Ethics Hero: Minnesota Twins Pitcher Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes

This is the final day of the regular baseball season, and an appropriate time to salute a major league player who placed principle over cash….even if I disagree with him

Phil Hughes was a bargain pick-up during the off-season for the Twins, a failed pitching phenom for the Yankees widely viewed to be on a fast slope to oblivion. He surprised everyone with a wonderful season for the otherwise woeful Minnesota team this season, potentially setting the all-time strikeout-to-walk ratio record, and began his final start of the campaign needing to throw eight and a third innings to reach 210 and trigger a $500,000 bonus in his contract.He would have made it, too, pitching eight dominant innings against the Diamondbacks and allowing just one run.  Then there was a downpour, with Hughes needing one more out to get the  extra $500,000.

After more than an hour’s rain delay, the game was resumed, but as is the practice in baseball, Hughes did not return to pitch: too long a delay, his arm too cold, too much risk of injury, especially after throwing so many pitches.  Hughes accepted the bad luck without complaint or rancor, saying that “some things aren’t meant to be.”

It didn’t seem fair, though, so the Twins management told him that it would have him pitch to a batter or two out of the bullpen in one of the final meaningless games to trigger the bonus. Hughes declined. “I just didn’t think it was right,” the pitcher said.”If I were fighting for a playoff spot, I’d 100 percent be available. But given the circumstances, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

In other words, Hughes felt that he should earn the bonus in the normal course of completing his pitching assignments, not as charity.

I think Hughes putting his personal ethics compass above mere financial gain is remarkable. He is taking a very rigid position regarding the contract terms he agreed to, believing that since both parties intended the 210 innings triggering the bonus to be a number reached naturally and by merit in his starts, it should not be reached as a set-up by the manager to trigger the bonus. There is validity to the principle he is standing up for: teams have occasionally artificially prevented pitchers from arning such bonuses by shutting them down just short of the required innings, games pitched or win count. This has caused union protests and much bitterness. Back in 1919, this kind of management cheat was one of the alleged reasons the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series. Hughes is saying that if it is wrong for the team to manipulate the use of a player to avoid triggering a cash bonus, it is wrong for a player to accept a bonus that results from a positive manipulation.

I don’t agree. The Twins are just trying to be fair: a rain storm shouldn’t prevent the pitcher from getting a bonus that he earned, and that was prevented by a single out taken from him by force majeure. My opinion doesn’t matter, though: Hughes has set a high bar for his integrity, and I admire him for clearing it.

But I would have taken the money. I hope the Twins find a way to give it him in a manner he will accept.


Pointer: Washington Post

Sources: ESPN, CBS, NBC

5 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Minnesota Twins Pitcher Phil Hughes

  1. Agree. The “vagaries” of the game (e.g., rain) should not have this deep an impact on a single player, who has an unusually “strict constructionist” view of the contract he signed. Actually, a rather nonsensically strict construction of same, in my opinion. His employers may applaud Hughes’ sensibilities, but even they know that the $500K (pretty meaningless to them but perhaps extraordinarily significant to Hughes) should have been set up to be played. They should still find a way, as you said, to pay him.

    Meantime, methinks Mr. Hughes has been reading too much of your ethicsalarms posts, Jack, and or your articles on ethics in “Hardball Times.” Perhaps his overdeveloped sense of honor is your fault, kiddo!

  2. Here’s hoping that (at the very least) he has a great season next year, on top of what he’s pretty much earned anyways. But then again, my team plays in the NL, so what do I know?

  3. Jack: “But I would have taken the money.”

    Jack, you don’t just get to take the money. YOU would still have to pitch one out against a major league batter. But, 500,000 to 1 are probably the odds Vegas would give you. So, I suppose you would have earned the money.

    Seriously though, it did make big news. I heard people opining that “they should just give it to him.” I thought, “no, he did not earn it. You don’t just give it to him because he almost earned it.”

    I thought the team did well by offering to give him a chance to earn it and he one-upped the team by declining. So, if the Twins realize what kind of team player they have on their hands, he will likely get the money through goodwill down the road.

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