Baseball Ethics Confusion: When Respect Is Disrespectful

After the Florida Marlins’ Brett Carroll stole second on Chicago White Sox pitcher Scott Linebrink in an attempt to pad a 7-0 lead in the fourth inning of an interleague game between the two teams, the White Sox cried foul. The Marlins, some members of the team said, had violated one of the “unwritten rules of baseball,” in other words, baseball etiquette.
“It’s 7-0, it’s not a good thing to steal a base,” ChiSox pitcher Freddie Garcia opined. “…it’s not showing respect. It’s 7-0 when you steal second and third. I think it’s bad baseball.”  Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen agreed. “You have to respect [the other team]. I was up eight [runs] a couple of days ago. That’s the way we learn to play the game…We had to tell the guys not to play like that.”

There have been several examples this season, however, of teams coming back from deficits of seven runs or more to win games. If the unwritten rule the White Sox were referring to still exists (it’s hard to tell because it’s unwritten), it dates from an era in the early 20th Century when baseball scores resembled hockey and soccer scores. Scoring seven runs was a freak occurrence in the days when 2-1 and 3-2 games were the norm, and when pitchers like Grover Cleveland Alexander could throw as many as sixteen shutouts in one season. Stealing bases with a big lead in those days was considered the equivalent of kicking an unconscious boxer in the ring.

There is reason today, however, to respect virtually any team’s ability to make up large deficits within a few innings. Not trying to increase a lead after only four innings isn’t showing respect to the other team, it’s an insult. It is also foolish. The duty of a team is to win, not to make the other team feel warm and loved. Not trying to maximize a lead, however, announces that a team thinks its adversary is beaten, uncompetitive, or has given up. That’s disrespectful.

How can it be respectful to be disrespectful? It can’t. The White Sox need to work on their ethics, as well as their pitching.

[Thanks to Sox Machine, a White Sox fan blog, for the story…and excellent ethical analysis as well.]

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