Never has a pitcher been as dominant as Sandy Koufax was in his prime. Before arm injuries forced him into early retirement, the Dodgers' lefty crippled hitters over a five-year period in ways no hurler ever has.
Koufax broke into baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, but it was not until 1961 that he asserted his dominance. Nonetheless, Koufax’s most collectible baseball cards come from his early years.
The card shows a headshot of a boyish Koufax—it looks like he has yet to take his first shave—set against a yellow background. The card is not considered too difficult to find, though it is rarely in high-grade because it is prone to poor centering.
Koufax was not the centerpiece of the Dodgers team that won the World Series that year. In fact, he only pitched in 12 games in the 1955 season.
Two years later, while Koufax was still a middling pitcher, Topps released its most striking Koufax card. The 1957 Topps shows a close up of Koufax wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers cap—it was the team’s last year in Brooklyn before moving to Los Angeles—with his famously infectious smile from ear to ear. Like the entire 1957 Topps set, this card is often found poorly centered and with border toning.
After the 1957 season, the Dodgers headed west. To commemorate the move, Bell Brand, a corn and potato chip company, released a ten-card regional set of all Dodgers. Bell Brand a...
The black-and-white Koufax card shows the lefty crouched down, as if he had just delivered a pitch to the plate. It’s a great image, but because the card came in bags of potato chips, it is very difficult to find in good condition.
At the time all of those Koufax cards were printed, few would have thought they would one day be extremely collectible. Koufax was a rather mediocre hurler stuck in the middle of the Dodgers rotation.
All that changed in 1961.
That was the year Koufax went 18-13, striking out a league-leading 269 batters en route to his first All-Star game. Koufax had finally realized the potential that made Dodgers scout Al Campanis famously remark, “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.”
From 1962 to 1966, Koufax led the National League in ERA every year, won three Cy Young awards, one MVP award, two World Series championships, and two World Series MVPs to go with those titles.
Unfortunately, despite his success, Koufax was constantly enduring serious arm pain. He was forced to medicate himself heavily before and between starts, and after the 1966 season his arm could not take it anymore: he was forced to retire in the heart of his prime at the age of 31. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame five years later, he became the youngest player ever to enter that illustrious club.
It is a wonder to consider what Koufax could have done had his left arm not failed him. Even with his early retirement, Koufax threw four no-hitters—a record at the time that was later broken by Nolan Ryan—including one perfect game.
In addition to his on-the-field dominance, Koufax is also remembered as one of baseball’s rare Jewish stars, which made him an idol to Jewish kids everywhere. The observant Koufax, a Brooklyn native, refused to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Nonetheless, the Dodgers would win that World Series, and Koufax would be named the series’ MVP.
Popular Koufax collectibles today include his game used #32 jerseys, autographed baseballs and photographs, and even autographed copies of the April 13, 1964, issue of “Sports Illustrated,” which had a drawing of Koufax on the cover.
On rare occasions, game-used Koufax gloves are made available to well-heeled collectors. Koufax’s Spalding glove that he wore during his 1963 no-hitter sold for six-figures in 2004, as did a glove he used during his final season, which was sold in 2009.
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'Jackie and Campy' tells stormy tale of two baseball greatsPhilly.com, April 20th
But both men, it should be noted, along with other black players in the Brooklyn club, went out of their way to support an 18-year-old pitching phenom named Sandy Koufax, who was bombarded around the league with anti-Semitic taunts. What could have ...Read more
Baseball and spring go together like Koufax and no-hittersShepherdstown Chronicle, April 4th
No time limit. Always 27 outs unless a thunderstorm comes through. Sitting under a shade tree in a folding chair debating the value of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig against Ted Williams and Hank Aaron. Who was the better pitcher, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, ...Read more
Scully, Koufax highlight Dodgers' home openerMLB.com, April 4th
The former Fordham first baseman/outfielder next was joined by Dodgers greats Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, Rick Monday, Ron Cey, Tommy Davis, Maury Wills, Don Newcombe, Tommy Lasorda and the incomparable Sandy Koufax. Koufax and ...Read more
Watch: Vin Scully throws out first pitch to Sandy Koufax in Dodgers' home openerSI.com, April 4th
Okay, so it was less throw and more a gentle toss into a waiting glove, but what's not to like about this? The legendary Vin Scully and the legendary Sandy Koufax, joining forces for the ceremonial first pitch at the Dodgers' home opener against the...Read more
Did Sandy Koufax Lay Tefillin During the 1965 World Series?Tablet Magazine, April 4th
While sports fans barely agree on anything, it is almost universally accepted that there have only been two truly great Jewish stars in Major League Baseball: Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. Greenberg was one of baseball's greatest ...Read more
For sale: Derek Jeter bat, Beatles' Shea lockers & moreCNBC.com, March 31st
The auction is headlined by a wide array of items that includes a Derek Jeter rookie-season baseball bat, a Sandy Koufax game-worn cap, and a game-used ball signed by the entire 1927 World Series Championship New York Yankees. "What we were able ...Read more
Sandy Koufax's 10 Greatest Jewish Baseball MomentsJewish Daily Forward, March 23rd
1) September 9, 1965: Koufax pitches a perfect game (no hits, walks or errors) against the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium, and sets a record for the most Ks in a perfecto by striking out 14 batters. The victory gives Koufax four career no-hitters, the...Read more
11 Greatest Jewish Moments in Baseball History (Not Including Sandy Koufax)Jewish Daily Forward, March 22nd
While waiting impatiently for opening day, I'd been distracting myself by compiling a list of the 10 greatest Jewish baseball moments of all time; however, I quickly realized that the legendary Sandy Koufax would so thoroughly dominate such an...Read more