He remains the standard by which other pitchers are measured. Sandy Koufax had a 12-year career, but he didn’t really have a standout season until his seventh campaign, and only the last five years of his career got him into the Hall of Fame.
But what an amazing five years they were. From 1962-66, he led the National League in ERA, three times leading the majors. He would also win three Cy Young Awards, two World Series titles, and the 1963 NL MVP Award in that span.
Consider that in his first seven years in the majors, Koufax had a career 3.94 ERA. In the next five years, he was a 1.95 pitcher over 1,377 innings, lowering his regular-season career ERA to 2.76. Koufax credits his turn around to a suggestion from his catcher, Norm Sherry, to take a bit off his fastball.
Then, just like that incredible fastball, he left the game in a flash and retired at 31 because of chronic arthritis in his left elbow.
This brings an interesting collecting point. How well-preserved are cards from his first seven years, including his rookie card, when Koufax was a middle-of-rotation hurler?
Koufax had cards in the 1955-66 Topps sets, and we’re not including the various Pitching Leaders cards he appears in throughout the years. This analysis will look at PSA population reports for Koufax’s most difficult cards to find in NM/MT, MT, and Gem Mint grades, excluding qualifiers. Here’s what we found:
- Sandy Koufax is the most graded card in the 1955 Topps set, and it’s not even close. The card has been graded more than 9,500 times. For context, it has been graded 3,000 more times than the Roberto Clemente rookie card in the same set.
- The lowest-percentage Koufax card to find in high grade is also the 1955 set, his rookie card, with only 3.6% of submissions attaining a grade 8 or higher, excluding qualifiers.
- The highest percentage of a specific issue graded 8, 9, or 10? That would be Koufax’s 1964 Topps card. Nearly 20% of those submitted returned one of the top three grades.
- The least submitted Koufax card is the 1956 Topps Gray Back, with 1,652 submissions. However, with the White Back included, the total for the ‘56 Topps goes up to 6,308. The ‘56 Topps Gray Back is the second-lowest percentage card in high grade, with 4.6% returning in grade 8 or higher. But combined with the White Back, the ‘56 set has a high-grade percentage of nearly 8%.
- The 1959 and 1962 Topps sets are the second-lowest percentages returning in a high grade, with just under 5% of submissions getting an eight or higher.
- The least submitted Koufax card from any set is from 1963 Topps. A total of 3,013 cards have been submitted. The 1965 Topps set has the second-lowest with 3,226 submissions.
- Gem Mint 10 grades are incredibly difficult to find, with only 14 Koufax 9s in circulation from the 12 sets in which he appears. Here’s the breakdown of 10s by set: 1955 (3), 1956 (2; one Gray Back and one White Back), 1958 (1), 1960 (1), 1961 (2), and 1964 (4).
Percentage of Sandy Koufax Cards in 8, 8.5, 9 or 10 Grades
1955 Topps 3.6%
1956 Topps Gray Back 4.6%
1956 Topps White Back 9%
1956 Topps (Gray and White) 7.9%
1957 Topps 6%
1958 Topps 9.5%
1959 Topps 5.3%
1960 Topps 10.7%
1961 Topps 13.8%
1962 Topps 5.3%
1963 Topps 9.7%
1964 Topps 19.5%
1965 Topps 18.3%
1966 Topps 7.8%
See original graded Koufax cards on eBay here.