Rhodes Scholar

Play Ball!

Today (March 26, 2020) would have been Opening Day in Major League Baseball. Though it has been postponed for obvious reasons.

Despite my youthful obsession with baseball (and my preternatural ability to remember inconsequential details that you mere mortals cannot) the only Opening Day performance I can recall is this one:

Tuffy Rhodes had spent parts of five seasons with major league teams, hitting a total 5 home runs prior 1994.

In the 1994 opening game, he hit 3 home runs in single game. Suddenly, he was the most in-demand player in fantasy leagues, based on three swings of the bat.

Based on just a few data points (1 game, and 3 home runs), there where many who concluded that Rhodes had been an elite-level player, or was on the hottest of hitting streaks.

Neither turned out to be true. Rhodes, hit eight home runs that season and never hit another in a big league-game.

He finished with 13 home runs for his Major League  career. That’s 742 home runs behind Hank Aaron. 

The Syndrome

Sports writers coined a term, Tuffy Rhodes Syndrome, to describe  the rush to judgement about a player’s future success based on recently-occurring successful performance.

Tuffy Rhodes Syndrome is a form of recency bias.  

“Recency bias” is the phenomenon of a person most easily remembering something that has happened recently, compared to remembering something that may have occurred a while back. ”

Recency bias has always affected decisions in all aspects of life. It’s a small matter if a fantasy league team owner acquires a mediocre player, because the player had one good game.

Though recency bias also impacts decisions of great consequence.

We’re going to see a lot of that in coming weeks (perhaps months) as elected leaders, and advisors examine “the numbers” to make decisions about containment and treatment plans during a pandemic.

Even if a decision is made in good faith, and is based on sound data, our overall  situation can change rapidly and often.

With luck, we, and our governing organizations will be agile enough to adapt to new circumstances.

Let’s hope that we can all avoid succumbing to Tuffy Rhodes Syndrome which lead to inappropriate decision based on too few data points.

Good night and good luck.

Epilogue

After reading this post, or if you were already familiar with Tuffy Rhodes, you may have reached some conclusions about his performance, and that he was a mediocre player.

I once made those conclusions myself.

The facts are that he made it to the major league because he excelled in high school and in the minor leagues. I was cut from my school team in 7th grade and  (surprise!) I never tried out for a baseball team

Following his Major League career, he was a big-time star in Japan, hitting 462 career home runs, which is 462 more home runs than any of us.

The fact is that he  was a great player, though he never caught on in the Majors.

Tuffy, we all owe you an apology.

 

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