Last night, the Los Angeles Angels were eliminated from the American League playoffs, and the denoument occurred, appropriately, in the ninth inning. With Jason Bay in scoring position and first base open, Jed Lowrie delivered a two-out single that drove Bay home for the winning run.
For Angels fans, the result was particularly galling because there was an excellent chance that it could have been avoided. Lowrie is a slugger with a huge batting average, and the man in the on-deck circle was Jason Varitek, the veteran Sox catcher who is struggling with an average in the low 200s. Faced with the same situation, what would you do if you were Mike Scioscia, the Angel manager?
Well, walk the Lowrie and pitch to Varitek, of course. Why Scioscia opted to take his chances pitching to the slugger is anyone's guess, and he's probably asking himself the same question this morning. But the obvious path to success, the one Scioscia didn't take, is rooted in simple logic and the kind of lessons one learns as a Little Leaguer.
In most human pursuits, straying from basics is often a recipe for failure. Although creativity is a vital element in success, one must be grounded in first-order principles, and violating them carries a risk out of proportion to the marginal additional return. This doesn't mean that you should never try something funky; the element of surprise is one of the principles of war. But needless risk is, well---needless.
When military doctrine forged over the course of centuries and tested in wars big and small prove the rule that an insufficiency of resources is antithetical to success, trying to fight on the cheap is not likely to succeed. Nevertheless, against all logic and experience, we deployed an inadequate force to both Iraq and Afghanistan and chose instead to rely on weapons instead of peope.
Although free markets are desirable, experience has taught us painfully that at least a modicum of control is needed to prevent a meltdown. So, it is particularly annoying that the White House, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Congress all avoided supervising and controlling the vital system for which they have responsibility. A first-year economics student learns the risk inherent in such things as credit default swaps, naked short sales and excessive leverage, but these basic things seem to have eluded those very people who ought to do something about them.
Polls report that Americans have little faith in institutions like the Congress and the executive's bureaucracy, but it is difficult to envision how this opinion will improve until those in power first learn a little baseball.