Monday, July 11, 2011

The Greatest Pitcher of All Time

This being the All-Star break for baseball, sports pages all over the nation are running retrospectives of the 2011 season and highlighting the best performers. So it was in yesterday’s USA Today. There in bold print with a color picture covering half the page was a story about the year’s best pitcher, Justin Verlander. In the article mention was made that he is having a “ Sandy Koufax type year” and that comparisons were being made throughout baseball between Verlander and Koufax, to which I must humbly respond…what a steaming pile of barnyard manure!!

I love Justin Verlander. He is the best picture in baseball at the moment with amazing stuff , not to mention the fact that he grew up right down the road in Manakin-Sabot. But Justin has done nothing this year or ever to warrant comparison with Sandy Koufax except that they both are pitchers. A cursory examination of the numbers would have saved the USA Today writer a world of embarrassment. First, Verlander.

So far this year Justin is 12-4 with a 2.15 era, terrific numbers for this or any season. He has made 20 starts and has 4 complete games and 2 shutouts. In 151 innings he has stuck out 147 batters, all great numbers. In addition , his career numbers through 6 seasons are impressive. He has a 95-56 career record with a 3.6 era, 14 complete games, 5 shutouts and over a thousand strikeouts. Nice work. But to compare him to the most dominant pitcher in history is laughable.

Sandy Koufax was an blazing comet that lit up baseball for 10 short years until an arthritic arm forced him to retire at the age of 31. In the last four years of his career from 1963 through 1966, Sandy Koufax was as close to un-hittable as any pitcher( since the end of the dead-ball era) has ever been. In those 4 years he had a record of 97-27 with a surreal era of 1.84. He was given the ball 150 times and threw 89 complete games and 31 shutouts. In those 1192 innings he struck out 1228 batters while managing 4 no-hitters, one of which being a perfect game. Oh, and his team made it to the World Series twice in those years with Sandy going 4-2 with an era of 0.95, winning MVP both years as he led his team to victory. During that 4 sesaon domination he won 3 Cy Young awards back when only one was given for all of baseball, not one for each league. All three awards votes were unanimous. No other pitcher in baseball history ever compiled such a four year record, not Gipson, Ryan, Seaver, Carlton, Feller, Clemens..nobody. There was nothing like Koufax then and there has been nothing like him since. The only reason he is not universally listed as the most dominant pitcher in the history of the game is because his career was cut short by arthritis. But for those four glorious years the baseball world agreed with the great Mickey Mantle who famously and profanely muttered after being blown away in the 1963 world series by Koufax…” how in the hell am I supposed to hit that sh**??” The great Willie Stargell described trying to hit Koufax this way…” its like trying to drink coffee with a fork”

I am a big Verlander fan and will continue to be. But until he becomes twice the pitcher he is today I will studiously avoid using his name in the same sentence with the great Sanford "Sandy" Koufax.