If one were to put music to a career, the dominant notes in Sandy Koufax’s would most effectively be reached with violins. For Babe Ruth, it would be bass drums for obvious reasons. But for Koufax, violins — bittersweet and vaguely ambiguous, like gypsy music. Koufax was the J.D. Salinger of baseball. He was an elegant craftsman, brilliant to the extreme in the exercise of his talent, but a reluctant celebrity, less comfortable in the limelight than in the world he fashioned for himself off the pitcher’s mound.
Koufax pitched an NL-record four no-hitters, including a perfect game. Twice he fanned 18 batters in a game, and in 1965, he set a major-league record by striking out a total of 382 batters, since broken by Nolan Ryan with 383. In 1963, he won the MVP with a 25-5 record, and in the World Series, he beat Whitey Ford twice in five days as the Dodgers swept the Yankees. "I can see how he won 25 games", Yankees catcher Yogi Berra said while reflecting on the 1963 season. "What I don’t understand is how he lost five. "Hitting against him is like drinking coffee with a fork", Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Willie Stargell said.
In 1965, Koufax recovered from circulatory problems and numbness and still manages 26-8 season with a 2.04 ERA to win his second Cy Young. The first game of the World Series fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews, and Koufax declined to pitch choosing to recognize the holiday because "it was the right thing to do." He came back to lead the Dodgers to victory against the Minnesota Twins in Games 5 and 7 which gave the Dodgers the Series. He was a performer so true to himself that, in the end, he refused to let money change him or make him linger. When he knew it was time to retire, he alone made the decision to end his career, not the Los Angeles Dodgers. When doctors warned that he risked losing the use of the arm if he continued to pitch, he decided to hang up his glove for good. "I don’t regret for one minute the 12 years I’ve spent in baseball," he said, "but I could regret one season too many."
Pitching in a time when there was only one winner for both leagues, Sandy won the Cy Young award three times in 1963, 1965, and 1966 as well as being named the National League MVP in 1963. In 1967, at the peak of his game, he passed up a guaranteed salary and simply walked away. With his lifetime record of 165-87, 2.76 ERA and 2,396 strikeouts in 2,324 1/3 innings, in 1972 he became at 36, the youngest player voted into the Hall of Fame. Sandy has enjoyed being retired, removing himself from the spotlight that shone so brightly while he dominated baseball. Unlike many of today’s sports superstars, Sandy never craved all the media attention, opting for a more private lifestyle that he continues now in retirement.