Holtzman was christened “The New Koufax” as a 20-year-old rookie in 1966, and Chicago Cubs fans hoped their hard-throwing, Jewish lefthander would rival the achievements of the retiring Dodger ace. Holtzman never did, of course, but he did pitch two no-hitters with the Cubs and was an excellent starter for over a decade, helping the Oakland Athletics to three consecutive World Championships in 1972-74. He had outstanding control as well as a lively fastball, and he preferred inducing batters to hit the ball into outs rather than simply trying to overpower them.
Holtzman brought the Sandy Koufax comparisons upon himself on September 25, 1966, when he squared off against the Hall of Famer for the first and only time. Holtzman was on his way to an 11-16 rookie season while Koufax was in the final weeks of his career, and on that day Holtzman took a no-hitter into the ninth inning before settling for a 2-1 win. He was a perfect 9-0 in 1967, but spent most of the season in military service.
Though he recorded a disappointing 11-14 record in 1968, at just 23 years old the following year, Holtzman was 17-13 for the second-place Cubs and tossed six shutouts, including a 3-0 no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves on August 19, 1969. Less than two years later he pitched a second no-hitter, beating the Cincinnati Reds 1-0 on June 3, 1971, but he finished the season 9-15, 4.48 and was traded to the A’s for outfielder Rick Monday.
Joining a rotation that already included Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom, and Vida Blue, Holtzman helped Oakland over the top in 1972, going 19-11, 2.51 as the A’s won the first of three consecutive World Series. In 1973 he was 21-13, 2.97, won Game Three of the American League Championship Series 2-1 with an 11-inning complete game, and won Game Seven of the championship against the Mets. And in 1974 he was 19-17, 3.07, tossed a shutout in the LCS, and won Game Four of the World Series.
He won 18 games in 1975, but lost twice in the LCS as Oakland was swept by Boston, and in 1976 he was traded with Reggie Jackson to the Orioles for Don Baylor, Mike Torrez, and Paul Mitchell. He lasted less than half a season in Baltimore before being traded to the Yankees in a ten-player blockbuster that brought Rudy May, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor, and Rick Dempsey to the Orioles in exchange for Doyle Alexander, Elrod Hendricks, and Grant Jackson. In 1978 the Yankees dealt him back to the Cubs for reliever Ron Davis.