10 Things to Learn from Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy

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Looking at Clayton Kershaw, I imagine he’s close to being this generation’s Sandy Koufax, both being left-handed Dodgers strike-out kings. As long as Kerhaw doesn’t lose velocity like Tim Lincecum of the Giants or deal with injuries like Koufax, there’s no reason why he won’t be one of the best ever. Jane Leavy’s Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy is an excellent biography of the Jewish superstar, and here are ten key things I learned about him:

1) Koufax held the ball aloft to show the proper grip on the curveball: between the middle and ring fingers with his middle finger resting inside the long seam of the ball. His thumb, index finger, and even his ring finger were largely superfluous. He threw his curve off his middle finger, karate-chopping the air, pulling down on the seams with uncommon force and friction, thus generating unprecedented spin. “When you push back up, you’ve got to bend your wrist, hook it, so your hand is almost inside your arm,” he explained. “You can’t throw it as hard. You can’t spin it as fast pushing up as you can pulling back down.” Pulling down also places less stress on soft tissue and prevents the ball from popping up into view. In photos, you can see his thumb sticking straight up as if hitching a ride.

2) ‘Look at that guy, he’s built like a Greek god.’ We looked. It was Koufax. He was sixteeen years old then.” “Nobody knew how strong Sandy was,” Buzzie Bavasi said. “Great upper body. Got it from his mother. Lovely woman.” Great lower body too. In a pickup basketball game at the YMCA, Cohen said, “he split his gym shorts, his thighs were so big. Cheap shorts.”

3) When he was growing up, baseball was neither Koufax’s dream nor his passion. His dream was to play for the New York Knicks. Wilpon was the sandlot star for whom a major league career was confidently predicted, the boy with all the tools, a polished pitcher at age sixteen who piqued every scout’s interest. Koufax was a tagalong. Sometimes he kept Wilpon company when he was summoned to Ebbets Field to throw batting practice. The Dodgers made Wilpon an offer; he does not remember how much. “Everybody got an offer,” he says.

4) As for throwing behind the barracks, everyone did—that’s where the string area was. Joe Pignatano caught him in the spring of 1955. “Everybody said, ‘Sandy’s wild, wild, wild,’” Pignatano said. “He was not that wild. A little high and low in the strike zone. Once they put that tag on you it stays with you. They never stayed with Sandy long enough to give him a chance until later when they had nobody else.”

5) Drysdale came sidearm; Koufax came over the top. Drysdale’s ball beat you up, Koufax’s rose to greet you. “Drysdale was like going to the dentist without Novocain,” Joey A. liked to say. “Sandy had the Novocain.” Facing him was painful only in retrospect.

6) Though he was a heavy smoker and the surgeon general’s report on tobacco hadn’t yet been released, he would not be photographed smoking a cigarette. In an era when caution labels were not yet required reading, he refused to endorse either tobacco or alcohol. He did a sweater ad. He owned a piece of a motel on the Sunset Strip, Sandy Koufax’s Tropicana Inn.

7) In the spring of 1966 to say of a man he’d a played for nuthin’ was the ultimate accolade and the ultimate fiction. They played for money, just a lot less of it. The conceit of mercenary selflessness is a fin de siècle construct, a gauzy, revisionist mythology which allowed fans to think better of their heroes and owners to keep salaries down. When spring training camps opened that February, the minimum player salary was $7,000—one thousand dollars more than it was when Koufax signed with the Dodgers in 1955. Winning mattered. World series checks weren’t just latte money.

8) The Dodgers not only counted on him to win, they counted on him to make them all better, to infuse even the most modest among them with his quiet bravado. If he was bullet-proof, so were they. He wasn’t exaggerating when he told Ron Fairly late in the season, referring to rookie Jim Barbieri, “If I pitch well from here on out, I can double the man’s income.” And when a television network offered him $25,000 to film a documentary on a day in his life, he said he would do it for $35,000—and only if $1,000 was given to every member of the team and coaching staff.

9) Doctors were injecting steroids directly into the elbow joint. Once he had an adverse reaction. He was lying on the training table when infielder Jim Lefebvre walked in. “His arm, it was, like, twice the size,” Lefebvre said. “It was like a boil. I looked at him and I said, ‘Oh, my God, your season’s over.’ He looked at me and he goes, ‘No, no, Frenchie, it’s too late in the season. I won’t miss my start.’ And he didn’t.”

