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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Today's Birthdays

And thanks to cancellations at DFW and DIA, I'm here in Little Rock an extra day...

Sandy Koufax BRO,LAN b. 1935, played 1955-1966, All-Star: 1961-1966, Hall of Fame: 1972 (BBWAA). Born Sanford Braun, he signed with the Dodgers as a bonus baby, coming up with the team in 1955 as a 19-year-old. Koufax's career is generally divided into two parts, 1955-1960 (during which he was poorly used and generally ineffective because of it, something that caused friction between Walter Alston and Jackie Robinson), and 1961 through his retirement in 1966. During the latter period, he was to that point perhaps the greatest left-hander in history.

One of the criticisms of that plaudit has been the fact that Koufax's road ERAs were often much higher than those recorded at home, and it has been alleged that the Dodger Stadium mound was higher than regulation. But however he achieved it, the fact remains that he won three Cy Young awards in an era when there was only one between the two leagues, won the 1963 MVP award, two World Series MVP titles, and was a six-time All-Star. Instrumental on the great Dodger teams of the early 60's, he led the team to two World Series titles and another pennant, including the 1963 sweep of the Yankees. Koufax also led the league five consecutive years in ERA, four times in strikeouts, six times in K/9, five times in H/9, three times in shutouts, and twice in complete games and innings pitched. He owns three of the best seasons ever recorded (by ERA) by a Dodger pitcher, is 9th in career ERA, 5th in wins, 5th for single-season and career won/loss percentage, seven of the top 10 K/9 seasons and is second in career K/9, and a raft of others.

Injuries tarnished his career and ultimately ended it prematurely; he suffered from gangrene (when a crushed artery in his palm ceased blood flow to one of his fingers, something he was cured of later), hemorrhaging in his pitching arm (which turned up black and blue in spring training of 1965), but ultimately it was arthritis that felled him; he pitched through pain through much of his late career as a result, compelling the Dodgers to plan for (and subsequently abandon) a five-man rotation in 1965 and 1966. On September 9, 1965, he pitched a perfect game, one of only ten in major league history.

Famous for his holdout in 1966 (along with teammate Don Drysdale), he presaged the modern era of free agency by a decade. He pitched the Dodgers into the pennant on the last game of that season, an October 2 matchup between Jim Bunning (another Hall of Famer and, coincidentally, the first-ever contest between two pitchers with perfect games). His 1966 World Series appearance resulted in a loss, part of a four-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles.

In his subsequent career, he has broadcast games for NBC, but quit halfway through a ten-year deal when he found himself too uncomfortable in front of the cameras. He became a pitching coach in the Dodgers system in 1979, a position from which he resigned in 1990; it has been alleged that his troubled relationship with Tommy Lasorda was to blame. Koufax briefly ended his relations with the Dodgers in 2003 when the New York Post, which were both owned at the time by News Corp., alleged his homosexuality; the team's subsequent sale brought him back into the fold. He currently resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Jose Morales LAN b. 1944, played 1982-1984. One of a number of dubious maneuvers the Dodgers made in the post-1981 dissolution of the 1970's core, Morales was an aging utility player who more or less replaced Manny Mota in the pinch-hitting role. Already 37 when the Dodgers traded for him from Baltimore, he somehow held on through 1984 before hanging up his spikes.

Tom Murphy CAL b. 1945, played 1968-1972

Getting Morales wasn't really a dubious maneuver. Mota was retiring, and there was an opening for a guy who could pinch-hit. In 1982-1983, his OPS+ with the Dodgers was 131 and 121.

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