By Glen Sparks
Sandy Koufax hurled his baseball glove and spikes into the trash can at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles on the last day of the season, Oct. 2, 1960. He ended the year 8-13 and in frustration.
The 24-year-old left-hander gave up 100 walks in 175 innings. Over his first six seasons in the majors, Koufax mustered a 36-40 won-loss record with a 4.10 ERA. He allowed a whopping 405 free passes in 691.2 innings. What did the 683 strikeouts even matter?
Koufax paid the price for being a so-called bonus baby. Dodgers signed him for a $6,000 salary, plus a $14,000 signing bonus. Because Koufax’s bonus exceeded $4,000, he could not be sent to the minor leagues for at least two years. He couldn’t develop his incredible skills.
So, the hard-throwing prospect, playing in his hometown of Brooklyn, sat on the bench and waited. And waited. He pitched 41.1 2 innings in 1955, 58.2 in 1956. Manager Walt Alston didn’t trust Koufax, according to many reports. Other Dodger players resented that Koufax took up a roster spot and rarely saw any action. Sandy Koufax festered.
This says something about early Koufax: He made his first career start July 6, 1955 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He lasted 4.2 innings and walked eight (On the upside, he gave up just one run and three hits in the 4-1 loss.) He didn’t make another start until Aug. 27. On that day, he tossed a complete-game, two-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds for his first major league win. He struck out 14 and walked five.
Koufax threw hard. And harder. He reached back for something extra. If that didn’t work, he reached back again for something more. He threw wild high, wild outside, wild everywhere. Several years into his career, even as the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Dodgers following the 1957 season, Koufax continued to struggle with his control.
Midway through the 1960 season, Koufax pleaded to Dodgers executive Buzzie Bavasi.
“Trade me.” Please.
Jane Leavy reported in Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy that Bavasi never came close to dealing the team’s struggling young pitcher. But, would Koufax simply quit baseball? He did own an electronics store. What did it mean when he tossed away that glove and those shoes? Was he really through?
Well, Koufax didn’t like selling stuff. Instead, he worked hard in the offseason to get into great shape and reported to spring training in Florida with a new commitment.
He began warming up with Dodgers catcher Norm Sherry. Stop trying to throw the blasted ball through a wall of steel, Sherry said. Just trying getting it over the plate. Don’t throw harder, throw easier.
“Take the grunt out of the fastball,” Sherry advised.
Soon enough, Koufax discovered the strike zone. He fired heat at the edge of the zone and broke off some of the most mind-boggling curveballs in big-league history. A legend was in the making.
Over the final six seasons of his career (1961-66), Koufax went 129-47 with a 2.19 ERA. He struck out 1,713 batters in 1632.2 innings and walked only 412. In his 211 starts, Koufax completed 115 games and threw 35 shutouts.
The Hall Famer (1972, first ballot), won three Cy Young awards and hurled four no-hitters. He led the Dodgers to three National League pennants and two World Series championships.
And that glove and those spikes that he dumped? Equipment manager Nobe Kawano fished them out of the trash can. He figured that Koufax would be needing them.
By Glen Sparks
Kenny Rogers tossed a perfect game on this date in 1991. The Texas Rangers left-hander struck out eight and threw 98 pitches in setting down all 27 California Angels hitters at the Ballpark in Arlington.
Rogers’ perfecto was the 12th in the major leagues since 1900. The Montreal Expos’ Dennis Martinez threw his perfect game, the 11th of the modern era, exactly three years before Rogers. He beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 at Dodger Stadium.
Now, 21 perfect games have been thrown since 1900, the most recent by Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 15, 2012. July 28 is the only date that has two perfect games on its ledger. (May is the most popular month, seven.)
In honor of July 28 being a perfect day of sorts for perfect games, I’m posting a perfect trivia package. You can read about some of the greatest-pitched games in MLB history. You’ll find 21 bullet points below, in honor of the 21 complete games of the modern era (1900 and after).
