After losing to the San Francisco Giants in a three-game playoff that determined the league champion the previous year, the Los Angeles Dodgers rebounded to capture the National League pennant in 1963. The Dodgers finished the season with a record of 99-63, six games ahead of the second-place St. Louis Cardinals. The Giants finished third, 11 games behind their arch-rivals.
Although six games might seem like a fairly comfortable margin, the Dodgers had to fight off the hard-charging Cardinals during the latter stages of the season to finish atop the N.L. standings. With a lineup that included outstanding hitters such as Bill White, Ken Boyer, Curt Flood, and 42-year-old Stan Musial (in his final year), the Cardinals topped the senior circuit in scoring, hits, doubles, and triples. After catching fire in early September by winning 19 of 20 games, the Cardinals mounted a serious challenge to the Dodgers for the top spot in the National League.
With St. Louis sitting just one game behind Los Angeles in the standings, the two teams met in a critical three-game series in late September. The Dodgers took all three contests, opening up a four-game cushion and then coasting the rest of the way.
Although the Dodgers scored some 100 fewer runs than the Cardinals, they had their fair share of offensive weapons as well. Tommy Davis knocked in 88 runs and led the league with a .326 batting average. Frank Howard clubbed 28 home runs in only 417 official at-bats. Maury Wills batted .302 and topped the circuit with 40 stolen bases.
Nevertheless, the Dodgers’ greatest strength clearly lay in their pitching staff, which compiled a league-leading 2.85 team ERA. Don Drysdale won 19 games, posted a 2.63 ERA, struck out 251 batters, threw 17 complete games, and tossed 315 innings. Bullpen ace Ron Perranoski won 16 games, saved 21 others, and compiled a 1.67 ERA.
Sandy Koufax, though, clearly established himself as the Dodgers’ top performer over the course of the season, and as the driving force behind their first-place finish. Due to baseball's recent expansions, many undeserving pitchers attained employment at the major league level. To compensate, the baseball hierarchy expanded the strike zone in 1963. Most of the game’s top hurlers thrived as a result. Cincinnati’s Jim Maloney finished 23-7, with a 2.77 ERA and 265 strikeouts. Chicago’s Dick Ellsworth went 22-10 with a 2.10 ERA. Milwaukee’s 42-year-old Warren Spahn compiled a record of 23-7 and a 2.60 ERA. However, no one benefited more from the changes that went into effect at the start of the season than Koufax. With his high-riding fastball and dazzling curveball, the Dodger left-hander became a terror for National League hitters to face. Koufax finished the year with a record of 25-5, to tie San Francisco’s Juan Marichal for the league lead in victories. He also threw 311 innings and led all N.L. pitchers with a 1.88 ERA, 306 strikeouts, and 11 shutouts. Koufax’s magnificent performance earned him N.L. MVP honors.
Koufax similarly dominated the New York Yankees in the World Series. Facing Yankee ace Whitey Ford in Game One, the Dodger lefthander established a new Series record by striking out 15 New York batters during a 5-2 Los Angeles win. Koufax’s dominating performance set the tone for the entire Series, as Dodger pitchers allowed the Yankees a total of only four runs during their four-game sweep of the two-time defending world champions. Johnny Podres limited New York to one run in Game Two, Don Drysdale threw a three-hit shutout in Game Three, and Koufax returned to stymie the Yankee attack again in Game Four, pitching the Dodgers to a Series-clinching 2-1 win.
Although the Dodgers finished atop the N.L. standings in 1963, the second-place Cardinals and third-place Giants both had significantly better offenses. St. Louis received outstanding performances from first baseman Bill White, centerfielder Curt Flood, shortstop Dick Groat, and third baseman Ken Boyer. White hit 27 home runs, drove in 109 runs, scored 106 others, batted .304, and collected 200 hits. Flood batted .302, scored 112 runs, and amassed 200 hits. Although he hit only six home runs and knocked in just 73 runs, Groat finished among the league leaders with a .319 batting average and 201 hits, and he led the N.L. with 43 doubles. Boyer hit 24 home runs, drove in 111 runs, and batted .285.
