Actually, the Judge did sort of kill the left arm of God

0000 PantsOnFireRobinsonKoufax
The Judge (left) and the Left Arm of God, at a Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Ending a delightful Hardball Times essay about baseball’s historic kangaroo courts, author Alfonso Tusa couldn’t resist an anecdote involving maybe the greatest kangaroo jurist of them all, the late Frank Robinson. Put it this way: the only thing missing from Robinson’s kangaroo courts was probably a real kangaroo. Would have made a great bailiff.

Anyway, Tusa ends by recalling a day “some journalists” asked the Hall of Famer about the best pitchers he’d ever faced. Robinson didn’t flinch, even when it came to a quartet of Hall of Famers. Juan Marichal? “Killed him!” Robinson replied. Bob Gibson? “Killed him!” Don Drysdale, a particularly frequent headhunting nemesis? “Killed him!”

Sandy Koufax? “Killed him!” Then, Robinson hit the brakes. “Wait a minute. You said Koufax? No one killed him, and if they said they did, they’re lying.”

Court is now in session. The charge: perjury. The evidence (XBHt% = extra base hit percentage):

FRANK ROBINSON VS. PA 2B 3B HR XBHt% OBP SLG OPS
Bob Gibson 98 3 0 4 37 .316 .410 .726
Don Drysdale 94 6 0 4 52 .309 .440 .749
Juan Marichal 68 3 0 3 37 .324 .459 .783
Sandy Koufax 124 7 1 7 60 .355 .524 .879

If anything, it looks quite the opposite. Even allowing for how much more often Robinson faced Koufax.

The Judge didn’t exactly kill Gibson, Drysdale, and Marichal. But if Robinson got 52 percent of his hits off Drysdale for extra bases, the highest percentage among the three, that may be fifteen points higher than he got off Gibson and Marichal each but it’s eight points lower than he got off Koufax.

What a surprise that a righthanded Hall of Famer should do that much better against a lefthanded Hall of Famer than against a trio of righthanded Hall of Famers. Notice, too, that Robinson reached base more often against Koufax, slugged 65 points higher off Koufax than the next highest number among the starboard side trio, and has the most total extra base hits off him.

Lifetime Robinson hit for the same traditional batting average against pitchers from both sides, but his on-base percentage against lefthanders is 26 points higher than against righthanders, his slugging percentage against lefthanders is six points higher, and his OPS is 32 points higher against them. (Which just so happens to have been Koufax’s uniform number while we’re at it.) His OPS against Koufax is 96 points higher than against Marichal.

After the infamous Robinson-for-Pappas deal sending Robinson out of the National League, the Left Arm of God faced the Judge in Game Two of the 1966 World Series. And this is how their confrontations went:

First inning—After picking Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio (leadoff single) off first, with Curt Blefary at the plate and flying out to center field, Koufax got Robinson to fly out to left field for the side.

Fourth inning—With two outs, Robinson wrung Koufax for a walk and was thrown out at third base following an error on Brooks Robinson’s ground ball.

Sixth inning—With Koufax now in the hole 3-0 after the ill-fated fifth (Willie Davis’s three errors in center leading to three unearned runs), Robinson led off with a triple, scoring an out later on Boog Powell’s single before Koufax escaped further trouble in his final inning’s work. Of the day, the Series, and his Hall of Fame career.

Robinson didn’t exactly kill Koufax that day; that honour, alas, fell upon Koufax’s own center fielder.

There was a Hall of Famer who did kill Koufax, however . . .

SANDY KOUFAX VS. PA 2B 3B HR XBHt% OBP SLG OPS
Henry Aaron 130 6 3 7 38 .431 .647 1.077

Aaron also worked Koufax for fourteen walks against twelve strikeouts, and Koufax felt compelled to walk Aaron intentionally four times. (Where’s Willie Mays, you ask? Mays didn’t put up quite the same OPS against Koufax as Aaron for one very good reason: he was a little better at working Koufax for walks, with 25, which probably didn’t cost Koufax too many sleepless nights compared to the havoc he might had wreaked.)

But Aaron’s is the single highest OPS among seven Hall of Famers who faced Koufax 100 times or better. Stan Musial has the second highest lifetime batting average against Koufax among Hall of Famers who faced him, but Musial only faced Koufax 44 times and only 30 percent of his hits against Koufax went for extra bases.

Small wonder Koufax tagged Aaron as Bad Henry.

Frank Robinson was one of his time’s greatest students of the game, and he may have been trying in his puckish way to acknowledge Koufax’s greatness. But what the Judge should have told those reporters was, “Sandy Koufax? Killed him! Sort of. Gibson, Drysdale, and Marichal? Bailiff!!!

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