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"Sandy Koufax" is the answer to one of my favorite baseball trivia questions: "Which Hall of Fame pitcher had a career record of 36-40 exactly halfway through his career?"

Of note: Koufax's 1965 World Series is the one where he took off Game 1 for Yom Kippur; yet he still managed to start 3 games, and win Game 7 on 2 days rest. In 1966, in his last regular-season game, he threw over 200 pitches.

I take no pride whatsoever that he lost the last game he ever pitched to the 1966 Orioles. None whatsoever. Nope. No sir. And the thing is ... I'm being truthful here because he only gave up *1* earned run - Willie Davis made 3 errors in 2 plays by losing pop flies in the sun, and a 20-year-old Jim Palmer pitched a 4-hit shutout.

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Some say it was teammate Tommy Lasorda, himself a lefthanded pitcher, who told Sandy to stop throwing so hard -- after all, he could still command the strike zone and overwhelm opposing hitters if he just turned it down a few mph. Others said it was his catcher, Norm Sherry, in 1961, who advised Sandy to turn it down a notch or two. And then there was the move from the L.A. Coliseum to Dodger Stadium in 1962, which was more favorable to pitchers. But from 1961 through 1966, there might not have been a better pitcher in baseball history.

I look at singular pitching seasons like Ron Guidry's in 1978 or Steve Carlton's in 1972 or Randy Johnson's in 1995 and I marvel at those accomplishments over a whole season. Multiply those by 6 and you have Sandy Koufax from 1961 thorugh 1966...!

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Some say it was teammate Tommy Lasorda, himself a lefthanded pitcher, who told Sandy to stop throwing so hard -- after all, he could still command the strike zone and overwhelm opposing hitters if he just turned it down a few mph. Others said it was his catcher, Norm Sherry, in 1961, who advised Sandy to turn it down a notch or two. And then there was the move from the L.A. Coliseum to Dodger Stadium in 1962, which was more favorable to pitchers. But from 1961 through 1966, there might not have been a better pitcher in baseball history.

I look at singular pitching seasons like Ron Guidry's in 1978 or Steve Carlton's in 1972 or Randy Johnson's in 1995 and I marvel at those accomplishments over a whole season. Multiply those by 6 and you have Sandy Koufax from 1961 thorugh 1966...!

Yes, this "turning it down" is touched on in the video, which is well-worth watching.

I'm no Sandy Koufax, but as a former competitive tennis player, I was also advised to "mentally ease off 10%." When I did that, even though I *thought* I wasn't hitting as hard, my coach told me I was actually hitting *harder*, and with greater accuracy - what that type of mental adjustment does isn't "slow things down," so much as "relax the muscles," allowing them to stay loose, greatly reducing anxiety, and eliminating the "yips." Hell, I can verify that the same type of thing happens while playing the piano, and I suspect just about any physical activity where your biggest enemy is your own nervous system.

Are you listening, Stephen Strasburg? I promise you this is the answer to all your problems!

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I think of Koufax as the last of the great "Golden Age" pitchers - people like Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn, Satchel Paige, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, etc. - even though he's more of a contemporary with people like Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Ferguson Jenkins (*), etc. For some reason, Koufax just has this "oldness" to him that makes him legendary - I guess he's something of a bridge between Spahn and these newer guys. Thinking about this some more, it may be because I'm old enough to remember (barely, sort of) the newer crop; I'm not old enough to remember Koufax. The only thing I really remember about Gibson (who also seems like something of a legend to me) is the commercial he did for Primatine Mist.

(*) Interesting bit of trivia: Fergie Jenkins is the all-time major-league strikeout leader for pitchers having less than 20 seasons. Who would have thought such a thing?

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Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I think of Koufax as the last of the great "Golden Age" pitchers - people like Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn, Satchel Paige, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, etc. - even though he's more of a contemporary with people like Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Ferguson Jenkins (*), etc. For some reason, Koufax just has this "oldness" to him that makes him legendary - I guess he's something of a bridge between Spahn and these newer guys. Thinking about this some more, it may be because I'm old enough to remember (barely, sort of) the newer crop; I'm not old enough to remember Koufax. The only thing I really remember about Gibson (who also seems like something of a legend to me) is the commercial he did for Primatine Mist.

I won't correct you, and I don't think you're wrong.

As a student of baseball history, I consider the '60s to be the transitional decade of baseball -- much like the '60s is the transitional decade of the post-war history of our country (and you've read my previous comments about how baseball intertwines with American history like no other sport in any other country).

The '60s represented baseball's defining decade of integration, and of expansion (twice, from 8 to 10 to 12 teams in each league), and of free agency and the player's union....baseball in 1960 was decidedly a different creature than baseball in 1970, although the between-the-lines game was essentially the same. Koufax brought that pre-'60s grit and guts combined with class and carriage, more reminiscent of the older version of baseball. By the end of the '60s, while there was still plenty of grit and guts combined with class and carriage all over the place, now the players had more of a swagger, the trash talk was beginning, the look that players adopted was less conformist and more individual, and the overall relationship between the player and the team had transformed dramatically because the reserve clause was about to be overturned.

So if you want to point to Sandy Koufax as the bridge between the old and the new, I won't argue with you at all. (I might point out that other players, like Brooks Robinson, Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, and a host of others who began their careers in the mid- to late '50s and ended their careers in the early to mid-'70s were co-authors or supporting cast of that transition, along with Sandy Koufax.)

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(Note in what an understated fashion the final out of Game 7 is announced - it's almost like watching a BBC presentation of the Wimbledon finals: "Yes, well, there it is: Roy Emerson has managed to upend his countryman, Fred Stolle, in this 1965 Wimbledon Gentlemen's Singles Final - something not entirely unexpected; yet, nevertheless well-earned by Mr. Emerson.")

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On 6/5/2018 at 2:46 PM, DonRocks said:

Most overrated pitcher of *all time*? 

I think a pretty good case can be made for Sandy Koufax being the most overrated pitcher in history. He had a 12-year career, and at the midway point, his record was 36-40 (yes, 36-40), and he'd never made an All-Star team. Take away any one of his 25-win seasons - doesn't matter which - and he's not in the Hall of Fame. I'm not saying Koufax wasn't the best pitcher in baseball for 4-5 years (he was); merely that he's regarded as God, and his career was essentially 5-years long: Think, Denny McLain, with one more good season, and without the one, disastrous season. (Interesting trivia: Elroy Face was on that 1968 Tigers team - look at Face's 1959 season).

I think that suggestion would be out on a limb for most baseball historians.   Dominance is a key determinant for sports greatness.  In basketball Bill Walton gets mentioned among the all time great pros.  He had 1.5 years of being “ the best” player in the pros and one year being the best 6th man playing limited minutes.   Other than that he was injured or struggling with recovering from injuries.  But he gets mentioned as an all time great and other than rebounding and I guess blocks he had no outstanding stats.

All he did was turn his team, utterly mediocre or less than mediocre, into the best team in the NBA during that 1.5 years.

Koufax’s consecutive best years were probably better and far more outstanding than any other pitcher’s since WWII. He won 3 Cy Young’s during that period when only one was awarded for all baseball not just by league.  I recall watching Pedro Martinez during his years of absolute dominance and it wasn’t as long a stretch as that of Koufax.  

I didn’t get to see much of Koufax at his best but Mickey Mantle had a pithy statement about facing Koufax along the lines of “How do you hit that shit”.  Other baseball players of that period expressed similar perspectives if more eloquently 

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On 6/6/2018 at 7:11 PM, DaveO said:

I think that suggestion would be out on a limb for most baseball historians.   Dominance is a key determinant for sports greatness.  In basketball Bill Walton gets mentioned among the all time great pros.  He had 1.5 years of being “ the best” player in the pros and one year being the best 6th man playing limited minutes.   Other than that he was injured or struggling with recovering from injuries.  But he gets mentioned as an all time great and other than rebounding and I guess blocks he had no outstanding stats.

All he did was turn his team, utterly mediocre or less than mediocre, into the best team in the NBA during that 1.5 years.

