COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – The heart of the great Yankees teams of the 1950s – and the pitcher who helped temporarily derail that Yankee dynasty – were elected to the Hall of Fame 39 years ago this week.
Joining them was the youngest electee ever – a man who helped defeat them both in the World Series.
Sandy Koufax, Yogi Berra, and Early Wynn gained ultimate baseball glory on Jan. 19, 1972. It was a class that represented three different decades and intersected several times during the course of their illustrious careers.
Winning only 36 games in his first six years with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, Koufax officially arrived as an elite pitcher in Major League Baseball history during the 1961, season winning 18 games. In that season he finished with 269 strikeouts, breaking Christy Mathewson’s 58 year-old National League record for strikeouts in a single season of 267.
During the next five years, Koufax piled up 111 wins, highlighted by a 1965 season where he captured the Cy Young award with a 26-8 record amassing a record 382 strikeouts to go along with his perfect game against the Chicago Cubs.
In four World Series appearances with the Dodgers, he dominated the opposition -- recording an ERA of 0.95 while leading the club to three championships. One of those championships came against Wynn’s White Sox in 1959, and another came against Berra’s Yankees in 1963.
“He was a consummate artist on the mound, the most dominant player of his time, yet he shunned fame and always put team above self. On the field or off, Sandy Koufax was pitcher perfect,” wrote Tom Verducci in a 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated.
In his second year on the ballot, Berra finished just behind Koufax (who received 86.9 percent of the vote), collecting 85.6 percent of the ballot. Berra, the great New York Yankees catcher for 19 years, won 14 pennants and 10 world championships with the club, more than any other player in history.
Berra often received praise due to his ability physically and mentally behind the plate. Los Angeles Dodger shortstop and future Hall of Famer, Pee Wee Reese, once said about Yogi’s demeanor, “They kid Berra a lot ,but anybody who thinks Yogi isn’t smart is twice as dumb as they claim Berra is. He’s always in there trying to beat you one way or another, and if everything else fails, he’ll try to talk you out of it.”
During his run of 15 straight All-Star teams (1948-62), Yogi won three American League Most Valuable Player Awards in 1951, 1954, and 1955. The Yankees won nine AL pennants in 10 years from 1955-64, interrupted only in 1959 when Wynn pitched the White Sox to the pennant.
Wynn became the third member elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 1972, collecting 76 percent of the ballots in his fourth year on the ballot. Playing for the Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians and White Sox during 23 years of big league service as a pitcher, Wynn was named to seven Midsummer Classics thanks much in part to his durability.
Wynn led the league in innings pitched three different times, compiling 300 wins for his career – including five seasons with 20 or more wins. His White Sox captured the pennant in 1959 behind Wynn’s Cy Young award winning season at the age of 39.
Matt Kramer was the 2010 public relations fall intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum