It’s Time to Pump the Brakes on the Koufax – Kershaw Comparisons

 

I watched Clayton Kershaw dominate the Atlanta Braves last night in Game 1 of the National League Division Series (NLDS). As I watched the game, I kept waiting for the comparisons I have heard all year about Kershaw being the next Koufax – STOP!!

Clayton Kershaw is a great pitcher, but “Nobody ever threw a baseball better than Sandy Koufax” (Leavy, 2002, back cover). Saying that Kershaw is not Koufax in no way diminishes his talent; nobody ever was, is now, or ever will be Sandy Koufax.

Bob Nightengale in yesterday’s USA Today tried to compare the two; he even tried to compare Kershaw and Zack Greinke with Koufax and Don Drysdale. I will ignore the Greinke – Drysdale comparisons and the comparisons of the two duos focusing on Kershaw – Koufax. When you look at the numbers that Nightengale himself presents in attempting to make the comparison, you realize one thing – there is no comparison.

 

2009 – 2013

Wins-Losses

ERA

IP

K/9

BB/9

Kershaw

72-41

2.43

1072.1

9.3

2.9

1962 – 1966

Koufax

111-34

1.95

1377

9.4

2.1

USA Today, Thursday, October 3, 2013, Page 2C

The difference in the numbers is staggering when you compare their five best years: 39 more wins, an ERA nearly a half of a run lower, over 300 more innings pitched, more strikeouts and fewer walks per nine innings. There is nothing more a pitcher can do statistically than that. But numbers do not tell the entire story.

LA Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw shows much promise for a successful career, but he's no Sandy Koufax.

Sandy Koufax inspired awe in everyone; teammates, opponents, umpires, and fans. Bill Mazeroski, the Pirates’ Hall of Fame second baseman, was a good friend of my American Legion baseball coach. He came to a couple of our practices and told great stories to a group of 17 year olds who were completely mesmerized by his presence. In one story, he said Steve Blass was making his major league debut against the Dodgers and Koufax. Mazeroski went up to him before the game and said, “Don’t worry kid, just pitch a shutout and we’ll play for a tie.”

Mickey Mantle, one of the greatest hitters of all time, turned to Dodger catcher John Roseboro after striking out in the 1963 World Series and said,” How in the f*** are you supposed to hit that sh**?” (Leavy, 2002, p. 140). There are many other stories like these, but perhaps most telling is the fact that everyone in the National League from 1962 – 1966 knew what Sandy was throwing. He tipped his pitches, holding his arms differently when he was going to throw a fastball than when he was going to throw a curve. So, the best baseball players in the world knew what was coming on every pitch for five years and Koufax still struck out 1,444 batters in 1,377 innings – enough said!

Clayton Kershaw is young and hopefully will have a long and outstanding career; but we should all be happy that he is the first Clayton Kershaw instead of trying to compare him to the incomparable Sandy Koufax.

 

References

Leavy, J. (2002). Sandy Koufax: A lefty’s legacy. New York: Harper Collins

Nightengale, B. (2013, October 3). Pair of aces carry hopes of Dodgers. USA Today, 1C – 2C.


Stephen L. Butler, Ed.D., the Dean of Academic Affairs at the United States Sports Academy, can be reached at sbutler@ussa.edu. Dr. Butler has been a huge baseball fan for over 50 years.

 

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