Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Sandy Koufax - or - Brett Favre

Sandy Koufax (#32) is beyond doubt one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. He was nothing short of remarkable. Here, from Wikipedia, is the opening summary of his career:
Sandy Koufax is an American left-handed former pitcher in Major League Baseball who played his entire career for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, from 1955 to 1966. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, the youngest former player to receive that honor.

Koufax's career peaked with a run of six outstanding seasons from 1961 to 1966, before arthritis ended his career at age 30. He was named the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1963. He also won the 1963, 1965, and 1966 Cy Young Awards by unanimous votes, all during the period when only one pitcher was chosen per season, making him the first 3-time Cy Young winner in baseball history. In each of his Cy Young seasons, Koufax won the pitcher's triple crown by leading the NL in wins, strikeouts, and earned run average. Koufax's totals would also have led the American League in those seasons.

Koufax was the first major leaguer to pitch four no-hitters (including a perfect game). Despite his comparatively short career, Koufax's 2,396 career strikeouts ranked 7th in history as of his retirement, trailing only Warren Spahn (2,583) among left-handers. Retiring at the peak of his career, he became, at age 36 and 20 days, the youngest player ever elected to the Hall of Fame.
He only played 11 years; he was only 30 when he retired; he holds only one all-time career pitching record.

In his 12-season career, Koufax had a 165–87 record with a 2.76 ERA, 2,396 strikeouts, 137 complete games, and 40 shutouts. He was the first pitcher to average fewer than seven hits allowed per nine innings pitched in his career (6.79) and to strike out more than nine batters (9.28) per nine innings pitched in his career. He also became the 2nd pitcher in baseball history to have two games with 18 or more strikeouts, and the first to have eight games with 15 or more strikeouts. In his last ten seasons, from 1957 to 1966, batters hit .203 against Koufax, with a .271 on base percentage and a .315 slugging average.

Koufax's postseason record is impressive: a 4–3 won-lost record with a 0.95 earned run average, in four World Series. He is on the very short list of pitchers who retired with more career strikeouts than innings pitched. Koufax was selected for seven consecutive All-Star games (twice in 1961 (the last season with two All-Star Games), then 1962 to 1966).

Koufax was the first pitcher to win multiple Cy Young Awards, as well as the first pitcher to win a Cy Young Award by a unanimous vote. Each of Koufax's three Cy Young Awards were by unanimous vote. Koufax and Juan Marichal are the only two pitchers in the post-war era (1946-date) to have more than one 25-win season, with each pitcher recording three.

Among NL pitchers with at least 2,000 innings pitched who have debuted since 1913, he has the highest career winning percentage (.655) and had the lowest career ERA (2.76) until surpassed by Tom Seaver, whose NL career mark is 2.73.

He is perhaps best remembered for NOT pitching:
Koufax is also remembered as one of the outstanding Jewish athletes in American sports. His decision not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur garnered national attention as an example of conflict between social pressures and personal beliefs.
He retired because he was in pain and didn't want to permanently damage his body. he knew he wasn't immortal or invincible. He was just a very gifted human being who had his moment in the spotlight and was willing to move on at the peak of his career.

Leave them wanting more, not shaking their heads in sadness at the declining show.

Sure. The Vikings' Old Guy may still show some of the old spark, but many of us will sadly remember that he wanted one more- and then one more after that. We will feel the sadness of watching our hero of the past become all-too-mortal. And trying to ignore it.

In my pantheon of great athletes, The Old Guy former Packer will remain one of the greats. But Sandy will be far more than that- a positive role model for knowing what's important in his own life and sticking with it in the 1965 World Series game and the shocking early retirement.

And a quote on Koufax:
"I knew every pitch he was going to throw and still I couldn't hit him."
— Willie Mays

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