In 1993, as a 25 year-old middle school teacher, I wrote a letter to every owner of every major sports franchise (hockey, basketball, baseball, football) along with every MLB general manager, introducing myself and asking for advice on “how to be successful.” At the time, I aspired to own a team or become an MLB general manager.
I received about ten personalized letters or phone calls in return, including great letters from Daniel Rooney, president of the Steelers (“Since the Steelers were founded by my father in 1933, I happened to have an “in” with the owner”), John Schuerholz, GM of the Atlanta Braves (“I am somewhat dismayed that a person with the amount of passion you display for teaching and the great rewards it offers might be motivated to leave that great profession for other pursuits”), and kind and supportive calls from Bob Watson (then-GM of the Houston Astros) and Bob Harlan (Chairman and CEO of the Green Bay Packers). But the big daddy of all responses came from Jack Kent Cooke (1912-1997) (pictured above), the former owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Redskins.
His letter is one of the best – if not THE best letter – I have ever received. I wish you could hold it in your hands – the ivory-colored stationery itself is truly awesome, with an old-time Redskins helment at the top and ‘The Redskins’ in snazzy red letters. At the bottom of the stationery are Super Bowl banners: “Super Bowl XVII Champions – Super Bowl XXII Champions – Super Bowl XXVI Champions,” and at the end of the letter is Mr. Cooke’s elegant John Hancock, signed with his own pen. I’ll share the letter in its entirety here, in its exact original format; it’s the kind of letter that would be sinful to keep to myself:
December 2, 1993
Dear Mr. Crawford
Thank you for your pleasant letter of November 27th, which I received today. I regret that I cannot come up with an easy, simple recipe for success since I believe there’s not a surefire method of reaching the top. But for starters I believe that humanity is divided into three parts:
a) Those who make things happen, b) Those who watch things happen, and c) Those who don’t know what’s happening.
In the course of my life I’ve run across maxims which seem to relate to success. But don’t forget that success frequently is a state of mind rather than a material pinnacle. So, here are a few of those thoughts I have found helpful:
Robert Burns: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.”
Dizzy Dean: “It ain’t braggin’ if ya done it.”
John Dryden: “I am a little hurt but I am not slain and I will lay me down for to bleed a while then I’ll rise and fight with you again.”
Branch Rickey: “Luck is the residue of the design.”
Lord Thomson of Fleet: “Funny thing, the harder I work the luckier I get.”
Eubie Blake: “Be grateful for luck. Pay the thunder no mind – listen to the birds. And don’t hate nobody.”
Louis Pasteur: “Fortune smiles on the man who is prepared.”
Practices vs. Theory
Anonymous: “Some Greeks had been sitting on a wall for over a week theorizing which would fall first, a feather or a pellet of lead of the same weight. A Roman came along, listened a few minutes and said, ‘For God’s sake, drop them and find out’.”
Admiral Horatio Nelson: Said he owed his success to “Being there five minutes ahead of the other chaps.”
The Bible: “That which is essential cannot be seen with the eye. Only with the heart can one know it rightly.”
Shakespeare: “Things without all remedy should be without regard. What’s done is done.”
Churchill: a) “It’s no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” b) “Never talk monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.”
Henley: “Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pitch from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul.”
Anonymous: “Enthusiasm is akin to genius.”
Satchel Paige: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” b) “Age is a matter of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
All The Rules Rolled Into One
Satchel Paige: a) “Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.” b) “Avoid running at all times. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
Carl Rowan: “Every sickness ain’t death, and every goodbye ain’t gone.”
T.S. Eliot: a) “Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve.” b) “Nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of oneself.”
I can only add that it has always seemed to me that if you want something more than anyone else in the world wants it, and that if you’re willing to exercise the utmost intelligence and industry to get it, it will be yours.
Best wishes for success.
Yours very truly
Jack Kent Cooke (personally signed, with the flair of a king)
(Now, do you see what I mean about it being one of the best letters of all time? I have repeated Mr. Cooke’s philosophy on the three parts of humanity, and his final sentence about wanting something more than anyone else, many times to many people. Now, I have finally shared it with everyone else in the world.)