved to Dodger Stadium, a pitcher friendly park. That year, Koufax's home ERA lowered from 4.29 in 1961 to 1.29 in 1962.
That year, he was 14-7 with a 2.54 ERA and 216 strikeouts in just 184 1/3 innings.
His four year period of dominance began in 1963. He won 25 games, struck out 306 batters, had a 1.88 ERA and had 11 shutouts, leading the league in all categories, which resulted in a pitching triple crown. He finished with a 25-5 record and a 1.88 ERA. Wow.
In 1964, he had another fantastic year, but underwent a small ditch in the road. He was 19-5 with a 1.74 ERA, but jammed his arm when diving back to second base on a pick-off throw. He was diagnosed with traumatic arthritis.
In 1965 and 1966, he dominated while playing in pain. In 1965, he was 26-8 with a 2.04 ERA, but his career was coming to an end. 1966 was his last year and he made it count. He was 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA. After a World Series loss to the Baltimore Orioles, Koufax announced he couldn't pitch anymore because of the serious arthritic pain.
In 1972, Koufax was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was also rated No. 26 on the top 100 players of all time by the Sporting News.
Koufax could've been the best player of all time. In just 12 seasons, he had 165 wins and 87 losses.
In his career, he was named to six All Star Games, won three World Series Championships, won three Cy Young Awards, won the 1963 NL MVP, won two World Series MVP Awards, pitched one perfect game and had his #32 retired by the Dodgers.
Career: 165 wins, 87 losses, 2.76 ERA