What Baseball Teaches Us: America’s pastime offers many lessons on the importance of truly understanding information—and adapting to evolutions in knowledge (CHARLES BLAHOUS, MAR 28, 2024, Discourse)

Baseball is often derided for its slower pace and sporadic activity by those who prefer that sports deliver more continuous action (like basketball), or that they more closely replicate physical combat (like American football).

The pleasures of baseball, by contrast, reside as much in the thinking that occurs between pitches as in observing the graceful physical action. It’s a sport for people who share Socrates’ distaste for the “unexamined life”—those who aspire to be fully aware of what is going on even as it’s going on. This requires sufficient pauses in the action for the mind to notice, to wander and to analyze. To those who would disdain these contemplative aspects, Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber had his answer: “Baseball is dull only to dull minds.” […]

What we can learn from the mathematics of baseball goes much deeper than what we can calculate. Baseball also teaches early lessons in uncertainty—that one lives in a world of unpredictable events, that good decisions can still lead to bad outcomes, and that one should not assign much importance to any single data point. The lessons are stamped all over the sport. The best team typically loses more than one-third of its games; the worst team typically wins more than one-third of its games. Even if a manager makes the absolute right decision, it might not work out. On any given swing, the worst hitter might hit the ball on the nose, whereas the best hitter might foul a ball straight back into the stands or miss entirely. On any given day you don’t know who on your team will get the most hits, but more often than not it won’t be the team’s biggest star.

Anyone whose suppositions about life are that we can control events, that bad outcomes prove bad decisions, and that past results govern future performance will be utterly unable to understand baseball. Even relative to other sports, baseball is relentless in teaching these lessons. Alabama’s college football team may crush one opponent after another, but no baseball team is ever so certain to win—not a game, not a series, not even a pennant race. Tendencies are proved over the long run, but any given day might produce a great surprise.

Appreciating life’s unpredictability can’t help but carry forward into one’s professional decision-making, relationships, investments and attitudes about public policy. It certainly has for me. Baseball teaches that while there are ways to maximize your chances of success, there will also always be factors outside your control, and you are better off thinking in terms of probabilities than predetermined outcomes.