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How to Win

What Made Sandy Koufax Great

Hall of Fame baseball player Sandy Koufax comes to mind today because in 1965 he declined to pitch in Game One of the World Series and instead attended synagogue on Yom Kippur.

At the time, Koufax was the best pitcher in the world, and the Dodgers sorely missed him in Game One. He came back to help the Dodgers beat the Minnesota Twins in seven games.

His conviction in choosing a religious obligation over a baseball game — no matter how important — speaks for itself.

What really intrigues me is exactly HOW Koufax became the best pitcher in the world. He arrived in big-league baseball with the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, able to throw the ball hard but unable to control it.

After years of inconsistency, he took the advice of teammate Norm Sherry, who told him to ease up on the speed in order to gain a little more control. The adjustment worked.

So here’s how Koufax became the greatest pitcher in the world: He was coachable.

Many players have come to the big leagues with the ability — like Koufax — to throw the ball hard. But not every one of them was coachable.

Years ago there was a minor-leaguer who was called up to the National Hockey League by the New York Rangers. After the game, superstar Rod Gilbert approached the player and offered some tips.

With contempt, the player brushed off the advice, and shot back, “And how many goals did YOU score tonight?”

With such an attitude, the player went back to the minor leagues and was never heard of again. Gilbert wound up in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Legendary basketball coach Pat Riley has only one question when he is asked his opinion on a potential trade. “Will I be able to coach that player,” he wants to know.


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