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Worst case scenarios

The latest EconTalk is a conversation with Cass Sunstein about his new book, Worst Case Scenarios. The main focus is how hard it is for humans to deal rationally with low probability catastrophic events. When one of these occurs, such as 9-11, we tend to overestimate the risks of another disaster.

Here is a smaller tragedy that I brought up in the conversation. Last summer, a first-base coach in the minor leagues was killed by a line drive. A terrible tragedy. As far as I know, no major league coach has ever been killed by a batted ball. And this may have been the first minor league coach killed by a batted ball. It’s a terrible tragedy. But something has to be done, even though the odds are miniscule that such an event will happen again:

Baseball wants to prevent another tragic
accident like the one that killed Mike Coolbaugh.

   General managers decided Thursday that first- and third-base
coaches will wear some sort of head protection next season, a move
that came four months after Coolbaugh was struck in the neck by a
line drive during a minor league game.

   Coolbaugh, a former major league player, was a coach for the
Colorado Rockies‘ Double-A team in Tulsa when he died July 22. He
had been hit by a liner as he stood in the first-base coach’s box
during a Texas League game at Arkansas.

   Some major league coaches responded by wearing helmets the rest
of the season.

   "There was a sentiment that as a concept this was a good
idea," said Joe Garagiola Jr., senior vice president for baseball
operations in the commissioner’s office.

   GMs will decide on the exact form of protection when they meet
next month at the winter meetings.

   "We’re going to come back in Nashville with some options:
liners, hard caps, helmets without flaps, helmets with flaps,"
Garagiola said.

It may indeed to be a good idea for coaches to wear helmets. But it may be a bad idea. My guess is that it may cause some coaches to be less vigilant, knowing that they’re wearing a helmet. But whether it is a good idea or not, what is more interesting is that something is going to be done to try and prevent something from happening that is unbelievably unlikely.