Editor’s note: It is my immense pleasure to present a first-ever research paper written exclusively for Baseball: Past and Present. A few months ago, Dr. Vassilios E. Haloulakos and his son George, a University of California, San Diego professor approached me about offering something here on Dodger greats Drysdale and Koufax. The following marks the culmination of a lot of hard work and, with the postseason underway, is very apropos.
The careers of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax were my childhood. From 1959 to 1966, this Hall of Fame pitching duo hurled the Los Angeles Dodgers to three world championships and four National League pennants while breaking records that had stood since the early 1900s. Their dominance and personas took on a mystical aura as their diamond exploits were carried over the airwaves, uniting Southern California into a huge community of baseball fans following the games on their portable transistor radios.
This paper celebrates a special era in Major League Baseball and one that is particularly meaningful to the history of Southern California– and America, overall. When the Dodgers and Giants moved from New York to California in 1958, it not only changed the baseball landscape but placed an exclamation mark on America’s westward expansion that had begun in earnest a century before. The longstanding rivalry between the two teams peaked over the next decade, with both clubs often near the top of the National League, and for the Dodgers, the heroics of their two star hurler often gave them the edge.
Drysdale and Koufax were especially notable for accomplishing their feats at a relatively young age and in short time. Their Hall of Fame careers not only offered impressive stats but feats that are appreciable from a scientific perspective. This paper offers statistical, historical, and scientific appraisal of the Drysdale and Koufax era when perhaps the best righty-lefty pitching duo in baseball history dominated baseball and left a lasting, positive legacy in Southern California.
A Statistical Profile on the Era of Drysdale and Koufax: 1959-1966
- Koufax is first with wins, 145 and strikeouts, 2083 for all of baseball and registers a 2.68 ERA. He averages 18 wins and 260 strikeouts per season.
- Drysdale is second with wins, 143 and strikeouts, 1777 and registers a 2.98 ERA. Like Koufax, Drysdale averages 18 wins per season and is good for 222 strikeouts a year.
- Drysdale is first with innings pitched, 2316.2, and Koufax is fourth at 1961. On a per season basis, Drysdale averages 290 innings pitched and Koufax averages 245.
- During this period, Dodgers score 5412 runs in 1280 games, an average of 4.23 runs per game. During the 1965-66 pennant winning seasons, the Dodgers average less than 3.75 runs per game. This marks a steady decline in scoring evident throughout baseball during this 8-year run.
- The Dodgers lead the NL with the lowest ERA from 1963-66 as LA wins three pennants and two championships.
- The ’66 Dodgers are third best in baseball history for Net Earned Average with an ERA 0.99 points lower than the average for NL during 1966 season.
The following chart illustrates the number of times Drysdale and Koufax led the National League in various statistical categories between 1959 and 1966:
||3 (1963, ’65, ’66)
||3 (1959–60, ’62)
||4 (1961, ’63, ’65-66)
||3 (1963-64, ’66)
||2 (1962, ’64)
|25+ Win Seasons
||3 (1963, ’65-66)
In this stretch, the Dodgers finished first in the NL four times (1959, ’63, ’65-66), second two times (1961-62), fourth (1960) and sixth (1964.) The Dodgers also had winning records every season except one, 1964 and averaged 91 wins per year, with Drysdale and Koufax accounting for 40 percent of those wins. In this period, the Cy Young Award was awarded to one pitcher annually in the majors. Drysdale won the award in 1962, and Koufax won it three times, 1963, ’65 and ’66. Los Angeles won three World Series in seven years, after making a practically annual thing of falling short in Brooklyn. World Series play, Drysdale recorded three wins with a 2.95 ERA, with Koufax doing even better, posting four wins and a 0.95 ERA.
Here’s a summary of their career accomplishments:
||Don Drysdale (1956-69)
||Sandy Koufax (1955-1966)
||6-consecutive complete game shutouts (58-2/3 innings) in 1968
||Four no-hitters four straight years, capped by a perfect game in 1965
|Memorable WS Play
||Three-hit shutout in 1963 with nine strikeouts and one walk. Drysdale matches Koufax pitch-for-pitch in Game 7 of 1965 on standby bullpen duty
||Record 15-strikeout win in 1963; 3-hit shutout in Game 7 (1965) with 10 strikeouts and three walks on
two days’ rest
This chart shows the six righty/lefty duos with over 300 wins combined since 1940:
|Lew Burdette/Warren Spahn
|Dizzy Trout/Hal Newhouser
|Greg Maddux/Tom Glavine
|Robin Roberts/Curt Simmons
|Don Drysdale/Sandy Koufax
||1959, ’63, ’65
|Tom Seaver/Jerry Koosman
The historical record affirms that Drysdale and Koufax set records while playing against the stiffest competition of the day, played their best when it counted most for their team, finished a high percentage of their starts, and were very efficient.
