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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Recent News: Sandy Koufax Memorabilia
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Sports cards: Fun-filled hobby to money driven machineChillicothe Gazette, November 26th
Now? It's a habit that could cost you an arm and a leg with not much to show for. The makeshift motorcycles are gone. Corner drug stores that sold wax baseball card packs with Willie Mays, Duke Snider and Sandy Koufax treasures inside. That blasted...Read more
Bob Lutz: Cranking up the sports time machineKansas.com (blog), November 26th
Babe Ruth faces Sandy Koufax – Ruth is unquestionably, I believe, the greatest hitter in baseball history. He's the Babe, what else do you need to know? Meanwhile, it took Koufax some time to harness his incredible talent. The former Los Angeles...Read more
Prime Pedro vs. Prime Koufax is pretty close, seriouslyCBSSports.com, November 24th
Let's do this to illustrate how good Pedro was in his prime: Compare him to Sandy Koufax. Koufax's final five seasons are generally considered the gold standard among pitchers dominating the league for a prime stretch. I can go to seven years with...Read more
Tom Brokaw, Sandy Koufax and what the rest of Los Angeles did 'knot' noticeNewsday, November 18th
"One of my early heroes was Sandy Koufax. I lived in Los Angeles when he was pitching for the Dodgers, and I would sneak away and go out for the first few innings and sit in the press box and watch over the catcher's head and try to figure out: How...Read more
Baseball|Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout Run Away With MVP VotesNew York Times, November 13th
The connection is unmistakable, now more than ever, though Sandy Koufax always maintains that Clayton Kershaw is his own man, and not a protégé. Koufax deeply admires Kershaw, the modern ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and asked to present him ...Read more
Fraley: Kershaw could become more Koufax-like with Cy Young, MVP winDallas Morning News, November 11th
From the day he arrived in the majors out of Highland Park, Clayton Kershaw has been compared to another Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander: Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. Same power arm. Same knee-buckling breaking pitches. Same cool air of dominance ...Read more
Madison Bumgarner, Sandy Koufax and Christy MathewsonNew York Times, October 29th
But we'd like to congratulate him on moving up four spots on the Matty ranking, to third, behind only the great Sandy Koufax and Christy Mathewson himself, for whom the Matty Score is named. We calculate the score by taking a pitcher's career innings ...Read more
The Left Arm of God: Sandy Koufax was more than just a perfect pitcherSI.com, August 30th
In honor of Sports Illustrated's 60th anniversary, SI.com is republishing, in full, 60 of the best stories ever to run in the magazine's history. Today's selection is on Sandy Koufax, whom the magazine named its favorite athlete of the 20th century...Read more