Fifty years ago today, Sandy Koufax, at age 36, became the youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1962, ten years before that happened, The Saturday Evening Post profiled the amazing pitcher.
At the time, the left-hander was considered impressive, although not necessarily Hall of Fame material. The author of the article, Melvin Durslag, noted that Koufax had “made surprisingly small progress toward a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Koufax’s revered status was slow in coming. He played basketball in college and, while he played baseball as well, any talent went largely unobserved.
The lack of notice didn’t last long. Koufax tried out for the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates, but was ultimately brought on to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dodgers scout Al Campanis remarked, “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 second time, I saw Sandy Koufax throw a fastball.”
Koufax’s pitching may have been fast, but it wasn’t consistent. In the 12 games he pitched in his first season, he struck out 30 batters, but walked 38. He enrolled in architecture classes at Columbia University, in case a career in baseball didn’t work out.
Plagued with injuries and dogged by wild pitches, Koufax grew frustrated with his lack of playing time, and considered quitting. At the end of the 1960 season, he threw his glove and spikes in the trash. He reconsidered, and spent the winter working on his conditioning and his windup, vowing to give himself one more chance.
At spring training, in the first inning, Koufax walked the bases loaded on 12 straight pitches. Catcher Norm Sherry took him aside and told him not to throw so hard. Koufax listened, and finished out the game with seven no-hit innings. That year, Koufax went on to break the National League record for strikeouts, with 269.
The next year, on June 30, 1962, Koufax had his first no-hitter. He still holds the record for most no-hitters in the National League. He was the MVP in 1963 and the Cy Young Award winner in ’63, ’65, and ’66. Koufax retired from baseball in 1966, disabled by arthritis in his left elbow.
When Durslag caught up with Koufax in 1962, however, he was on the front-end of his ascendency, if not quite at the peak. Koufax knew he still had work to do: “‘My control is still a long way from perfect,’ declares the new strikeout king. ‘A sharp guy like Whitey Ford throws for the outside corner of the plate. I’m lucky if I can hit the outside half.’ But with the kind of blazing stuff that Sandy has, that’s often enough.”
Featured image: Sandy Koufax (University of Southern California Libraries, California Historical Society)
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