Luck and Baseball, One More Time

There is such a thing as “luck.” Bad and good luck happen to everyone, at one time or another. But everything that happens to everyone is not due to luck. I am convinced by what I have seen of life — up close and at a distance — that most of what happens to people happens to them because of their intentions, skills, and resources.

Yes, the skills that one possesses may be due in part to genetic luck, and the resources that one can marshal may be due in part to genetic and geographic luck. But if skills and resources were entirely beyond a person’s control, no one would ever climb from the proverbial gutter to attain fame and fortune. That is where intentions come in.

So, I am unimpressed (to say the least) by do-gooders and levelers, who want to take from the productive and give to the unproductive because the productive have had “all the luck,” or some such thing. Balderdash! First, it takes more than luck to be productive and to enjoy even a modest income. Second, taking from the productive to give to the unproductive is like blaming the blameless. It may come as a surprise to do-gooders and levelers (most of whom ought to know better), but a person who earns a high income earns it because that is what others are willing to pay for his efforts — not because he picks the pockets of the poor.

Speaking of high-income earners, I am always puzzled by the fact that income-envy is directed toward CEOs, investment bankers, and suchlike. Why is it not directed at super-star athletes, like Albert Pujols, who will earn $254 million over the next 10 years, just for playing baseball? Perhaps it is because almost everyone recognizes that Pujols is selling a skill that (a) is his (not stolen from someone else) and (b) would not be on display were it not for his assiduous development and application of the particular genetic advantages that enable him to hit a pitched baseball with above-average frequency and power.

Well, Nassim Nicholas Taleb to the contrary notwithstanding, the earning of large sums of money in any profession takes the same assiduous application of particular genetic advantages, or assiduous compensation for the lack thereof. I will not repeat my detailed criticisms of Taleb, which can be found “here” and “here.” Instead, I will return to the subject of baseball, some aspects of which I treated in those posts.

In the 111-year history of the American League, 60 different players have led the league in batting. Those 60 players have recorded a total of 367 top-10 finishes in American League batting races over the years — an average of 6 top-10 finishes for each of the players. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of the 60 players also compiled excellent career batting averages. Specifically, through 2010, 57 of the 60 had made at least 5,000 plate appearance in the American League, and 43 of the 57 are among the top 120 hitters (for average) — out of the thousands of players with at least 5,000 plate appearances in the American League. Were those 43 players merely “lucky”? It takes a lot more than luck to hit so well, so consistently, and for so many years.

And it takes a lot more than luck to succeed at almost anything, from winning high office to making millions of dollars to painting a masterpiece to building a house to cutting hair properly. To denigrate the rich and famous by calling them lucky is to denigrate every person who strives, with some success, to overmaster whatever bad luck happens to come his way.

Related posts:
The Residue of Choice
The American League’s Greatest Hitters
The American League’s Greatest Hitters:  Part II
Fooled by Non-Randomness
Randomness Is Over-Rated
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck