On this day in 1965, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax pitches the eighth perfect game in major league history, leading the Dodgers to a 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles.
Sandy Koufax was a talented all-around athlete from Borough Park in Brooklyn, New York. His first love was basketball, and he attended the University of Cincinnati on a basketball scholarship. His impressive left arm, however, attracted the attention of major league ball clubs and in 1954 he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite his promising talent, Koufax won just 36 games to 51 losses from 1955 to 1961, and was incredibly inconsistent, blowing hitters away one game and walking in runs the next. Finally, advice from veteran catcher Norm Sherry turned Koufax around. As Koufax recounted in his autobiography, Sherry told him to “take the grunt out of the fastball.” It worked: From 1962 to 1966, Sandy Koufax executed what are arguably the five greatest seasons by a pitcher in baseball history. His newfound control limited his walks from 4.8 per game to just 2.1, and he pitched no-hitters in three consecutive years–1962, 1963 and 1964.
On September 9, 1965, at the peak of his baseball career, Koufax took the mound against fellow lefty Bob Hendley of the Chicago Cubs, and a pitcher’s duel for the ages ensued. The Cubs were held scoreless, while the Dodgers scored just one run, in the fifth inning. Dodger Lou Johnson walked to lead off the inning, and then advanced to second on a sacrifice. He stole third and then scored when the Cubs catcher fumbled one of Hendley’s throws. As it turned out, one run was all Koufax needed to bring home the victory. His fastballs, which seemed to rise as they reached the plate, whizzed past batters. His curveball was typically devastating, buckling batters at the knees, almost always crossing the plate as a strike after following its parabolic path. As he closed in on a perfect game, Koufax faced the middle of the Cubs order. He struck out Ron Santo and Ernie Banks in the eighth before striking out the side in the ninth to secure his first perfect game.
In addition to throwing his first and only perfect game, Koufax struck out a total of 382 batters in 1965, shattering Rube Waddell’s 1904 record by 32. He retired after the 1966 season at just 30 years old because of arthritis in his elbow.
Koufax won three Cy Young Awards (1963, 1965 and 1966), all of them unanimous.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972. In 2007, the Modi’in Miracle of the Israel Baseball League made the 71-year old Koufax the final pick in the league’s inaugural player draft as a tribute to his legendary career and Jewish heritage.