Tag Archives: baseball

The Absolute Worst Of The Terrible Arguments For Putting Barry Bonds In The Hall Of Fame

815-Baseball-Hall-of-Fame-CEvery year at this time, I issue commentary on the “steroid-users in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame” controversy. I’m not going to disappoint you this year.

Today the Hall will announce who the baseball writers deemed worthy, and, as usual, the acknowledged steroid cheats with Hall of Fame statistics will be resoundingly rejected. I don’t feel like revisiting this subject in depth again right now: I have done so before, many times. However, yesterday I nearly drove off the road listing to MLB radio commentators Casey Stern and Jim Bowden, supposedly baseball experts, give their reasons for voting for the entire range of steroid cheats, from Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire to Roger Clemens and the despicable Alex Rodriquez.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame, alone among the sports Halls,  includes ethics in its criteria for entry: a player must exhibit sportsmanship, integrity and have been a credit to the game. The average sportswriter who votes for candidates is about as conversant in ethics as he is in Aramaic, leading to an endless debate involving every rationalization on the list and  analogies so terrible that they melt the brain.For example, I constantly hear and read that the evidence that Barry Bonds used steroids is “circumstantial” so it is unfair to tar him as a steroid user. Such commentators don’t know what circumstantial evidence is. Criminals can be justly convicted beyond a reasonable doubt by circumstantial evidence, which is also known as indirect evidence. Direct evidence, if believed, proves the existence of a particular fact.  Circumstantial evidence proves facts other than the particular fact  to be proved, but reason and experience indicates that the indirect evidence is so closely associated with the fact to be proved that the fact to be proved may be fairly inferred by existence of the circumstantial evidence. There is direct evidence that Bonds was a steroid-user, but the circumstantial evidence, as the well-researched book “Game of Shadows” showed, is so voluminous that it alone is decisive. Literally no one thinks Bonds is innocent of using steroids. [You can read my analysis of the case against Bonds here, here, and here.]

Stern and Bowden, however, claim that it is unfair to refuse the honor of Hall of Fame membership to suspected steroid users because it is inevitable that some players who used steroids and were never caught or suspected will make it into the Hall, if there aren’t such undetected cheat in the Hall already. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Dunces, Journalism & Media, Professions, Sports

Ethics Hero, Ghost Of Christmas Past Edition: Dwight Gooden

Dwight-Gooden

For me, Christmas triggers not only memories fond and bittersweet, but also regrets, realizations, and discovered clarity about where I have been and how I got where I am. This was really what Charles Dickens was expressing in “A Christmas Carol, and why it resonates even with the kinds of people who would be tempted to put a zombie Nativity on their front lawn.

Last week, former New York Mets pitching ace Dwight Gooden, known in his prime as “Doctor K” (a “K” is a strikeout, and if you didn’t know that—wow) and eventually just “Doc,”penned a brave and inspiring piece for The Player’s Tribune, in which he addressed his younger self, warning the young, cocky kid with the world seemingly begging to be his playground and cheering section in 1984 about the traps and landmines lying in his path.

Gooden, for those of you who face life every day without the accumulated wisdom bestowed by the love of baseball, and who somehow live through cruel winter without the promise of Spring Training warming your nights, looked like he might become the greatest, coolest, most unhittable pitcher in baseball history when he arrived on the big league scene in ’84, winning 17 games with a deadly curve and a 98 mile per hour fastball at the tender age of 19. He became the youngest player ever to pitch in an All-Star Game that year (he struck out the side), and the next season, at 20, he won 24 games, lost only four, and led the National League with a miniscule 1.53 earned run average.

And he was never that good again. He began losing speed on his fastball the next year, and steadily declined thereafter. Eventually there were drug problems, alcoholism  and other embarrassments, and Doc Gooden, instead of being the lock for the Hall of Fame that he seemed at 20, was washed-up at 35, and an unofficial member of the Pantheon of Disappointing and Fallen Sports Heroes.

Today, as the former pitcher nears 50, Gooden is a dedicated father and grandfather to  his children and grandchildren. He is the president of Best of the Best Sports Management, where he works with his oldest son, Dwight Jr. and is also a spokesman for PinkTie.org , a Long Island-based charity dedicated to fighting breast cancer.

In his essay, titled, “Letter to my Younger Self,” Gooden is frank, uncompromising, wistful, self-critical, funny, and never indulges in self-pity. He ends it this way:

Drugs and alcohol are only a false sense of security. Neither thing will fill the void you feel. Unfortunately it might take you a few missed Christmas Days with your family to learn this.