10) On September 9, 1965, Sandy Koufax and Bob Hendley pitched one of the best baseball games ever played. Hendley pitched a one-hitter, the game of his life, and lost on a young catcher’s error. The only run scored on a walk, a sacrifice, a stolen base, and a bad throw. As Scully said, “The only hit, you almost couldn’t dignify as one.” Hendley’s teammate, Ken Holtzman, calls it “the greatest loss in baseball history.”

10 Thing to Learn from The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood

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As a kid, I became a baseball encyclopedia – I clipped baseball statistics from newspapers, read baseball cards, and even knew all the names of the baseball stadium. Today, with online access to anything ever known about baseball available within seconds, it’s no longer important to be such baseball nerd (or historian). Even then, however, for whatever reasons, I was not such a big fan of Mickey Mantle. Perhaps because he didn’t have the homerun record like the Babe. He didn’t have a crazy hitting streak like Joe DiMaggio. Or maybe it was simply because he was a Yankee, and I was a Giants fan.

This started to change when I watched 61, a great movie about Mantle and Roger Maris’ chase of the single season home run record in 1961.

And then last year, I read Jane Leavy’s The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, a great look at the real (a great friend, terrible husband and father) man, as well as the player that he was (amazing) and the player that he could have easily been (if not for Joe DiMaggio), through both his faults and brilliance.

Here are 10 things worth remembering from the book about Mickey Mantle:

1) When he retired, Mantle’s 536 career home runs placed him third in major league history. Thirteen of them were game-ending homers. His 1964 World Series home run off Barney Schultz, a “walk-off” home run in the current vernacular, broke Babe Ruth’s series record. Ten times, he collected more than 100 walks; nine straight seasons, he scored 100 or more runs; four times, he won the American League home run and slugging titles. He collected 2,415 hits, batted .300 or better ten times, won three MVP Awards, and appeared in twenty All-Star Games. He scored more runs than he drove in (1,677 to 1,509).

2) Compounding Stengel’s befuddlement was the disconnect between Mantle’s power and his actual size. At only five feet eleven and maybe 185 pounds, he wasn’t big at all. Yankee pitcher Eddie Lopat was first to observe, “That kid gets bigger the more clothes he takes off.”

3) His teammates barely recognized him when he reported for spring training with the Class C Joplin Miners in 1950. “What the hell did you do?” demanded Steve Kraly. He looked like a blacksmith and sprinted like a cheetah. “The ground shook when he ran by,” Jack Hasten said.

4) He knew what his doctors could not— he was never the same after the 1951 World Series [his rookie season]. Straightaway, he could still fly down the line, his fanny getting lower with each step. But he knew he had lost lateral movement, the ability to change directions, to cut and run. And he didn’t tell Frank Sundstrom, the young surgeon who took the preoperative history, how much pain he was in until after the operation.

5) Yankee bon vivant Don Larsen summed up the big league ethos: “You got to have a little fun, for God’s sakes. You’re going to play in big cities and watch TV? Or go to movies? Those weren’t even invented.”

6) No one in baseball thought Mantle’s drinking was exceptional because it wasn’t. He could quit when he wanted to and “handle it”—baseball’s ultimate praise—when he had to. He always took Stengel’s preseason admonition to heart: “Son, you’re the Yankees now.”

7) Every day, Mickey would go by DiMaggio’s locker, just aching for some word of encouragement from this great man, this hero of his. But DiMaggio never said a word. It crushed Mickey. He told me he vowed right then that if he ever got to be a star, this never would be said of him.”

8) But when Mantle’s monument was unveiled in center field in 1996 at a ceremony emceed by Billy Crystal, DiMaggio actually punched him in the stomach because he failed to introduce Joe D. as “Baseball’s Greatest Living Player.”

9) He told her that often when Mutt and Lovell went out to a Friday-night barn dance, her teenage daughter, Anna Bea, babysat for her half siblings. He was four or five years old when she began molesting him, pulling down his pants and fondling him while her friends, “teenagers and older,” giggled and smirked. “They started playing with him,” Merlyn told me. “And, of course, he got an erection. They laughed at him. He remembered how embarrassed he was.” That was the only time they ever spoke about it. “It could have been why he turned out the way he did,” she told me.

10) He was more energy-efficient as a right-handed hitter but his posture, batting left-handed, was more classical. Right-handed, he stood upright; left-handed, he assumed a feral crouch. Right-handed, his swing was compact; left-handed his swing was like a storm, a vicious prairie updraft.

10 Things to Learn from Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy

imageIt has been a couple of years since I read Dev Petnaik’s Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, so I was glad to find my notes and highlights from the reading to review. Empathy, in my opinion, is the most critical attribute to have in managing people and developing products. It’s the biggest reason for the success in my professional career thus far, and I use it to constantly reassess how I can improve in both aspects.

