Sandy Koufax's career is almost always described as brilliant, but short. For four seasons-1963 to 1966- Koufax dominated baseball until his arm problems forced his retirement. Few people know just how bright Koufax's star burned while he stood on top of the game. In the span of those four seasons, Koufax won 78.2 percent of his games, led the league in ERA four times, led the league in wins and strikeouts three times, won three Cy Young awards, won one MVP award (he also finished second twice), and led the Dodgers to two World Series titles. Over those four years, Koufax's ERA was 1.86 and he struck out 1228 hitters. He also pitched nearly 1200 innings (even with missing a large chunk of 1964 to an injury) and unfortunately, that was the last fans saw of one of the game's all-time greats on the mound.
There can be no doubt that Koufax belongs as a first-ballot Lord of the Ravine. Koufax was a career Dodger whose significant contributions to Dodger history are readily apparent. As a "bonus baby" (which was $14,000 back in the mid-fifties), Koufax signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He played sparingly in his first three years as a professional, but once the team moved to Los Angeles, Koufax immediately developed into a league-average starter. Like Rick Ankiel was in 2000 before he contracted Wohleritis. Then, something just clicked for Koufax. He stopped walking so many damn hitters and became dominant. In 1961 and 1962, he transitioned from a lefty Rick Vaughn into an All-Star and really hit his stride in 1963. Once 1963 came around, Koufax was indisputably baseball's best pitcher.
Some people search for a chink in Koufax's armor and will point to his very controversial decision not to play on Yom Kippur, which fell on Game 1 of the 1965 World Series. Everyone knows that in 1965, Koufax did not start game one-as the ace typically does. Instead, his start was moved back to game two, and then game five to accommodate Koufax's complicated, difficult, and respectable decision to abide by his religion's tenets. Many people torched Koufax for this initially, but the Dodgers beat the Twins in seven games anyway. Why? Because Koufax started game seven as well, on just two days rest. Koufax threw a complete game shutout, striking out 10 Twins in a 2-0 win. Of course he did. No one should be surprised to learn that Koufax's career post-season ERA was 0.95 in 57 innings, with a 0.82 WHIP, and a 61/11 K/BB ratio. He was a part of four World Champion Dodger teams. Of course he was. That is exactly what Koufax was, a champion.
All told, Koufax's career spanned parts of twelve big league seasons. He won four World Series titles, threw four no-hitters (including a perfect game at Chavez Ravine), was a six-time All-Star, and was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee. Even though he retired at the age of 32, Koufax's career was more than any Dodger fan could ask for. He was the greatest pitcher to wear Dodger blue (no disrespect to The Big D). When Dodger fans' hearts and eyes light up thinking about Clayton Kershaw's potential, people think, discuss, and shout comparisons to Koufax. We should be so lucky.