- The Boston Americans’ Cy Young threw the first post-1900 perfect game. He beat the Philadelphia A’s 3-0 on May 5, 1904, at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston.
- The Chicago White Sox’ Charlie Robertson threw his perfect game in just his fifth career appearance, April 30, 1922. Robertson’s won-loss percentage of .380 (49-80) is the lowest of any perfect-game pitcher.
- Jim Bunning’s perfect game on June 21, 1964, for the Philadelphia Phillies was the first of the modern era in the National League.
- Sandy Koufax and Matt Cain recorded the most strikeouts in a perfect game, 14. Addie Joss recorded the fewest, three. (Ed Walsh struck out 15 for the Chicago White Sox that day against Joss’s Cleveland Naps.)
- Six Hall of Famers have thrown perfect games in the modern era (Young, Joss, Jim Bunning, Koufax, Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Randy Johnson).
- Young, of course, has the most wins of any perfect-game pitcher, 511. Philip Humber has the fewest, 16 and counting).
- The New York Yankees’ Don Larsen threw the most famous perfect game in MLB history, Oct. 8, 1956, in Game 2 of the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. He went with a no-windup delivery throughout the game. Talk about a bounceback start. Larsen went just 1 2/3 innings in his Game 2 start and gave up one hit, four walks, and four unearned runs.
- Baseball went more than 34 years between Robertson’s perfect game (April 30, 1922) and Larsen’s (Oct. 8, 1956). Conversely, baseball waited less than three weeks between Dallas Braden’s perfect game (May 9, 2010) and Roy Halladay’s (May 29, 2010).
- Records do not indicate how many pitches that Young hurled in his perfect game. Of the others, Joss threw the least, 74, and Cain threw the most, 125.
- Koufax has the most no-hitters of any of the pitchers, four. (In case you’re wondering, the fewest walks that Nolan Ryan gave up in any one of his seven no-hitters was two. He did that three times.)
- Talk about pressure. Six perfect games have ended 1-0. Four have ended 2-0. Cain’s game was the biggest blowout, 10-0 against the Houston Astros.
- In Koufax’s perfect game, opposing pitcher Bob Hendley of the Chicago Cubs gave up just one hit in his complete-game effort, to Lou Johnson in the seventh inning. The Dodgers scored their lone run in the fifth inning. Johnson walked, went to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third and scored on an error by Cubs catcher Chris Krug.
- Bunning threw his no-hitter on Father’s Day (June 21, 1964). Braden threw his on Mother’s Day (May 9, 2010).
- Hunter was the youngest pitcher to throw a modern-day no-hitter, 22 years, 30 days. Johnson was the oldest, 40 years, 256 days.
- Tom Browning’s perfect game on Sept. 16, 1988, came against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that went on to the win the World Series, the only time that has happened.
- Mike Witt threw his perfect game on the last day of the regular season for the California Angels.
- David Wells graduated from Point Loma High School in San Diego, the same high school as Larson.
- They could swing the bat, too. Hunter (3 RBI), Bunning (2) and Young (1) all drove in runs in their perfect games.
- 2012 was a perfect year. Three pitchers threw perfect games in 2012—Humber (Apri 21), Cain (June 13) and Felix Hernandez (Aug. 15).
- Pitchers have thrown three perfect games against the Tampa Rays (also, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays). They also have thrown three against the Dodgers, who have been around a little longer.
- The Yankees have the most perfect games (Larson, Wells and David Cone).
(I would love to have seen Don Drysdale pitch a baseball game. The big right-hander from southern California would have turned 79 years old today. I hope this post does him justice. I tried to channel the legendary Los Angeles Times writer Jim Murray a bit.)
By Glen Sparks
Don Drysdale turned an at-bat into nasty business. He stood six-feet, six-inches and hurled 95 mph sidearm heat. The Dodgers right-hander struck out 2,486 batters in his 14-year career and hit 154.
