Sandy Koufax in 1963 had the season of his life — to that point, it’s important to note — and for his efforts took home both the Cy Young Award and National League MVP honors 60 years ago this week.
First came the Cy Young Award, which is awarded to the top pitcher in the sport. At this point, there’s only one Cy Young for the majors, not one for each league. So it made Koufax’s unanimous honor — receiving all 20 votes — all the more impressive.
Back in 1963, the Cy Young Award was a simple ballot, only one pitcher deep. Voting for second- and third-place pitchers wouldn’t be added until 1970. In 1963, the eighth year of the award, Koufax was the first pitcher to receive every vote.
Koufax led the majors with a 1.88 ERA in his 40 starts and 311 innings, and his 11 shutouts were the most in the majors in 47 years. On May 11 against the Giants, the left-hander pitched the second no-hitter of his career.
His 306 strikeouts also led the majors, and broke his own National League record. Koufax tied Juan Marichal atop the majors with 25 wins, earning him the first pitching triple crown since Hal Newhouser in 1945.
“I can understand why the vote was unanimous,” MLB commissioner Ford Frick told the Associated Press. “Koufax not only is a wonderful pitcher, but he has a great personality and terrific hold on the baseball public.”
Award voting was concluded before the postseason, but Koufax added to his laurels with two wins in the Dodgers’ World Series sweep of the Yankees. He set a record with 15 strikeouts in Game 1 in New York, and closed out the series with another complete-game win in Game 4 at Dodger Stadium.
Koufax was the third Dodger in eight years to win the Cy Young Award, and the second in a row after Don Drysdale won in 1962.
Koufax joined the first Cy Young Award winner, Don Newcombe in 1956 for Brooklyn, as the only ones to this point to win both Cy Young and a Most Valuable Player award.
National League MVP voters gave Koufax 14 of the 20 first-place votes, with Cardinals shortstop Dick Groat getting four first-place votes, finishing in second place overall. Koufax was left off of one of 20 ballots, which run 10 players deep, but had a sizable advantage thanks to all of those first-place tallies.
1963 National League MVP vote
Henry Aaron, who finished third in MVP voting, received one first-place vote, as did Dodgers infielder Jim Gilliam, who finished sixth and received 62 points.
Gilliam had the best OPS+ of his career in 1963 (121), hitting .282/.354/.383 with 27 doubles and 19 stolen bases while splitting time between second base and third base. At age 34, Gilliam’s 5.1 bWAR was the second-best of his career, behind only 1956 (6.1 bWAR), when he finished fifth in NL MVP voting for Brooklyn.
“I didn’t think I was going to win it because I didn’t think a pitcher would get the vote,” Koufax told Frank Finch of the Los Angeles Times. “I felt Dick Groat would be up there, but I’m amazed Jim Gilliam didn’t finish higher than sixth. Junior never gets what he deserves. He deserved to be higher.”
Other Dodgers to receive MVP votes were reliever Ron Perranoski (130 points, fourth), outfielder and two-time batting champion Tommy Davis (41 points, eighth), Maury Wills (nine points, 17th), and Drysdale (three points, 21st).
Koufax in 1963 was the seventh Dodger to win NL MVP, joining first basemen Jake Daubert (1913) and Dolph Camilli (1941), pitchers Dazzy Vance (1924) and Newcombe (1956), infielders Jackie Robinson (1949) and Wills (1962), plus catcher Roy Campanella, a three-time winner (1951, 1953, 1955) for Brooklyn.
Having such a great season put Koufax in prime position for a big raise in 1964, or at least as much as possible under a system with no free agency and players bound to their teams in perpetuity at this point in history.
From the Long Beach Press Telegram:
Koufax drew about $40,000 in 1963. The figure $55,000 has been mentioned for 1964. If true, this would make Sandy the highest-paid man in Dodger history, exceeding by $10,000 the reported salary of Don Drysdale. The Dodgers have never paid such salaries as the $80,000 to $100,000 to such figures as Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and Mickey Mantle.
Baseball Reference has Koufax as making $35,000 in 1963, which he upped to $70,000 in February 1964, but not after rumors the left-hander threatened to retire if he didn’t get a salary to his liking from Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi.
From the Associated Press:
The handsome southpaw, however, stressed following his 2½-hour meeting with Bavasi that at no time had he asked for $90,000 and he was happy with the terms he accepted, estimated at about double what he got last season.
“Sandy is a lot happier about the contract than I am,” said Bavasi,” but I am pleased we gave him what he wanted.”
Koufax, along with Drysdale, would have a much more contentious and substantial salary dispute two years later, prior to the 1966 season.
This concludes our look back at the 1963 championship season for the Dodgers, from start to finish. Thank you for reading.