Yesterday I saw an ESPN video about a highschool girl pitching batting practice to the Tampa Bay Rays, and a NYTimes article about gambling companies structuring some of their gaming in order to better extract money from the poor.
Allow me to tie these two together for you.
Gamblers fall into only a few types. Some hope to make a few bucks in an entertaining way, enjoying the adrenaline and the small victory of having put one over on the universe. This can go bad as one sends more and more small amounts chasing the adventure. Another group treats it as a business, hoping to make a living by using information in a cleverer way than others. This can go bad because large amounts of money are changing hands, and this is where most of the chicanery and corruption comes in. A third group hopes to become rich on a wild throw of fate. These last have the somewhat contradictory view that they would indeed be very lucky to win a great deal of money, but also a sense of entitlement that the world owes them this at some level. Other people have nice things, why not me? They don’t particularly deserve it more than I do. I have had suffering, injustice, and unfairness uncompensated. It would set things right in the balance of the world for me to win. This is not often articulated, but it is present in the minds of many.
I take the view that anything which encourages this last type of thinking increases the net misery in the world.
Watching the throwing motion of the young woman in Florida, it didn’t look like quite enough velocity to qualify for batting practice. One of the players commented that she had a good knuckleball. Ah, so that’s it. Apparently true as well, as players were occasionally missing it.
The troubling part was in the interview after. She was clear this was not just about the dream of a young person pitching to major leaguers. She wanted the experience to be an inspiration to girls everywhere, that they could accomplish whatever they wanted.
Hmm. Well, no, actually. That’s an interesting, but fairly minor accomplishment. Nor does it look as if it’s going to go much farther down this street. She’s not going on to pitch in the minor leagues, or on to college baseball. Hardly anyone does anyway, but having insufficient velocity to mix in another pitch means that any pitcher, male or female, is going to have to rely on that knuckleball alone. There’s not much of a track record of anyone doing that over the last hundred years. There are a few women who have pitched in minor leagues…theoretically, if one had a knuckler it might improve her chances…
Enough. It is few enough males who can accomplish the task, even after devoting many hours to it. Physiology alone makes the number of females who could even come within shouting distance even smaller. If any grains get through that hourglass, they will be very few. People can’t accomplish whatever they want to. There is a cruelty in this encouragement. The world is littered with miserable people whose dreams got crushed.
I do take the point. It’s good to have aspirations, bad to have artificial obstacles. Encouraging words from others on the journey can “give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done,” as Garrison Keillor might say. There is a real upside to this kind of positive talk. It has carryover, certainly – it’s not all about baseball. But there is something disquieting about the fortunate few saying “you can do it if you just dream hard enough and try hard enough.” It’s a way of congratulating themselves.
They partly deserve it. They know, and we know, people who had a shot at it but gave up too easily. No one wants more of that in the world. Getting the most effort out of each other is a nice communal way to move forward. Yet ultimately it isn’t true. Even among those who have dreams and work very, very hard, not all make it. The not-making-it has a secondary potential for other good things – people become excellent coaches or musical producers or writers because of what they couldn’t quite get to. There is also whatever character development comes from the humility of learning that other people are just better at things than you are.