The day Hendley allowed just one hit, Koufax was perfect
Fifty years ago, Cubs hurler had game of a lifetime and lost
This could be another tale of the astounding exploits of Sandy Koufax, one more of so many; and each one warranted. Seldom has a person & pitcher pairing produced such excellence on both sides of the ampersand.
Koufax was as magnificent a pitcher as any who ever has stood on a big league mound. And he remains as splendid a human being as any who has graced the planet -- courteous, caring, generous and unassuming. Koufax pitched four no-hitters, won three Cy Young Awards -- each unanimously -- struck out all comers and routinely shrunk the biggest and baddest hitters to Eddie Gaedel proportions and turned their wooden bats into paper-mache replicas.
For our purposes today, though, the dazzling Koufax is merely half the story. The storyline isn't only that he pitched a perfect game 50 years ago tonight, but rather that the opposing pitcher, one Bob Hendley, pitched a one-hitter while Koufax was perfecting his resumé.
And to add class and a coating of brilliance to their tandem achievement, the game was narrated by a man who has risen to the level of national icon because of his genius in the booth, Vin Scully. His spontaneous account of the game was comparable to what he had witnessed.
A baseball day doesn't get a whole lot better than this one: a Hall of Famer who is included on any serious list of the top 10 pitchers of all time; an iconic announcer who tops almost every list of illustrious play-by-play men and, arguably, the best-pitched game -- both sides considered -- in the long history of the big leagues. Certainly it was a historic game because in no other game did two teams combine for so few hits.
Hendley, pitching for the Cubs that night in Los Angeles, warrants none of the superlatives applied above. But this pinnacle performance of pitching wouldn't be a prominent part of our past if this oft-times pedestrian pitcher had permitted one more hit in his extraordinary eight innings. On that night, Sept. 9, 1965, with both pitchers and Scully at their bests, Hendley was nearly the equal of Koufax.
In the decades that have passed, the legend of that game has grown. Koufax and Scully, of course, have a long-standing Dodger Blue relationship. The connection between Koufax and the other gentleman, the pitcher who made that game perfection-plus, is long distance and infrequent. But a mutual respect is evident between Hendley and the master.
The event they created, known as nothing more than "CHI at LA" before it began, stands among the most astonishing games ever played at any point of any baseball season. The big league game has given us 22 other perfectos, 15 since Koufax produced his. And seven of the 22, including Koufax's, have been decided by 1-0 scores. So the uniqueness of the game is derived from Hendley exclusively.
But the losing pitcher in each of the seven instances surrendered at least two more hits than Hendley. By the way, Hendley allowed just one walk. And the run he surrendered, in the fifth inning, was unearned. The Dodgers' lone hit came two innings later when Lou Johnson's opposite-field bloop landed just beyond first base and rolled into foul ground for a double.
That's how close they came to a double no-hitter evening.
Ever so slightly flawed by Johnson' flare, the Hendley-Koufax game need not be bronzed. It became the gold standard the instant Koufax struck out Harvey Kuenn for the the 27th out.
Other pitching performance have dazzled us over the years. But even the extraordinary Pirates-Braves game of May 26, 1959, paled in comparison with the Koufax-Hendley game. Harvey Haddix and Lew Burdette pitched dual shutouts into the 13th inning. Haddix carried a perfect game into the 13th against a most formidable Braves lineup. Burdette, who was the winning pitcher, allowed 12 hits in his complete game victory, though. Moreover, neither pitcher had the cachet of Koufax, and Scully didn't provide the play-by-play.
Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn became Hall of Famers, and they already had developed uncommon prestige within the game by July 2, 1963, when their Giants and Braves opposed each other in San Francisco. They created an enduring memory that night. But Marichal and Spahn had surrendered eight hits each before a home run by Willie Mays ended the 16-inning, 1-0 game. Mays' home run came on Spahn's 201st pitch. Marichal had thrown 227.
But each was a far cry from the Koufax-Hendley confrontation.
Hendley, left-handed and born in Macon, Ga., pitched in the big leagues for seven seasons, three with the Milwaukee Braves, 1 1/2 with the Giants and two-plus with the Cubs before ending his career with the Mets in 1967. Like Koufax, Hendley was betrayed by his pitching elbow and forced to retire earlier than planned. His career resumé includes a 48-52 record, 3.97 ERA, 25 complete games, six shutouts. And one game for the ages, albeit a loss.
Among Hendley's victories was a four-hitter, a 2-1 Cubs victory at Wrigley Field, against the Dodgers -- and Koufax -- six days after the perfect game. (FYI: The lone run Hendley allowed in that one was driven in by the man who pinch-hit for Koufax in the seventh inning -- Don Drysdale.)
"We pitched against each other twice in six days," Hendley recalls. "We both gave up two runs, we both allowed five hits. We both retired early [Hendley at 28, Koufax at 30], we both had elbow problems." And that's as far as it went. "He was great," Hendley said. "I was average."
Now 76 and 15 years into his retirement from teaching, Hendley still lives in the Macon area, where he coached high school baseball, with his wife Runette. One of his two sons, Bart, lives nearby, and he enjoys baseball and embraces the advanced metrics that have emerged in the past 15 years. His dad forgives him for that.
