Before becoming one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Sandy Koufax was a struggling southpaw who nearly quit baseball to work for an electronics business.
Here’s how he turned it all around, transformed his career, and became the youngest player ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Table of Contents
- A Losing Record Through Six Seasons
- The Catalyst to the Comeback
- Why Did Koufax Retire So Young?
- Legendary Quotes About Sandy Koufax
With a 36-40 record in his first six seasons, 24-year-old Sandy Koufax struggled with his command. He was walking an average of 5.3 batters per game over that span. Dodgers manager Walter Alston routinely pulled him from the starting rotation.
Alston would ask, “How can I pitch you when you can’t get the side out?”
That offseason, the Dodgers denied his trade request. Past the point of frustration, Koufax seriously considered quitting baseball altogether and going to work for an electronics business he had invested in.
So how did he turn his baseball career around?
It took a fortunate series of events that included major surgery and taking some heat off his pitches.
Right before spring training, Koufax had a tonsillectomy. The common but major surgery caused him to stop eating. When all was said and done, he lost roughly 20 pounds before meeting the Dodgers in Vero Beach, Florida.
“I really started working out,” Koufax remembered. “I started running more. I decided I was really going to find out how good I can be.”
That year in spring training, Koufax:
- Fixed a hitch in his wind-up
- Learned how to throw a slider
- Improved his control by “taking the grunt” out of his fastball
- Began to focus on getting ahead in the count with a first-pitch strike
The 25-year-old Koufax quickly went from “thrower” to “pitcher”, as Vin Scully would say. And it worked like a charm.
Then in 1963, he conquered the baseball world. After striking out a whopping 306 batters and posting a minuscule 1.88 ERA, Sandy Koufax became the first-ever unanimous Cy Young Award winner.
That very October, he helped the Dodgers sweep the vaunted Yankees on his way to winning World Series MVP.
The accolades piled up through 1966 when Koufax abruptly announced his retirement.
Why Did Koufax Retire So Young?
Sandy Koufax retired at 30-years-old because of chronic arthritis in his throwing elbow. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, “In April of 1966 Koufax was told that he couldn’t go another season, but he did just that – winning a career-high 27 games with a career-best 1.73 ERA.”
Dodgers team physician, Dr. Robert Kerlan, said at the time, “Sandy pitches in extreme pain that can only be overcome by his motivational urge.”
In 1972, Koufax became the youngest player ever elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history.
After contemplating a different life path altogether, Sandy Koufax wrote one of the best comeback stories in the modern baseball world.
Legendary Quotes About Sandy Koufax
“Trying to hit Koufax was like drinking coffee with a fork.” – Willie Stargell
“He throws a ‘radio ball,’ a pitch you hear, but you don’t see” – Gene Mauch
“When I faced Sandy, I used to say my prayers.” – Manny Mota
“There is hardly a strong enough word for the way the other players feel about Koufax. It almost goes beyond affection…for a man so gentle he seems misplaced in a jock shop.” – Thomas Boswell, Washington Post
“I can see how he won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost five.” – Yogi Berra
“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.” – Al Campanis, Dodgers scout
“I knew every pitch he was going to throw – fastball, breaking ball, or whatever. Actually, he would let you look at it. And you still couldn’t hit it.” – Willie Mays
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