On “The Fallacy of the Predetermined Outcome”
Mortimer Shy’s LETTER to Michael Kay, YES TV sportscaster for the NY Yankees (September 25th, 2005)
Dear Michael Kay:
Several times this season I have heard you use the phrase, referring to the concept of “The Fallacy of the Predetermined Outcome.” I applaud this kind of elevated sports talk, citing a thought process known to every baseball fan, which, as applied to specific occasions, can be comical but also painful. In one game you employ this in consideration of a bungled double play from A-Rod that could, or should have, ended the game, but instead prolonged it for the Red Sox to win. Today, in a less dramatic case, you just opined a little mockingly, “depending on whether you believe in the fallacy of the predetermined outcome.”
I wonder if you could tell me when this “fallacy” became a part of sports lingo, for you to refer to it so naturally. And anything else you can tell me of its history, and/or possible future fantastic applications. Anticipating your reply, I am unable to stop my own reflections on this important subject, the more spurious the better as I see it. Particulary now as the season is near ending, and speculations are running wild as to who is the truly destined World Champion. Ah yes, even the word “destiny” contains the notion of a predermined outcome; for thought just cannot escape trying to calculate.
Then again, predictions, and their handmaiden, statistics, are at war with the very fiber of sports, which are rooted in skill and the ability to deal with chance. And yet they are the most compelling format for commentary, invoking fate and just rewards for ones skills. Am I being philosophical? Yes, of course. Do I swaddle myself in extraneous reflections? Of course! It isn’t easy being a sports fan; far from it! I mean, it isn’t simple, but it is complicated watching a baseball game. Being a sports fan can be excruciating. And now hilarity, and the lowest point of futility, are fused in a concept which you as a Yankee sportscaster, no slouch in intellectual cogitation, are therefore rightly heard to label: “The Fallacy of the Predetermined Outcome”.
“And that sac fly would have been the third out, if you believe in the fallacy of the predetermined outcome,“ says Yankee announcer Michael Kay. And this one: “That could be one of the more glaringly wrong calls you’ll ever see. The first baseman just swiped at the runner as he went by. And also, it was the first play of the game, so we aren’t thinking about predetermined outcomes quite yet.”
Very useful to have this in your arsenal! It is the ninth inning, Yankees ahead 3 to 2, bases loaded, one out. A ball is hit sharply to A-Rod at third base, which could have been a double play–but he bobbles it, fails to make any play and a run scores to tie the game. The next batter dribbles a ball for an infield out to first base, and another run scores. Now with two outs, they take the pitcher out, and the broadcasters have a chance to reflect. “Well of course this is the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, but one can only think: if A-Rod had made that play, things would be quite different.” Ah so it is, and so the Red Sox go on to score more runs and win the game. But another game in the imagination will always insist on running on a different track . . .
Like Zeno’s Paradox, this new Fallacy of the Predetermined Outcome ranks as a bonfide, psychological reality. With only the delayed instruction given to the mind, that you can’t just alter one fact in a series and then resume a desired outcome anyway. Because that is to indulge, indeed, in an imaginary scheme, enticing, inevitable. but . . . wrong!
If Alex Rodrigous makes the play, the game really is over. But he doesn’t; there is no game in which he does! To make a dramatic analogy (and why not?), trying to revise the past for a different outcome is like saying that if it weren’t for Thomas Edison, we’d all be sitting around in the dark, since the light bulb would never have been invented. You can’t just extract events from history (or a baseball game) by removing their most obvious consequences, and leaving everything else as it is.
On the other hand, you can try . . . for the sport of it. Have a Nice Day! Mortimer Shy