On Feb. 28, 1966, Los Angeles Dodgers icons Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax did not report for the start of Spring Training and with that began a double holdout that lasted 32 days.
It was a time in MLB history that free agency or salary arbitration did not exist. Koufax and Drysdale sought a combined three-year, $1 million contract that would be split evenly across respective deals.
Although revered for their contributions on the field, the famed Dodgers pitchers garnered plenty of public criticism and frustration from fans. Their holdout 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 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.”
Drysdale and Koufax ended their lockout on March 30, 1966, when they signed for $105,000 and $130,000, respectively.
Koufax was coming off a season in which he went 26-8 with a 2.04 ERA, 1.93 WHIP and 27 complete games over 43 appearances (41 starts). During the 1965 campaign he led the Majors in wins, ERA, innings pitched (335.2), strikeouts (382) and strikeouts-to-walk ratio (5.38).
Koufax also 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 in 1966.
The 1966 season saw Koufax again win the Cy Young, earn an All-Star Game selection, and he led the Majors in wins, ERA, complete games, starts, innings (323) and strikeouts (317).
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.
Koufax retired after 1966 season
While Koufax began 1966 in a holdout and pursuing a more lucrative contract, that season wound up being his last with the Dodgers.
The left-hander retired at just 30 years old due to due to chronic arthritis in his elbow.
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