In pitching six consecutive complete game shutouts in 1968, Drysdale defeated three future Hall of Fame pitchers, Bob Gibson, Jim Bunning ,and Ferguson Jenkins and the defending NL Cy Young Award winner Mike McCormick. In the 1963 World Series, Koufax outpitched his mound opponent, future Yankee Hall of Fame pitcher (and all-time WS game winner) Whitey Ford by winning two games, the first and the fourth of the Series, to complete an unprecedented sweep of the two-time defending champs. Koufax set a record with 23 strikeouts in pitching two complete games.
Drysdale’s World Series ERA was equal to his career ERA of 2.95 while Koufax’s World Series ERA was 0.95, nearly two points lower than his career 2.76 ERA. With Drysdale winning three games and Koufax winning four games, the Dodgers were three-time World Series Champions in 1959, ’63 and ’65. In order, the Dodgers defeated the “Go-Go White Sox” who featured the base running of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox; the “M&M Bronx Bombers” of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris; and the “Twins Murderer’s Row” led by Harmon “Killer” Killebrew. In 1966, the Dodgers held the Orioles to a meager 3.25 runs per game, comparable to their performances in 1959, ’63 and ’65, but this time it was not enough as Baltimore held LA to 0.50 runs per game in a 4-0 sweep.
Drysdale and Koufax delivered the following clutch performances in pennant-winning stretch drives:
- 1959: Koufax registers 41 strikeouts in his final three starts of the regular season that puts the Dodgers one game out of first place on August 31. Drysdale wins the second game of a double-header on September 19 that puts the Dodgers into a first place tie with six games remaining in regular season. The Dodgers finish the season in first place two games in front.
- 1963: With 11 games remaining in the regular season and the Dodgers in 1st place by one-game, Drysdale and Koufax win two games each, with Drysdale registering one shutout and Koufax shutting out the opposition in both wins. LA finishes the season in first place, six games in front.
- 1965: That September, Drysdale won 5 games, with two shutouts, and Koufax won another, with four shutouts including a storied perfect game. On the next-to-last day of season Koufax wins to clinch NL pennant for LA. At the start of the month, the Dodgers were in a first place tie. LA finished the season in first place, two games in front. The Dodger staff allowed 521 runs or 3.21 runs per game for the season.
- 1966: Drysdale won four games with two shutouts in September, and Koufax won five with one shutout. On the final day of the season, October 2, Koufax won again for a total of six wins in the final four weeks to clinch the Dodger’s third pennant in four years. For all of 1966, LA’s pitching staff allowed just 490 runs, barely three runs per game and good for a net ERA of -0.99. This latter stat means Dodger pitchers were essentially 1-run lower than the average for the National League in 1966, third best all-time.
Complete Games: Drysdale completed 167 games of 375 career decisions and Koufax completed 137 games of 252. Over the course of a 162-game season, this took pressure off the remaining starters and relievers so that the team could operate at full strength, particularly in the pennant stretch and World Series.
Efficiency: Despite record-setting strikeout performances and a high percentage of complete games, both pitchers were very efficient as measured by four critical metrics:
- Pitch count: From 1959-1966, Drysdale and Koufax each averaged 90-115 pitches per game. There few deep counts for hitters as both men pitched into the strike zone to give batters a chance to put the ball in play. Yet they both registered high strikeouts because batters were often unable to make contact.
- Shutouts: Both pitchers shut out the opposition in 25 percent of their wins or one shutout out of every four wins.
- Strike-to-Walk Ratio. Both pitchers had a career strike-to-walk ratio of 3:1.
- Total Bases-to-Total Innings Ratio . Drysdale registered a career total bases-to-total innings ratio of 1.15 and Koufax registered 1.11.
Drysdale and Koufax spanned two different eras, from the Reserve Clause which bound a player to his team for life to the cusp of free agency. The joint holdout prior to the 1966 season in which Drysdale was awarded a salary of $115,000 and Koufax $125,000 presaged the the formation of a player’s union and arbitrator-sanctioned free agency that prevails to this day. In addition, Drysdale and Koufax pitched at a time when baseball was becoming a transcontinental affair. The Hall of Fame careers of both pitchers was a major factor in legitimizing the westward expansion of the game.
