Unorthodox Style Can Be Effective
Jun 02, 2014Posted by james

Not much about Abby Squirrell’s game stands out to a spectator. A six-foot one-inch junior forward for Ossining High School’s basketball team in Westchester County, she is a solid rebounder and puts points on the board.

But, when Abby stands at the free-throw line, everyone in the stands notices her. She uses only one hand for her routine—bouncing the ball, putting it in position and then taking the shot. She certainly has one of the most unorthodox foul shooting techniques anywhere in the game. She also is second on the team in free-throw percentage, making seven out of 10 shots.

Abby’s coach explains that the basketball is supposed to be shot with one hand. The other hand serves as the guide. She just took it one step farther. It works for her and as they say, “no harm, no foul.”

But, what would happen, if during a huge regular season or playoff game, the margin of victory came down to an Abby Squirrell foul shot? A lot of people—teammates, the coach, the fans—would cringe, right?

The coach does not give it any thought. She is the team’s second-best foul shooter. They want her at the line.

Just as with sports, a person always can try something a little different, or unorthodox, in business. Others first may look on with puzzlement. But if successful, they will soon mimic or adapt it.

Do you have an idea or tactic that is a little unorthodox? Give it a try. You never know where it may lead.

Oh, and one more thing—I knew I liked Abby when I first heard about her foul shooting. She also happens to be one of her school’s best lacrosse players!

Jim

A Study In Determination
May 16, 2014Posted by james

Last year, Willie Gabay’s season seemed, finally, to get back on track. Then, boom! Bad fortune struck again.

He had just been promoted to the Hudson Valley Renegades, the short season minor league team of the Tampa Bay Rays that plays in Dutchess County, when he was struck in the face with a ball during batting practice.

This was minor setback for Willie. A few years earlier, he had been cut from his high school team. When asked about it now, he just shrugs it off, feeling the high school experience helped to shape his character and make him a better player. After all, now he is playing professional ball.

Willie did play for his community college team. He pitched well enough to get selected in the 15th round (482nd overall) in the 2012 major League Baseball amateur draft. He throws 90+ miles per hour.

The first season in pro ball on the Rays’ rookie team did not go well. Command issues, especially with off-speed pitches, led to an ERA over seven. Willie worked on his mechanics at an instructional league, where he found a familiar face. A fellow graduate from his high school was a top pitching prospect in the Rays organization. He frequently offered Willie encouragement.

As Willie mastered his pitching mechanics, he improved the command of his pitches. Then, he developed a rotator-cuff injury that slowed his progress. Once that was addressed, he debuted in the Gulf Coast League and quickly was promoted to the Single-A Renegades.

During his first outing, after pitching three strong innings, a circulation problem in his throwing arm sidelined him. Right after that, the ball broke his nose. A little later, some good news came his way—the tests on his arm came back negative.

As we get into shape for another baseball season, I haven’t heard anything more about Willie Gabay. I just hope his 2014 spring training and regular season go smoothly. He sure has the determination to succeed.

Jim

Wrestling With Confidence Makes Difference
May 02, 2014Posted by james

Confidence can be a funny thing. When you have it, you can “will” the body and mind to do things never considered possible. When you don’t have it, bad results quickly can snowball.

Rockland County high school student-athlete John Hartnett lacked confidence when he was bounced last year from a state tournament. He lost the first two matches.

“At states…I got knocked right out—like a one-two punch,” he said at the time. “Wrestling definitely showed me that I can compete with these guys—I just have to keep going to a level higher.”

He rebounded earlier this year, upsetting the second and third seeds on his surprise run to the state finals. Though he lost the last match, he realized that training and commitment got him to the finals. It also increased his confidence. He wasn’t done just yet.

“At one point, I was depressed for like three days,” said Hartnett. “I couldn’t talk to anyone in my house, and the only name that kept popping in my head was [that of the wrestler who defeated him].”

In recognition of his overall accomplishments during the wrestling season, Hartnett received a second wrestling life this year when he was selected as a wild-card entry for the New York State Wrestling Championships. He used the invite as an opportunity to redeem himself.

Hartnett and the wrestler who beat him a few weeks earlier, that name that kept popping into his head, each won their first-round matches. This set up a rematch in the 220-pound Division 1 quarterfinals. Hartnett regained his confidence and came away with a 6-4 decision.

The high was short-lived, though, as Harnett lost in the next round. But, he learned two things about himself. He was able to compete at a higher level, and he needed to continue to work hard to hone his athletic talent.

