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The Impact of Arbitrary Institutional Decisions…

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Fascinating…

From August through the following July, there is a steady decline in the likelihood that a child born in the United States will become a major leaguer. Meanwhile, among players born outside the 50 states, there are some hints of a pattern but nothing significant enough to reach any conclusions. An analysis of the birth dates of players in baseball’s minor leagues between 1984 and 2000 finds similar patterns, with American-born players far more likely to have been born in August than July. The birth-month pattern among Latin American minor leaguers is very different—if anything, they’re more likely to be born toward the end of the year, in October, November, and December.

The magical date of Aug. 1 gives a strong hint as to the explanation for this phenomenon. For more than 55 years, July 31 has been the age-cutoff date used by virtually all nonschool-affiliated baseball leagues in the United States. Youth baseball organizations including Little League, Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth, PONY, Dixie Youth, Hap Dumont, Dizzy Dean, American Legion, and more have long used that date to determine which players are eligible for which levels of play. (There is no such commonly used cutoff date in Latin America.) The result: In almost every American youth league, the oldest players are the ones born in August, and the youngest are those with July birthdays. For example, someone born on July 31, 1990, would almost certainly have been the youngest player on his youth team in 2001, his first year playing in the 11-and-12-year-olds league, and of average age in 2002, his second year in the same league. Someone born on Aug. 1, 1989, by contrast, would have been of average age in 2001, his first year playing in the 11-and-12-year-olds division, and would almost certainly be the oldest player in the league in 2002.

The older players are slightly better, receiving more attention from coaches and more encouragement, and are thus more likely to stay in baseball.

I am forced to revisit my own Little League career, in which I played center field (yes!) for the Coast League Royals in Rancho Cordova, California. Another young man from my class played in the same league, but he was much, much better than I was; even at the age of nine, he could hit, catch, and run for more than a minute without getting tired. That young man’s name was Geoff Jenkins, and I’ve always wanted to find some arbitrary reason why he has a Major League career and I don’t. Now, it turns out that Geoff was born on July 21, which would seem to put him on the wrong side of the line, but I am almost certain that I remember that he started playing a year earlier than I did.

Did connections allow Mr. Jenkins to start Little League early? Were there bribes? I think that an investigation is in order, and I’m certain that I somehow deserve a portion of the $42 million that Geoff has thus far earned in his career.

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