The 1959 season featured many signs of great things to come:
- Drysdale is NL strike-out king with 242.
- Drysdale named starter for NL All-Star Team.
- Drysdale is NL leader in shut-outs with four.
- Drysdale wins second game of double-header on September 19 that puts Dodgers into a first place tie with six games remaining in regular season.
- Koufax ties NL record with 16-strikeouts in a June night game against the Phillies.
- Koufax ties MLB record with 18-strikeouts in August versus the Giants.
- Koufax registers 41-strikeouts in his final three starts of regular season that puts the Dodgers one game out of first on August 31.
Lessons learned from “The Barber”
Both Drysdale and Koufax were influenced by Sal “The Barber” Maglie during his tenure with Brooklyn in 1956 and ’57. Maglie, whose 13-5 record and stretch-drive no-hitter in 1956 helped the Dodgers win the pennant by one game, taught Drysdale and Koufax the necessity of pitching inside and developing an effective curve ball. Maglie’s intimidating and aggressive style was adopted by both pitchers and taken to an even greater level in terms of helping their team reach the World Series four times in eight years. That Drysdale and Koufax pitched even better in the postseason was testimony to Maglie’s influence.
Maglie was noted for pitching center stage in three of the biggest games of the Fifties: Game 3 of the 1951 pennant-tiebreaker when Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard Round the World to win the pennant; Game 1 of the 1954 World Series when Willie Mays made his great catch off Vic Wertz; and Game 5 for the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series when Don Larsen pitched a perfect game. Drysdale and Koufax carried on Maglie’s tradition as both pitchers elevated their performances in pennant races and on the World Series stage numerous times.
Drysdale and Koufax measured accomplishments in terms of how they helped their team reach the World Series. Individual achievement was secondary. Both men expressed this in interviews and their autobiographies. For example, after the 1963 pennant was clinched, Drysdale rested to prepare for the World Series, thus sacrificing the opportunity for a 20th regular season win. He got his 20th win, though it came in Game 3 of the Series when he threw a three-hit, 1-0 shutout with nine strikeouts. Drysdale considered this the signature game of his career. In September 1965, Koufax pitched his perfect game after LA had dropped two games to the Giants and fallen into a first-place tie with them. Including Koufax’s perfect game, the Dodgers won 18 of their final 22 contests to edge the Giants by two games.
Not only did their Dodger teammates benefit financially as the Drysdale/Koufax duo pitched their team to glory but management noted that each time Drysdale pitched, LA drew an extra 3,000 fans to the ballpark while Koufax drew an extra 8,000 fans. Great things were expected to happen anytime this duo pitched and often did as evidenced by the body of their work.
The amazing thing about the Drysdale/Koufax era was that it occurred well before ESPN and saturated sports media coverage. It was truly a cultural phenomenon for its day with a very strong, pervasive presence throughout Southern California. This still resonates in the memories of all those who were present (including the authors of this paper) during those exciting years. These days, people walk around connected either to their cell phones doing e-mail or exchanging text messages while listening to podcasts.
But in the 1950s and ’60s, the Drysdale/Koufax era united Southern California into a huge community of baseball fans following the games on their portable transistor radios. People followed the box scores posted in the daily newspapers and tracked the National League standings. Conversations at family mealtimes, the workplace, school yards and casual exchanges while running errands featured the common theme of talking baseball with emphasis on the Dodgers, their dynamic pitching duo and the NL standings. People from all walks of life, including those from the Hollywood television and film industry embraced the Dodgers.
The Word’s Eye View
With the Dodgers games being broadcast on 50,000-watt, clear channel KFI 640 AM, it was possible to walk up and down the neighborhoods in Southern California from the San Fernando Valley to the beaches to to the deserts and never miss a pitch as nearly every household was tuned in, especially when Drysdale and Koufax were pitching. Since games were infrequently televised, and there were no all-news or all-sports TV stations, Vita Pact Orange Juice, a Southern California based citrus company, would sponsor Dodger final score updates on TV for every game throughout the season.
