In his first three seasons in Brooklyn, Koufax pitched in just 62 games and compiled a 9-10 record. His wildness was evident his first two years when he struck out just three more than he walked.
"When I was a young pitcher, I came up in '48, all the coaches and managers were position players other than pitchers," Erskine said. "You seldom saw a pitcher coach. So Sandy came looking to me or to others to gain something from an experienced head. I don't think any of us ever took Sandy aside and said, 'Look, son, let me show you a couple of things.' And he never asked. It wasn't his personality to come and say, 'Hey, I need help.'
"I don't know if Sandy ever felt like he didn't get the kind of help he needed. He kind of had to learn like the rest of us. It obviously was not the best way for that talent to develop. The right way would have been for him to pitch at least a year in the minors. And when he came to the major leagues after that I'm sure he would have mastered enough of those skills because he's a very smart individual."
Despite being a raw talent, Koufax still flashed signs of his enormous potential. Pitching against the Cubs on June 4, 1957 in Ebbets Field, Koufax dominated. He struck out the side in the second inning and fanned six of the first eight batters he faced.
By the fourth inning, he had seven strikeouts and was ahead of the pace he had set when he whiffed 13 Cubs. On WOKO Radio out of Albany, Dodger announcer Vin Scully elaborated on Koufax's strikeouts:
I said earlier that Koufax did not appear to be loose, but now he is firing . . . Eight men have come to bat and only one of them has hit the ball. Koufax is remarkable with his strikeouts this year. If you figure out how many innings he's pitched and how many strikeouts he has, you really start to shake your head. He's worked 44-and-a-third innings and has struck out 53 men.
Koufax eventually struck out 12 in 7-plus innings, and went on to compile his best stats in the team's final year in Flatbush, posting his first winning record at 5-4 and striking out 122 hitters in 104 innings.
It was said at the time that Koufax owned "a Rex Barney fastball." Barney was a Dodger fireballer whose career was curtailed in 1948 when he slid into second base and broke his leg in two places. Had he not been injured, some believe Barney might have taken his place alongside the great fastball pitchers in the game. Koufax later became friends with Barney, and he told him that since people had always told him he had a "Rex Barney fastball," he was curious.
"I always wanted to know what that was," Koufax told Barney.
Koufax owns the distinction of throwing the final pitch for the Brooklyn Dodgers when he entered the '57 season finale in Philadelphia in the sixth inning of a 2-1 loss. In the bottom of the eighth Koufax struck out Willie Jones, and a short time later, the era of the Dodgers in Brooklyn officially came to an end.
From Koufax by Edward Gruver.
Copyright © 2000 by Edward Gruver. Reprinted with permission.