This Date In Baseball History- November 18, 1966- Sandy Koufax announces his retirement. Sandy Koufax had possibly the best five year period any pitcher had in baseball history- from 1962-66. In those five seasons his total record was 111-34. He led the National League in ERA all five seasons. He led the league in strikeouts in three of those seasons including a then record 382 in 1965. He won three Cy Young Awards and an MVP Award- he finished second in the MVP voting in 1965 and 1966. He pitched 4 no-hitters- one each year from 1963-66. Koufax in his final season won 27 and lost 9 with a 1.73 ERA. It may have been his finest season. He was 30 years old. Why did he retire? Koufax had been pitching with a painful arthritic elbow. He had used capsolin on the elbow, ice baths and pain killers- the elbow pain just got worse. In the summer of 1966 he decided that this would be his final season- he told few of his decision. On this date he held a press conference announcing his retirement.
The one player who I ‘just missed’ seeing that I wish I had seen -is Sandy Koufax. One of my first memories of baseball is- one summer evening- I would have been 5 years old. The family was sitting on my grandparents porch and my Uncle Dave a big baseball fan was waiting for a friend to pick him up. They were going to Forbes Field to see Sandy Koufax pitch against the Pirates. I had no idea who this Koufax guy was- but the way he talked about him I knew this was someone special. I sat there on the porch wanting to go too.
Over the years I have always struck up conversations with older fans asking them – who was the greatest player you ever saw- and who is the greatest pitcher you ever saw- was. The greatest player question always has drawn different answers- old timers would say DiMaggio, Ted Williams. Mantle and Mays would also be named, being in the Pittsburgh area all my life- Clemente is named. Usually when I asked that question there would be a pause before the answer was given- they were thinking on it. When I would ask the greatest pitcher part of my question- 9 times out of 10 the answer was immediate- Koufax.
A great book on Sandy Koufax which I can’t recommend enough- Sandy Koufax- A Lefty’s Legacy- by Jane Leavy. Leavy has written outstanding books also on- Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth- but I think her best is on Sandy.