Childhood & Early Life
Sandy Koufax was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 30, 1935. He was raised in Borough Park, in a Jewish family. His parents, Jack Braun and Evelyn, divorced when Sandy was three years old. Subsequently, his mother married another man, Irving Koufax, who adopted Sandy. The family then moved to Long Island, and shortly after that, they moved back to Brooklyn.
While baseball was something he ardently loved, Sandy was more inclined toward basketball during his days in ‘Lafayette High School’ in Brooklyn. Most of his love for basketball can be attributed to the fact that Sandy was much taller than most of his classmates and teammates, which ensured a great career in the game.
Unfortunately, the school systems around his locality were not too keen on offering sports facilities. However, this could not deter the sportsman in him. Soon, he joined the ‘Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst,’ the local community-center team, and performed exceptionally well.
His love for baseball made him join the ‘Ice Cream League’ for baseball, at the age of 15. He was introduced as a left-handed catcher and then moved to base. Somehow, his school baseball team had also recruited him by then. His baseball coach recognized his potential as a pitcher and sent him to participate in the ‘Coney Island Sports League.’
Koufax later attended the ‘University of Cincinnati’ and played for them for one season. He later played for the ‘New York Giants’ and the ‘Pittsburgh Pirates,’ but he was finally signed by the ‘Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers’ for a salary of US$ 6,000 with US$ 14,000 as a signing bonus. Koufax used the signing amount to pay for his university education and readied himself to play in the major leagues.
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He was not noticed on the field as much as he wanted to be seen in his first year, as he was still quite young. This was in the year 1955. He played only 12 games in total and struck out 30 players of the opponents. His performance did not match his full potential. Not sure about a career in baseball, he enrolled at the ‘Columbia University School of General Studies’ and attended night classes for architecture.
The next season was not very good either. Sandy struggled to manage the control of his pitches, but his pace was good enough, which helped him survive in the team. He had not yet completed a full inning in a game, and had pitched only in 58.7 innings, which had him scoring 30 strikeouts and 29 walks. This was not an abysmal performance but was not great either.
After the 1957 season, it was speculated that he could be sent to the minor leagues to get some more practice. The next few seasons were quite average for him. To make matters worse for him, he was plagued with injuries throughout the next few seasons. Somehow, the 1959 season came as a whiff of fresh air, with Sandy surpassing his career-high score, with 18 strikeouts in a single match on August 31 that year.
However, his position on the team did not improve, and neither did his performance. Some experts stated that since the ‘Dodgers’ had mostly benched him, Sandy was perhaps affected by it and thus, experienced bouts of low self-confidence. In 1960, he wanted to quit the ‘Dodgers’ to play on the field but was not freed from the contract. He even contemplated quitting baseball for good, to concentrate on an electronics business.
However, he decided to continue with the game for another season. He worked hard on his game and his physical strength, and the 1961 season witnessed his baseball stardom. Sandy was told that he would be playing in no less than seven innings. His performance, loaded with 269 strikeouts throughout the league, was heavily praised. He appeared in two ‘All-Star’ games too, for the first time in his career.
Despite having an injured left hand, which was also his pitching hand, Sandy performed amazingly well in the next season. In June 1962, he was named the ‘MLB Player of the Month.’ This was the only time in his career that he got this honor. This was just the beginning of one of the most memorable pitching runs in baseball history.
From 1962 to 1966, Sandy went through 111 wins and 34 losses. He had a single-season record for 382 strikeouts in a year. He also won three ‘Cy Young Awards,’ one each for the years 1963, 1965, and 1966. He also received the ‘MVP’ honor once and three ‘Triple Crowns,’ one each for the years 1963, 1965, and 1966.
He achieved nationwide fame in 1963, when he scored 15 strikeouts in a single inning. It was a ‘World Series’ single game record. He had the fourth no-hitter of his career in a 1965 game. Although the 1965 season was the one in which Sandy had trouble managing an elbow injury, he managed to play through it. Eventually, he helped his team reach new heights of success and rankings.
During his 12-season career, he had a 165-87 win/loss record, 2,396 strikeouts, 2.76 ERA, and 40 shutouts. After the 1966 season, the arthritis in his left elbow intensified, and he bid his final farewell to the game. He was one of the few players in the history of the game to have announced an early retirement at such a young age. He was 30 years old when he retired. Eventually, medication and other therapies helped him overcome his injuries.
In 1972, he was included in the ‘Baseball Hall of Fame,’ thereby becoming the youngest player to have achieved the feat. He was 36 years old at the time of his inclusion.
Sandy Koufax is a devout Jew and is known as one of the most famous Jewish players to have graced the American sports scene. In May 2010, he was invited to become a part of ‘Jewish American Heritage Month’ celebrations at ‘The White House.’
In 1969, Sandy Koufax married Anne Widmark, daughter of Hollywood actor Richard Widmark. The couple divorced in 1982. Soon, Sandy married Kimberly Francis. This marriage too ended in a divorce. Sandy presently lives with his third wife, Jane Purucker Clarke. He does not have any children.