Koufax's control problems resurfaced the following season, however, and they almost drove him from the game. His win-loss percentage dipped to .381, the lowest of his career, and he went 8-13 with a 3.91 ERA. Actually, Koufax had to rally to get even eight wins. At one point during the '60 season, his record stood at 1-8. His 100 walks in '60 were the second highest total of his career-he walked 105 in '58-and his first three seasons in L.A. saw him issue 297 free passes.
Pitching infrequently, he pressed whenever he entered a game. He overthrew and seemingly tried to strike out every batter he faced. Lacking knowledge of his craft, he was still more of a thrower than a pitcher. Lacking maturity on the mound, he let his emotions get the better of him whenever he allowed a hit or a walk. Frustrated, he would overthrow again, eventually giving in to wildness and lack of control.
"I had a lot of faults," he said. "I'd get mad at myself every time I made a mistake, and it seemed like I made a mistake every time I threw the ball. So then I'd try to throw a little harder, and I'd get a little wilder, and then I'd finally get the ball over, and they'd get a hit."
Tired of his infrequent starts and upset by the Dodgers' wavering confidence in him, Koufax asked to be traded.
"I want to pitch," he told team president Buzzie Bavasi, "and I'm not going to get a chance here."
"How can we pitch you," Bavasi countered, "when you can't get anyone out?"
"How can I get anyone out when I'm sitting around in the dugout?" Koufax retorted. "If I can't do the job for you, why don't you send me somewhere where I can get a fresh start?"
Privately, Koufax considered quitting. He had seen fringe players hang on as long as possible because they had a family to support, but since he was still young and unmarried, he felt he could afford to give up his baseball paycheck and take a chance on another profession. He had already gone into business as a manufacturer's representative for electrical lines, and he contemplated devoting his next few years to building up that business.
Seeking advice from friends, Koufax sought out teammate Carl Erskine.
"He said to me, 'You know, Carl, I have a chance to buy into a radio station, and I'm really thinking about leaving the game,'" Erskine said. "He was seriously thinking about leaving baseball with a record of under .500. But he said to me that he felt like he had been paid for six years and had never really been a good producer. He had never felt like he had pulled out all the stops.
"He said, 'I've got to go back to spring training one more time and do that. If I still feel the same way, I think I'm going to get out.'
"At that pivotal point, his sensitivity caused him to say, 'I can't quit. I've been paid, they've expected a lot out of me. And maybe I need to go back and really open it up the best I can and if I still feel the same way, I think I'll probably retire from the game.'"
The thought of walking away from baseball before achieving any measurable success bothered him, as did the realization that he had not yet worked as hard as he could have or learned as much as he could have. Believing he had not yet given himself every possible chance of succeeding in baseball, Koufax decided he would give the '61 season an all-out effort.
From Koufax by Edward Gruver.
Copyright © 2000 by Edward Gruver. Reprinted with permission.