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2006-02-20 12:07
by Ken Arneson

Evolution tries some crazy experiments sometimes. Sickle cell anemia: that's a bad thing, unless there's lots of malaria around you. Then it's a good thing.

Or crying: everybody hates it. Hates it! But it's a wickedly effective means of communication. More babies were saved by this odd form of communication than were killed by irritated parents. Therefore, crying gets to stay in our genes instead of being selected out of them.

When you become a parent, you quickly learn to recognize the different types of cries. There's the "I'm hurt" cry, the "I'm hungry" cry, the "I'm bored" cry, the "I'm tired and anything that goes wrong is going to make me cry" cry, and of course, the "cry of injustice" a/k/a the "hey, that's mine!" cry.

Somewhere around first or second grade, those cries start turning into other forms of behavior. If you're lucky, the cries turn socially accepted behaviors: the "I'm hungry" cry becomes the sentence "What's for dinner?". Sometimes, it turns into something else: the "I'm bored" cry becomes the "kick your sister in the shin for no reason" behavior.

My kids, ages five and eight, are almost over the crying thing now, although the younger one still does cry on occasion. But we have visitors at my house now who have a two-year-old girl, and I'm getting to relive those cries all over again.

The interesting thing is that this little girl, who can only speak a handful of words, and who still has her full complement of cries, has learned to imitate the post-crying behavior to manipulate her environment. If she wants attention, she simply screams "Ow!" as loud she can, and everyone around her stops what they're doing to make sure she's all right. OK, now that I have your attention...can I have a cookie?

So what does this have to do with Frank Tanana the A's? Just an observation. Camps have opened, and the fluffy puff pieces have started to flow from the tap. The most interesting one so far has been this story by Joe Roderick about Milton Bradley. Bradley seems by all accounts a very intelligent person, who has one very big flaw: he overreacts to injustice.

Overreacting to injustice: anyone who has ever had a two-year-old has seen that before. The "cry of injustice" is probably the loudest, most piercing cry of all. And the hardest one to deal with as a parent: you often can't fix the problem. Sorry kid, you can't have cookies for dinner. I don't know why you expected that you could, but you can't. Life is unfair sometimes. Sorry.

Most of us eventually resign ourselves to the fact that life sucks, give up the temper tantrums, and learn to deal with the pure injustice of being alive. There's a reason the Terrible Twos only lasts about one year, instead of five or ten. In prehistoric times, the kids that had their Terrible Twos last longer than that probably didn't make it through puberty very often to pass down their genes.

So I wonder, perhaps Milton Bradley is one of evolution's strange counterintuitive experiments. One of those things where a bad trait has a benefit in a particular context. Perhaps Bradley's inability to shed his cries of injustice, his refusal to accept not getting what he wants, is exactly the trait that drives him to be a better baseball player than 99% of the human population. In an environment where pro athletes can have all the sex they'd ever want, and being the child of a pro athlete is a great predictor of becoming one yourself, perhaps the question to ask isn't "Why is Milton Bradley so unusual?", but "Why aren't anti-social athletes much more common than they already are?"

2006-02-20 14:39:36
1.   deadteddy8
There are other forces at work that might be/might have been more powerful. Forty years ago, would a black player with Bradley's character traits even get signed to a pro contract? Even without the prism of race, look at the gatekeepers, the ones who decide who plays at the lower levels. How many coaches and management types, from high schools on up, still cling to the idea that team chemistry is as important to winning as how well a guy can hit? I take for granted that when judging a ballplayer I will look at his on-field skills before I look at how well he gets along with others, but I get the feeling that more old-school types will give more credence to chemistry and sociability than I do, and it's not hard to see how players like Bradley would be buried at lower levels for that reason.
2006-02-20 15:11:51
2.   Ken Arneson
Well, yeah. Anti-social behavior gets punished, and punished people reproduce less.

Evolution is slow. Maybe 0.5% of the "successful athlete" population shares Bradley's bad-for-society, good-for-sports traits. It's low because in normal contexts, bad behavior isn't sexy. In the sports context, now it suddenly is sexy. So maybe the next generation, that trait appears in 0.6% of the top athlete population. Maybe in 100 years, it's 1%.

I'm not predicting this, mind you, I'm just saying that nature works that way sometimes, and it's kinda interesting.

2006-02-21 09:34:32
3.   scareduck
Prediction: Milton Bradley in 2006 will perform the same function as Jose Guillen did in 2003.

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