Most true baseball enthusiasts are well aware that Dodgers left-hander Sandy Koufax threw four no-hitters during his incredible Hall of Fame career; certainly most Dodger fans are aware of this. They also know that Koufax’s fourth and final no-hitter, occurring on Thursday, September 9, 1965 at Dodger Stadium against the Chicago Cubs, was a perfect game – only the eighth perfect game to be pitched in the history of the game at the time.
But what many baseball fans may not know is that Koufax’s perfect game is still considered one of the greatest baseball games ever played in the history of the game… if not the greatest baseball game ever played.
The fact that the Koufax’s perfect game ended with a score of 1-0, although remarkable, is not what sets the game apart from any of the other (now) 23 perfect games ever pitched; in fact there have been seven perfect games with a 1-0 final score. No, what puts the Koufax perfect game into a class of its own is that while no Cubs player managed to get a hit or reached base safely, the Dodgers themselves managed to get only one hit and had only two base runners during the entire game. If you really want to get technical, there was actually only one Dodger player to reach base safely during the game when you consider that it was Dodgers left fielder “Sweet” Lou Johnson who reached base both times – once on a 5th-inning walk and the other on a bloop double behind Cubs Hall of Fame first baseman Ernie Banks in the 7th inning.
Obviously the fact that Koufax faced the minimum of 27 batters without allowing a base runner is the big story here, but the fact that Cubs left-hander Bobby Hendley allowed only one hit himself is what makes this epic pitcher’s dual the greatest game ever played.
What makes this game even more incredible it that it wasn’t even Sweet Lou’s bloop double that accounted for the only run scored in the game – in fact, Johnson was left stranded on second base. It was the leadoff walk to Johnson in the bottom of the 5th inning on a 3-2 pitch (that could have been called either way) that led to the only run of the game. That questionable 3-2 pitch was the difference between a 1-0 shutout and a double no-hitter through 8 1/2 innings.
After Johnson’s leadoff walk, Dodgers right-fielder Ron Fairly dropped a bunt down that was momentarily bobbled by Hendley and his only play was to first for the sacrifice out. This brought up Dodgers rookie second baseman Jim Lefebvre (who went on to become the 1965 NL Rookie of the Year) with one out and Sweet Lou on second base. On Hendley’s very first pitch to Lefebvre, Johnson stole third base with Cubs catcher Chris Krug’s throw sailing over the head of Cubs Hall of Fame third baseman Ron Santo allowing Johnson to score. It would be the only run of the game and it came without an official At Bat or official RBI in the inning (the run was unearned).
So who is Bobby Hendley? Who is The Other Guy?
Charles Robert (Bobby) Hendley was born on April 30, 1939 in Macon, Georgia, where he still lives today. He attended Lanier High School (now called Central High School) and led his team to the Georgia State High School Championship. Hendley was also a standout athlete on the school’s basketball and track teams.
Hendley received a scholarship to the University of Georgia; however he elected to forego college to sign with the Milwaukee Braves after being drafted by them in 1958.
After the 1963 season, Hendley was traded from Milwaukee to the San Francisco Giants in a six-player deal. On May 28, 1965, he and Harvey Kuenn were traded by the Giants to the Chicago Cubs. Although they didn’t know it at the time, both Hendley and Kuenn would become immortalized in baseball history a short four months later.
During his seven-year major league career, Hendley had a record of 48-52 and a career ERA of 3.97. He had 522 career strikeouts in 879 innings pitched. He pretty much owned the Dodgers, especially Sandy Koufax, who he had already beaten once in 1965 and beat him again five days after Koufax’s perfect game. In other words, there was absolutely no one better in the Cubs rotation (or in all of baseball for that matter) to send to the mound to oppose Sandy Koufax than Bob Hendley; and that speaks volumes about the man.
