When Your Genius Is A Dunce: The Depressing Self-Outing of Rays’ Manager Joe Madden

I trusted you, Joe. You broke my heart..

Organizations and institutions tell us a lot about themselves by the individuals they hold up as exemplary. To cite an example much on my mind these days, the conservative blogosphere’s canonization of the late Andrew Breitbart, master of the intentional half-truth, makes me dubious about its reliability and integrity. On  the other side of the spectrum, the fact that so many Democrats, and especially Democratic women, worship Bill Clinton reflects horribly on their values and tolerance for hypocrisy. Now, in the wake of Roger Clemens’ well-deserved acquittal for denying under oath acts that he almost certainly did, we have strong confirmation that a prominent individual Major League Baseball holds up as exemplifying, in the immortal and irritatingly pretentious words of “Terence Mann” about that corn field in Iowa, “all that once was good and it could be again”* is in truth an Ethics Dunce, and a big one at that. His name is Joe Madden, the American League’s 2011 Manager of the Year, and I am disappointed and depressed. (Yes, I have named Joe an Ethics Hero in the past.)

Maddon, we have been told by sportswriters, players and executives, stands for playing the game “the right way.” He stands for integrity and honesty. He instills in his players an appreciation of the legacy of the National Pastime, and imbues in them a determination never to disgrace their city, Tampa Bay, their team, or their game. He’s an educated man, a college grad, and a deep thinker. He is a role model in the game and out of it. I believed all that.

But it is nonsense. Oh, I’m willing to believe that Maddon is in the upper level of baseball figures, but now I know that this just indicts the rest of the sport. No wonder Roger Clemens felt he could cheat with impunity and was so indignant that anyone would call him to account. That’s what Joe Madden, baseball’s ethics exemplar,  believes.

A couple of days ago, the Rays were playing the Washington Nationals. Both teams are in the hunt for a play-off spot. When Maddon called in relief pitcher Joel Peralta to take the mound, Nats manager Davey Johnson asked the umpires to check his glove for “foreign substances,” that is, junk that pitchers sometimes try to sneak onto the balls they throw to make the pitches do loop-de-loops on the way to the plate. This is, as you might guess, against the rules. In addition to being unfair to batters, doctored pitches have an unpleasant tendency to break players’ faces.

Sure enough, Peralta had enough pine tar on his glove to make his tossed spheroids do the Macarena, and he was thrown out of the game. He will also be fined and suspended. When his pitcher was caught cheating, was Maddon embarrassed? Was he furious at the cheating player, fouling his Tampa Bay uniform?

No. Maddon was indignant at Davey Johnson.

Maddon called Johnson’s move “cowardly,” and objected to the fact that he must have relied on “inside information.” He said that Johnson was condoning “ratting out” players for cheating, and said that even players on Johnson’s own team would be angry at such a thing. And he said that using pine tar to doctor pitches—like the spitball, only better—should be allowed, because so many pitchers do it.

If Joe Maddon is a baseball role model, we now know why illegal steroids and other performance enhancing drugs were allowed to flourish in clubhouses for more than a decade. We know why not being “a rat” is deemed a higher ethical priority in baseball than reporting and stopping misconduct, and we know that “everybody does it” is regarded as justification for pronouncing dishonest and even dangerous conduct acceptable. Joe Maddon, baseball genius and exemplar, embraces the ethics system of the Mafia.

Baseball needs new heroes. When a shameless Ethics Dunce  like Joe Maddon is the best a sport can point to as a role model, it’s time to clean house.


* “Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

——Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), in “Field of Dreams”


Source: Washington Post

Graphic: WSTP

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

7 thoughts on “When Your Genius Is A Dunce: The Depressing Self-Outing of Rays’ Manager Joe Madden

  1. This is a game where we steal bases, steal signs, do hidden ball tricks, stretch the balk rule to the breaking point, cork or otherwise doctor bats, and apply foreign substances to the baseball. Some of this is within the rules of the game, and others are dealt with through baseball justice. If you blatantly pick enough signs, someone on your team is likely to “get dosed”. (hit with a pitched ball). Perhaps I’ve been around the game so long, that what is clearly unethical behavior is so common place that it’s often overlooked. I suspect that Joe’s issue with Davey Johnson was that he chose to go to the umpire as opposed to handling the issue on the field. Old school managers tend to get pissed at what they feel ironically, is a breach of ethical behavior. Additionally, the player involved was a member of Johnson’s team last season. So it gives the impression that he was trading using inside information.

    I really don’t know how wide spread the proliferation of doctored balls is in major league baseball. But guys get hit most every game. Not always as a way to right a wrong, but it happens. Baseball has a weird and unique set of rules within the rules. Perhaps Joe Madden might qualify for something short of an Ethics Dunce. Maybe an ethics idiot for not acknowledging that his guy was caught cheating.

    FYI, nice to talk about an issue other than race! There’ll be plenty of opportunities for that, but few good baseball ones. And as for steroids, it’s clear cut cheating, but with the medical advances, I wonder if we’re wasting our time dealing with it?

