Millennials, Recency Bias, and the Death of Baseball

Every single weekday of 2014—arguably the busiest year of my life; the year in which I became a homeowner and a father—I went on ESPN.com and voted in the Sports Nation Polls. That probably sounds like a terrible waste of time, but the reality of me accessing those polls every day and being forced to reach enough of a conclusion to click a meaningless radio button anonymously on the internet was that it served as crib notes. It was a fast and easy way to know what people were talking about in sports and to see immediately which way the general public was leaning on each topic. A few examples of the type of item you might find on the list in those days:

“Was LeBron’s dunk last night versus the Lakers the greatest in game dunk in NBA history?”

“Is DeMarco Murray the best Cowboys running back of all time?”

“Was the Oregon Ducks’ 59 point performance against Florida State the greatest offensive showing ever in the Rose Bowl?”

First of all, the reasonable answer to all these questions is “ask Elias.” But you don’t need a psychology degree to guess how people generally answer. More interesting than any individual response are some of the trends that this flawed system laid bare for me.

1 – People my age and older love to insist that there is a fundamental problem with Millennials.

2- People are more susceptible to recency bias now than ever before. (If the paradoxical irony of that statement eluded you, read it again)

3- Seriously though, recency bias exists.

The truth is that generational rivalries aren’t new. We all eventually arrive at a stage where we are SURE that we were tougher or harder-working or more disciplined or more respectful as children than “these kids today.” This applies all over the place in sports because we love the sports talk radio debate that ensues from comparing across eras. You can start a passionate debate by taking a side on Jordan v. LeBron, Brady v. Montana, etc.

All of this leads me to the death of baseball. I love baseball dearly. I have watched the game at various levels for as long as I can remember. I played it for years and I can’t wait for the opportunity to teach my son America’s Pastime. Hell, I even named him after the greatest third baseman of the 1960s, Brooks Robinson. As a lifetime devotee, the notion of baseball’s demise saddens me greatly.

“Somehow or other, they don’t play ball nowadays as they used to some eight or ten years ago. I don’t mean to say they don’t play it as well. … But I mean that they don’t play with the same kind of feelings or for the same objects they used to. … It appears to me that ball matches have come to be controlled by different parties and for different purposes …”

Before you continue reading, I want you to stop and guess when that quote was recorded. Now keep that number in your mind.

The preceding quote comes from 1868. That’s right, just three years after the end of the Civil War, baseball was already on the way out according to those closest to the game. Writing for (now defunct) Grantland in October 2014, Bryan Curtis addressed this beautifully in his piece The Dead Ball Century, which I encourage you to read if you have shared my concern for baseball’s welfare. The truth he demonstrates is that baseball isn’t dying, which makes me happy.

Baseball is alive and well. Kids these days are just fine. And the MLB playoffs are coming soon, my friends!!

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