You’ve heard of an uncomfortable 0-for-4? Drysdale was a terrifying 0-for-4. Drysdale liked to talk about his 2-for-1 policy. You hit one of my guys, he’d say, I’ll hit two of your guys. Drysdale didn’t like to issue intentional walks. He’d rather drill the guy and save three pitches.
He glared at hitters the way a drill instructor glares at buck privates. He looked like a tiger in need of a steak. He squinted in for the sign like a great white shark squints to find a lonely surfer.
Batting against Drysdale was like a day at the beach. On jellyfish day. He hit guys like Joe Louis hit pikers from Palookaville.
Drysdale hailed from Van Nuys, Calif., born July 23, 1936, a Valley boy from a different time. He probably scared off half the kids from North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed him in 1954 for $4,000 and $600 a month.
The Dodgers promoted him to the big club in 1956, a 19-year-old, all arms, legs and fastball. He promptly went 5-5 with a 2.64 ERA (152 ERA+) in 99 innings. The kid was good. The next year, he went 17-9 with a 2.69 ERA (153 ERA+).
Going Back to Cali
In 1958, the Dodgers moved to L.A. The California boy went home. In 1959, he won 17 games and led the Dodgers to a World Series title against the Chicago White Sox. His 242 strikeouts were the most by a National League pitcher in 35 years.
Over the next decade, Drysdale solidified his Hall of Fame career. He only led the National League in wins once, but he led it in strikeouts three times. No. 53 struck out a career high 251 in 1963. He topped the 200 strikeout mark six times.
Drysdale and Sandy Koufax made a magnificent 1-2 combo. Koufax, left-handed and elegant, Drysdale, right-handed and fierce. They started games in the warm twilight at Dodger Stadium, hurling unhittable pitches fired into sunlight and shadow. For opposing line-ups, it was more like a California nightmare than a California dream.
In 1962, Drysdale won 25 games and took home the Cy Young Award. He finished fifth in the MVP voting. Big D and Koufax led the Dodgers to World Series championships in ‘63 and 1965. They didn’t get much help from the offense. The Dodger attack was about as scary as your cousin Sissy’s pet beagle. The Dodgers made it home about as often as Robinson Caruso.
(Supposedly true story, probably apocryphal: On June 4, 1964, Drysdale lost an 11-inning game against the Philadelphia Phillies in which he gave up just four hits. He then left the team to take care of some personal business in Washington, D.C. On June 5, unbeknownst to Drysdale, Koufax threw a no-hitter. Some guy at the hotel told the big guy. Drysdale: “Did we win?”)
Drysdale probably put up his best year in 1964. He compiled an 18-16 record, but he tagged a 2.18 ERA (147 ERA+) onto that over 321.1 innings, a career-high. He gave up an average of just 6.8 hits per 9 innings, a career low.
In 1968, in his next-to-last season, Drysdale set a Major League record. He threw 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings and put up a 2.15 ERA (128 ERA+). And, if threw a few extra spitballs that year, well, then so be it. He wasn’t the only one.
Big D started off 5-4 in 1969 with a 4.45 ERA. His strong right shoulder had thrown enough. He called a press conference, shed some tears and said he was done. Drysdale, the L.A. guy who looked a movie star, retired with a 209-166 record and a 2.95 ERA (121 ERA+). No. 53 tossed 49 shutouts and hit 29 home runs. He took the ball every game and led the league in starts from 1962-65. He made eight All-Star teams.
Retired from playing, Drysdale turned to broadcasting. He called games for a number of teams including his beloved Dodgers. The writers finally voted him into the Hall of Fame in 1984.
On July 3, 1993, Drysdale died of a heart attack at his hotel room in Montreal, hours before a game that evening between the Dodgers and Expos. Vin Scully announced his death over the radio. He began it this way: “”Friends, we’ve known each other a long time, and I’ve had to make a lot of announcements, some more painful than others. But never have I ever been asked to make an announcement that hurts me as much as this one. And I say it to you as best I can with a broken heart.”
