What baseball can learn from Silicon Valley

Favoring caution over a possibly historic pitching performance runs against the merits of risking failure

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws during an April 13 baseball game against the Minnesota Twins.

Every now and then a baseball pitcher will throw a perfect game: 27 batters, 27 outs. It has happened in the major leagues only 23 times in 150 years, on average once every 10,000 games. On April 13 there was nearly a 24th. Clayton Kershaw, longtime ace for the Los Angeles Dodgers and one of the best arms of his generation, retired 21 batters from the opposing Minnesota Twins – 13 by strikeout – over seven innings. He had thrown just 80 pitches. And then, in a move that left many fans gobsmacked, he was pulled from the game.

The game that Americans have played since the Civil War has always held a mirror to society, offering a reflection of the country’s evolving values. But in one significant way, baseball and society may be moving in opposition directions: in their attitude toward risk.

Here’s one way to measure that divergence. Between 2010 and 2021, the total number of stolen bases declined by 750. During that same period, the number of business startups in the United States jumped from 2.5 million to 5.4 million, according to the Economic Innovation Group. Both of those trends are shaped by attitudes about risk.

On the ball field, more complex analytics “has led to a reduced risk-taking mode,” New York Yankees manager Brian Cushman told Athlon Sports. So have labor costs per season. Salaries for top starting pitchers have swelled to eight figures. So has caution. Managers now use more pitchers per game to avoid injuries. That is why Mr. Kershaw was pulled.

Growth in technological innovation, meanwhile, suggests that “cultural factors such as trust, patience, and individualism” are deepening, a recent study in the Journal of Economic Growth found. One reason for that may be a wider embrace of the merits of failure. In recent years countries like France, China, and Mexico have sought to boost entrepreneurship by lifting cultural taboos about failure.

Similar attitude shifts are unfolding in education and conservation. A study published in World Development in February, for example, found that acknowledging failure requires more of environmental groups in developing countries than just learning how to do something better. It involves the honesty and humility to assess how their work might result in “adverse impacts on local populations and incitement of negative attitudes toward conservation more generally.”

A “right to fail” has also gained currency as a key approach to learning. A study published last year in the Review of Educational Research underscored a key distinction between teaching by instruction and teaching by problem-solving. The former assumes a lack of knowledge and seeks to avoid failure. The latter emphasizes the discovery of ability and agency through “productive failure.”

“Individuals who approach tasks with a growth mindset – where they are prepared to fail and learn from that failure – are much more likely to be successful in the long term compared to those who operate with a fixed mindset where they see ability as inherently fixed and unchanging, and failure as fatal,” Indiana University professor Greg Fisher told The Economist.

Whether Mr. Kershaw had six more flawless outs in him will never be known. But for a sport struggling to reverse its declining audience, the widening global embrace of risk holds a cautionary tale. Trial and error are a safer play than timidity and caution.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to What baseball can learn from Silicon Valley
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today