I think failing to talk to people, to understand why people have certain experiences or opinions, that willingness to “pound the pavement”, as I once heard a friend say, takes away a tremendous tool in your potential. Empathy allows you to accept that you (no, that guy is not just dumb) are wrong, and improve yourself.

Here are 10 notable quotes to remember from Wired to Care:

1) Based on her work, companies as diverse as Boeing, Merck, and Toyota developed new offerings that grew their businesses and differentiated their products. It turns out that senior citizens aren’t just some niche market—they reflect unarticulated needs that many of us have. When you make doors that are easier for seniors to open, you make life easier for all of us, young and old. Through her work, Pattie Moore has helped to make life a little bit more livable for people in many parts of the world.

2) [Harley Davidson] the company was on the verge of bankruptcy as strong Japanese competitors eroded market share and introduced cheaper, lighter models that undercut all of Harley’s product line. In response, Harley refocused its attention away from itself and onto the people who rode its motorcycles. They energized the Harley Owners Group into an army of evangelists. Harley transformed itself into an icon of American freedom. The widespread empathy that Harley employees had for riders helped them make a thousand better decisions every day.

3) In keeping IBM together, Lou Gerstner defied the advice of Wall Street analysts, competitors, and even some of his own lieutenants. He was able to transcend a barrage of bad information because he possessed contextual knowledge that others lacked: the experience of being an IBM customer. The existence of category specialists like Oracle and Intel wasn’t an argument to break up the company. On the contrary, it was because there were so many specialty players that an integrator was needed. Corporate customers simply didn’t want to get into the business of designing their own multiplatform technology solutions.

4) The challenges facing the makers of Tubbs Snowshoes going forward reflect an important truth of the global economy: It’s much harder to succeed when you create things for people you don’t know and whose lives seem alien to your own. When companies make products for people who live far away from them, they often make silly mistakes in their design and marketing. These mistakes are caused at least in part by linguistic and cultural differences.

5) During their heyday, U.S. automakers created programs that gave their top managers use of their latest vehicles for next to nothing. Senior executives didn’t even have to pump their own gas. At the same time, auto companies created the A Plan, which offered every employee a deep discount any time they decided to buy a new car. Those discounts applied to friends and family of employees, too. Anyone connected to a car company could buy a brand-new American car at prices below wholesale. While this made it great to be a car company employee, it also served to make people at car companies different from the rest of us. Drivers in Detroit switch cars more often and for less money than people anywhere else in the country.

Many of Detroit’s problems stem from the fact that decision makers have little incentive to try out other manufacturers’ cars. They don’t view the market through the eyes of ordinary Americans.

6) The neuroscientists called their discovery “mirror neurons” because they allow us to replicate in our heads what we see other people doing. Remarkably, mirror neurons not only light up when we perform an action, but also when we watch someone else perform an action. If you turn a page in a book, a specific set of mirror neurons lights up. If you watch someone else turn a page, the same set of mirror neurons lights up. And that’s not all. Incredibly, even if someone just describes page-turning to you, a similar set of mirror neurons will light up.

This makes mirror neurons incredibly important for learning. When you watch someone else expertly dribble a basketball, your mirror neurons start to help you learn how to get better at it yourself. On a subconscious level, we learn just by watching. The most incredible power of mirror neurons, however, is their ability to pick up on tacit information about other people. They do more than help you learn; they help you experience other people’s lives.

7) [Empathy in organizational change] Real strategy is the aggregate of thousands of decisions that employees make over time. When you improve those decisions, you improve your strategy.

8) Target corporate headquarters used to be the same way. It wasn’t unusual to see executives wearing the same clothes that they helped put on the shelves. That changed in 2004 when Target created a strict dress code requiring formal business attire. Changing the dress code created two obstacles to empathy. First, Targeteers no longer looked like their customers. Second, and more important, they now had to shop at other stores to buy clothing that was more suitable for work.

9) In its New York offices is a wall covered with hundreds of lost gloves, all hanging in neat rows. The gloves range from fashionable ladies’ gloves to construction workers’ gloves to children’s mittens. Whenever OXO employees find a lost glove on the street, they bring it into the office and hang it on the wall. It serves as a reminder of all the different kinds of people and all the different kinds of hands that OXO products need to fit.

10) They have understanding without empathy. That can result in a lot of really awful solutions. People start making geriatric kitchen devices that they themselves would never think of buying. They shrug and say that this is what the customer wants. They have some understanding of the outside world, but they still view that world as a weird place, populated by people who are not like them.

