Koufax packed a Hall of Fame career into the final six of his dozen major-league seasons. He was always a hard thrower, but control problems hobbled him during his early years. A Brooklyn high school baseball and basketball star, Koufax played both sports as a freshman at the University of Cincinnati, then signed a bonus contract with the Dodgers. Under the rules of the time, the club was forced to keep the 19-year-old on its major-league roster.
Used little while the team was in Brooklyn, Koufax began to show flashes of brilliance once the Dodgers reached the West Coast. He was 11-11 in 1958 and tied the then-ML strikeout mark with 18 against the Giants on August 31, 1959. That season he lost a 1-0 game to the White Sox in the World Series. Although only 8-13 in 1960, he struck out 197 batters in 175 innings.
Whether it was following the advice of part-time Dodger catcher Norm Sherry to ease up on his speed to achieve control or simply the maturing of a pitcher with great stuff, almost overnight Koufax became overpowering. In 1961, he went 18-13 and led the NL in strikeouts with 269. Between 1961 and 1966, he led the NL in wins and shutouts three times each, complete games twice, and strikeouts four times. His 382 strikeouts in 1965 set a new ML record. He led in ERA a record five consecutive years, with his best mark 1.73 in his final year. He pitched a no-hitter each season from 1962 to 1965, with the last a 1-0 perfect game against the Cubs on September 9, 1965. He led the Dodgers to pennants in 1963, 1965, and 1966, and won the NL Cy Young Award each year. His 25-5 mark in 1963 also won him the MVP. Koufax and Don Drysdale formed one of baseball’s all-time great lefty-righty duos. They held out as a “package” in 1966, forcing the Dodgers to meet their terms.
Koufax achieved success despite physical problems. A mysterious circulatory ailment in his pitching arm cost him half a season in 1962. Another arm injury in 1964 shortly led to an arthritic pitching elbow. After a 27-9 record in 1966, he retired at age thirty-one rather than risk crippling his arm. Five years later he became the youngest man to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and only the sixth to achieve the honor in his first year of eligibility.