In his latest bestseller, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that great success is driven not purely by talent or genius, but by a combination of ability, determined practice over a long term, and fortunate circumstance. The book is full of challenging ideas and conclusions, some of them debatable; one of its most provocative and irrefutable arguments comes in regard to sport, and is broadly applicable to baseball. Gladwell notes that an overwhelming preponderance of high-level athletes are born in the days and months immediately following the annual cutoff date for youth sports leagues. The example he uses in the book is hockey. Canadian youth hockey programs have a January first birthday cutoff date. That means a kid born on the first day of the year will play on the same age level team as a kid born on the last day of the same year, even though he is practically a year older. Not surprisingly, the kid born on January 1 has a big advantage—he's basically a year older, stronger, faster, and more experienced than the kid born on December 31, even though they're on the same team. When the league those kids play in choose its all star squads, guess who's more likely to get selected: The older kid. And then you have a self-reinforcing loop. Because the older kid is perceived to be more talented, he gets better coaching and spends ever more time playing the sport under ideal conditions. Soon what was only the advantage of age develops into real advantage, thanks to all the extra work and coaching. To prove his point, Gladwell only needs to look at the birth dates on Canada's youth hockey championship teams. The kids are all born in January and February. Baseball is a little different. The youth baseball year in the US doesn't begin on January 1. It begins on August 1. He notes that in 2005, MLB had more than 500 players born in August, and just over 300 born in July. That's a huge discrepancy. And it does make you wonder about Alex Rodriguez, born on July 27, just 4 days short of the cutoff. Did he somehow manage to get himself put into the post-August 1 group? That would have given him a big advantage on his peers. Or could it be that his talent was so immense, that he is such an outlier, that he somehow developed into the generational player that he is despite being one of the youngest kids on his youth team? Food for thought.