10 Things to Learn from Smile (by Ron Gutman)

imageOver the years, I have really focused on (and hopefully improved) my ability to speak to people and use body language to create a friendly presence, particularly in business settings. This is how I became interested in Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act (Kindle Single) (TED Books). Although my friend Annie hinted at the power of the smile to me years ago, I didn’t quite realize its impact until reading this short Kindle Single. It’s easy to ready, understand, and only costs $1.99.

Most importantly, you can take away several things to remember that will help you in life.

Here are the ten most notable excerpts I took away from it:

1) Unlike in Japan, in America, smiling at strangers is considered quite normal. On the other hand, frowning at strangers for no reason is considered uncivil and even rude. Interestingly, in some countries, such as Russia, smiling at strangers is regarded as suspicious behavior, so frowning at smiling strangers is completely normal.

2) research from Hokkaido University in Japan, as well as from Northwestern University in the United States and the University of Alberta in Canada, has shown that when someone smiles with the mouth only—and not with the eyes—the smile is not commonly recognized by the Japanese as a “real” smile. On the other hand, when people smile with their eyes but not with their mouths, Americans often don’t recognize these as a “real” smiles. This explains the difference in smiley emoticons in America :-), which use neutral eyes and smiling mouth, and those in Japan ^_^, which use neutral mouth and smiling eyes.

3) When we see a big, toothy grin that shows upper and lower teeth, we’re more likely to identify (correctly) the smiler as British rather than American;

4) feel good has been noted by the well-known findings that when mothers look at pictures of their own babies smiling, it substantially lights up powerful pleasure-related areas of their brain. These are the same dopamine-associated reward-processing regions that other studies have shown to be strongly associated with addictive opiates like cocaine. Luckily, smiling is actually good for moms and children!

5) I learned a tip that I continue to use every day: smile first thing when you wake up every morning. It sounds simplistic, but try it yourself and you’ll discover the magic of this simple act: when your first act of the day is to smile your entire day is primed in a positive way and you begin your day with a fresh, optimistic start.

6) While daily smiling may make us feel as good as if we’ve had chocolate, I’ve also discovered that its actual impact is really much closer to eating an apple a day.

7) Indu Subaiya, who used smiling to transform her experience of natural childbirth. In Indu’s words, “I smiled through my natural, drug-free labor and fully believe it transformed the whole experience. I recommend smiling to all women going through childbirth!”

8) the “genuine” smile—the smile that arrives spontaneously and reflects pure delight. A genuine smile, according to Duchenne and Darwin, involves contracting both the muscles that raise the corners of the mouth (the zygomatic major muscle) as well as those that raise the cheeks and creates those little “crow’s feet” around the eyes (the orbicularis oculi). A non-Duchenne smile involves only the zygomatic major muscle.

9) The contagious nature of smiles works even among strangers, including strangers who have no intention to connect or affiliate with one another.

10) Roni wrote, “I make an extra effort to smile at people who clean up after us. Specifically, when I’m in a public bathroom or a bathroom at work and I see a janitor, I try to make eye contact, smile, and say thank you. I noticed my mom doing this when I was a child, and I saw that it created a little bit of extra respect and happiness

10 Things to Learn from Killing Jesus

imageKilling Jesus” from Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard is more like Jesus, the Superhero (or Jesus Christ Superstar). I am not religious at all; I respect those who use faith to guide their lives, but I do not respect those who use religion to differentiate themselves or look down upon others.

That said, I was very (and pleasantly) how much I enjoyed this factual history of Jesus’ life and the explanation of the world around him. O’Reilly and Dugard explain their approach in providing a history, based on reliable sources (I did not realize the Roman Empire was so good at record keeping) of the times, and do not judge or attempt to embellish, for better or worse, what was reported.

Thus, as silly as it sounds, I found myself rooting for Jesus, even though I obviously know what happened to him, and somehow hoping there would be a happy ending. In some ways, I guess you might say there is a happy ending, but it came about in a very sad way. I’ll let you interpret that on your own.

I highly recommend the book and here are ten excerpts I found most worth remembering: (as a bonus, “Christ” means King)

1) If anyone thinks it odd that a smooth-cheeked, simply dressed child from rural Galilee should be sitting alone among these gray-bearded rabbis, with their flowing robes and encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish history, they are not saying. In fact, the opposite is true: Jesus’s understanding of complex spiritual concepts has astonished the priests and teachers. They listen to his words as he speaks and treat him like a savant, marveling to one another about his amazing gifts.

