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