You will want to try to fix your issues on your own. This is how you think a man handles his problems. It isn’t. Being a man is about reaching out for help when you need it. If your curveball isn’t working, you’ll know how to fix that. If the control on your pitches is off, you’ll know how to fix that. But you will face a lot of hardship because of your inability to realize that you can’t fix yourself.

Finally, please know this: I love you. It’s going to take you a long time and a lot of pain to realize this, but accepting it will go a long way towards healing. The journey will be trying, but it ends in a good place.

Keep getting those Ks,

You’re a hero after all, Doc.

Merry Christmas.

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Ethics Alarms Encore: “Tom Yawkey’s Red Sox Racism, and How Not to Prove It”

Yawkey TributeEvery now and then a comment out of the blue reminds me of a post that I had forgotten. That was the case here. Reading it again for the first time in five years, I was struck by how the crux of the post is still relevant today (that crux has nothing to do with baseball), and indeed how the intervening five years have made what I thought was a bad trend a genuine political and cultural malady.

And the World Series is going on, and I feel badly about the Red Sox having such a miserable season. This post, which few read when it was first published as the blog was attracting (let’s see…) less than 200 views a day as opposed to nearly 4000 a day now, is a good one, and I enjoyed it.  That “self-professed ethicist” has his moments…. Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce: Skechers

Do you know who the very first Ethics Dunce was? It was Pete Rose. This was in January of 2004, on the newly launched Ethics Scoreboard, and Pete had just admitted that he did indeed bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds, even though he had been loudly denying it (and smearing the reputation of Bart Giamatti, the baseball commissioner who banned him from baseball and entry into the Hall of Fame for it) for 10 years.

Now another decade has past, and Pete still doesn’t really get it. Helping him make money for not getting it is the “relaxed fit footwear” people, Skechers, with  jaw-dropping TV spot showing Pete in his own home (supposedly), padding down a hallway festooned with his many trophies, Silver Bats and other symbols of his days as “Charley Hustle,” as he revels in the comfort of his Skechers and the joys of being in “the hall.” Then his wife or girlfriend (with Pete, it’s hard to keep up…if she’s his wife now, then someone else is his girlfriend)) sticks her head out of a doorway and tells him, “Pete, you know you’re not supposed to be in the hall!”

HAR! What a hoot it is, being disgraced in your own sport for undermining its integrity! Pete has never quite comprehended what all the fuss is about—after all, his bets were always in favor of his team, never against it, and never affected his management decisions! He says. And why wouldn’t everyone believe him about that, just because he knowingly broke baseball’s biggest taboo (Pete can tell you Shoeless Joe’s batting average down to the 5th decimal: believe me, he knows all about the Black Sox), lied about it everywhere and often, and got himself thrown in jail for cheating on his taxes?

What would make anyone, in any company, think that an unapologetic lifetime sleaze like Pete Rose being associated with their product would make people run out and buy it? Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Marketing and Advertising, Sports

Matt Williams’ Blues: Consequentialism, Hindsight Bias, And Moral Luck

zimmermann

As I wrote last year about this time, the baseball play-offs make us unethical. Managers make decisions that either work or back-fire, and feed the toxic human tendency toward  consequentialism thusly: when they work, the decisions werecorrect; when they don’t, the manager was an idiot, and the choicee were obviously wrong. As with judging the ethics of an act, what happens after a baseball decision is made is irrelevant to whether it was a good decision when it was made.  This is almost impossible to keep firmly in mind. Our logic rebels at the idea that an ethical act can have horrendous consequences, or that the right tactical decision can result in defeat. But that’s life, as my father was fond of saying.

Hindsight bias further pushes us to confuse the making of a decision with its consequences. It is, not surprisingly, much easier to make a strong case that a decision was the wrong one after all the results are in. This, of course, is unfair to the decision-maker, who didn’t have the data the critics do when he or she acted. On the other hand, sometimes the reason the decision was the wrong one is that it was wrong, and the fact that the results were bad just support that verdict.

This morning, indeed since last night, Washington D.C. baseball fans and sportswriters have been wrestling this conundrum. The Washington Nationals, widely believed to be the strongest National League team in the post season, and quite possibly the favorites to win the World Series, find themselves down 0-2 in the best of five National League Division Series after a grueling, 18 inning loss to the San Francisco Giants, who didn’t even win their own division. The way the game went into extra innings will be debated for months if the Nats fail to rally and win the series. Nats starting pitcher Justin Zimmermann, who had pitched a no-hitter in his last outing, had been almost as good this time, pitching his team within one out of a 1-0 win that would have evened the series. He had dominated Giants hitters in every way, and had not shown any signs of weakening or, as they say in the game, “losing his stuff.” In the old days, that is, as recently as 20 years ago, a pitcher on a run like this would finish the game unless he had a stroke on the mound. Now, MLB managers are trained to be ready to go to their ninth inning specialist, the so-called closer, at any hint of trouble or even without it, and they almost always do.

