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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Local educator savors "one moment in time"The Daily Statesman, August 22nd
Unlike cutting one of the amazing stories of Jackie Robinson in half from the legendary Vin Scully, or listening to Bob Gibson talk about going toe-to-toe with Sandy Koufax -- this was a child, no older than nine, that hadn't seen or heard from her...Read more
What Baseball's Most Famous Brawl Photo Didn't Show YouDeadspin, August 22nd
It's been 49 years since Giants ace Juan Marichal clocked Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with his bat. The moment was captured in Neil Leifer's iconic photograph, which in turn shaped the collective memory of the incident. Today, Marichal is remembered ...Read more
High Heat Stats: Pitchers could post landmark seasonsDetroit Free Press, August 22nd
That 1.87 figure ranks fifth since 1947, a spot below fellow Dodgers left-hander Sandy Koufax (1.85 in 1963). Kershaw has been the de facto Cy Young Award winner in the National League nearly from opening day, challenged only by the likes of the St...Read more
MLB Notebook: Kershaw a modern day KoufaxMLB.com, August 22nd
From 1962-66, Sandy Koufax captured five National League ERA title and three MLB ERA titles. Over this span, Koufax fanned 26.8 percent of all batters he faced (for this five-year stretch, all NL starters produced a 15.0 strikeout percentage), owned a...Read more
Dissecting Nolan Ryan's One-of-a-Kind Legacy, 25 Years After 5000th StrikeoutBleacher Report, August 22nd
Needing 15 strikeouts to match Sandy Koufax's single-season record of 382, he naturally collected 16 to finish with 383. And so it continued all the way to number 5,000, and then to No. 5,714. Though Johnson charged hard at Ryan, the 4,875 strikeouts...Read more
Let Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame alreadyCNN, August 21st
(CNN) -- They lined up for a group portrait. Hank Aaron. Sandy Koufax. Reggie Jackson. George Brett. Al Kaline. Ernie Banks. A few chairs up front. Everybody else up on his feet. Frank Robinson. Bob Gibson. Brooks Robinson. Nolan Ryan. Tom Seaver...Read more
Miss Texas' First Pitch Makes 50 Cent Look Like Sandy KoufaxWith Leather, August 16th
Miss Texas Monique Evans continued the great American tradition of throwing out a first pitch. Unfortunately for Monique, her pitch missed the mark. Unfortunately for Monique, her pitch never quite got off the ground. Literally. She basically made 50...Read more
SI Vault: The Left Arm of GodSI.com, August 1st
He came so often that the family who ran the diner quickly stopped thinking of him as Sandy Koufax, one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived. They thought of him the way Koufax strived all his life to be thought of, as something better even than a...Read more