2) The most common modes of killing a condemned man in the Roman Empire were hanging, burning him alive, beheading, placing him inside a bag full of scorpions then drowning him, and crucifixion. As terrible as the four might be, the last is considered the worst by far.

3) Working together, the men who, just moments ago, were praying, now cut off any route of escape. Jesus is forced to the edge of town, where a tall cliff provides a commanding view of Galilee. The men’s intention is to hurl Jesus to his death. And it appears that might happen, for Jesus seems powerless. But at the last minute he turns to face his detractors. Drawing himself up to his full height, Jesus squares his shoulders and holds his ground. He is not a menacing individual, but he has a commanding presence and displays an utter lack of fear. The words he says next will never be written down, nor will the insults these men continue to hurl at him ever be chronicled. In the end, the mob parts and Jesus walks away unscathed. And he keeps walking.

4) By early in the year 28, Jesus has selected twelve men to follow him and learn his teachings as disciples, so that they may one day go out alone into the world and preach his message. Four of the apostles—Peter, Andrew, James, and John—are fishermen. Jesus has specifically singled out men from this calling because their job requires them to be conversant in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and a little Latin, which will allow them to speak with a wider group of potential followers.

5) Jesus is undermining their [the Pharisees] authority. If allowed to flourish, his movement will destroy their way of life, stripping them of wealth and privilege. And that cannot be allowed to happen. For as much as the Pharisees say they love God, most of them are arrogant, self-righteous men who love their exalted class status far more than any religious belief system.

6) But if the disciples think that Jesus has shared his deepest secret, they are wrong. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law,” Jesus goes on to explain. This doesn’t make sense to the disciples. If Jesus is the Christ, then he will one day rule the land. But how can he do so without the backing of the religious authorities? And if that isn’t confusing enough, Jesus adds another statement, one that will be a source of argument down through the ages. “He must be killed,” Jesus promises the disciples, speaking of himself as the Son of God, “and on the third day be raised to life.” The disciples have no idea what this means. Nor do they know that Jesus of Nazareth has less than a year to live.

7) Whether knowingly or unknowingly, Jesus has led a life that is a continual fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. He was born a Jew. His lineage is that of David. A great star rose in the morning sky as he was being born in Bethlehem. It could be argued that as he grew and learned Scripture, he intentionally began contriving his actions and words to mimic the prophets’ predictions. And now comes the ultimate symbol: if Jesus chooses to ride into Jerusalem at Passover astride a donkey, he will be sending a powerful message.

8) For the past three years, Jesus has been adored, but he has also been subject to attack and suspicion. Even his disciples, despite their deep belief in Jesus and his teachings, sometimes care more about jockeying for power than about understanding his true nature and his message for the world. He has been very specific with the disciples that he is more than just an earthly Christ. They don’t understand. He has told them again and again that he is a divine being, the Son of God. They cannot comprehend that concept. Jesus has made it clear that he is the Christ but that his kingdom is not of this world. They don’t understand what he’s talking about. Three times, Jesus has told his disciples that he will die this week. But his followers refuse even to contemplate that.

9) [When Jesus is supposed to rise from the dead] But this presents another immediate challenge: Mary is physically incapable of rolling away the tombstone; she will require help. Yet most of Jesus’s disciples are still in hiding. Since yesterday was the Sabbath, and she followed the mandate to do nothing but rest, she does not know about the Roman soldier ordered to stand guard outside the tomb. But there is no guard. As the two Marys approach the tomb, they are stunned. The tombstone has been rolled away. The crypt is empty. Mary Magdalene cautiously steps forward and looks inside. She smells the myrrh and aloe in which Jesus’s body was anointed. She clearly sees the linen shroud in which the body was wrapped. But there is nothing else there. To this day, the body of Jesus of Nazareth has never been found.

10) The crucifix, that iconic image showing the body of Jesus affixed to a cross, was not a part of the Christian culture until six centuries after his death. The lack of representation of the cross may have been due to the Church’s belief in his resurrection.

10a) [I apologize for the cheating!] Little is known about what happened to the others [Jesus’ disciples – this shows that regardless of whether Jesus returned after death or not, his disciples believed he returned and led lives of misery to spread Jesus’ message after he died], except that each apostle spent his life preaching and was killed for doing so. It is a fact that the disciples of Jesus traveled as far as India, Britain, and even into Africa in their zeal to spread their faith, marking a vast sea change from their timid behavior during Jesus’s life and in the hours after his death.