Jun 8, 2009

Masterpiece Moments Mondays: Sandy Koufax

I loved the 2007 UD Masterpieces set. The images and artwork create an aesthetically pleasing appearance. For me, the best part was the inclusion of old-time players depicting key moments in their careers (besides the generic portrait or action shot). Understanding baseball history and how it has woven itself throughout the game today is one of the characteristics that makes baseball both great and memorable. Let's details the moments depicted on Masterpieces first...and then expand to other sets. If you have any images of cards or cards that depict a historical moment, please submit them in the comments for future consideration.

Presented here is Sandy Koufax, showing off 4 baseballs with zeroes on them, having just pitched his then record 4th no-hitter. Appropriately enough, it was a perfect game hurled on 9/9/65 against the Cubs' Bob Hendley, who threw a one-hitter of his own. But he wasn't perfect; for a five year stretch at the end of his career, Sandy Koufax almost was.

Sandy Koufax once defined pitching as "the art of instilling fear by making a man flinch." This quote somehow seems more appropriate to his Dodgers counterpart Don Drysdale, but Koufax made you afraid because you couldn't even hit the pitch (for the most part) when you knew what was coming. Fastball was elbows out at the windup and the curveball was elbows in...well, batter screw your cleats in tight to the batter's box, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

He wasn't always so feared. He was fast and wild and didn't know where the pitches were going. In 1958 he led the league in wild pitches with 17 and had 131 strikeouts and 105 BB in 158 innings. Even the batters could barely tell where the pitches were going.

He started becoming the legend in 1961, when his K/BB first edged above 2.5. By 1962, he led the league in WHIP (1.03), H/9 (6.5), and K/9 (10.5). In 1963, he won the Cy Young, MVP, World Series MVP because he was that good. He was 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA, 0.875 WHIP, 11 shutouts and 306 strikeouts vs. only 58 BB.

1965, the year of the perfect game, showcased 382 strikeouts and another World Series MVP, pitching the 7th game on only 3 days rest. He also had a 187 ERA+ (87% better than league average) and allowed an absurdly low 5.8 H/9.

Koufax also had character, playing with pain to a point where he could not life his arm nor pitch without significant treatment. The treatment of his elbow is probably the first time when cortisone shot entered the general baseball fan lexicon. He had conviction in the personal sense; he refused to pitch the World Series on the major Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and he had conviction in the professional sense, he held out in tandem with Drysdale prior to the 1966 season (granted for more pay) to challenge the baseball orthodoxy for players to pay what the owners presented to them.

But it is artistry on the mound and his too soon exit from the game he is most remembered for. The sense of his curve snapping down from on high to send another hopeful batter back into the dugout dust; their last image Koufax nonchalantly receiving another ball from the catcher.

And here is his own lasting picture, perfect for a day, memorable in baseball history.

1 comment:

Play at the Plate said...

That is a great shot from one of the most appropriately names sets of all time.