Swartz: Romanticizing sacrifice

From SABR member Matt Swartz at The Hardball Times on August 3, 2015:

In both baseball and macroeconomics, there is a passed-down supposed wisdom that comes from the late 1970s and early 1980s that holds back modern thought. These schools share a common ideology, likening suffering to eating your green vegetables: if something feels bad, then it must be good for you.

In baseball, this is the concept of avoiding the big, flashy plays at the expense of gritty moves with less glamour. The sacrifice bunt is the ultimate green vegetable in baseball. It may be fun to swing for the fences, but if you give yourself up for the team and make the play that won’t show up on ESPN, you will get a pat on the back from the sages who played the game in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In macroeconomics, contractionary policies are the green vegetables that get rewarded. But in baseball, sacrifice bunting is giving up one of your outs. If you raise interest rates or cut your budget in a recession, you have cut public spending—a bad idea when low total spending is the problem you should be solving. But doing the “tough” thing, foregoing what seems easy, is rewarded. Perhaps there is a cultural link between the two, something that happened in the 1980s that drove people toward romanticizing sacrifice.

Home runs were rarer in baseball before the 1990s. In the low run scoring environment of the late 1970s and early 1980s, teams could not afford to swing for the fences and wait for the long ball to change the game. Sacrifice bunting, hitting the ball to right to move runners over, and stealing bases became the way to win games. As the league home run rate grew in the 1990s, giving away outs was no longer the best approach. You wanted players to swing hard more often. Choking up with two strikes was not the right approach for a lot of players. But for men who played the game a decade or two earlier, the virtue of sacrifice seemed to have disappeared.

Read the full article here: http://www.hardballtimes.com/romanticizing-sacrifice/

Originally published: August 3, 2015. Last Updated: August 3, 2015.