Flashback to 1963. The Miracle Mets (1969) had not yet graced baseball. Adam Sandler wasn’t born yet. And Julius Erving, who rocked the number 32 had yet to play for the New York Nets. It was a long time ago. The detail about Erving’s jersey number is actually central to this article.
Because in 1963, three different players that wore 32 won the MVP award in their respective sport. That’s right. Not one. Not two. But three players all rocking the same uniform number all found a way to be the best.
The magic of wearing 32 in 1963 was very real. Let’s talk about those three players in this edition of Flashback Friday.
Sandy Koufax Was a Man Among Boys Wearing Number 32
The entire career of Sandy Koufax was incredible. If he played in the modern era, his run in MLB could probably have extended a decade. But the resources weren’t the same back then, and so he retired at just 30 years of age, following a Cy Young season in 1966. But in 1963, Koufax was a man among boys.
His stats from that season were incredible. Koufax finished the year with 26 wins (MLB best) and just five losses. He had 306 strikeouts (41 more than the next guy), and issues just 58 walks. A 6.00 K/BB ratio is pretty darn impressive. He fired 20 complete games (11 shutouts), while winning one of his three Triple Crowns, which means you lead the league in wins, ERA and also strikeouts.
Not only did he win the Cy Young award, but Koufax was also awarded the MVP. He was third in the majors in WAR that season, which is incredible given that as a pitcher, he played in just under 25% of his team’s total games. It was a season for the ages. For a pitcher to win the most valuable player award, they’ve got to be pretty, pretty good. And Koufax was insane. The magic of 32.
Jim Brown Was Unstoppable Wearing Number 32
During his playing days, few running backs if any, could even compare to Jim Brown. There is a reason that whenever we mention now, we always have “The Great” in front of his name. He was responsible for bringing a championship to Cleveland. He never missed the Pro Bowl. And if he hadn’t decided to pursue a career in acting, he’d have been putting up great numbers past the age of 29.
Let’s talk about Brown’s 1963 campaign, which was one of three times that he was the MVP. And remember, the NFL only had 14-game seasons in these days, So he put up numbers even better than most RB’s can do in 16 games in the modern era. Brown rushed for 1,863 yards and 12 touchdowns, while amassing an incredible 6.4 yards per carry. He added 24 receptions for 268 yards and three more touchdowns. He was dominating week in, and week out.
He couldn’t lead his team to the playoffs in that season, but he was a monster. There was very little he couldn’t do with the football in his hands. In 1963, Jim Brown was making everybody look foolish. They just could not tackle him. It was a campaign to remember.
Let’s Not Forget About Elston Howard
Elston Howard played 14 years in the majors, 12 and-a-half of them were with the Yankees. As a result of that, he was a 4X World Series champion. He played in 12 All-Star games, though was only voted into the game nine times. From 1959-1962, the league played a second All-Star game, and there were a number of reasons for it. One of them being that the money raised from it went directly into the players’ pension funds, as mentioned under the CBA at the time.
Getting back to it, 1963 was a great year for Elston Howard. It didn’t end too well as Howard’s Yankees were swept by the Dodgers in the World Series. But, they did make it to the championship. Howard belted a career-high 28 home runs. He drove in 85 runs. He battled .287 on the year, finishing with a .342 OBP.
Howard scored 75 runs, which was also a career-high. His overall numbers weren’t the most impressive, but he did defeat AL Kaline by over 100 points in the voting. Whitey Ford’s strong year wasn’t enough. Harmon Killebrew’s 45 home runs couldn’t vault him higher than fourth. Howard got the award. Probably for no other reason than he wore the number 32.
Jim Brown and Sandy Koufax were unstoppable in 1963. Elston Howard was very good, but not a game-changer. It obviously helped that his team made the World Series, but perhaps the league just wanted to reward him for consistently being very good.
Howard, who was the first black player in New York Yankees history, tragically died just 12 years after his final MLB season. In 1980, at the age of 51, he passed away, after going into cardiac arrest.
Thank You for Reading
Well, you’ve made it to the end! Thank you for reading. I’ve been enjoying putting these Flashback Friday pieces together in recent weeks, as a nice form reminiscing.
I hope that the nostalgia you were craving could be met by reading this. Plenty more to come. I’m just getting started.