As it turned out, Dodger baseball in Southern California was initially not all that different from Brooklyn. One could go about from homes, automobiles, public venues, stores and restaurants and, as famed New Yorker baseball writer Roger Angell has written, still hear the radio voice of Vin Scully calling the play-by-play of the games just as he had done while the team was in New York. During the Dodgers first four years in LA, they played in Memorial Coliseum, and its cavernous environs required that fans get the word’s eye view from Scully. Even after moving to Dodger Stadium, fans continued to bring their transistor radios perhaps to verify what they were actually watching.
Enshrined in The Twilight Zone
As noted, the enormous and near-immediate success of the Dodgers in Southern California was largely driven by the record-setting pitching of Drysdale and Koufax. This was immortalized by Rod Serling in his classic CBS television series, The Twilight Zone in an episode titled “The Mighty Casey” originally broadcast June 17, 1960. The episode involved a fictitious baseball team named the Hoboken Zephyrs that moved west and became a dynasty noted for stalwart pitching. “The Mighty Casey” was shown not long after the Dodgers beat the White Sox in the 1959 World Series that had featured the pitching of Drysdale and Koufax amidst a dominant staff.
Here is Serling’s closing narration that makes obvious references to the extraordinary pitching of Drysdale and Koufax, as well the Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, who orchestrated the team’s move:
Once upon a time there was a major league baseball team called the Hoboken Zephyrs who, during the last year of their existence, wound up in last place and shortly thereafter wound up in oblivion. There’s a rumor, unsubstantiated of course, that a manager named McGarry took them to the West Coast and wound up with several pennants and a couple of world’s championships. This team had a pitching staff that made history. Of course, none of them smiled very much, but it happens to be a fact that they pitched like nothing human. And if you’re interested as to where these gentlemen came from, you might check under “B” for baseball– in the Twilight Zone.
Two other things are worth noting here. First, the original draft of the story featured the Brooklyn Dodgers. And in a radio adaptation of this episode in recent years, Drysdale and Koufax’s names were actually used in the closing narration, possibly in tribute to Serling.
Observations on pitching styles and techniques
Both pitchers were blazing fast, but the key to long-term success and dominance is the ability to change speeds and create movement to keep hitters off-balance. Drysdale, noted for pitching with a sidearm motion, threw a two-seam fastball that created topspin and a bite when it landed in the catcher’s mitt. Jeff Torborg, who caught both pitchers, characterized Drysdale’s fast ball as hard hard when interviewed by Jane Leavy for her Koufax biography. Torborg observed that by contrast, Koufax, who pitched with an overhand motion threw a four-seam fastball so that his fingers would pull back on the stitching to create backspin and lift. In Torborg’s estimation, Koufax’s fastball was an easy hard because it would rise while Drysdale’s fastball would sink.
This subtle, but critical, distinction created havoc with the opposing hitters. Since both pitchers were schooled in the art of pitching inside by Maglie, this dynamic duo kept the opposition off-balance at all times. As noted, both pitchers were extraordinarily efficient in terms of throwing strikes and wasting few pitches. This further strengthened the advantage of Drysdale and Koufax because their efficiency and stamina enabled them to complete most of their starts, thus putting further pressure on opposing line-ups to score early or risk getting behind, that in turn, made most of these contests one or two-run affairs.
Both pitchers were able to throw very effective curve balls. Drysdale’s sweeping sidearm motion would cause his curve ball to follow a fish tail path. This would cause right-handed batters to back away from the plate for fear of being hit. (Such fear was not unfounded as Drysdale– being a star pupil of Maglie– set an NL record by hitting 154 batters in his 14-year career.) By contrast, Koufax’s overhand curveball tended to break down so sharply at the last moment that it appeared to fall off a table.
Koufax, though not afraid to pitch inside, exercised more control. In his final and greatest season, 1966, Koufax pitched 323 innings without hitting any batters. His overhand curve ball was distinctly different and this can be explained. Typically, an average major league curve ball rotates 12 to 13 times on its way to home plate. Former All Star pitcher Al Leiter, a Koufax pupil, claims that by slowing old film footage of his mentor he counts the number of revolutions on a Koufax curve ball at 14 to 15. These extra rotations help explain the very sharp breaking pattern associated with the Koufax curve ball.
A brief look at the physics of the Drysdale/Koufax pitching styles
Whenever a spinning object like a baseball travels through the air it experiences a lateral force that deflects it sideways from its normal path. This is known as the Magnus force and the resulting change in the flight path of the ball is the Magnus effect.