The Giants, who scored only 22 fewer runs than the Cardinals, were led by the intimidating threesome of Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, and Willie Mays. McCovey tied for the N.L. lead with 44 home runs, knocked in 102 runs, and scored 103 others. Cepeda slugged 34 homers, drove in 97 runs, scored 100 others, and batted .316. Mays hit 38 home runs, knocked in 103 runs, scored another 115, and batted .314.
San Francisco also received a brilliant performance from Juan Marichal. The Dominican Dandy tied Koufax for the league lead in wins with a record of 25-8, compiled a 2.41 ERA, struck out 248 batters, and led all N.L. hurlers with 321 innings pitched.
Although the Braves finished sixth in the league, 15 games behind the first-place Dodgers, they had the circuit’s top offensive performer. Hank Aaron tied for the league lead with 44 home runs, finished first with 130 runs batted in, 121 runs scored, 370 total bases, and a .586 slugging percentage, and placed among the leaders with a .319 batting average and 31 stolen bases.
Other outstanding performers, notable events, and points of interest from around the league follow:
• April 13 - After 11 hitless at bats, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Pete Rose recorded his first major league hit, a triple off Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Bob Friend. Rose went on to capture N.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• June 14 – The New York Mets' Duke Snider hit his 400th career home run off Bob Purkey in the first inning of the Mets' 10–3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field.
• July 6 - Juan Marichal defeated Warren Spahn 1-0 in 16 innings on a homer by Willie Mays.
• August 27 – Willie Mays hit his 400th career home run during a 7-2 Giants’ victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
• September 18 – In the final regular-season game ever played at the Polo Grounds, the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the New York Mets 6–1. New York scored its only run on Jim Hickman's fourth-inning home run, the last home run to be hit at the park.
• Dodger Tommy Davis led all batters in the World Series with a .400 batting average.
• Dodger Bill Skowron came back to haunt the Yankees, compiling a batting average of .385 against them in the World Series.
• Sandy Koufax established a new modern National League record with 306 strikeouts. He also set the modern record for southpaws with 11 shutouts.
• Warren Spahn broke Eddie Plank's record for most career wins by a left-hander when he posted his 328th victory.
• The major leagues returned to one All-Star Game per season; the National League defeated the American League by a score of 5-3 at Cleveland.
• On September 13, the three Alou brothers (Felipe, Matty, and Jesus) briefly played together in the outfield for the Giants in the same game.
• Warren Spahn’s 23 victories at age 42 made him the oldest 20-game winner in history.
• Stan Musial retired as the holder of the National League record for hits with 3,630 (since broken).
• At the time of his retirement, Musial also held National League records for games played (3,026), runs scored (1,949), and doubles (725).
• Musial continues to hold the record for most career homers (475) by a player who never led his league in that category.
• Sandy Koufax no-hit the Giants on May 11.
• Juan Marichal no-hit the Astros on June 15.
• Don Nottebart of Houston no-hit the Phillies on May 17.
• Cardinal Curt Flood won the first of his seven consecutive Gold Gloves.
• Cincinnati’s Vada Pinson drove in 106 runs and led the league with 204 hits and 14 triples.
• Eddie Mathews led the league with 124 walks and was the only National League player to compile an on-base percentage in excess of .400.
• Chicago’s Lindy McDaniel led all N.L. relief pitchers with 22 saves.
• Warren Spahn led the league with 22 complete games.
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- 1963 World Series, Bill Skowron, Bill White, Bob Friend, Bob Purkey, Curt Flood, Dick Ellsworth, Dick Groat, Don Drysdale, Don Nottebart, Duke Snider, Eddie Mathews, Frank Howard, Hank Aaron, Jim Hickman, Jim Maloney, Johnny Podres, Juan Marichal, Ken Boyer, Lindy Mcdaniel, Los Angeles Dodgers, Maury Wills, Orlando Cepeda, Pete Rose, Polo Grounds, Ron Perranoski, Sandy Koufax, Stan Musial, Tommy Davis, Vada Pinson, Warren Spahn, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey