On March 30, 1966, famed Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale ended their double holdout by signing new contracts for $130,000 and $105,000, respectively. Their holdout during Spring Training lasted 32 days.
The two future Hall of Famers demanded a combined $1 million over three years. They fell short of that but ultimately signed for more than what the Dodgers had initially offered to the hurlers.
Although revered for their contributions on the field, Koufax and Drysdale were the subject of plenty of public criticism and frustration from fans. The situation is widely considered the first time players banded together and is credited for altering the economics of baseball.
MLB went on to eliminate its reserve clause, which limited players to the teams that had their rights, and arbitration and free agency soon followed.
Former Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi later recounted some details of the holdouts and offered his perspective in a first-person account for Sports Illustrated:
To tell the truth, I wasn’t too successful in the famous Koufax-Drysdale double holdout in 1966. I mean, when the smoke had cleared they stood together on the battlefield with $235,000 between them, and I stood there With a blood-stained cashbox. Well, they had a gimmick and it worked; I’m not denying it. They said that one wouldn’t sign unless the other signed. Since one of the two was the greatest pitcher I’ve ever seen (and possibly the greatest anybody has ever seen), the gimmick worked.”
At the time of his holdout, Koufax was coming off a season in which he went 26-8 with a 2.04 ERA, 1.93 WHIP and 27 complete games in 43 appearances (41 starts). He led the Majors in wins, ERA, innings pitched (335.2), strikeouts (382) and strikeouts-to-walk ratio (5.38).
Koufax won a second career Cy Young Award that year, was named to his fifth All-Star Game and finished second in MVP voting. With a new contract in hand, the left-hander finished 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 27 complete games in 41 starts.
The 1966 season saw Koufax again win the Cy Young and earn an All-Star Game selection, and he led the Majors in wins, ERA, complete games, starts, innings (323) and strikeouts (317). Of course, that also wound up being his final season as Koufax retired due to chronic arthritis.
Including 1966, Drysdale went on to pitch in four more seasons for the Dodgers. He failed to replicate a dominant 1965 campaign, however, as the right-hander followed it with a disappointing showing at 13-16 and a 3.42 ERA.
Drysdale sported the same record in 1967, though managed to lower his ERA to 2.74 in an All-Star season. He then went 14-12 with a 2.15 ERA and was an All-Star in 1968 before retiring in August 1969.
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