Today is October 8 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you improving your corner of the universe?” People who navigate the chaos like professional baseball player Sandy Koufax turned his life around by dedicating himself to improve his own corner of the universe.
After many teams passed on Koufax in the 1955 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 make it to the majors. “Fortunately for Koufax, Jimmy Murphy of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle saw that exact same game in which Koufax got clobbered but told Al Campanis of the Dodgers that was impressed him the most was that, through 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.
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. Are you?