    • I’m equally bothered by the “rat” reference, and also the suggestion that volume equals ethical. In general, for a smart guy, his comments are pretty idiotic.

      You know, one of the reasons the spitball was outlawed is that a spitball probably killed Ray Chapman, the only major league player killed by a pitch. Players do get hit every day, but balls with stuff on them are even harder to control, plus they are harder to duck, because they don’t fly along the predicted path.

      Yes, I’d be happy if race became an issue here about as often as soccer. If I could get away with it, I’d write about baseball and nothing but. If someone would pay me to do it, I’d be happier still.

  2. Doctoring a ball has alaways been a part of baseball. Hell cheating is part of baseball. But also getting called out on it is part of it also.

  3. Maybe I have been oblivious to something obvious in my beloved game of baseball for a long time. But I honestly have never heard of buzz and debate within the MLB players’ union about rules against pitchers using special added substances on the balls they pitch. I would think that I would have heard a lot about it, if it had been going on. But sometimes, I miss important stuff, even when it’s obvious – like how I used to miss the strike zone, and like how multiple managers and umpires didn’t seem to notice how I missed – more on that later.

    So, with the understanding (potentially, misunderstanding) that the topic has not been something quarreled about in the union, I would take the side of batters who would want all such special substances banned from use, along with stiff penalties for pitchers caught using them (and for their managers). There are slightly more batters than pitchers in the union, I believe. Pitchers already have the overwhelming edge over batters, historically, even using un-doctored baseballs – to the tune of batters “failing” typically anywhere from 7 to 9 out of every 10 times at bat. So, as a batter, why would I want to allow pitchers to have any additional edge?

    Then, there is the issue of safety which Jack mentions. Seems like the pitchers’ added edge from added substances would be akin to some edge that, say, pro football players might build into their uniforms in some stealthy manner – to enhance, say, a ball-carrier’s ability to slip from tacklers, or a defensive player’s hits to inflict more pain on ball-carriers or pass receivers (never mind sticky stuff that receivers put on their hands). But then (back to baseball), that kind of doctoring should be expected to bring unintended consequences, along with the intended consequences – along with some consequences that may be intended in such a sly and deceptive way (among the most skillful pros, at least), they only appear unintended (“defensibly unintended”); I am speaking specifically of batters hit by pitches.

    At least at the major league level, a pitcher who misses all around the edges of the strike zone, throwing many more balls than strikes, is one thing – happens almost every day. But for a pitcher at any level whose wildness, regardless of its cause, poses a danger to batters, an umpire should be empowered, for the sake of players’ safety, to either throw the pitcher out of the game, or (at least) order the manager to play the pitcher in a different position in the field – regardless of the manager’s strategy, bullpen status, or pitcher’s intentions with his pitch locations – even when no batter has yet been hit by a pitch.

    I know what I’m talking about there. I was one of those dangerously wild pitchers. My wildness wasn’t because my managers knew how to use me to shake-up our opponents’ batters, or because I knew how to be “just wild enough” to scare batters’ averages down. I just plain threw wildly, and no amount of the best coaching and most diligent practice ever cured me, or even improved me. I would not have wanted to bat against me – not because I was good, but because I was a mortal threat. I knew it, and hated it; it absolutely was never my intention to hit any of the batters I hit, EVER. It’s a miracle that I didn’t kill somebody. No umpire ever intervened to take me off the mound, but (except in the few games when I truly, mysteriously, had good control) almost every umpire who had a chance to see me pitch should have been able to see the dangers I posed. Every time the boss handed me the ball, I would look at him and try to ask without speaking, “Are you SURE you want ME to pitch? You DO know that I could very easily hurt someone real badly here?” But no: I was the big guy, so I was supposed to be a pitcher. Like a good Nazi, I followed orders. I only wish I could have known how much of my wildness was because of my own fear of hitting batters. I was a hitter and a fielder, not a pitcher.

    If I had used a substance to doctor a ball I pitched, I probably would have killed somebody. And if I had done that, I would have hoped my manager would have been ashamed of himself, especially if he knew I was doctoring pitches. Joe Maddon should be ashamed of himself.

  4. Only one teeny-tiny little quibble: When you wrote “…fowling his Tampa Bay uniform,” did you really mean “…fouling his Tampa Bay uniform?” Otherwise, I’m confused. Still, a great post. Boy, are you ever right about the Terrance Mann speech being pretty treacly. I never really noticed until you transcribed it here. Previously I’d only heard it in the movie, and was captivated enough by James Earl Jones’ delivery (he’d sound better reading the phone book than most people would reading the Gettysburg Address) that it got right be me.

    • It’s “Foul.” The “foul the nest” thing permanently confused me, since fowls are IN nests. I’ll fix it.

      Mann’s speech really is the one flaw in “Field of Dreams”—well, other than Kevin Costner being willing to let his daughter suffocate on the chance that that young ballplayer will magically become an old doctor whose been dead for years and save her. Good plan, Ray. It’s well staged, and works in the book, but it’s unbelievable as dialogue.

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