I have heard many times that baseball players are the dumbest of all professional athletes. Because of the way the structure of contracts and the draft, Major League baseball players are certainly the least educated professional athletes-in 2009, less than 3.6% of Major League players had a college degree.
But being dumb goes beyond education; after all John Steinbeck and William Faulkner did not complete college and I think we can all agree they were not overly dumb. I'm relying on informal evidence here, but from various reports I've read over the years, the consensus among sportswriters seems to be that baseball players are indeed the stupidest.
It turns out this might be a good thing.
On the way home for the long weekend, I was listening to NPR; specifically, to a program called Radiolab. Radiolab is a scientifically oriented show featuring mildly disturbing sound effects, really creative editing, and a lot of cool information. The night I listened to the show, the topic of discussion was liars: The stories of a con-woman, a skeptic who became a shaman and came to find that their quackery actually worked, a psychologist who found that compulsive liars have more white matter in their brain, and the hognose snake, which plays dead when threatened, were all featured.
What really piqued my interest, however, was a story about the so-called "self-deception" questionnaire" that is evidently quite good at picking out future athletes. The questionnaire consists of twenty personal questions developed at a bar by some drunken psychologists (no joke) and all of the questions would presumably be answered in the affirmative by an honest man. Some examples of questions are "Have you ever doubted your sexual adequacy?" or "Have you ever wanted to be rape or be raped by someone?" just in case you thought I was kidding when I said they were personal. The idea is that the more often you answer "no," the bigger liar you are.
But in the case of an athlete, being a big liar might not be so bad. People who say no to these questions more frequently tend to be be happier, more successful in business endeavors, and better athletes. Here, the theory is that these people are exceedingly good at lying to themselves. An athlete, rather than trying to reconcile the fact that he only hits 60% of his free-throws with the fact that he constantly says he's perfect or to make sense of his high sense of self-importance in the face of his irrelevance in relation to the vastness of the galaxy, simply ignores these incongruities.
In baseball, he is nearly forced to. It has been said many times but it is worth repeating: baseball is the only sport-maybe the only profession-where you can fail over 60% of the time and still have a chance to be one of the best of all time. People who are able to experience such high levels of failure and still be confident in themselves must be master liars. That, or really dumb.
Now, I'm not saying that all baseball players are dumb (I'm sure someone will mention Craig Breslow right about now) but I'm saying that it probably helps. Being simple means not questioning yourself before every pitch, not constantly worrying about your stance, not analyzing your swing endlessly, and not performing crazy rituals before stepping into the batter's box, all of which must make it a lot easier to hit. In fact, because baseball has such high rates of failure, and because getting a hit is so damn hard, I bet it's the sport where being obtuse helps the most. And I'll bet this is why there are so many dumb players populating Major League rosters.
Alternatively, sportswriters could just think that baseball players are dense because they are in fact master liars. These players are quite aware of their failures but those failures are tucked away in the recesses of their minds locked by the padlocks of rationalization and lying behind a door labeled "I am the shit." You hoity-toity sportswriters may call that dumb but I call it a recipe for success. Now, excuse me while I go drink away all these extra brain cells-my hope for a baseball career lives again.