The direction and strength of the force is a function of how fast and in what direction the ball is spinning. For example, if a baseball is traveling at 95 MPH, the ball forces the air to flow around it, but the flow of air moving around the ball is the same as if the ball were stationary and the air was moving past at 95 MPH. If the ball is not spinning, the deflection of the air caused by the ball creates a low pressure region immediately behind the ball that is termed a wake.
The difference in pressure– higher in the front of the ball and less in the rear– creates aerodynamic drag that slows the forward speed of the ball. But without spin, there is no lateral force. But when the ball is spinning, the rotating surface of the ball crashes against the oncoming air. This causes the air on one side of the ball, specifically the side turning toward the oncoming air, to be deflected from the ball. At the same time, the air on the side turning away from the oncoming air is carried slightly further before moving away. In other words, the wake is now shifted sideways rather than immediately behind the ball.
In this instance, Newton’s law is applied because when the baseball deflects the air in one direction, the air must deflect the baseball in the opposite direction. The resulting Magnus force causes the ball to travel a curved flight path. From this, we can infer the following:
- If the spin axis on the baseball is vertically aligned, counterclockwise spin will cause the ball’s flight path to move from right to left while clockwise spin will cause the ball to travel from left to right, thus explaining Drysdale’s fishtail curve ball.
- The greater number of spins would cause the curvature of the flight path to be much sharper at the end versus the beginning. This would explain Koufax’s sharp breaking curve ball that Leiter observed had a greater number of rotations versus other pitchers.
- When the baseball is thrown with topspin, the Magnus force acts downward that causes the ball to drop as it approaches the catcher’s mitt and land hard-aided by gravity. This would explain Drysdale’s “hard hard” sinking fastball.
- When the baseball is thrown with backspin, the Magnus force acts upward that partially counteracts gravity so that the pitch falls less than it would under gravity alone. This would explain Koufax’s “easy hard” rising fastball.
The late 1950s through the mid-to-late 1960s was a heady, almost magical period for Southern California baseball fans as the Dodgers created an equally loyal following as they had in Brooklyn. This was done in large part through Drysdale and Koufax setting records and helping win repeated championships.
The memories of this period were generated when baseball was still followed by radio. Although we have video footage of both Drysdale and Koufax, it is not as much as if their exploits were taking place now in this age of Internet streaming and 24/7 digital media coverage. But the constancy of the game, their statistical records, and recollections by their contemporaries and students of pitching have sustained an appreciation that seems to grow stronger with the passage of time. From the Baseball Hall of Fame to The Twilight Zone the superlative pitching exploits of this duo define greatness.
Baseball continues to have a mythical hold on so many generations. My father, Vassilios, considered the game part of his education in becoming an American citizen. I wrote the following in a 1996 issue of Fan: A Baseball Magazine:
My father took me to my first major league baseball game in June 1968. We saw Don Drysdale set the record for consecutive shutouts. The game also marked the first time my father sang the national anthem word-for-word in public. He had obtained his U.S. citizenship just a few years earlier. Several days before the game, I wrote out the words of The Star Spangled Banner on a small index card so that he could sing it. Twenty five years (later), on the occasion of Drysdale’s unexpected passing, Dad and I reminisced about the game. It was then that I learned Dad was still carrying that small index card I had prepared for him in his wallet.
Together, my father and I learned the game through the word’s eye view provided by Scully and have a lifetime of shared memories that remain forever linked to Drysdale and Koufax. May any baseball fan be so blessed.
About the authors
George A. Haloulakos, MBA, CFA: Teacher, Author and Entrepreneur. Chartered Financial Analyst [CFA] and consultant: DBA Spartan Research and Consulting specializing in finance, strategy and new business ventures. Award-winning university instructor. Author of DOLLAR$ AND SENSE: A Workbook on the ABCs of Investments. Hobbyist in aviation, baseball, spaceflight and science fiction. Lifetime member of Strathmore’s Who’s Who Registry of Business Leaders. Reverend Protodeacon, Orthodox Church in America. Email: Haloulakos@gmail.com
Dr. Vassilios E. Haloulakos: Award-winning educator, eminent rocket scientist and university professor. President of the California Academic Decathlon Board of Directors, Member of the West Coast University Board of Trustees and Accreditation Board Proceedings. Played key role in the design and development of numerous space projects, a dynamic national distinguished lecturer in the use of high technology in the areas of education, medicine, manufacturing and commerce. Listed in Who’s Who in the West and American Men in Science & Engineering. Author of Mathematics, the Layman and Daily Life. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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