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Never underestimate the love for Sandy Koufax

November 8, 2011 |  5:29 pm

Sandy3So were you at all surprised that Koufax ended up No.1 in The Times’ poll of greatest sports figures in Los Angeles history?

Shouldn’t have been.

This is not to take anything away from the others on the deserving list -– six others were from the Dodgers organization -– but Koufax is unique in Southern California sports history.

Which is why he didn’t just win, but won in a virtual blowout. He had 90 more first-place votes than No.2 Magic Johnson, 57 more than No.3 Vin Scully.

The only mild surprise should be that most of those who voted, probably never saw him pitch.

Unlike Magic, he did not make his home in Los Angeles after he retired. Unlike Scully, he did not devote more than 60 years to the game (he pitched in Los Angeles for only nine seasons).

But Koufax and the birth of the Dodgers as a Los Angeles cultural treasure are intertwined so deeply, their roots have become one. When the team moved to Dodger Stadium for the 1962 season, Koufax was their star.

And then he took it to another level. His next six seasons were arguably the most dominant stretch by a pitcher in baseball history. His numbers were unbelievable -– 25-5 in ’63, 382 strikeouts in ’65, 27 victories in ’66; his average ERA his last four seasons was 1.86.

He won three Cy Youngs, all unanimously. He pitched four no-hitters, one a perfect game. Was part of three World Series champions.

At a time when the Dodgers were capturing the hearts of Los Angeles for the first time, he was at the team’s center, at its core. A love affair blossomed and he was its dark-eyebrowed heartthrob.

And it was much more than numbers. It was the way he was held in awe, not just by fans, but opposing players. The way he demanded the ball. The way he stuck to his personal beliefs. The way he competed. The Left Arm of God, indeed.

He was the greatest left-hander in baseball history and Los Angeles’ first true professional sports megastar. He was so private, it probably added an aura of mystery that only deepened his allure.

He somehow seemed an iconic figure even while still in his prime, when he walked away at his peak at only 30 years of age. The greatest sports figure in Los Angeles history.


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Photo: Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax delivers the final pitch of the 1963 World Series against the New York Yankees at Dodger Stadium. Ben Olender / Los Angeles Times