Koufax’s consecutive best years were probably better and far more outstanding than any other pitcher’s since WWII. He won 3 Cy Young’s during that period when only one was awarded for all baseball not just by league.  I recall watching Pedro Martinez during his years of absolute dominance and it wasn’t as long a stretch as that of Koufax.  

I didn’t get to see much of Koufax at his best but Mickey Mantle had a pithy statement about facing Koufax along the lines of “How do you hit that shit”.  Other baseball players of that period expressed similar perspectives if more eloquently 

The following is not an anti-Sandy Koufax post. He is a gentleman of honor, and had a run being the most dominant pitcher in baseball.

Still, the criterion being discussed is "overrated"; not "underappreciated." Koufax is a marginal Hall-of-Famer in that if you take away any one of this three-best seasons, he isn't in the Hall.

For four years - not six - four, Koufax was the best pitcher in baseball. Four years.

For one game, Len Barker was the greatest pitcher who ever lived (I'll save you the trouble of doing a Google search).

To be "the most overrated in history," you need to be very highly rated. Koufax is often considered to be "the greatest pitcher in history" - feel free to offer up someone who you think is more overrated. After 7 years of a 12-year career, he was 54-53.

One of the four Greatest Living Players?! I think we're getting into "overrated" territory here.

A strong case can be made for Pedro Martinez having had a better career than Sandy Koufax. Not only did Martinez pitch with a 10-inch-high mound, he pitched in the steroid era of Bonds and Sosa averaging 60+ home runs per season - yet his stats still seem better than Koufax's.

In fact, I would argue that Martinez might be the most *underrated* pitcher in history.

I love Sandy Koufax, but objectively, his career must be taken as a whole; not as a blip in time - he has taken on legendary status that belies reality.

Koufax averaged 21.5 wins a season during his six-year run; Juan Marichal averaged 21.5 wins a season for an eight-year period during the same decade. Marichal is always mentioned as an afterthought to Koufax, but Marichal was the best pitcher in California in the 1960s. 

(Dave, I've never seen Bill Walton mentioned as an "all-time great pro." I understand your love for him (I love him too), but I don't think that statement is correct - he had only one full, dominant season - he made a total of two All Star teams. His foot problems were no different than my being 5'10" - good health and good luck and good genetics are all part of what goes into all-time greatness, and I'm really sorry he had injuries, apparently very painful ones, but the fact is that he did. ... career averages of 13.3 / 10.5 / 3.4 in a ten-year career - I just don't think that makes for all-time greatness. I'd say more of an all-time "What If" along with Arvydas Sabonis and Len Bias - I vaguely remember seeing Walton playing in college, and thinking to myself that I was seeing things that nobody else could do.)

If you want to make a case for Koufax having the best four-year time slice in post-WWII history, I won't argue with that - in fact, that appears to be the case. Pete Rose, in this video, is in awe of Koufax's curveball (although he does say that Marichal was the best pitcher he ever faced). To me, four years isn't long enough to be discussed as "the greatest ever" because longevity and sustained excellence are extremely important when you're talking about the best-of-the-best (Warren Spahn, post-WWII, averaged over 20 wins a season for SEVENTEEN straight years (yes, it's true - from 1947 until 1963!)) - again, the criterion here is "overrated," and that four-year period has induced national amnesia: People hear the name "Sandy Koufax," and they forget that he was a below-average pitcher for fully half of his short career.

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On 6/6/2018 at 10:12 PM, DonRocks said:

(Warren Spahn, post-WWII, averaged over 20 wins a season for SEVENTEEN straight years (yes, it's true - from 1947 until 1963!))

That stat on Warren Spahn is just amazing! Nobody will ever do that again unless the game changes a whole lot!

Imagine all the great pitchers Red Barber must have seen from the 30s to the 50s! I was struck in the Ken Burns Baseball series by Red saying that if he had ONE game to win the man he would call on, the most dependable in the big game, out of all the great pitchers he had ever seen was Carl Hubbell! High praise. I nominate him for underrated. He's not the first name or even fifth that pops up when you think of all time greatest.

Pedro Martinez was dominating, for sure. He might indeed be underrated.

---

Carl Hubbell (DonRocks)

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