THE THINKING MAN’S GAME

The Wall Street Journal came up with a fascinating fact last week when their research of 30 MLB teams uncovered that only 26 people on big league rosters — including managers — graduated from college.

That number is staggering if you think about it… less than one person in every clubhouse has a college degree. The highwater mark for a big league club is the Oakland A’s, with a whopping three college graduates and seven members of the lineup who at least attended college.

When you think about managers and head coaches in professional sports, you automatically think of someone that is a capable leader, motivator, and tactician. Yet when you boil down these numbers, many of the game’s best managers and its smartest players, and incredibly uneducated.

I don’t think a college degree makes you any more qualified to coach or play baseball than if you’ve only graduated from high school, but there is something about the academic experience in college that helps prepare you for life. It’s not all that surprising when you see some of the decisions professional athletes make in their personal lives and with their finances that they lack proper schooling.

More interestingly, I’ve always been curious about the thought process of managers and players. Often times when you see a baserunner go half-way on a flyball between 2nd and 3rd instead of tagging up, you think it’s a person with a lack of baseball IQ. Now it could simply be someone who is undereducated. When you question a manager’s decision to keep a pitcher in to face a left-handed batter when a situational lefty is warm in the bullpen, is it because he’s playing a hunch and using his “managers intuition,” or is it simply because he doesn’t truly understand the statistical evidence that supports making a pitching change?

As much as the book Moneyball was panned when it came out by “old school” baseball men, the fact that the game of baseball (at least on the field and in the dugout) is so incredibly undereducated compared to other elite professionals should not go unnoticed. It’s no surprise that when a group of players and decision-makers are hit with an entirely new basis for thought, one that they probably don’t fully grasp academically, they tend to do everything in their power to refute it. We’ve all done it at one time or another. Whether it was in college when a calculus professor might as well have been speaking a foreign language or when you were trying to truly understand what the hell Immanuel Kant was writing about for that philosophy essay. We dismissed the exercise as something silly, something we’d never need in life. What was the point?

But that’s precisely the point. Many of the intellectually challenging moments in life happened during college. If I didn’t have those experiences of complete and utter confusion and struggle, I’d probably never experience it anywhere else. Who would continue to work at a job where they had no clue what was going on? You’d either get fired or do something you could tolerate, right?

A final thought on education and sports: If I’m a Major League baseball player, I’d be incredibly embarrassed by this research. And if I’m a member of the MLBPA, I’d make it one of my first items on the offseason agenda — educating our union. Baseball doesn’t last forever and once you’ve left the diamond, the great majority of ballplayers will need to find a place in the workforce.

The lack of education might also help explain why baseball is in the dangerous post-steroids place that it is today. It’s no surprise that a widespread scandal where a lack of institutional control on all ends of the spectrum ended up corrupting the game and putting it in the precarious place that it now uncomfortably sits.

After all, they only teach Ethics in college.

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