Confidence in sports, and in business, can be fragile at a young age and even when you are a seasoned pro. What you decide to do after you are knocked down determines if you will regain your swagger to compete at the next higher level.

Jim

Reputation Remains When Playing Days Are Over
Apr 15, 2014Posted by james

It was the spring of 1993 when Cal Ripken Jr. was introduced to a skinny 17-year-old kid. The teen would become the overall top pick in that summer’s draft and he had asked to meet with his boyhood idol. They had a brief and cordial meeting. They stayed in touch through the years.

Much has happened since.

Ripken continued to redefine the position of shortstop, proving that big guys could handle it defensively and also hit home runs. He became a celebrated baseball icon and a first ballot Hall of Famer. His dedication to preparation and a vigilant work ethic still are referenced more than 10 years after he retired.

Ripken took pride in representing the Orioles. He stressed that the focus always should be on his team. The many programs and charities that he supported as a young player remain important to the Ripken family legacy.

As predicted, that teenager who idolized Ripken did make it to the big leagues. He became a tremendous player with natural talent, but he also became alienated from many fans and fellow players.

Plenty of scouts said that he was the best young player they ever saw. But, maybe the budding star thought otherwise. Maybe he lacked confidence. Or, maybe he wanted to be greater than great, the greatest of all time, and he thought the only way to accomplish this was to use performance-enhancing drugs.

Alex Rodriguez had the right idea when he idolized Cal Ripken, but his train derailed badly along the way. Rather than following Ripken on the right track to success, A-Rod attempted to cheat the game for his personal gain. He also hurt future players, sending a message to athletes with considerably less natural talent in the minor leagues, on college and high school teams, and playing for fun in little league somewhere that they could grab an advantage by cheating.

A-Rod may still be a productive player when he returns, if he returns, for the 2015 season. He also will collect more money than just about any other ballplayer ever will see. But there is nothing he can do that will repair the self-inflicted damage to his reputation. Maybe he doesn’t care now, but in sports as in business reputation stays with you and your family long after your playing days are over.

Jim

Silver Still Should Shine Bright For Local Hockey Gal
Apr 01, 2014Posted by james

They had a two-goal lead with four minutes remaining in the game. A long shot, actually a zone clearing attempt, clanged off the post of an empty net. Two questionable penalties in overtime set up the winning gold medal goal for the opposing team.

Josephine Pucci and her teammates figured this would be the year to defeat Canada for the Olympic hockey gold. The U.S. team proclaimed that silver would not be a consolation. Unfortunately, sometimes situations do not work out as planned.

Pucci knew that since 2012, when she suffered a severe concussion during a game against Canada. She needed a year to recover. The injury cost Pucci her senior year at Harvard and it forced her to take a long break away from the U.S. national team. The odds were against her to make the Team USA women’s hockey squad.

But, she did it, and the Olympic experience made it all worthwhile.

“It’s been unbelievable,” she said before the gold medal game. “Living in the village is great. It’s cool meeting other athletes from Team USA. So many languages, backgrounds, everybody in one dining hall. It’s pretty cool.”

The journey did not end with the desired gold medal for Pucci and her teammates, but she personally triumphed.

She will not get back that lost year on the ice. She can’t recapture her senior year at Harvard. She still needs to be careful about her health and future head injuries. But, Josephine Pucci made it all the way back against difficult odds to represent her country in an Olympic gold medal game.

That’s someone I want on my team!

Jim

“Bullet Bob” Became “Super Insurance Guy”
Mar 17, 2014Posted by james

I didn’t see Bob Turley pitch in the major leagues. He played from 1951 until 1963. He was with the Yankees from 1955 until 1962, earning his nickname of “Bullet Bob” and winning the 1958 Cy Young Award with a 21-7 record.

Turley won that award when only one pitcher in all of major league baseball was presented with the honor. That same year, he also won the prestigious Hickok Belt that is awarded to the top athlete in all of sports.

Bob’s roots were in sports. So are mine. But not until he passed away a year ago this month did I realize how much we had in common on the business side of life.

After his playing career ended following a season split between the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox, Turley became successful in the insurance industry. He joined with Arthur L. Williams, Jr. and five others to found A. L. Williams & Associates. They advised clients to purchase short-term rather than long-term life insurance and invest the savings in mutual funds. The company became Primerica Financial Services and it later was purchased by Citigroup.

Turley earned considerably more money in financial services than he did as a professional baseball player. He also invested in real estate, purchasing and selling homes on Florida’s Marco Island and in Naples.

At an Old Timers’ Day gathering at Yankee Stadium during the 2010 season, Turley half-jokingly stated that he probably was better in business than baseball.

