How Schoolyard Baseball Taught Me the Benefits of A Free Market

Dealing with the Polar Vortex this winter in NYC, I was reminded of a time when I was in high school.  During winter I would look forward to summer days in the school yard, playing baseball with all of my friends.  Here in the city, we don’t have bases to run, or grass to slide on; you play with an automatics rules style for hits and the strike zone becomes a box painted on the school yard wall, which is effectively known as the strikebox.
As a 16 – 18 year old high school student, I was not yet educated in advanced economic study about the markets, and what drove demand, supply, and wages.  I was recently reminiscing about those years, and in doing so I realized that my education about the benefits of an unregulated free market started way back then.  It taught me how an unregulated free market brought the best forward, and relegated those who could not compete at a certain level to sharpen their skills elsewhere, or play the outfield.
I was part of a group of 8-10 teenagers all roughly my age.  We were all equally dedicated to summer baseball in the school yard; it truly is American’s pastime.  No matter how hot it was, day after day we were out on the schoolyard blacktop.  We all loved to win, and hated losing.  What I looked back on for this post, is how without knowing back then, market forces shaped our teams and produced a competitive product we were all happy with.  All of this happened without the need for an outside arbiter or heaven forbid parental influence.
The best example was the summer of ’99.  There were 8 of us, made up into teams of 2 for a total of 4 teams.  Out of the 8 of us, 4 were very good, 4 were a bit behind in skill here or there.  Maybe they could not pitch or hit as well.  Personally, I always prided myself on being able to pitch better and throw harder than anyone, while for example my friend Paul was known to hit the ball over the 23ft fence, past the next block, over the next yard and onto the roofs of other houses.  In the market place of schoolyard baseball, we each excelled in different areas and filled our place in the market.  We combined into competitive teams and were well matched.  We did this without the need for an outside force to decide which teams would provide the best competition.  As far as the 4 players lowest in skill, they were defensively relegated to playing the outfield, and their offense was a step behind the top 4 as well.
It was that year that I now in retrospect also discovered a big problem with our system. We instituted a rule in fairness to the lesser four that mandated that they pitch 9 innings out of the total 54 played.  This resulted in horrendously long innings, lopsided offensive days, and games that would seem to take forever with no end in sight.
With my education in economics and management I now see that last paragraph for what it really was, people coming together in the name of fairness and niceness, mandating that our games be lesser in quality and competitiveness just so some of us didn’t feel bad.  While it was nice hitting against a pitcher of low skill (it gave even me a chance to hit a homerun), it got old after a few innings.  I found myself thinking, what time is it?  When will this blowout be over?
The bottom line is that the free market is not nice, it is not fair, and it forces those whom cannot compete out; the result is that the consumer usually wins and gets the best product.  Those are 3 amazing things about the market place; they are the primary drivers into what makes Americans work so long and hard to succeed.  The drive to be the best, to be successful, and to be rewarded for that success shouldn’t be frowned on, it should be glorified.  When you’re losing (or failing) at anything, it gives you a tremendous opportunity to learn things about your life and self that you wouldn’t see otherwise.  When I pitched particularly well and was sore afterward, I was satisfied in that the pain was the result of working hard to achieve a small afternoon of glory, getting the W.  If I was mad after a bad day, it motivated me to look back on how I failed and to make sure that I improved the next time.
I take all of these past experiences and carry them with me everywhere I go.  I use them to assist current college students with career planning and my clients with business preparedness.  I do not WANT anyone to fail, but I know that it is an integral part of success in life, business, and in the free market too.  Ask anyone who has gone on to be successful at anything in business; they will all tell you that without previous failures, they will have never had the learning experiences that led them to become who and what they are today.


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