It started as advice from Dean Ted Snyder at student orientation in August 2016: at the Yale School of Management, the most global business school in the United States, be careful when speaking in sports metaphors because many within the community may not be familiar with the games you know and love.
My first opportunity to heed Snyder’s advice came that October. I was studying for a final exam in one of the core first-year MBA courses when my Chinese roommate, then a second-year MBA, attempted to reassure me.
“Don’t worry. They won’t throw you any curveballs on that exam,” he told me.
Now more confident about my readiness for the exam, I suddenly had a much more pressing concern. The part of me who’d worked in professional baseball front offices since 2007, mostly in player development and scouting for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, and Baltimore Orioles, asked the crucial question: “Do you know what a curveball is?”
It turned out he didn’t, an admission that earned him several minutes of me showing him YouTube highlights of Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ left-handed pitching ace.
From that interaction, an idea was born. Baseball is the “National Pastime” in the United States (and is a popular sport in several countries around the world). And many students arrive at Yale SOM knowing nothing about one of the most iconic traditions the country has. Could I promote a more inclusive community by formally introducing these students to the game I’ve loved for as long as I can remember?
The idea came to fruition a year after that fateful conversation with my roommate: “Understanding Baseball,” an event created to introduce members of the community to the game. The Media & Entertainment Club and I collaborated to build it, and nearly three dozen students came to enjoy hot dogs, pizza, and Cracker Jacks while they learned baseball’s rules and traditions. Newly schooled on the basics of the game, they then got to apply their knowledge as they watched a live game.
Of course, we couldn’t stop there, given Yale SOM’s resources, which include its position as the most connected business school to its home university. After learning the rules, the crowd got a crash course in sabermetrics, the advanced statistical analysis originated by Bill James, from Ed Kaplan, William N. and Marie A. Beach Professor of Operations Research, who presented a lecture titled “Keep the Real Score” on run expectancy and win probability added. The lecture perfectly teed up a real-time win probability graph projected on a screen next to the game itself.
Kaplan concluded by introducing—fittingly, through statistics—the evening’s next speaker: Yale baseball coach John Stuper, himself a former major league pitcher, who, as a rookie appearing in Game 6 of the 1982 World Series, pitched a complete-game masterpiece to stave off elimination for his St. Louis Cardinals and set the stage for his team to capture the championship the next day. Kaplan presented the win probability graph for that game, and Stuper followed by expounding upon the human element underlying the numbers. Stuper, who arrived at the event after coaching a bullpen session with his current crop of Bulldog pitchers, stayed long into the night to answer student questions.
For me, having planned the event for nearly a year in the name of bringing the SOM community closer together, I left the event feeling as fulfilled as Ray Kinsella at the end of Field of Dreams. A European student’s thank you note incorporating a distinct baseball metaphor into each sentence gave me hope that the baseball traditions I’ve cherished my entire life have gained new followers.