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Ken Holtzman, Jewish pitcher with more wins than Koufax, dies at 78

Holtzman, who threw two no-hitters and was a three-time World Series champion, later worked at the St. Louis Jewish Community Center.

Baseball glove. Credit: 2246794/Pixabay.
Baseball glove. Credit: 2246794/Pixabay.

Ken Holtzman, who won the most baseball games of any Jewish pitcher in Major League Baseball history and threw two no-hitters, died on Sunday night. He was 78 years old.

Holtzman, who battled heart issues, had been in the hospital for three weeks, his brother Bob Holtzman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of former Cubs pitcher Ken Holtzman,” the Chicago Cubs stated on social media. “Ken was a Cub from 1965-1971 and 1978-1979. He posted a 3.76 ERA in 237 games with the club, including two no-hitters, cementing himself as one of the best left-handed pitchers in Cubs history.”

The Jewish pitcher also played for the Oakland Athletics—with whom he won three World Series championships in a row—the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees. A two-time all-star, he went 174-150 in his career, with 174 wins the most of any Jewish pitcher. (Sandy Koufax went 165–87 in his career.)

Holtzman was born in St. Louis on Nov. 30, 1945. His father, Henry Holtzman, “was in the machinery business while his mother, Jacqueline, was a homemaker,” according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

A “highlight” of Holtzman’s rookie year, in 1966, was his matchup late in the season against Koufax, his “boyhood idol,” per the SABR. “Holtzman faced Koufax on Sunday, Sept. 25, in a game that drew 21,659 fans to Wrigley Field,” compared to an attendance of just 530 at Wrigley four days prior when Holtzman pitched,” it stated. “The 24th was Yom Kippur and neither Holtzman nor Koufax was in uniform as they both observed the Jewish holy day.”

On the 25th, “the Cubs scored two runs in the first inning against Koufax, and Holtzman was stellar on the mound. He went into the ninth inning with a no-hitter before giving up singles to Ducky Schofield and Maury Wills,” per SABR. “Holtzman got the complete-game 2-0 win, striking out eight Dodgers.”

Holtzman was known as “the next Sandy Koufax.”

After he retired, Holtzman worked at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis as a health and physical education supervisor, and coached in the Maccabi games, the St. Louis Jewish Light reported.

“He stayed committed to veterans’ causes throughout his life, supporting the Jewish War Veterans of America,” Robyn Schuster, Ken Holtzman’s oldest daughter, told the Jewish Light of her father, who served in the National Guard.

“It was a brief time in his life, but it was definitely something he was proud of,” she said.

“Ken Holtzman is survived by his extended family, including three daughters and four grandchildren, which includes 8-year-old Owen, a pitcher, of course,” the paper added.

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