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Sandy Koufax
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

Sandy Koufax

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Jewish American baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax was a star player for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers before elbow arthritis forced him into early retirement.

Who Is Sandy Koufax?

Former professional baseball player Sandy Koufax began his career in 1955 when he was signed by his hometown Brooklyn Dodgers. The hard-throwing left-hander was the most dominant pitcher in baseball until elbow arthritis forced an early retirement at age 30. Koufax became the youngest player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, and has since served as a pitching instructor for his former team.

Early Years

Koufax was born Sanford Braun on December 30, 1935, in Brooklyn, New York. The future baseball great took on his more familiar surname at age 9 when his mother, Evelyn, remarried attorney Irving Koufax. An outstanding schoolboy athlete, Koufax starred at basketball and barely played baseball during his time at Lafayette High School. However, he emerged as a hard-throwing left-handed pitcher at the University of Cincinnati and left after one year to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Baseball Career

Koufax made his debut for the Dodgers in 1955. Despite displaying tantalizing ability—he struck out 14 batters in his second major league start—the left-hander was too wild to remain a regular in the rotation. As one of the few Jewish players in baseball, he encountered bigotry from opposing players and even within his own clubhouse.

Koufax finally gained control of his overpowering fastball and knee-buckling curveball in the early 1960s, and embarked on one of the most dominant pitching runs in baseball history. From 1962 to 1966, he recorded 111 wins against only 34 losses, led the National League in ERA five times, set a single-season record with 382 strikeouts, and won three Cy Young Awards and one Most Valuable Player trophy. He dazzled in the national spotlight when he set a World Series single-game record with 15 strikeouts in 1963, and again when he threw a perfect game to wrap up a record fourth no-hitter in 1965.

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Koufax also made headlines for adhering to his faith. With Game 1 of the 1965 World Series slated to fall on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, Koufax famously sat out the game in observance. He returned and lost the following day, but won Games 5 and 7 to clinch the championship for his team, further cementing his status as an icon to both his religious community and Dodgers fans.

Despite his string of amazing performances, Koufax pitched in pain throughout the 1965-1966 campaigns due to arthritis in his left elbow. Tired of constantly taking medication and concerned about his future health, Koufax stunned the baseball world by announcing his retirement on November 18, 1966. He was just 30 years old.

Post-Playing Career

Though Koufax had a much shorter career than contemporary stars such as Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, he easily earned enough votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1972 to become the youngest player inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Koufax served as a minor league instructor for the Dodgers in the 1970s, but largely remained out of the baseball spotlight. Famously private, he renounced his ties to the Dodgers when a New York Post article insinuated that he was gay—News Corporation owned both the Dodgers and the Post at the time—but he returned to the team as a spring training instructor in 2013 following a change in ownership.

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