Today is October 8 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you improving your corner of the universe?” "Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still” is an oft quoted Chinese Proverb. People who navigate the chaos understand the value of not standing still in order to improve their corner of the university. Sandy Koufax provides one example.
After many teams passed on Koufax in the 1955 Major League Baseball (MLB) draft he eventually signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Pirates were impressed with Koufax but the son of GM Branch Rickey had seen Koufax get clobbered during a game in a minor league game and advised his father not to sign Koufax.
In "The Incomparable Career of Sandy Koufax," an article published in The Atlantic on October 6, 2016, author Gregory Orfalea details the story as to how Koufax made it to the majors.
“Fortunately for Koufax, Jimmy Murphy of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle saw that exact same game in which Koufax got clobbered. Murphy told Al Campanis of the Dodgers what impressed him the most was even though Koufax was getting shelled, he did not give up and kept pitching with a blistered, bloody hand.”
Six years after being signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers Koufax considered quitting baseball after going 8–13 in the 1960 season. But in 1961, five things happened that caused one of the greatest turn arounds in sports history. First, he lost 20 pounds and got into the best shape of his life. Second, he worked with his pitching coach to improve his fastball.
Third, he studied his statistics and realized he performed better when he got ahead of the batters. Fourth, he worked on improving his delivery when he had a man on base. Finally, he took just enough off of his fastball to improve his control.
The end-result was that Koufax had one of the most remarkable periods of baseball history that lasted from 1962 to 1966. He had four no-hitters with the last one a perfect game. For five seasons in a row, Koufax led the National League in fewest runs and hits allowed per game. His pitches were notoriously difficult to hit; getting the bat on a Koufax fastball, Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell once said, was like “trying to drink coffee with a fork.”
His curveball was perhaps the strongest weapon in his arsenal of a pitching arm. When asked the question “How do you define the art of pitching?” Koufax answered succinctly, “Control.” He was known for “his twelve-to-six curveball,” meaning it started at 12 o’clock and the bottom fell out to 6 o’clock.
As the great power-hitting Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks once described it, “Sandy’s curve had a lot more spin than anyone else’s. It spun like a fastball coming out of his hand. It jumped at the end.”
He retired at 30 years of age when he realized his injured arm could not take it anymore. As he recalled in an interview years later “In those days there was no surgery. The wisdom was if you went in there, it would only make things worse and your career would be over, anyway. Now you go in, fix it, and you’re OK for next spring.”
Sandy Koufax is also known for is his refusal, in 1965, to pitch the first game of the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. (Don Drysdale pitched instead and gave up seven runs in the first three innings; “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too,” he said when the team’s manager pulled him out of the game.) In 1971, the 36-year-old Koufax became the youngest person ever to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
For today’s reflection, let’s consider the five things Koufax did to improve his corner of the universe.
First, he lost 20 pounds and got into the best shape of his life.
Was losing weight something he had control over? Yes.
Second, he worked with his pitching coach to improve his fastball.
Was improving his fastball something he had control over? Yes.
Third, he studied his statistics and realized he performed better when he got ahead of the batters.
Was studying statistics something he had control over? Yes.
Fourth, he worked on improving his delivery when he had a man on base.
Was working on improving his delivery something he had control over? Yes.
Finally, he took just enough off of his fastball to improve his control.
Was taking just enough off of his fastball something he had control over? Yes
Author Aldous Huxley noted “There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self.” Koufax improved his own corner of the universe.
What is in your control right now that you could work on to improve yourself?
Who in your life right now can help you improve yourself?
How committed are you to improving your corner of the universe?
How often do you improve your corner of the universe?
How often are you making excuses about things or people getting in your way of improving yourself?