SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers honor Sandy Koufax with new stadium statue

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The Dodgers honored perhaps the greatest player to wear their uniform in Los Angeles June 18 when they unveiled a statue of Sandy Koufax.

The statue sits next to the statue of Jackie Robinson in the Centerfield Plaza at Dodger Stadium, where Koufax pitched the last five years of his brilliant career that was cut short by an arthritic elbow.

After overcoming control problems early in his career, Koufax became one of the most dominant pitchers baseball has ever seen. During the last six years of his career, from 1961 to 1966, Koufax had a record of 129 wins against 47 losses, a winning percentage of .733.

He led the National League in earned run average the last five years of his career, led the league in strikeouts in four of the final six years and won three Cy Young Awards in an era when there was only one Cy Young Award presented each season, unlike now when the award is given to the top pitcher in both the National and American leagues.

He was the first pitcher to average fewer than seven hits allowed per nine innings pitched in his career (6.79), and to strike out more than nine batters (9.28) per nine innings. In his last 10 seasons, batters hit .203 against him with a .271 on-base percentage and a .315 slugging percentage.

He also threw four no hitters, a record at the time, including a perfect game on Sept. 9, 1965.

During his 12 seasons with the Dodgers, they won six National League pennants and four World Series championships.

Koufax was even better in the World Series than he was in the regular season, despite his overall 4-3 post-season record. In eight World Series games, he had a 0.95 earned run average.

That record included a 1-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox in game 5 of the 1959 World Series in which Koufax gave up only five hits in seven innings. The lone White Sox run scored during a double play.

In the first game of the 1963 World Series, he struck out 15 Yankees — a World Series record at the time — in a 5-2 win. He came back and threw a complete-game six-hitter in game 4 to win 2-1 and complete a four-game sweep over the Yankees.

In the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins, Koufax lost game 2, 5-1, putting the Dodgers in a 0-2 deficit.

He came back to pitch complete game shutout victories in games 5 and 7 — the latter on two day’s rest — as the Dodgers won the series four games to three.

He repeated his 1963 World Series most valuable player performance in that series.

He and Don Drysdale formed as good a one-two starting pitching duo as there has ever been.

Koufax paid tribute to Drysdale during his speech at the statue unveiling ceremony.

“We were together for 11 years,” he said of his teammate. “We grew up together. I think we were friends but I think in some ways we were competitors because he [set a standard of] excellence that I tried to live up to, and I tied to set an excellence that he lived up to, and I think it made us both better.”

Koufax also paid tribute to Jackie Robinson.

“Sixty-seven years ago, Jackie Robinson became my teammate and friend,” he said. “At that time, sharing this space with him would have been absolutely unimaginable, and today it still is. “It’s one of the greatest honors of my life.”

Also speaking during the ceremony was Clayton Kershaw, perhaps the best pitcher the Dodgers have had since Koufax and Drysdale retired. Koufax has served as a mentor throughout Kershaw’s career and the two have become close friends.

“In the years and generations to come, I hope a kid sees this statue and asks his mom or dad about Sandy Koufax, and I hope that they tell him he was a great pitcher but more than that he was a great man who represented the Dodgers with humility, kindness, passion, class,” Kershaw said.

“And for every rookie who sees this statue for the first time and asks, ‘Was he any good?’ I hope the veterans tell him simply that he was the best to ever do it,” he added.

Kershaw has won four Cy Young Awards during his 15 years with the Dodgers. He has led the National league in earned run average five times and in strikeouts three times.

Like Koufax, he has been the best left-handed pitcher of his generation, but it’s a different era and the statistics bear that out. In 15 years, Kershaw has 25 complete games and 15 shutouts.

Koufax had 27 complete games in each of his last two seasons and 115 over his 12 years. He led the league with 11 shutouts in 1963 and had 40 in his career. His 382 strikeouts in 1965 was a record at the time.

I would rank Kershaw third on the list of Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitchers behind Koufax and Drysdale but ahead of Don Sutton, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser.

Someday they will probably unveil a statue of Kershaw outside Dodger Stadium. It should be smaller than the Koufax statue, because as good as Kershaw has been, he will never be as good as Koufax.

DRAFT TIME: The NBA holds its annual draft June 23, a big day for most NBA fans but not so much for Lakers and Clippers fans.

Neither local team has a first-round draft pick. The Clippers have the 43rd overall pick in the second round.

The Lakers reportedly are hoping to trade into the draft in the second round, but their trade options are limited and they might be better off sitting this one out and signing undrafted free agents once the draft ends.

Most mock drafts I have seen show no one taking UCLA’s Johnny Juzang and he could be a solution for the Lakers.

Juzang averaged 15.6 points a game for the Bruins last season and was a third-team All American. At 6-6, he has the size to be a swingman and his ability to create his own shots is something the Lakers could use.

With their roster for next season still in a state of flux, any help the Lakers can add will be welcome.

The Clippers, on the other hand, have a pretty solid roster, with just a few holes to fill. Getting Kawhi Leonard back healthy will be a major shot in the arm for coach Tyronn Lue and the rest of the roster.

The Clippers have championship aspirations next season, although they will have to get past the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference first.

The Lakers have championship aspirations, too. They just aren’t very realistic at this time.

Sure, coach Darvin Ham could figure out some way to get more productivity out of Russell Westbrook, motivate Anthony Davis to get in playing shape and figure out a way LeBron James can overcome Father Time while hoping general manager Rob Pelinka can restock the roster.

Four months away from the start of the season, I don’t see the Lakers making the playoffs.

Anything is possible, though, and hope springs eternal every year at draft time.