“It takes a little while when you get out of baseball,” he said, “but all the principles of baseball carry over into business. So, I was highly successful.”

I would add that all the principles of football, basketball, hockey and lacrosse, along with all other competitive sports, carry over into business and into every aspect of life.

Jim

Legendary Broadcaster Recalls His Schoolboy Days
Mar 03, 2014Posted by james

“Although this sounds corny, it’s true: I was born in the Bronx, and my mother actually wheeled me in a carriage on the campus [of Fordham University]. “That was years ago. Little did I know, or she, that God would be so kind as to allow me to get into the Prep.”

Vin Scully, legendary broadcaster for the Brooklyn and now Los Angeles Dodgers, uttered these words a few months ago when he was honored by his alma mater for his achievements in his professional field and for the many years of support for his school.

Following graduation from Fordham Preparatory School, Scully served in the U.S. Navy. When he returned home, he quickly enrolled at the university and he became involved in the beginning stages of FM radio in New York. At the school’s radio station, Scully honed his broadcasting style by calling Fordham baseball, basketball and football games. A month before his 1949 graduation, he landed a job with a CBS Radio station in Washington, D.C. Soon after, he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When he was a student, Scully also played two seasons on the university baseball team. He was Fordham’s center fielder in one game against Yale. The first baseman during that game was George Herbert Walker Bush. Fordham lost and both Bush and Scully went hitless.

“Years later,” Scully said at the award presentation, “I’m playing golf with the president, and we eventually got to talking about the game. I said to him, ‘Mr. President, as long as you’re in office, you can say anything you want about your baseball career (he was captain of the team). But remember, the day you walk out of the White House, we both went 0 for 3.’”

Only Vin Scully could say that to a president of the United States! I would have enjoyed playing in that foursome to hear Scully’s lyrical delivery of that line, gauge the president’s reaction and then enjoy what no doubt had to be a hardy laugh. I wouldn’t be surprised if President Bush often repeats that story. After all, he received a personalized oral box score report from a baseball broadcasting legend.

While Scully has met the cream of the crop in sports, broadcasting, politics and entertainment since he left Fordham, one story that he told at the Fordham gathering tells us so much more about the man—the kid in the stroller, the high school and college student at Fordham, the service veteran and the friendly professional broadcaster. His story began by remembering a day at the prep school when he sat in the auditorium next to classmate Larry Miggins.

“We were talking about what we hoped to do when we finished school,” said Scully. “Larry said I’d love to be a major league ballplayer, and I said I’d love to be a major league broadcaster. And we both kind of chuckled.”

Years later, on May 13, 1952, Scully was behind the microphone in the broadcast booth at Ebbets Field. Miggins approached the plate to bat for the Cardinals.

“It was so hard to speak. The Dodgers had a left-handed pitcher named Preacher Roe from Ash Flat, Arkansas. Preacher Roe was going to face my buddy Larry Miggins, and I’m going to describe whatever happens,” added Scully. “And Larry Miggins hit a home run!

“You can imagine what an emotional moment it was. First, the shock that the ball was going to go so far, then the realization that it’s a home run and I have to talk about him running around, and it hits me—that back row in the auditorium at Fordham Prep. Somehow it all came to pass.”

Jim

A Young Athlete Who Aims High
Feb 14, 2014Posted by james

When Ming Davis was young, his parents placed him in a soccer program. He didn’t like it, but their reasoning made perfect sense. Their new son, adopted from China, was born with a birth defect. He didn’t have a left arm. Soccer, of course, did not require hands.

Ironically, as he began to play, Ming wanted to become a goalie. The goalie is the only player permitted to use hands to handle the ball. Ming was not going to be deterred. He became a goalie.

Now, at 14, Ming can do just about anything he chooses, and some things he does very well. He has medaled when he hurls the javelin and he also participates in the shot put and runs track.

His handicap is not the missing arm. The handicap was eight years in a Chinese orphanage along with emotional and physical neglect.

Ming was in the orphanage with two older brothers. They often escaped, with Ming living under a bridge. He learned to panhandle, drink, smoke, cheat at cards and steal. His early years taught him to fight for every advantage and to overcome every obstacle.

Today, Ming is the acknowledged leader of every youth team on which he participates. He competes hard, but he also works harder during practice than his teammates. He cheers his teammates’ successes with infectious enthusiasm. He also helps coach younger players.

“Sometimes I just think other kids are one step ahead of me,” Ming stated in a newspaper article, “so I have to work twice as hard. I just want to push myself to be the best I can be. I never knew I would be an athlete. I was always the smallest kid. One thing I don’t want to do is give up. I want to keep my grades up so I have a great future. Sports is secondary. Sports is something you do for fun.”

I am not surprised to hear about Ming’s many accomplishments and I know he will have many more in sports and in life. He just knows how to overcome any obstacle.

Jim

Maintaining Momentum For A Smooth Ride To Success
Feb 01, 2014Posted by james

We often don’t really know much about someone until they are gone. That’s when we hear the remembrance stories that explain a life of shortcomings followed by successes, commitment and innovation. Like me, you probably never heard about Allen Rosenberg. I only learned about him recently from his published obituary.

Allen started as a coxswain during the 1950s and then he became a coach. His innovations in rowing technique helped produce Olympic and world champions.

At five feet and one inch in height, Allen never weighed much more than 100 pounds. He was described by fans as a half-pint in a world dominated by gallon jugs. But, this did not stop him from mentoring athletes who were twice his size and, during a couple of decades, spurring them to victory in international competitions with his intellect and shrewd motivational skills.

“I can’t possibly explain the difference between the silver and the gold,’ he once said to his rowers, “but if you win the silver, you’ll wake up the next morning and know that someone rowed a better race than you, and I don’t want you to go through life thinking of that.”

By profession, Allen Rosenberg was a lawyer and pharmacist. He relied on his learning skills to help transform rowing from pure brute strength into a blend of science and sport. He actually studied the ways to make a boat move, learning that there was more to it than simply using an oar and frantically pushing the water. He spoke more about lightness of hands, plus relaxing and balancing in the recovery part of the stroke. He concentrated on a long pull in the water, quiet and even. The less water disturbed, he figured, the faster the boat will travel.

Allen’s successes are numerous, including a 1964 gold medal as a U.S. Olympic coach in Tokyo. He even developed a successful rowing style, teaching rowers to fire their muscle groups in a rotation rather than all at one time. The technique became known as the Rosenberg style, and he often compared it to a group of men who attempted to move a boulder.

Rather than exhorting a great heave, Allen contended it was better to use muscle groups in sequence—first legs, then shoulders, backs and then arms—because the solution was not to budge the boulder but to keep it rolling as smoothly as possible.

That’s how I see things in business. It’s not the heavy lifting that is important. It is the Rosenberg technique that maintains momentum and ensures the ride to success remains smooth.

Jim

For One Baseball Player Nothing Was Impossible
Jan 16, 2014Posted by james

Just prior to this past Thanksgiving Day we lost Lou Brissie. The name may not be familiar to anyone who was not around when he played Major League Baseball during the late 1940s and early 1950s. That doesn’t matter. It is what he did outside of baseball that is the true measure of this man.

Let’s begin with a little inside baseball. Brissie was a star semipro southpaw pitcher from South Carolina who caught the eye of Philadelphia Athletics owner and manager Connie Mack. He encouraged Brissie to go to college, and he even paid for it, with a guarantee that the pitcher would be invited to spring training in a couple of years. Eventually, Brissie pitched three years for the Athletics and then three years for the Cleveland Indians. He threw three innings during the 1949 All-Star game at Ebbets Field.

Brissie, though, had some business to address before he finished college and played for Mack. He enlisted in the U.S. Army during 1942, trading a college classroom and mound for the battlefield and his position as a combat infantryman. On December 7, 1944, while on patrol with his unit in northern Italy, a shell exploded. Brissie broke his right foot, injured his right shoulder. The shinbone in his left leg was shattered into more than 30 pieces.

Brissie was evacuated to a hospital in Naples. Doctors were ready to remove the leg when Brissie told them about his baseball dream. The doctors wired together the bone fragments and Brissie recovered with the help of a new wonder drug—penicillin. Over the next two years, he had 23 more operations.

During his post-war baseball life and after, Brissie realized that he had become a symbol of success to many veterans who tried to overcome various personal problems. At first, he had been hesitant to talk about his war wounds. Then, upon hearing from so many people with disabilities who found their encouragement through Brissie’s accomplishments, he realized that his situation could help others.

Brissie vowed not to let them down. Even as he got older, Brissie, walking with crutches with a left leg scarred, misshapen and still prone to infection, often visited a local Veterans Affairs hospital. He talked with soldiers who had been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Until the day he passed away, Brissie kept a steel watch he had purchased at an Army PX. The watch was frozen at 10:47:53 a.m., the moment the shell burst near him. It was his reminder of bad luck but of his eventual good fortune.

“The thing that I got out of all this,” he said during 2001, “is even the things that look impossible aren’t.”

Jim