Diligence. Integrity. Responsibility. Reliability. Trustworthiness

Pete Rose may have been a fool who  gambled on baseball, but he never, ever, failed to run hard to first base.

Pete Rose may have been a fool who gambled on baseball, but he never, ever, failed to run hard to first base.

The Washington Nationals’ blossoming star outfielder Bryce Harper provided a graphic lesson in the importance of these ethical values in the breach of them last night, when his lapse of character on the field contributed to a loss D.C.’s struggling major league baseball team could ill-afford.

The Nats have been one of the baseball season’s greatest disappointments. A team that had the best record of all last season and was widely favored to be a World Series contender, it has barely won more games than it has lost, and is hopelessly trailing the Atlanta Braves for the National League East championship. A wild card berth in this season’s play-offs also looked like a futile hope, until a recent winning streak and a flash of 2012 brilliance allowed fans to dream of a thrilling late-season comeback. It is possible, but time is running out, and every game counts. To have any chance, the Nats have to win games like last night’s against the sub-par Mets.

With the Mets leading 3-2, Washington had mounted a two-out rally, and had runners on first and second base. Harper, the team’s youngest, most exciting and most talented player was up at bat,  but he bounced an easy ground ball to the Mets second baseman. Clearly disgusted with his failure to come though in the clutch, Harper merely jogged to first base. If he had run hard, which was his trademark last season when Harper’s energy and enthusiasm made him an instant fan favorite, he would have reached first base safely, loading the bases, for the fielder unexpectedly booted the ball. But because Harper was loafing, the second baseman had time to recover and throw to first for the out. It was the last chance the Nationals had to tie the score, and they lost a game that the team needed to win.

Harper said later that he had learned his lesson, and maybe he has, but I wonder. If you watch a lot of baseball. you see veteran players, even universally revered stars, dogging it down the line on pop-ups, easy flies, and routine grounders almost every game. It is less frequent from young players like Harper, because the habit is partly a manifestation of the Star Syndrome: the stars get way with unprofessional conduct because they are stars, and managers don’t have the guts to embarrass them over it. The worst manifestation of this is sluggers watching their presumed homeruns and going into a trot before the ball is safely over the fence. I can’t count the number of times I have seen this hotdog act result in a single when a double or triple would have been assured had the player been running hard, or even an out, after the surprised batter tried to make it to second base after his non-homer hit high off a fence. It is the older stars that teach the upcoming ones these unethical habits. (I do know that Manny Ramirez was the offender in about half of them until he was banished to Taiwan and the minors.)

This isn’t a problem relegated to baseball. If we have a job, we are obligated to give our best all the time, not just when it is easy, or there is a special benefit to be gained, or when we are feeling good, confident and happy. That is hard…very hard. For most of us, even those of us with good work habits and imbued by upbringing and education with an appreciation of good work ethics, it is natural that rationalizations will sometimes creep into out thinking and make us think it’s OK to slough off, take it easy, do the minimum to get by. Here are some  from the Ethics Alarms rationalizations list, with Harper’s theoretical expression of  them:

1. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it”

“Oh, please. This late in the season, everyone’s trying to conserve energy.”

2. The “They’re Just as Bad” Excuse

“Hey—Manny does it. Why can’t I?”

3. Consequentialism

“So I jogged down the line…I was out and would have been if I were sprinting.No harm done.”

6. a “Judge not, lest ye not be judged”

“Who are sportswriters, fans and ethicists to judge me? As if they could play this game and do what I do…”

6.b. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”

“Right…like the manager and coaches never dogged it when they were players…”

8. The Trivial Trap  (Also known as “The Slippery Slope.”)

“Big deal. It’s one ground ball.”

10. The King’s Pass

“Hey, I’m the heart and soul of this team. It can’t afford to punish me over something so trivial.”

16. Ethical Vigilantism

“I bust my butt 99.9 per cent of the time, more than anyone else. I have a right to even the score a little.”

20. Ethics Accounting (“I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”)

“I’ll run it the next one out harder.”

21. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

“It’s not like this game will keep us out of the play-offs.”

25. “The Favorite Child” Excuse

“It’s unfair: other players do this and nobody says a word.”

29. The Prospective Repeal: “It’s a bad law/stupid rule”

Why run out every ground ball and pop-up when they are almost always outs, and if they aren’t it almost never makes a difference anyway? The rule should be “Hustle when it matters,” not “Always hustle.”

31. The Unethical Role Model: “He/She would have done the same thing”

“Lots of players in the Hall of Fame now would have jogged on that ground ball in their day.”

Applicable rationalizations all, and all inadequate to rebut the undeniable ethical principle: If it’s your job, do your best. Always.
Bryce Harper should understand that now.


Facts: Washington Post

Graphic: today I found out




3 thoughts on “Hustle

  1. It’s worth noting that he’s also capable of the hustle you describe… and paying for it. Remember his stint on the DL after crashing full-force into the outfield wall chasing a fly ball?

  2. My coaches preached the gospel of the ever-hustle- as an offensive lineman, if I didn’t follow a play downfield at a run (on the off-chance that I stumbled across a chance to kill something) I was doing laps, even if things were totally past my ability to catch up and make a difference. I was never a star, but I’m STILL embarrassed when I catch myself dogging.

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