Reporters asked Tommy LaSorda, the Dodger manager, a long-time friend and former teammate of Drysdale’s, for a comment. There’s Tommy sitting on a stool, his uniform top partly unbuttoned, the bags heavy beneath his eyes, his eyes tearing up, his voice trying to stay strong. He looks up at the camera. He says this of Drysdale: “He was a man’s man.”
Drysdale stands out today as a legendary pitcher from a tougher, by-gone era in baseball, one of inside fastballs and black-and-blue rib cages. Orlando Cepeda said the trick to an at bat against Drysdale was this: “Hit him before he hits you.”
Donald Scott Drysdale, you were one tough pitcher.
By Glen Sparks
Sandy Koufax won 27 games in 1966, struck out 317 batters, and posted a career-low1.73 ERA. In his final start for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he gave up one earned run in six innings, in Game 2 of the ’66 World Series.
Soon after, he called a press conference for Nov. 18. One of the greatest left-handed pitchers in baseball history announced his retirement, six weeks shy of his 31st birthday. His elbow hurt like the devil, arthritis had kicked in, and he wanted to play golf.
Flashbulbs popped at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, reporters scribbled notes, and Koufax said, “I have taken too many pills and too many shots.” … “I’ve got a lot of years to live after baseball, and I would like to live with the complete use of my body.” No one from the L.A. front office attended the press conference.
Koufax, nicknamed the “left arm of God,” retired with a 165-87 won-loss record, a 2.76 ERA and 2,396 strikeouts. He quit at the top of his game. Koufax put together the greatest final season in the history of major professional sports. (The other contender is another No. 32, Jim Brown, the Cleveland Browns’ running back, who left football for Hollywood after rushing for 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns in his last campaign. His best movie? The Dirty Dozen. His second best? … 1,000 Rifles?)
The baseball writers elected Koufax to the Hall of Fame in 1972, in his first year on the ballot. To this day, he gets his just due as a baseball legend. He is bigger than life, just like Willie Mays, Bob Gibson and Hank Aaron.
The one criticism, of course, is that he did not last as long as some of his contemporaries. The argument goes something like this: “Koufax only pitched 12 seasons. … He was only dominant in the second half of his career. For the first half, he was so wild he couldn’t hit the broad side of a peanut salesman from three rows away.”
OK, but. Did Koufax need to win another Cy Young Award? He was the first to win three. Did he need to throw another no-hitter? He was the first to toss four.
Take a quick look at more Koufax career highlights:
- He set a National League record with 382 strikeouts in 1965.
- He led the N.L. in ERA five straight seasons (1962-66).
- He topped the circuit in strikeouts four times, WHIP four times and wins three times.
- He won the MVP in 1963 and was runner-up in ’65 and ’66.
- He threw a perfect game Sept. 9, 1965, against the Chicago Cubs.
- In World Series action, he posted a .095 ERA in 57 innings (61 strikeouts and allowed just 36 hits, a 0.825 WHIP).
Koufax also inspired some pretty good quotes, both from the competition and from the Dodgers.
Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Willie Stargell said, “Trying to hit Koufax was like trying to drink coffee with a fork.”
Dodger executive Al Campanis said, “There are two times in my life the hair on my arms has stood up. The first time I saw the Sistine Chapel and the first time I saw Sandy Koufax throw a fastball.”
Of course, the Koufax legend is built around the 1961-66 seasons. He went 129-47 during that run with a 2.19 ERA. He struck out 1,713 batters in 1,632.2 innings. Not surprisingly, Koufax made the All-Star team in each of those six years.
Fans still marvel at the numbers Koufax put up in his prime. Ballplayers marveled that he ever lost. The infielder Harvey Kuenn made the last out in Koufax’s 1963 no-hitter against the Giants and in the perfect game. A reporter once asked Kuenn, “What was the difference between the two games?”
Kuenn: “About two years.”
Koufax didn’t need to do anything more than he already did in his amazing career. He did more than enough.
Two good books about Koufax:
Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy by Jane Leavy
Koufax by Edward Gruver
And one for the kids:
You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? by Jonah Winter (author) and Andre Carrilho