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Thinking twice about my grandson's career in Major League baseball

Updated on April 19, 2012

A ball and baseball bat cost $110.00.

The bat cost $100 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

I ran across a similar question in a book I am reading to better understand how people make decisions, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnerman (2011). Try to answer this question as quickly as possible. Usually your intuition will tell you that the ball cost $10.00 and your intuition would be absolutely incorrect. According to Kahnerman, over 50% of thousands of students from Harvard, MIT, and Princeton gave an incorrect answer to a similar question. At other universities, the number who answered incorrectly was over 80 percent. The correct answer is the ball cost five dollars, and the bat cost $105. Why do you suppose people fail to give the correct answer?

Kahnerman’s thinks that most people are overly overconfident, and they tend to trust their intuition too much. We are also informed that when people believe a conclusion is true they are also likely to believe arguments that apparently support it. To me this sounds a lot like “wishful thinking.”

Wishful thinking was a phrase commonly used in the good old days when I was growing up. Usually, the reference was made to people who thought more of their abilities than the facts demonstrated. As a parent myself, I remember wishful thinking mainly in the area of youth sports, though I am sure it happens in just about every aspect of life, especially arts and academics.

I remember a father of a child who played Little League baseball so sure that his son would be the next Ted Williams. The family invested in an elaborate backyard batting cage, and private lessons, to hone the child’s skills. As far as I know, the kid never made it past high school baseball.

What are the odds of a male child becoming a professional baseball player? Try 25,000 to one. Do the math. There are 30 major league baseball teams with a 40 man roster, which equals 1,200 players, not including the farm system. According to the Little League Media Guide, in 2011 there were 1.88 million players in the Little League baseball division. Just looking at Little League, not including all the other organized baseball programs, the odds are roughly 1,563 to 1 that your child will make it to the Major League baseball roster. Maybe you think is better at baseball than 90% of his peers, then his odds will have improved to 156 to 1. That is close to the current odds the MGM Grand sports book is giving for the Jacksonville Jaguars to win the 2013 Super Bowl. Anything can happen.

Just the same, I think I will stick with the New England Patriots at 5-1, and I am not betting that my grandson is going to be a professional baseball player. I will invest a few dollars so he can have fun playing ball, but those extra bucks my erstwhile friends spent on their child’s backyard batting cage and batting lessons, I think if I have that kind of money, I will put it away in a college education fund for him.


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