He was a bonus baby, snared by the Brooklyn Dodgers out of high school as a pitching prospect of enormous proportion. His big league debut came 60 years ago next month at age 19 and was over by age 30. Any list of the best Sandy Koufax baseball cards has fewer standard issues to choose from than you’d find of virtually any other Hall of Famer, but that would sell his cardboard career short.
The 1955 Topps Koufax rookie card, created before he’d pitched an inning of big league ball, is going to head up any list. Frankly, though, there are some others that probably tell his story better.
Koufax was almost an afterthought until the Dodgers moved west and it was in Los Angeles where he became a national star. Handsome, marketable…and unhittable, Koufax was a perfect fit for summer nights in southern California and national World Series telecasts.
He won just 165 games in his injury-shortened career but it’s a testimony to his greatness that there was never a question about his place in the Hall of Fame.
It’s highly subjective, but here’s a list of ten great Koufax cards that belong in any collection:
One of the most valuable and sought after cards of the post-War era, the boyish hometown kid didn’t appear in the 1955 World Series. As a bonus baby, he had to be kept on the big league roster for two years, a rule that pushed another young pitcher, Tommy Lasorda, down to the minor leagues. You might have to fork over $400 even for a lower grade example but they’re readily available.
1957 Topps Sandy Koufax
A big smile crosses Sandy’s face on this beautiful card from the most popular 1950s set. Any list of the best Sandy Koufax baseball cards has to have this one but big frowns are found on the mugs of collectors who try to find high grade copies at a reasonable price. If it weren’t enough to be an early career card of a Hall of Famer, this one is part of the scarce series.
There’s little doubt the future of this card is as bright as Sandy’s countenance. You can find some nicer examples on eBay, but expect to pay $250 and up.
1958 Bell Brand Dodgers Sandy Koufax
The potato chip aisle was the place to be when the Dodgers moved west. Bell Brand created a series of Dodgers cards through the early 60s but this was the first, issued just months after the move from Brooklyn.
Find one on eBay and if you wait too long, it’s sure to be gone.
Another ‘food issue’, the Morrell cards were in full color and the Koufax card is one of the best. For their first few years on the coast, the team played in the cavernous confines of the L.A. Coliseum, and the familiar architecture is seen on Sandy’s card. There are usually a few on eBay and it’s worthy of your commitment. The 1961 isn’t bad, either.
Most of Sandy’s Topps cards are posed shots, even close-ups, which is kind of disappointing. You want Koufax, you want to see pitching motion and even though he’s posing, it’s still Sandy in action.
Originally residing in chip bags, these often have stains so when you browse for them online, you might hold out for the best one you can find.
1963 Fleer Sandy Koufax
Buy a cookie, get a Koufax. The one-year wonder that was ’63 Fleer gave us some dandy cards of 1960s Hall of Famers and this might be the best card in the set. Smilin’ Sandy is back and better yet, they are very easy to pick up online for a pretty reasonable price. You’d grin too if you had Sandy’s fastball in 1963.
The set isn’t difficult to find or put together, but it did have some single prints and Koufax was one of them. Mix a mild challenge with a fantastic, clear photo and you have something magical. Prices on these vary greatly with condition (there’s a PSA 10 online now for $25,000 if you’re so inclined) but a very nice, ungraded example can be had for around $50.
This card was part of the World Series subset and commemorates his 15-strikeout performance from Game 1 of the ’63 Series. Just a terrific horizontal shot of Koufax firing toward the plate with the stands packed in the background. The perfect picture of exactly what Koufax was at that time on one little piece of cardboard. Buy a nice one for $30 or so and feel like the smartest guy in the room.
Koufax and Drysdale. They were joined at the hip in the Dodgers’ pitching rotation and this card captures their dominance as ERA champ and runner-up in ’64. The blue border combined with the blue caps on the dominant duo worked nicely for Topps. You can find NM examples for around $30.
His sudden retirement meant there were no Koufax Topps cards in America in 1967, but he did show up on the Topps Venezuelan set with the famous ‘Retirado’ moniker. The card quality is suspect but the unique image of in-your-face Sandy and the scarcity of the issue makes it sort of a Koufax holy grail. You can find these, but you’ll have to be alert and ready to dig deep to meet the asking price.