I was lucky, I was born in an era when many Hall of Fame players were active. And I got to see most of them either on TV or at a Dodger game. I feel I was especially lucky to get to watch Sandy Koufax pitch more than a few times.
The first time I got to see Koufax in person was in May of 1959 at the Coliseum in a game against the Cardinals. He won the game, 5-2 over Gary Blaylock. Danny McDevitt got the save. The first game I went to that year, the Braves had pounded Big D 8-3. Del Crandall and Aaron hit homers. Aaron’s went to dead center.
I listened to all of the games on my transistor radio. I would actually fall asleep and wake up at some point in the game. It was almost like I had an alarm clock telling me the game was reaching a crucial point. And most of the games in 59 once they got into July and August, were crucial.
I was listening on the night of August 31st when Sandy won a thriller against the Giants and Jack Sanford, 5-2 on a walkoff homer by Wally Moon against Giant reliever Al Worthington. Yes, it was a moonshot over the screen at the coliseum. But what made that night special was Sandy striking out 18 Giants hitters to tie the MLB record at the time. It was held then by Bob Feller.
Mays, McCovery and Cepeda, all struck out twice, Sanford and Jackie Brandt K’d three times apiece. Koufax got every other hitter in the lineup to K once. Exciting times. I was listening to game 5 of the World Series when Sandy gave up one run in 7.1 innings and lost 1-0.
I will never forget the first time I went to Dodger Stadium in 1962 when Sandy was pitching. We sat in the left field pavilion next to the bullpen. When Sandy was warming up, you could hear the loud smack of his fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt.
I was watching the Dodgers-Giants on TV in 65 when Marichal went nuts and went after Roseboro with his bat. Sandy was in there trying to stop everything without getting beaned himself. It was the one time out of all of the times I saw him pitch that he was rattled on the mound. Right after the incident, he gave up a homer to Willie Mays that cost them the game.
I was listening when he pitched his perfect game the same year against the Cubs. Vin could paint a picture on the radio better than any announcer before or since. You could almost feel the breeze from the batters swinging and missing the last six outs.
I saw Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Rose, Musial, Mantle, Hodges, Gibson, Eddie Mathews, all of them in person at the coliseum or Dodger Stadium. I saw Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson, who was an excellent center fielder. I got to see the Duke before he retired.
But watching Sandy pitch, man, that was art. He could set a hitter up just so well and then put them away with his fastball, or that 12 to 6 curve that was a thing of beauty. It was said that on the night he threw his perfecto, his curve wasn’t working and he struck with the fastball almost exclusively.
He later revealed in an interview that it took him until the fourth inning to really get loose. He wasn’t called “The Left Arm of God” for nothing. Kershaw is going to end up owning many records or close to them. He is one of the best of his era. He has already passed Sandy in wins.
But for those six special seasons, there was never a pitcher better than Koufax was. He had as many complete games in the 1965 season as Kershaw has in his career. And although when Kersh pitches I feel the Dodgers have a great chance to win, when Koufax pitched you felt like you were going to see something special.
363 K’s in a season is a Dodger record that is never going to be broken. Pitchers do not strike out 300 hitters anymore. Kersh was the last LA Dodger to do it. 18 K’s in a game twice. He is also the last Dodger to win 25 or more games, and he did it 3 times. 63-65-66. And he most likely would have done it in 1964, but he had the injury problem and ended up winning 19.
Sandy is simply for me at least, the best I ever saw in a Dodger uniform. Gibson and Randy Johnson were the two most intimidating I have seen. I am just grateful I got to see them at all.