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By The Numbers: A Closer Look Into The Man With The Golden Arm

Sandy Koufax (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Sandy Koufax (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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By Father Gabe Costa
» More Columns

Mr. Jacob Adler is taking a course on sabermetrics this semester. In this installment of By The Numbers, he recalls one of the greatest pitchers ever.

Enjoy!

Legacy: It is what the successful few leave behind.

Trailblazers in the world of baseball have left legacies of honor and integrity still fondly spoken of today. However, the recent controversy involving the Baseball Hall of Fame has left many baseball fans wondering if such legacies could be left by today’s superstars. The Steroid Era of baseball has clouds forming over this once great sport. But when uncertainty may prevail, it is always fitting to look to the past for inspiration. In this blog, I would like to discuss the legacy left behind by perhaps one of the most dominating pitchers to walk onto a baseball field: Sanford “Sandy” Koufax.

Koufax was born on December 30, 1935 in Brooklyn, where he originally played basketball at the local Jewish community center and at Lafayette High School. However, his participation in the local youth baseball “Ice Cream League” garnered him the attention of major league scouts. The notice he gained convinced him to sign with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers, even though he had already been offered a basketball scholarship at the University of Cincinnati.

In his 12-season career with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers from 1955 to 1966, he made a name for himself as one of the best in the business. He ranks among baseball’s greats as arguably one of the most dominating pitchers of all-time. His fastball and wicked curveball led his team to four World Series appearances — winning three titles in the process –with his last appearance coming in his final year of playing in 1966. Though his reputation and legacy is noted for his pitching prowess, he is publicly known as a Jewish ballplayer, most famously known for choosing to not start Game 1 of the 1965 World Series in order to fulfill his religious beliefs by attending Yom Kippur services.

Throughout his 12-year career, the so-called “Man with the Golden Arm” accumulated a myriad of accomplishments which include:

  • Four no-hitters, including a perfect game in 1965
  • Three Cy Young Awards (1963,1965,1966)
  • The National League MVP award in 1963
  • Two World Series MVP awards (1963, 1965)
  • Three pitching Triple Crowns (1963, 1965, 1966) which consists of finishing the season as the league leader in wins, strikeouts and lowest ERA
  • A career record of 165-87 with a 2.76 ERA
  • A career total of 2,396 strikeouts, including a major-league record 382 strikeouts in 1965, a mark that would stand for eight years
  • Election into the Baseball Hall of Fame. At the time, he was the youngest player ever to be elected at 36 years old

He left the majors in his prime in 1966 due to chronic arthritis in his throwing arm. Although his career was seemingly short-lived, his legacy has been held in high regard and he has cemented himself in baseball lore. From relative obscurity to arguably the greatest Jewish pitcher to ever live, Koufax has left an endearing legacy that speaks volumes about his dedication to the wonderful game.

Although the legacy of baseball may have been muddied in the recent steroid controversy and its effect on Hall of Fame selectees, I, and hopefully the remainder of baseball enthusiasts, can find solace in the legacy of the legendary greats. Of Koufax, I find him to be a bright beacon of light — not merely as Jewish baseball superstar or as a career all-star who loved the game — but a reminder as to WHY we, the fans, love the game.

As a Jewish sport fans, I hold Koufax in an almost mythical level. He shares the ranks of greatness with the likes of Moe Berg, Hank Greenberg and a variety of other legendary Jewish baseball players. Though he may not be the most statistically significant pitcher ever, his accomplishments and career stats have established him as certainly one of the most dominating.

Baseball’s greats, too, hold Koufax in high regard. Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn said of Koufax, “Either he throws the fastest ball I’ve ever seen or I’m going blind.” Even Yogi Berra, the Yankee great, said of his 1963 season, “I can see how he won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

All in all, Koufax has left a legacy of greatness that speaks volumes about the beauty of the game and the amazing stories that leave all baseball fans with hope of brighter days.

Where does Koufax rank among the greatest pitchers of all-time? Share your thoughts in the comments section below…