by Harold Friend
There was a brief story on Dec. 14, 1954 in the Cincinnati Times-Star revealing that the Brooklyn Dodgers were going to sign University of Cincinnati left-handed pitching star Sandy Koufax. The next day, Brooklyn traded Preacher Roe and Billy Cox to the Orioles, and announced that they has signed Koufax as a bonus player. Under the bonus player rule, Koufax had to be with Brooklyn for two years before the could be sent to the minors. It was believed that Koufax received $20,000 to sign.
Sandy Koufax' First Shut Out
At the end of play on Aug. 26, 1955, Brooklyn led Milwaukee by 10 games. Brooklyn manager Walt Alston had some room to maneuver, and he started Sandy Koufax the next day against the hard-hitting Cincinnati Reds. In front of only 7,204 fans at Ebbets Field, Koufax won his first major league game, striking out 14 batters as he hurled a brilliant two-hit shut out.
Expected to Finish
In 1955, the fact that Koufax was only 19 years old and hadn't pitched much was not a concern. He was expected to finish the game if he pitched effectively, which is what he did. Alston didn't visit Koufax on the mound until the sixth inning, which was considered significant because it indicated how effectively Koufax was pitching. Today, if a 19-year-old worked into the sixth inning, THAT would be considered significant.
Another Shut Out and a Quality Start
Koufax next started on Sept. 4 against the Pirates. He pitched his second consecutive shut out, allowing five hits in a 4-0 Brooklyn victory, but he didn't win again that season. On Sept. 11, the Reds beat Koufax in Cincinnati, 5-3. At the time, Koufax' performance was viewed as a failure. He allowed four runs, one unearned, over 6 2/3 innings. The Reds managed 7 hits and 6 walks, while striking out only once. Today, three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings is a quality start.
Poor in Relief
On the next to last day of the season, Sept. 24, Koufax made his final appearance in the second game of a double header against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Handed a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning, Koufax was horrible. He walked three, uncorked a wild pitch, failed to cover first base, allowed two runs in only 1/3 of an inning, and was charged with the loss.
Being a Bonus Baby Hurt
The bonus rule prevented Koufax from learning his trade in the minors. Walt Alston used him judiciously, and only the fact that Brooklyn was in control of the pennant race allowed Koufax to work as much as he did.
Koufax started five games, appeared in relief in seven, and finished with a 2-2 record. In 41 2/3 innings, he struck out 30 hitters, which was a portent of things to come, but he walked 29 (one intentionally), which was a problem he had to conquer before he became Sandy Koufax. It wasn't until 1962 that he became a dependable pitcher, and after the 1966 season, he called it quits. One cannot help but wonder how NOT receiving $20,000 to sign with Brooklyn would have affected baseball history.
New Pitching Prospect for Dodgers. (1954, December 14). New York Times (1857-Current file),47. Retrieved June 30, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005). (Document ID: 96516366).
By JOHN DREBINGER. (1954, December 15). Dodgers Send Roe and Cox to Orioles for $55,000 and Two Farm Players, New York Times (1857-Current File),44. Retrieved June 30, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005). (Document ID: 84445778).
By ROSCOE McGOWEN. (1955, August 28). DODGERS WIN :KOUFAX IS VICTOR Dodger Allows 2 Hits, Fans 14 in Beating Redlegs, 7 to 0, New York Times (1857-Current File),S1. Retrieved June 30, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005). (Document ID: 81881731).