Sixty years ago, the Dodgers signed Sandy Koufax and his magical curveball
Growing up, I was taught that Sandy Koufax is pitching. When I was first introduced to baseball, I learned that Cy Young won more games than any other pitcher in history, that Walter Johnson had a fastball that could burn through a catcher's hand, and that Christy Mathewson's changeup could slow down time. But Sandy Koufax was the pitcher.
Perhaps it's because he was a curveball artist, and there's something about a curveball that seems like it's a con being played on batters -- its strings being pulled by an unseen accomplice.
Perhaps it's because his story is somewhat tragic. He left the game at the age of 30 with two consecutive Cy Youngs and three in his last four seasons.
Perhaps it's because he retired early, so there was no downslope to his career -- all we have is a statistical record of bold, black ink and sub-2.00 ERAs. His nickname was the Left Hand of God and, for once, that doesn't seem to be hyperbolic.
Then again, maybe it's just because of starts like this when he pitched a perfect game against the Cubs in 1965:
His career almost wasn't, though. Koufax attended the University of Cincinnati on a basketball scholarship and was eyeing a future as an architect. Fortunately, Dodgers area scout Bill Zinser saw Koufax throw and wrote this scouting report on the southpaw. It reads like a 6th grade love letter, it's filled with so many gushings:
Even though Zinser had found Koufax, it wasn't until after the lefty tried out for the Giants and Pirates that he signed with the Dodgers for $14,000.
Even with that golden arm, Koufax struggled with command in his first six seasons, pitching to a pedestrian 36-40 record. His 4.10 ERA over the time was an exactly average 100 ERA+.
As if he had been bitten by a radioactive pitching spider, Koufax's next six seasons are among the best in the history of the game. Koufax went 129-47 with a 2.19 ERA and 1,713 K's in 1,632 2/3 innings from 1961-66.
Again, though, those are only numbers. And moving pictures are so much more persuasive:
On this anniversary of Koufax's signing 60 years ago, just remember how close this universe came to not having Sandy Koufax, three-time Cy Young, but to having Sandy Koufax, three-time American Institute of Architecture Award Winner.
Perhaps most importantly though, we'd never have this episode of Mr. Ed. And I'm not sure what the point of life is without this: