As the iconic song from The Rolling Stones goes:
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need
I learned that lesson early on in life:
It was actually a personal injury that led to my first foray into the world of sports collectibles.
When I was a little kid, soda was sold only in glass bottles. During every shipment, a few bottles per truck usually got jostled around too much and exploded or shattered. The delivery or store men would notice and replace them; these bottles rarely reached anyone's home. But one such bottle that slipped through the cracks ended up in our house.
One day when I was two years old, I was playing with a Pepsi bottle when it abruptly shattered in my hands. A glass shard flew into my face, ripping through my left eyelid. Blood was everywhere.
My mother rushed me to the emergency room of Kings County Hospital. The resident who examined me told her that while my eye and my sight were not in danger, the nature of the wound might leave that part of my face with a serious scar.
"Who would be the best doctor to do the stitches for something like this?" my mom asked him.
"That would be the chief of plastic surgery," the doctor answered. "But he's not here right now, so we'll have to call an attending physician."
"When will the chief of plastic surgery be back?"
"He won't be in until tomorrow," the doctor said, "At least another 12 hours. Maybe longer."
Holding a toddler in her lap who was bleeding out of his eye, my mother was faced with a choice. She could have me stitched up, cleaned up, and back home in little time. That was the safe play. But she knew that this scar would be with me my entire life, in a prominent location. She wanted to make sure that the best doctor possible did the stitches.
"We will wait for the chief surgeon," she said.
Just because we were poor didn't mean that we were less worthy of the best medical care. We waited.
It has faded a lot, but I still have the scar: a half-inch streak under my left eye, like the track of a tear. For a long time now, it's been just deep enough to be noticeable in good light, but not enough to alter the look of my face. It doesn't feel as unsightly to me as it did while I was growing up and, with all of the history behind it, I've come to appreciate the scar.
Had we not waited for the chief surgeon, I don't know that it would look so different. But I'm glad my mother had that patience, because there was a lot at stake. It was my face after all!
"Better to wait three days for a good doctor," my mother would say, "then see an inexperienced doctor right away."
The plastic surgery notwithstanding, the scar was somewhat prominent for most of my childhood, and for a long time, my equilibrium was a little off. My head would always tilt at a slight angle when I walked.
My mother hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit against Pepsi. The case dragged on for years. It went on so long, in fact, that a settlement wasn't reached until I was in high school. By that time, the case had wound up in the hands of a lawyer named Sid Loberfeld, who also happened to represent several professional athletes, including New York Mets. Sid got us a settlement of about $5,600, $4,000 of which was placed in a savings account for me.
A couple years later-in between my high school graduation and my first year of college at Syracuse-I got into a car accident with a couple friends in Sussex, New Jersey, where I was working as a camp counselor. I was in the front middle seat, and my head hit the rearview mirror. Amazingly, we were all okay-except that I had reinjured my eye.
Now I had to deal with the car insurance company. I enlisted Sid, and this time he brokered a settlement of $10,000. Again, the money was put into my savings account. As a bonus, Sid gave me some sports memorabilia he had picked up from dealing with his athlete clients, including ticket stubs from the 1969 World Series of the "Miracle Mets," old baseball programs, and a baseball autographed by a Major Leaguer who I unfortunately can't recall.
At the time, I had no way of knowing that years later, that insurance settlement, and the settlement from Pepsi, would play key roles in my fledgling business. The ironic thing is that when I first started Steiner Sports I used $4,000. When I started the collectibles end of the business I used--you guessed it--$10,000.
So, my question to you is, do you believe in divine intervention? Do you have faith that you may not always get what you want, but that you will get what you need?
This story originally appeared in my book "You Gotta Have Balls."