David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   

February 20, 2021

All parents have some regrets concerning what they did and didn't do during their child's upbringing.  For me, it was not encouraging more strongly (alright, maybe forcing) Lincoln to stick with Little League baseball.  As an adult, Lincoln agrees with me.  We both love sports, and even though he has become a gym rat for basketball (at least, whenever COVID lets gyms open back up normally), baseball was the sport I most loved growing up. However, he, like his dad, never quite blossomed in Little League, neither of us being the game MVP very often, usually riding the bench as much as playing, and eventually being intimidated by fastballs coming at us from players who seemed huge compared to us.

However, today, after reading just the first few pages of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, my bigger regret is Pix not conceiving Lincoln around Christmas time.  (Yes, I am pretty sure Lincoln just stopped reading this so that he could go kill himself.)  As Gladwell points out early in his book, the best baseball players, the ones most likely to go into the Major Leagues, are born in August than other months.  He actually makes the point initially and with more explanation for professional hockey players, where ones born in January are most likely to make the majors.

I don't want to pretend to say any of this better than Gladwell. If this interests you, read his damn book. It's good stuff. But in both baseball and hockey, the youth leagues have an artificial date for who is eligible. For hockey, in Canada, it is January 1; for baseball, in the United States, it is July 31. 

Why does that matter, one might ask?  Let's go back to when Lincoln is 7. Let's say he is interested in playing baseball. He is eligible to play July 31, 2006, when he is 7 years and 4 months old.  Meanwhile, the kid who was born on August 2 is 8 months older. That is a huge advantage to start with, and this inequity will continue every year when the kids move up into a higher league.

As Gladwell points out, it's not just that the one kid is so much older than the other kid. It's that inevitably all the benefits of being the older kid play out in terms of coaching and playing time.

Case in point, one year Lincoln got a chance to try pitching. He didn't particularly have a great fastball, but he got the ball over the plate. When he came in, almost always in relief, at-bats were quick, no walks, no strikeouts, and usually the balls were hit at his teammates. It wasn't like anyone was hitting home runs off of him. The only lengthy innings came when the batted balls found holes, or his teammates' gloves found holes.

However, when it came time to pick the starting pitchers for the next game, the coaches chose the kids with the "better" stuff. I can't even really blame the coach, but since those kids were destined to be pitchers from the beginning of the year, extra time was spent on them practicing pitching while Lincoln was out in the outfield shagging fly balls or getting some chances at various infield positions.

I want to say this again, I don't blame the coaches, per se (at least not most of them). What do you do with the younger, smaller kids who almost immediately become the players who fill out the roster? Unconsciously, the coaches see the bigger, more mature kids (remember 8 months is a big deal when we are talking people who have only lived for 96 months) as the best players and inevitably most of them end up as the best players because of the unexamined benefits that come from their additional months on the earth.

Gladwell even goes on to show that this advantage goes beyond the sandlots and hockey rinks to the classroom where ages to start grades come from an artificial date. 

And let me get the disclaimer out of the way, since inevitably someone is going to argue about the exceptions who make it in the big leagues.  Maybe Lincoln just needed to work a little harder. If this myth that all people have to do is pull themselves up by their proverbial boot-straps (who even wears boot-straps anymore) or put their nose tighter to the grindstone (whatever the hell that metaphor means) was accurate, then there would be a more even spread across birth months.

Lincoln was miserable by his last year of Little League. Granted it was our first year in Edwardsburg, so he didn't know anybody on his team, making even the social part of the sport a drain.  He played sparingly that year, had few successes, and was so unhappy that when he said he didn't want to continue, I gave in.  Funny thing is, I refuse to regret giving in anymore.

The poor guy was doomed because dad's sperm found mom's egg in June not December.  Of course, we were seeing fertility specialists at the moment anyway.  We were lucky the two ever met.

By the way, I was born in April so I was at even more of a disadvantage than Lincoln when I was in Little League. Of course, my parents weren't seeing a fertility specialist, so maybe I could blame them after all.

But now I understand why Lincoln is so uncomfortable with this blog.  Time to move on. Nothing to conceive here.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. Back Bay Books, 2008.