Back in 1920, the New York Yankees, who had never won much of anything, acquired a big fellow named George Herman Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for a World Series to be named later (84 years later, to be precise). George Herman had made quite a name for himself with the Red Sox, winning two games in the 1918 World Series, which the Sox took four games to two from the Cubs, and winning a fourteen inning 2-1 pitchers’ duel against the Brooklyn Robins in the 1916 World Series, which the Sox also won. But the Babe had a powerful bat, and the Sox had begun to use him regularly in the outfield. Babe Ruth never cared much what anybody said to him or thought about him, so he went against the common wisdom of the time, which was that batters should slash at the pitch — the “uppercut” was thought to be a loser’s strategy.
I’d like in the occasional MPE post — Maximum Possible Error — or we might call it the “Who’s Tiresias?” Award for Bad Prophecy — to highlight when people, guessing at the future, get things spectacularly wrong, and for certain predictable (!) reasons. Yes, there are predictable ways in which predictors go wrong in their predictions. The first is the Tris Speaker Assumption of Uniformity: assuming that things which are not rooted in the nature of the world or of man are not going to change. That’s a failure of the imagination, more typically committed by the heedless optimist than by people like Tris Speaker. I’m sure the reader can think of comparable examples — usually in the form, “Don’t worry, this isn’t going to change anything.“