As a reflex action, it makes no sense a lot of the time, other than “everybody does it.” A pitcher whom you know is pitching well is a known quantity, while a pitcher newly arrived to the game, whatever his skills, is not.  If the choice is between a starter who is not just doing OK but rather mowing down batters like Samson jaw-boning the Philistines, and bringing in a new arm, logic would dictate that the latter is the greater risk.

Nats manager Matt Williams acknowledged that Zimmerman was “in the zone” by not lifting him to begin the ninth, and was rewarded with two quick outs. When he walked his first batter of the game, however, on his magic 100th pitch (they count pitches now, and 100 is the number at which pitchers supposedly turn into pumpkins), and Williams lifted him, calling on closer Drew Storen. Continue reading

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Of Black Lungs and Concussions: How Can An Ethical Person Be A Football Fan?

So now you know. And,,,?

So now you know. And…?

The worst thing about pro football is not its wife-beating, gun-toting, child-beating players, or that the league happily has been willing to ignore these little flaws while promoting such flawed men as heroes to America’s young. Nor is the worst thing about pro football the fact that one of its teams has a politically incorrect nickname. No, the worst thing about pro football is that it makes billions from inducing young men to cripple their cognition long before nature would even consider doing it to them, and corrupts its huge national audience by inducing it to not only cheer this process, but pay for it.

Sally Jenkins, in a frank, stark column for the Washington Post, compared the NFL to the coal industry of yore, when minors were dying of black lung and terrible working conditions, and the government had to step in:

Since the NFL insists on behaving like the coal industry circa 1969, the only solution to its problems is for Congress to step in and regulate the business of these 32 billionaire plunderers. This week, the Department of Veterans Affairs brain bank announced that 76 out of 79 deceased NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. The price for owning a team just went up. Jerry Jones, Bob Kraft, Dan Snyder, Steve Bisciotti and all the rest, if you want to enrich yourselves at the expense of the ravaged health of others, be prepared to pay for it. Your future is endless litigation and government interference.

The CTE thunderbolt follows closely on the league’s callous handling of domestic violence cases. A new raft of medical investigations and lawsuits say that CTE caused some of these devastating domestic explosions, such as Jovan Belcher’s 2013 murder-suicide. CTE leads to aggression, paranoia, impaired judgment and depression….Here’s the deal: Concussions are the black lung of the NFL. And the league knows it.

Sure it does, but my problem is, so do its fans. The nation needed coal, still needs it in fact, so regulating that industry was reasonable, imperative, and practical. The country doesn’t need to have a deadly sport to watch every Sunday (Thursday, Monday…). Once it could claim that it was innocent, that helmeted players were protected, and that the tragically crippled were aberrations. Not any more. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: American League Batting Champion Jose Altuve

Altuve

There was another baseball Ethics Hero who emerged on the last day of the regular season yesterday. File it under “Sportsmanship.”

Houston Astros secondbaseman  Jose Altuve (at less than 5′ 5″, the shortest athlete in a major professional sport) began the day hitting .340, three points ahead of the Tigers’ Victor Martinez, who was at .337. Even with all the new stats and metrics showing that batting average alone is not the best measure of a baseball player’s offensive value, a league batting championship remains the most prestigious of individual titles, putting a player in the record books with the likes of Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, George Brett, Ichiro Suzuki and Tony Gwynn. It’s still a big deal. If Altuve didn’t play in Houston’s meaningless last game, Martinez would have to go 3-for-3 to pass him, giving the DH a narrow .3407 average compared with Altuve’s .3399. By playing, Altuve would risk lowering his average, providing Martinez with a better chance of passing him.

Many players in the past have sat out their final game or games to “back in” to the batting championship, rather than give the fans a chance to watch a head to head battle injecting some much-needed drama to the expiring season. ESPN blogger David Schoenfield recounts some of those episodes here.

Altuve, however, gave Martinez his shot. He played the whole game, had two hits in his four at-bats, and won the American League batting title the right way—on the field, not on the bench.  (Martinez was hitless in three at bats.)

The conduct, simple as it was, embodied fairness, integrity, courage, respect for an opponent, and most of all, respect for the game.

Sportsmanship lives.

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