COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Many young pitchers have the same problem, lack of control. Even some of the greatest pitchers of all time needed time to develop enough accuracy to develop into stars.
The youngest man ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Sandy Koufax, was no different. In order to harness his immense talent, Koufax had to learn to trust and tame his pitches.
Forty-eight years ago this week, Koufax found that control – and almost achieved perfection during his second career no-hitter.
“The fellows on the bench didn’t say anything about my possible no-hitter,” said Koufax following his performance on May 11, 1963 against the San Francisco Giants. “But I knew it all the time, and I also knew I was close to a perfect game. That must be the ultimate thing for a pitcher.”
Koufax would later experience that feeling, throwing a perfect game in 1965. But on this occasion, he relied on a beefed up supply of curveballs that combined with his blazing fastball to leave Giants batters baffled and searching for any form of offense.
The Los Angeles Dodgers offense didn’t take long to secure the winning run. Wally Moon hit a leadoff home run in the second inning, providing the lone run Koufax would need throughout the night. However the Dodgers' offense functioned in impressive fashion, scoring three more runs off future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal en route to an 8-0 win.
Koufax was perfect through seven innings before walking Giants catcher Ed Bailey, who fought his way to first in a seven-pitch at-bat. Koufax erased almost any signs of his mistake by getting the next batter to ground into an inning-ending double play.
With nearly 50,000 people in attendance at Ladies Night at Dodger Stadium, Koufax prepared to face the 27th batter, the minimum amount a pitcher can face in a complete nine inning game. Giants manager Al Dark sent future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey up to pinch-hit for his pitcher, hoping to spark his offense.
Koufax had already faced two future Hall of Famers in Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda and held them hitless through six at-bats. But Koufax walked McCovey on four pitches before retiring leadoff hitter Harvey Kuenn on a grounder to end the game.
“It’s hard to describe, but the game (against the Giants) gave me more satisfaction,” said Koufax while comparing his previous no-hitter against the New York Mets, in which he walked five batters the season before, “because I felt I had overcome my wildness problem.”
Koufax continued his streak of no-hitters, throwing one the following season before attaining perfection in 1965. Koufax was forced to retire following the 1966 season due to an ailing arm.
As a unanimous choice for the Cy Young Award three times as well as the 1963 National League Most Valuable Player, Koufax was a first ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame in 1972 at the age of 37.
Kevin Stiner was the spring 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum