Of all the compliments one could pay to Dean Chance’s incredible 1964 season and subsequent awarding of the Cy Young Award, perhaps the highest praise is this: he beat Sandy Koufax.
The Dodgers Hall of Fame lefthander, during arguably the most dominant four-season stretch in Major League history, took home three Cy Young Awards. Chance’s brilliance in 1964, however, prevented Koufax from winning four. (Only one winner was named for all of MLB prior to the 1967 season.) And he did so pitching half his games from the same Chavez Ravine mound as Koufax.
Wilmer Dean Chance came to the Angels in the 1960 expansion draft after spending two seasons in the Baltimore Orioles organization, and made his major league debut late in the 1961 season. Following a strong rookie season in 1962 (14-10, 2.96 ERA), Chance had a sophomore slump, slipping to 13-18 in 1963, despite a respectable 3.19 ERA.
At the All-Star break in 1964, Chance was again a victim of awful run support and sported a mediocre 5-5 record. His 2.19 ERA, however, was good enough to earn him the All-Star Game start, during which he pitched three scoreless innings.
The honor seemed to inspire Chance and the 23 year old took matters into his own hands in the second half. He won nine straight games from July 11 through Aug. 18 – six of them shutouts, and four of those by a 1-0 score. During the streak, Chance allowed only seven earned runs in 79 innings (0.80 ERA).
His brilliance was perhaps best illustrated by his complete and utter dominance of the New York Yankees.
Chance pitched five games against the Bronx Bombers, posting a 4-0 record. But here’s where things just get silly: In 50 innings of work against New York, Chance allowed one run. And it came on a solo home run by Mickey Mantle, who called Chance the toughest pitcher he ever faced.
When all was said and done, Chance was 20-9 with a 1.65 ERA, the 70th lowest ERA in Major League history and No. 7 all-time in the modern era. He threw 11 shutouts, five of them by a 1-0 score. (He also lost four games, 1-0.)
Of the 278 1/3 innings Chance pitched in 1964, opponents crossed the plate in only 35 of them. The other 243 1/3 were scoreless.
In 47 years of franchise history, the Angels have had many pitchers carry the label of staff ace – some even legitimately deserving. But only one can claim a season as the best pitcher in all of baseball. That man is Dean Chance in 1964.