Sandy Koufax: Celebrating a Baseball Icon's Historic Birth in 1935

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Baseball Legend Sandy Koufax is Born

On this day, Dec. 30th, 1935, a baseball legend was born. Original Instagram Post

Among the great Jewish sports icons of the 20th century, including Hank Greenberg, Sid Luckman, and Dolph Schayes, Sandy Koufax stands above them all. His refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur during the 1965 World Series not only earned him a permanent place in the hearts of Jewish people but also solidified his reputation as perhaps the greatest pitcher of his era, and arguably of any era, leading to his induction into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. In 1972, at the age of 36, he became the youngest man ever elected to Cooperstown. Happy Birthday, Sandy!

Born Sanford Braun in 1935 in Brooklyn, Koufax spent more time on basketball courts than baseball diamonds in his youth. His parents separated when he was three years old, and he later took the surname of his stepfather, Irving Koufax, after his mother remarried. It wasn’t until his senior year at the University of Cincinnati that he played baseball. After tryouts with the Giants and Pirates, he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, joining them in 1955. Initially, Koufax was more frustrating than phenomenal, struggling for consistent control from the mound during his first five seasons. However, a pivotal moment occurred during a spring training game in 1961 when Dodger catcher and compatriot Norm Sherry advised him not to throw every pitch with full force. This simple advice transformed the occasionally brilliant pitcher into the game’s most gifted hurler.

From 1961 until his early retirement due to a painfully arthritic left arm after the 1966 season, Koufax had no equal. He pitched four no-hitters, including a perfect game, won three Cy Young Awards — at a time when only one was awarded across both the American and National Leagues — and led the LA Dodgers to World Series championships in 1963 and 1965. It was in the latter Series that Game 1 coincided with Yom Kippur. Koufax, caught between his faith and his team and not being a particularly observant Jew, chose to be a role model for young Jews. This decision earned him eternal respect.

As impressive as his statistics are, it’s the grace with which he played and the honor bestowed upon him since retiring that truly stand out. Koufax spent 1967-1972 doing baseball telecasts for NBC and has since served as an occasional pitching instructor for the Dodgers. An intensely private person, Koufax has shied away from the celebrity spotlight, yet few athletes in American history have shone brighter or carried themselves with greater dignity.

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