Chapter 7: Sports Intuition
“The human understanding supposes a greater degree of order…in things than it really finds.”
~Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, 1620
In sports, as in other realms of life, weird things happen. Random events sometimes produce bizarre, unforgettable results.
Eight golfers witnessed Todd Obuchowski’s hole-in-one on the Beaver Brook golf course in Massachusetts. His shot soared over the green, onto a highway, hit a passing Toyota, and ricocheted back to the green and into the cup.
In July 2000, David Howard of Brookings, South Dakota, an average golfer (45 for nine holes) and 210 bowler sank his first hole-in-one and then, hours later, bowled a 300 game.
In August 2001, Scott Hatteberg of the Boston Red Sox hit into a rare triple play. He redeemed himself on his next at-bat with a grand slam.
Ron Vachon was sitting among thousands of fans at a September 1990 baseball game in Boston when Oakland A’s outfielder Rickey Henderson hit two foul balls right to him, on successive pitches. (He dropped them both.)
That Ron Vachon should be hit two foul balls on successive pitches was incredibly unlikely. That something like this would sometime happen in some sport was not. An event that happens to but one in a billion people in a day happens 2,000 times a year to someone. That much we can understand, without inventing needless explanations. The problem comes with curiously streaky patterns which seduce us into perceiving order and phenomena that do not exist.
Nature abhors a vacuum, human nature abhors chaos. Show us randomness and we will find order, pattern, clusters, and streaks….
Random Sequences are Often Streaky
The Hot Hand
The Hot Bat
Other Sports Intuitions
Prime time power
The Sports Illustrated jinx
Intuitive Athletic Genius
Links to other websites about sports intuition:
- Hot Hand in Sports, Alan Reifman
- How We Know What Isn’t So, Thomas Gilovich, book review
- Death of the Hot Hand, Amos Tversky research
- Do Baseball Players Regress Toward the Mean? (Yes, documents Gary Smith.)
- The Physical Genius: What Do Wayne Gretzky, Yo-Yo Ma, and a Brain Surgeon Have in Common?, article from The New Yorker.
- Thomas Gilovich