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Schur’s Law; Or, was baseball actually better in the past?

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We continue to ruminate because that’s what you do when you ruminate

Toronto Blue Jays v Cleveland Indians

Our deep dive into whatever I feel like continues. Previous installments:


Don’t get me wrong: I still love baseball. I’d like to think I’m fairly well-versed in the game today and its history. The root of those first couple of posts grew out of a thought that the 2016 and 2017 Indians were much more entertaining than the 2018 and 2019 versions. The game, too, continues to trend toward more strikeouts and home runs at the expense of dynamic action from balls-in-play.

While it is a mater of aesthetics to some degree, I think it’s completely fair to ask if I’m just an idiot. Put kinder, am I just falling prey to a kind of rosy retrospection? After all, when we remember events from the past we tend to romanticize them.

When it comes to sports, I choose to refer to the phenomenon of our brains cherry-picking past memories as Schur’s Law. On an episode of the Poscast, Mike Schur discussed the phenomenon at length. He pointed out that many older players and baseball writers say that the game was “better” in their day — the moments more spectacular and the tactics more nuanced and intellectual.

He made a counter-argument against this notion by discussing his time writing for SNL. Even then, people complained that SNL “used to be so much better”. The reality is that when they remembered “old SNL”, they only recalled the best sketches and moments from those episodes. This is further reinforced by those bits being the most replayed and shared over time. He suggested that if you really went back and watched through every season of the show, it wouldn’t feel that different from watching any episode today as it airs.

I feel the same way about going back and watching all of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, honestly. Yes, some of the sketches are legendary (OH I SAY, AREN’T WE GRAND? NO MORE BUTTER SCONES FOR ME, MATER. PARDON ME WHILE I FLY MY AEROPLANE) and then some entire episodes are... weird. Just really, deeply weird.

The point being — of course 2016 and 2017 seem incredible in hindsight. I only remember the extremes, and mostly the good ones. Aren’t those the moments that we tend to see replays of, as well? The reality is that those seasons were filled with plenty of games like this one, in which the Indians lost 2-1 and nothing interesting happened. If pressed, I can recall complaining about the team “not really being able to get away from .500” fairly deep into the season.

Therefore: Schur’s Law states that sports fans romanticize past seasons because they tend to remember only the very best moments from those seasons.

It is possible that I’ve fallen prey to Schur’s Law myself. Despite this awareness, there is still something that makes me think those particular seasons were special. I just hope that on-field moments in the future can match the emotions recalled by memory.