When Emerson Spartz was a child in La Porte, Indiana, he had the highest batting average on his Little League team. “I quickly started seeing patterns,” he told me. His coach instructed only the fastest players to steal bases. Spartz was not fast, but he noticed that the catchers were unpracticed at throwing to second base, allowing runners to advance. “I started stealing pretty much every time,” he said. “It worked extremely well, but that wasn’t what the coach cared about, apparently.” To punish Spartz for disobedience, the coach batted him eighth. “I gave him a statistical explanation of why it made no sense to put your best hitter at the bottom of the order,” Spartz said. “You can imagine how that went over.”At school, he was a precocious student who chafed at classroom structure.
A few weeks into seventh grade, he asked his parents if he could be homeschooled. His mother, Maggi, was the breadwinner, working at a local philanthropic foundation. His father, Tom, became Emerson’s teacher.