When Sandy Koufax was awarded a basketball scholarship to the University of Cincinnati in 1953, his plans included a career in architecture.
Instead, Koufax made a living on a baseball diamond, becoming one of the most dominating left-handers of all time.
"Either he throws the fastest ball I've ever seen, or I'm going blind,” said Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn.
Born on Dec. 30, 1935 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Koufax impressed a scout who saw him throw for his college baseball team. In 1954, he signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers that contained a bonus which required at the time for Koufax to report to the major league team for two years.
"When he (Koufax) first came up, he couldn't throw a ball inside the batting cage," said Hall of Fame teammate Duke Snider.
With a limited baseball background, Koufax struggled with control at first, but used his raw talent to begin regularly throwing for the Dodgers in 1958, when the team moved to Los Angeles.
In 1959, Koufax struck out 18 Giants in nine innings and set a major league record for strikeouts in two games with 31. In 1963, Koufax led the league in wins with 25, in ERA with 1.88, in shutouts with 11 and strikeouts with 306. He won both the Cy Young Award and NL Most Valuable Player Award that season.
“I can see how he won 25 games. What I don't understand is how he lost five,” said Hall of Famer Yogi Berra in 1963.
The six-time All-Star would go on to win two more Cy Young Awards in 1965 and 1966, finishing second in MVP voting and leading the league in wins both seasons. He won five straight NL ERA titles from 1962-66 and led the Dodgers to the NL pennant in 1963, 1965 and 1966, winning the World Series in 1963 and 1965.
“He was the greatest pitcher of his time in baseball,” said writer Jimmy Cannon.
Traumatic arthritis in his elbow ended Koufax’s career early due to a threat of permanent disability. After playing in only 12 seasons, Koufax became the youngest player inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
“You name a better left-hander in the history of baseball and I’ll eat my hat,” said Hall of Famer Harry Hooper.