Sandy Koufax 1955 #123
by William Szczepanek
The Topps 1955 #123 card of Sandy Koufax is his rookie card. Looking from the dugout steps is probably a good depiction of his action during 1955. With 30 strikeouts and 28 walks in 41 and 2/3rds innings it was an inauspicious start for the rookie.
Koufax’s greatness would not be seen for a number of years. As a $20,000 bonus baby he was resented by the Dodger veterans because he had to be kept on the roster for two years. He tried to do too much too soon which resulted in a sore arm. Wildness persisted year after year. He was so wild that the Dodgers worked him out privately so he wouldn’t embarrass the club. He led the league in wild pitches in 1958.
Koufax seriously considered quitting. After six years he had had a record of 36 wins and 40 losses. In the last six years of his career he won 129 games with only 47 losses, a winning percentage of .732. From 1962 to 1966, his final five years, he led the league in ERA each year averaging under two runs per nine innings pitched. He led the league in strikeouts and shutouts in three of those years and for four consecutive years he pitched no-hitters, including a perfect game in 1965.
1965 was his best season, going 26-8, with a 2.04 ERA. He had eight shutouts, 27 complete games, and set the major league season record of 382 strikeouts, still the most by a lefthander, but superseded by Nolan Ryan in 1973 with 383.
Koufax was the unanimous Cy Young Award winner in 1963, 1965 and 1966, when only one winner was elected from both leagues. He was also league MVP in 1963. He fanned 18 in a game twice.
He had a 0.95 ERA in his World Series appearances. His decision not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, gained national attention when his religious beliefs superseded social pressures.
Koufax put his body through torture with his tremendous back and leg push. Most everyone understood that he put a great deal of strain on his arm, but no one expected the end would come so quickly. Koufax said, "I've got a lot of years to live after baseball and I would like to live them with the complete use of my body." At the height of his career at age 30 he was forced to retire with arthritis that threatened to disable him.
Sanford “Sandy” Koufax is arguably the best pitcher baseball has ever seen. As Casey Stengel, Yankee manager, once said, “Forget the other guy (Walter Johnson). Sandy Koufax for four years was the best pitcher in baseball." Whether Koufax at his peak was the most dominating pitcher ever is debatable, but he definitely was the most artful Dodger — graceful, with body arching through his long stride, his overhand delivery would fool batters with pitches that could be heard, but not seen. Stengel also remarked that ''umpires often can't see where Koufax pitches go, so they have to judge from the sound of them hitting the catcher's glove.''
"Pitching is the art of instilling fear.” — Sandy Koufax
Koufax was the youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was inducted in 1972 with 86.87% of the vote.
You can check out Sandy Koufax's statistics at Baseball Reference.