The 1965 Pennant Race


Sandy Koufax stood on the Dodger Stadium pitching mound and watched a fly ball hit to left field by Denis Menke of the Milwaukee Braves. It was a high fly ball to left field, but “playable”, meaning it would not be a home run and would be caught by the outfielder. Still, Koufax, the entire Dodger organization, 41,000 fans in the stadium and millions others listening on radio held their breath.

Dodger left fielder Lou Johnson waved his arms quickly at his side, the international signal of outfielders everywhere that he had it, he would catch it, and everybody else stay away, even though there was no one within 150 feet of him. A heartbeat later, Johnson made the catch, Koufax leapt off the mound and Johnson leapt into the arms of center fielder Willie Davis and it prompted a celebration as great as any there has ever been in Dodger Stadium. The fly ball caught by the outfielder was the 27th out of the 161st game of the 1965 season and sealed the Dodgers’ 3-1 win over the Milwaukee Braves. Even more, the victory meant the Dodgers were now two games ahead of the Giants with just one game to play and the 1965 National League pennant race, the crazy, wild, bumpy, careening, frantic, roller coaster pennant race, had reached its end. The 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that could not hit, could really pitch but played its best in its toughest games, despite the tremendous odds against them, had won the 1965 National League Pennant.

This team made up of players known as Gomer (Claude Osteen), Koofoo (Sandy Koufax), Big D (Don Drysdale), Gabby (John Roseboro), Mouse (Maury Wills), Three Dog (Willie Davis), Ducky (Don LeJohn), Trixie (Dick Tracewski), Devil (Jim Gilliam), Pod (Johnny Podres), Frenchy (Jim Lefebvre), Bull (Al Ferrara), Sweet Lou (Lou Johnson) and other Dodger players put on the greatest stretch drive in Dodger history to win the National League pennant and overcame a great September effort by their arch nemesis, the San Francisco Giants.

When did this pennant race begin? For the Dodgers, coming off their dismal 1964 season of 80 wins against 82 losses, the 1965 season started the day after the 1964 season ended. The 1963 World Champion team had been humbled by the loss of starting pitching during the 1964 season as Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres both went on the disabled list. After the loss of those starting pitchers, obtaining pitching became the team’s priority during the winter.

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By Robert Schweppe