Sabermetricians put little stock in pitchers' victories these days. In the game we examine herein, the performance Hendley delivered indicates that a victory or non-victory doesn't begin to evaluate a pitcher's performance in a sensible, meaningful way. Only perfection beat him.
What made the game such a seductive piece of history was, of course, Koufax's involvement. By 1965, he had almost unmatched cachet throughout the game. He was the first iconic sports figure to emerge in Southern California after Major League Baseball arrived on the West Coast. Brooklyn had dibs on Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and the other Boys of Summer. And the Angels still were barely beyond the toddler stage in 1965.
Koufax had pitched in Brooklyn, but he never performed in the borough where he'd been raised as he did in Los Angeles. L.A. rightfully claimed him as its own.
Koufax was routinely identified in Los Angeles newspapers as Sandy, no surname necessary. Even Wilt, Whitey and Yogi seldom were identified in their city's newspaper reports in such an informal manner. Sandy was family in L.A. He and the city were connected like JFK and Hyannisport, like Elvis and Memphis. Southern California felt a warm and close relationship with No. 32 -- like Joe D. in New York and Johnny U. in Baltimore.
His one-word identity spread over all of baseball. Even today, baseball has but one Sandy, as it has one Babe. The other Sandys -- Amoros, Valdespino, Alomar and Alomar Jr., Leon, Martinez, Alderson, Johnson and Consuegra -- are relegated to identification by surname.
Though a perfect game is a rarity, that Koufax pitched one in 1965 hardly was startling. He had thrown a no-hitter in each of the preceding three seasons. He needed only to tidy up on his control that summer night in Chavez Ravine. And Koufax did, initiating a 30-inning run during which he walked one batter. He had allowed eight walks combined in his three, earlier no-hitters.
Hendley was a spot starter in 1965. He had started once in two months, on Sept. 2, before opposing Koufax in a ballpark where he had been mostly unsuccessful. There was no success to be had on Sept. 9 that year, despite his brilliant pitching; strange because the Cubs pitcher often prospered when he opposed Koufax.
Their only six confrontations occurred in the first four seasons of a five-season sequence, 1962-66, when Koufax was at the peak of his career. Hendley beat him three times and lost but once. And that loss was in his only career one-hitter. More remarkable was that Koufax was the losing pitcher in each of the other instances.
Indeed, Koufax's overall record, beginning with the 1962 season and running through 1965, was 84-25, three of the losses coming at the hands of Hendley (Curt Simmons beat Koufax three times as well). And Sandy needed to be perfect to gain that one victory.
Moreover, Hendley's ERA in his six starts opposite Koufax was 2.98. Koufax's ERA in those games was 3.65.
"This game is the most recognizable thing I've ever done in baseball," Hendley said after the game. "And I came out a loser."
Hendley's loss seemed quite unfair. It prompted these words from Koufax that night: "It's a shame Hendley had to get beaten that way."
But baseball -- more than the other sports -- often is unfair. The bounces that footballs take are far less fickle than the bounces and ricochets that allow the most challenged baseball teams to beat the best.
Dan Quisenberry was certain of the game's inequities, based on the layout of the field. The quirky Royals reliever often noted that fair territory was 90 degrees of a circle, and foul territory occupied 270 degrees. He called it "unfair territory."
"Hitting would be a lot more rewarding," Quiz reasoned, "if you could hit the ball in any direction."
That night in Los Angeles, hitting the ball in any direction and with any chance of success was another issue. Koufax struck out 14 of 27 batters; Hendley struck out three.
"Early in the game, I didn't have great stuff," Koufax said afterward. "I was just getting people out. I would think the last two or three innings -- that's as well as I've pitched."
The results clearly suggested that. He struck out his final six batters and eight of the final 10. The momentum he created for himself brought out the best in Scully and a powerful sense of resignation for Hendley.
"In the latter part of the game, [Sandy] was awesome," Hendley said. "I knew it was going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to beat him. Particularly in the last few innings, you knew that he knew he had the perfect game. As well as he was throwing and setting people down, there was very little chance of overcoming him."
Hendley added to his description of the game last winter. "I was standing on the top step of the dugout, at the end. They had Harvey Kuenn hit for me [with two out in the ninth inning]. Sandy was throwing so hard, he was coming out from under his cap. You could tell how much he wanted it."
The loss was readily rationalized by the Cubs pitcher: "If you have to lose a game, he was the guy you were proud to lose to," Hendley said. "To be beaten by class, beaten by the guy who is one of the best, if not the best ever. Nothing wrong with that."
Over the years, Hendley's appreciation of Koufax has grown. "Sandy always has been gracious toward me," he said.
Gregg Doyel, one of the scholastic pitchers Hendley coached, became a sportswriter and eventually learned, via the board game Trivial Pursuit, of his coach's accomplishments. Hendley never had told his players of his baseball past.
Writing for CBSSports.com, Doyel blew Hendley's cover in a column on April 30, 2015, the coach's 75th birthday.
His column ended thusly: "Today he turns 75. Happy birthday, coach Hendley. You never told us who you were. And what a great lesson that is."
Hendley has regained a small measure of celebrity. A number of his former players contacted him after Doyel's story appeared. He received more than the normal number of birthday cards, including one from Sandy Koufax. "He actually sent me a card," Hendley said. "What a nice man!"