Hendley was traded to the New York Mets in 1967 and, after three elbow operations, he retired after the 1967 season. Hendley returned home to Macon where he coached seven winning seasons at River North Academy High School and 15 winning seasons at Stratford Academy High School. In fact, the baseball field at Stratford Academy is named Bobby Hendley Field in his honor.
As proud as Hendley is of his professional baseball career and his extremely successful high school coaching career, he considers earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Mercer University his greatest accomplishments. Hendley, now 73 years old and retired, has been married to his childhood sweetheart Runette Harris Hendley for 48 years. The Hendley’s have two children, Brett, 42 and Bart, 38.
Ever the southern gentleman, the soft-spoken Hendley is at peace with his place in baseball history.
“I don’t sweat it. I not only got beat by one of the all-time great pitchers, but I got beat by class. I never met a finer gentleman than Sandy Koufax,” said Hendley 47 years after the greatest pitching match-up in baseball history. “My mother and dad taught me what was important in life – it is not what you accomplish, but the type person you are.”
In the end, Koufax struck out 14 batters on that fateful night of September 9, 1965, including the final six batters he faced. It was the most strikeouts ever recorded in a 9-inning perfect game. (Matt Cain tied this record during his perfect game on June 13, 2012). The final batter that Koufax faced that night was Harvey Kuenn – the man for whom Vin Scully uttered the immortal words “Sandy into his windup. Here’s the pitch. Swung on and missed! A perfect game!” – words that are etched into baseball history forever.
Koufax made a total of 113 pitches that night, 79 for strikes. Although it was his fastball that accounted for most of his strikeouts, his curveball was absolutely incredible. In baseball jargon, a sweeping curveball is referred to as “Uncle Charlie.” In Koufax’s case, players referred to his as “Lord Charles.”
In spite of Bob Hendley’s valiant effort and brilliant performance, and in spite of the fact that he had pitched the game of his life, Hendley simply picked a very bad night to be very good; because as good as he was, Koufax was simply better. In fact, on September 9, 1965, Sandy Koufax was the best there ever was.
* * * * * * * *
Some Koufax Facts
- After struggling for the first five years of his career, 1961 was undoubtedly Koufax’s breakout season. He went 18-13 and led the majors in strikeouts, something that he would do three more time before retiring in 1966.
- From 1961 through 1966, Koufax led the league three times in wins and in shutouts, and twice in complete games.
- In 1965, Koufax set a new single-season record with 382 strikeouts, a record that was broken by Nolan Ryan in 1973 – by one (383).
- Koufax threw a no-hitter in each of four consecutive seasons from 1962 to 1965. No other pitcher in the history of the game has accomplished this and probably never will. (Hall of Famer Bob Feller threw a no-hitter in three consecutive seasons).
- In the top of the 9th inning of Koufax’s perfect game, Joey Amalfitano pinch hit for Cubs shortstop Don Kessinger because in his three previous pinch hit at bats against Koufax that season, he reached base twice. (“He hit my bat twice,” said Amalfitano years later). As Amalfitano stepped up to the plate, he recalled thinking to himself “He knows I’m a first-ball, fastball hitter; first pitch gotta be a curveball.” Koufax threw him a 100 MPH fastball for a called strike. “That pitch sounded inside to me,” Amalfitano said to home plate umpire Ed Vargo. “It sounded like a strike to me,” replied the witty Vargo.
- Jeff Torborg was the Dodgers catcher the night Koufax pitched his perfect game. During his 10-year playing career, Torborg also caught no-hitters thrown by Bill Singer (July 20, 1970) and by Nolan Ryan (May 15, 1973) – the first of Ryan’s MLB record seven no-hitters. Ironically, none of Ryan’s no-hitters were perfect games.
- Koufax is youngest player to be voted into Hall of Fame at 36 years, 0 months, and 21 days old. Second youngest was Lou Gehrig at 36 years, 5 months, 19 days old.
- Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame slugger Willie Stargell once said of Koufax that “Hitting against him is like eating soup with a fork.”