Double the fun: Koufax Delivers the 1966 Pennant to the Dodgers, Then Retires

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi. Every Saturday, Joe writes Double the fun, looking at a notable doubleheader in baseball history. Today, he writes about one that occurred near the end of a legendary hurler’s career.

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After the 1966 season ended, Sandy Koufax shocked the baseball world when he announced his retirement.  Koufax, only 30, pitched 323 innings and posted a 27-9, 1.79 ERA that season.

To the casual fan, he seemed at his peak. But well known inside the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse was that Koufax suffered from an arthritic left elbow that made pitching excruciating. Rather than continue taking pain medication for his inflamed elbow and risk permanent damage, Koufax walked away.

For the six years leading up to his retirement, Koufax may have been the most dominant pitcher in baseball history. From 1961 through 1966, Koufax went 132-47, won five straight ERA titles, tossed four no-hitters including a perfect game, won three Cy Young Awards, each time unanimously, led the league in strike outs four times, fanned 18 batters in a game twice, was voted onto seven All Star teams and was the National League MVP in 1963.

The last regular season game Koufax pitched, the night cap of a crucial October 2 double header against the Philadelphia Phillies, reflected all of his skills.

The Dodgers, locked in a close race with the San Francisco Giants and needing to win at least one of two on the season’s last day, sent their aces Don Drysdale and Koufax to the hill. In the opener, the Phillies behind Chris Short (20-10), knocked the Dodgers off, 4-3. The Phillies first batter John Briggs homered off Drysdale who was gone by the third inning.

Now it was up to Koufax, pitching on two days rest, to deliver the pennant.  Even though the game was meaningless to the fourth place Phillies, 19-game winner Jim Bunning got the nod. The game marked the first time two pitchers who had tossed perfect games went head-to-head. (Watch Koufax pitch the ninth inning of his September 9, 1965 perfecto against the Chicago Cubs here.)

Koufax pitched a masterful complete game giving up two earned runs and striking out ten while coasting to a 6-3 win. The Dodgers had led 6-0 going into the ninth.

The Dodgers then advanced to the World Series where one more start awaited Koufax.

In the series opener Drysdale, pitching poorly once more, gave up four runs in two innings and was yanked. The next day Koufax, again on short rest, allowed one earned run over six innings. But he was no match for the Orioles’ Jim Palmer who shut the Dodgers out, 6-0.

The Dodgers were also held scoreless in games three and four, losing 1-0 and 1-0, as the Birds completed a four-game sweep.

Koufax’s post-playing career has had ups and downs. In 1967, Koufax signed a ten-year contract with NBC for $1 million ($6,516,000 in current dollars) to broadcast the Saturday Game of the Week. But Koufax quit after six years.

Six years later, the Dodgers hired Koufax to be its minor league pitching coach. But Koufax’s uneasy relationship with then-manager Tommy Lasorda led to his 1990 resignation.

In 2003, Koufax temporarily ended his Dodger relationship when the New York Post (which, like the Dodgers, had become part of Rupert Murdoch’s corporate empire) published a story suggesting that he’s gay.

During his post-retirement period, Koufax’s personal life was as unsettled as his professional one. He married and divorced twice.

Happier news: the Hall of Fame elected Koufax in his first year of eligibility (1972) with 87 percent of the vote. The Sporting News named him #26 on its 1999 list of “The 100 Greatest Baseball Players”

Although he makes few public appearances, Koufax threw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day 2008 to commemorate 50 years in Los Angeles.

Currently, Koufax serves on the advisory board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a charitable organization that helps needy former Major League Players.

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com

0 thoughts on “Double the fun: Koufax Delivers the 1966 Pennant to the Dodgers, Then Retires”

  1. Thanks Joe. I was a Dodger fan at that time and Sandy’s last game in the National League is a performance I will always remember.

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