Ken Holtzman
Ken HoltzmanREUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Former Major League Baseball left-handed pitcher Ken Holtzman, who threw two no-hitters with the Chicago Cubs and won three straight World Series championships with the Oakland Athletics from 1972-74, has died at the age of 78, according to a report on MLB’s website.

Holtzman was battling heart issues and was hospitalized for three weeks before his death on Sunday, his brother, Bob, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Holtzman was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 3, 1945 and was raised in an observant Jewish family.

He was selected by the Cubs in the fourth round of the first MLB Draft in 1965 out of the University of Illinois. Upon arriving in the Majors, he drew comparisons to Sandy Koufax, the famous Jewish left-hander who pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Holtzman is the winningest Jewish pitcher in Major League history with 174 victories. Koufax won 165 games in his career.

Holtzman spent his first seven seasons with the Cubs and threw no-hitters in 1969 and 1971.

In 1971, he was traded to the A’s for former No. 1 overall Draft pick Rick Monday, and became a key part of Oakland’s starting rotation during the team’s run of three consecutive World Series titles. Holtzman posted a 1.97 ERA over 59 1/3 innings during the postseason in those three years and earned the win in Game 7 of the 1973 Fall Classic against the Mets, holding New York to one run over 5 1/3 innings.

In April of 1976, Holtzman was traded from the A’s to the Baltimore Orioles, and he was traded again later that year from the Orioles to the New York Yankees. Holtzman won his fourth World Series ring as a member of the Yankees in 1977, though he didn't appear in that year's postseason. Holtzman was dealt from the Yankees to the Cubs in 1978, finishing his career where it started.

Over 15 MLB seasons for the Cubs, A’s, Orioles and Yankees, Holtzman went 174-150 with a 3.49 ERA and 1,601 strikeouts in 2,867 1/3 innings.

After his playing days were over, Holtzman went on to attempt a career as an insurance salesman and also worked for the St. Louis Jewish Community Center. He coached the St. Louis baseball team for the Maccabi games for a few years and is a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame, St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and the University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame.

Holtzman also managed the Petach Tikva Pioneers in the inaugural 2007 season of the Israel Baseball League, but left in the middle of the season, unhappy with the way the league was run.

The Cubs said in a statement on Monday, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of former Cubs pitcher Ken Holtzman.”

“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. We send our condolences to Ken's family and friends during this time.”

The Athletics also issued a statement, saying, “We are saddened by the passing of former A's pitcher Ken Holtzman. The two-time All-Star and three-time World Series Champion with the Green and Gold, Holtzman created lasting memories for our franchise. We send our deepest condolences to his three daughters, Robyn, Stacy, and Lauren; his four grandchildren; and all who loved him.”