Kenneth Dale Holtzman
The only Jewish left-hander not named Sandy Koufax to toss two no-hitters, this crafty southpaw also was a twenty-game winner and three-time world champion with the great Oakland A's team of the 1970s. A college graduate who majored in French, he also kept kosher at home, and as much as possible on the road. "Of course," he noted, "that has its advantages, because the kosher menu is much better food than the usual airline fare." An outstanding hurler who was an intrinsic part of the Oakland A's dynasty in the early 1970s -- the rotation of Catfish Hunter, Ken and Vida Blue was one of the best of modern times -- Ken was one of baseball's most reliable starters for over a decade.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. November 3, 1945
Born in St. Louis, Holtzman played baseball at the University City High School and then attended the University of Illinois (he graduated with a B.A. in business administration in 1967). Signed in 1965 by the Chicago Cubs, Holtzman began his major league career that season with the Cubs and had a glittering ERA of 2.25 (albeit in only three games). In 1966, his first full season in the majors, Holtzman faced his hero, Sandy Koufax, in a pitching duel at Wrigley Field on the day after Yom Kippur. Interestingly, the matchup occurred only because Koufax refused to pitch on Yom Kippur and was rescheduled for the following day. Ken took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and allowed only two hits as he defeated Koufax, 2-1. That was Koufax's last regular season loss; he retired after the season. Ken finished the season 11-16 with a more than respectable 3.79 ERA.
In 1967, Holtzman was a star for the Cubs even though he could only pitch on weekends because of military service. He nonetheless went 9-0, with a sparkling 2.53 ERA. Over the next four seasons with the Cubs, Ken pitched two no-hitters; the first in 1969 against Atlanta Braves and the second in 1971 against the Cincinnati Reds (he also scored the only run in a 1-0 victory over the Reds). Following the 1971 season, Holtzman asked to be traded and the Cubs obliged him and Ken joined the Oakland A's, with whom he had his greatest success. On a pitching staff with Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom, and reliever Rollie Fingers, Holtzman took a back seat to no one and blossomed into one the game's best pitchers.
Over the next four years with the A's, Holtzman never won fewer than 18 games a season and was a key member of a starting rotation that won three consecutive World Series (1972-1974). In 1972, he had a record of 19-11 with an ERA of 2.51 as the A's won the first of three consecutive World Series. Among Holtzman's teammates on the 1972 World Champion A's were fellow Jewish players Joel Horlen, Art Shamsky, and Mike Epstein. In 1973, when Holtzman went 21-13 with a 2.97 ERA, he was The Sporting News left-handed Pitcher of the Year. That year, he started games 1, 4, and 7 against the New York Mets in the World Series. In the three World Series combined, Ken was 4-1, with a cumulative ERA of 2.55 -- and he also batted .333. In 1973, after Oakland's second straight World Series triumph, A's owner Charley O. Finley told Holtzman that "without you, we couldn't have won two World Series in a row. With you, we're going to make it three...in a row."
Despite the success of the A's, they were not financially rewarded by the notoriously cheap Charley Finley. When free agency became a reality, Finley decided to trade his star players rather than sign them to better contracts. In 1976, Holtzman was traded to Baltimore with Reggie Jackson, but was then shipped to the New York Yankees in the middle of the season. He remained with New York until 1978, but his stormy relationship with manager Billy Martin resulted in Ken not pitching much for the Yankees. Despite Holtzman's 14-11 record that year -- achieved even while being shuffled from team to team -- Martin never once called upon this famously clutch hurler to pitch in the post-season. Even when the Yankees were unceremoniously swept by the Reds in the World Series, Ken, with characteristic class, refused to complain or to criticize his manager's bizarre (mis)use of him.
In 1978, Holtzman returned to the Cubs, and played until 1979. Over his 15-year career, Ken went 174-150, with over 30 shutouts and more than 1600 strikeouts. He is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (in Commack, New York). Following his retirement from baseball, Holtzman worked as a stock broker and in the insurance business.
Holtzman pitched for the Chicago Cubs, 1965-71, and 1978-79, the Oakland A's, 1972-75, the Baltimore Orioles, 1976, and the New York Yankees, 1976-78.
6'2", 175 pounds
Throws left, bats right
Winning pct.: .537
Games Started: 410
Complete Games: 127
Innings Pitched: 2867.1
Hits Allowed: 2787
Strike Outs: 1601
Home Runs: 2
Batting Average: .163
Double Plays: 25
Total Chances per Game: 1.4
Fielding avg: .958
Use links below to navigate through the baseball section of Jews In Sports.
PHOTOGRAPHS AND OTHER IMAGES
Also, read a chapter from Jewish Baseball Stars by Harold U. Ribalow and Meir Z. Ribalow
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
Great Jews in Sports, by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
The Big Book of Jewish Baseball: An Illustrated Encyclopedia and Anecdotal History, by Peter S. Horvitz and Joachim Horvitz (New York: S.P.I. Books, 2001)