When the topic of Sandy Koufax comes up, devout baseball fans are likely to recognize the name as Major League Baseball's all-time greats as a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He, along with the baseball cards with his face and name on them, has joined the ranks of the legends that have turned the sport of baseball into America's favorite pastime. Among enthusiasts of the sport, as well as these iconic trading cards, usually don't bat an eye when it comes to forking out top dollar for that prized baseball card if they feel it's worth it. Among fans of Sandy Koufax or at least discerning baseball card collectors, it is.
About Sandy Koufax
On December 30, 1935, Sanford Koufax was a Brooklyn-born and raised Jewish kid that witnessed his parents divorced when he was just three years old. When his mother remarried six years later, he moved with her and his stepfather to Long Island but moved back to Brooklyn five years later. While in high school, Koufax took up basketball, playing for a local Jewish community center team. At one point, it looked like Koufax was destined to become a basketball star, but he also had a fondness for baseball. At the age of fifteen years old, he signed up for the high school baseball team, along with his friend, Fred Wilpon. It would be at this time he would be spotted by a baseball coach who happened to be the father of Koufax's teammates. When it was recognized Koufax had a pitching ability, he was recruited to play for the Coney Island Sports League's Parkviews.
When Koufax attended the University of Cincinnati, he was a walk-on for its basketball team. In 1954, he became a member of the college baseball varsity team, serving only one season with an impressive 3-1 record and a 2.81 earned run average. He also had fifty-one strikeouts and thirty walks in thirty-two innings. This impressed the scout for then-Brooklyn Dodgers, Bill Zinser, to file favorable reports about the young man that apparently didn't reach the right people. This left Koufax trying out with the New York Giants, as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates. While pitching a fastball at Forbes Field, he broke the thumb of the team's bullpen coach, Sam Narron. Impressed, Branch Rickey, the man who later became the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, admitted he felt Koufax had the greatest pitching arm he's ever seen. This would be when the Dodgers finally woke up and took notice of Koufax. They signed him to a $6,000 USD salary with a $14,000 USD signing bonus. At the time, this was considered big money. When Koufax took the money, he intended to use it for his schooling tuition, just in case his baseball career met with failure.
Due to the signing bonus of Koufax, this required the Dodgers to keep him on the major league roster for at least two years before sending him to the minors. In order to make room for him, the Dodgers optioned Tommy Lasorda to the Montreal Royals of the International League. When Koufax made his major league debut on June 24, 1955, against the Milwaukee Braves, the Dodgers were already trailing 7-1 in the game's fifth inning. A hopeful Koufax hoped to bail his team out of such a loss, but it proved to be one of the worst experiences in his life. When Koufax got his first starting pitcher role it was on July 6 that same year. That experience wasn't any better and it wouldn't be for another two months before he'd start another game as the team's pitcher. Then, on August 27, 1955, Koufax pitched his first shutout game against the Cincinnati Reds. For him, this was his first major league win. His second win for that same season was also a shutout.
Later in the fall of 1955, Koufax enrolled in the Columbia University School of General Studies for its night classes in architecture. The Dodgers won the 1955 World Series for the first time in franchise history, but Koufax did not appear in the series as he drove to Columbia to attend class after the final out of game seven. The year 1956 was not much different than 1955 four Koufax. Despite his blistering fastball, controlling that pitching arm to be more precise was still an issue. He also had issues with Walter Alston, who abruptly pulled him from the field the moment he felt Koufax was struggling as a pitcher on the field. His teammates, Joe Pignatano and Jackie Robinson, both observed this and during Robinson's final season, clashed with Alston regarding Koufax as he knew the young man had talent and objected to him being benched so often. He knew his potential was not properly recognized. This resulted in the Dodgers sending Koufax to Puerto Rico to play winter ball so that he could better prepare for the 1957 season. On May 15, 1957, Koufax was given a chance to pitch again for his team as the restriction on sending him down to the minors was lifted. On May 16, Koufax struck out thirteen batters while pitching his first complete game in nearly two years. For two weeks, he was in the starting rotation, the first time in his career, but this only lasted for two weeks. He wouldn't be allowed to start another game for forty-five days. On September 29, 1957, Koufax threw the final pitch for the Brooklyn Dodgers before the team moved to Los Angeles. At the end of the 1957 season, he and fellow Dodger pitcher, Don Drysdale served six months in the United States Army Reserve in New Jersey before returning to the Dodgers lineup in 1958.
Unfortunately for Koufax, for the next three seasons, he was in and out of the team's starting rotation due to injuries. He led the National League in wild pitches, but also tied Bob Feller's major league record of eighteen strikeouts. In 1959, the Dodgers won its pennant race to meet with the Chicago White Sox in the World Series that saw the team win it after six games. At the beginning of the 1960 season, Koufax asked the Dodgers general manager at the time, Buzzie Bavasi, to trade him due to the lack of playing time he was getting on the team. At the end of the season, he threw his gloves and spikes into the trash can, as he considered leaving the sport for good and devote himself to an electronics business he had already been investing in. The clubhouse supervisor, who witnessed this, retrieved Koufax's equipment in hopes he would return for the 1961 season. As it turned out, he did and was in better shape than before. However, it was discovered there was a hitch in Koufax's windup, which affected the precision of his pitching. It was suggested to him to pitch with less strength for better accuracy. He took the advice and this proved to become the winning formula for him. 1961 proved to be the pitcher's breakout season, which served as the start of his dominance as a pitcher until traumatic arthritis to his pitching arm began to complicate his career as a professional baseball player. On November 18, 1966, less than six weeks after his final appearance in the World Series, he announced his retirement due to his elbow's arthritic condition. Sandy Koufax was the first pitcher in major league baseball to earn multiple Cy Young Awards.
5. 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax #123 PSA Mint 9 ($204,000 USD)
At $204,000 USD through Heritage Auctions this rookie Sandy Koufax card sold on March 23, 2017. There were thirty-three bidders that were interested enough to pay top dollar for this card, but only one of them actually succeeded.
4. 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax Rookie #123 PSA Mint 9 ($215,100 USD)
This left-handed pitcher's rookie card sold for $215,000 USD via Heritage Auctions on August 27, 2016. The closest thing to a perfect baseball card from its era, saw ten bidders vie for the prize where, in the end, there was only one winner that managed to call this card their own.
3. 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax Rookie #123 SGC Mint 9 ($222,000 USD)
Sold on May 6, 2021, this Sandy Koufax rookie card went for $222,000 USD through Heritage Auctions. It beat out nineteen other bidders who failed to win on a prize.
2. 1955 Topps #123 Sandy Koufax Rookie Card – PSA MINT 9 ($369,000 USD)
According to Goldin Elite Auction, this 1955 Sandy Koufax rookie card sold for $369,000 USD on May 24, 2021. At the time, this was the highest amount of money spent on the left-handed pitcher's collectible.
1. 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax Rookie #123 PSA Mint 9 ($384,000 USD)
On November 20, 2021, a 1955-edition of Sandy Koufax's rookie card, registered at a PSA-9 condition sold for $384,000 USD through Heritage Auctions. There were thirty-one bids in total that strove to take this card home, until the deadline that saw the successful bidder score the card. Currently, this card is up for grabs as the new owner is now asking $576,000 USD for it. According to PSA's records, there are twenty-three of these cards, all sharing the same grade score, that is officially registered and verified.
Written by Dana Hanson
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