Some baseball ethics musings on the night of the All-Star Game:
1. Why is MLB going ahead with letting Pete Rose take a bow at the All-Star Game? This made sense–barely–when it was announced, since Pete is a hometown hero despite being a rest-of-the-world slime-ball. But after that announcement, it was revealed that Rose had bet on baseball as a player, thus rendering all of his statements to the contrary the lies they were. He should have been banned from the game just to make sure this latest revelation of his sliminess adds something to his punishment.
2. The best ethics controversy of the 2015 season’s first half? This: Washington National pitcher Max Scherzer was one strike away from a perfect game, leading the Pirates in a 6-0 win, but hit Jose Tabata with a pitch to make it “only” an-hitter. A perfect game is 27 consecutive, outs, and the most difficult feat in baseball. Tabata had fouled off four pitches, before he was hit on the elbow. Many believed that he that Tabata allowed the ball to hit him intentionally, just to wreck the masterpiece. This violates one of the “unwritten rules” of baseball, which are ethics rules. After all, any perfect game could be ruined the same way, and the pitcher is powerless to stop it. This is correctly deemed to be unfair to the pitcher, the fans, and the game.
Real rules also are involved. A batter hit by a pitch is supposed to be awarded first base only if he attempts to avoid a pitch or doesn’t have an opportunity to avoid it. If the ball is in the strike zone when it hits the batter, it should be called a strike, according to the Rule Book: “If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.” (Rule 6.08(b).)
Thus home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski could have awarded Tabata a ball to make it a 3-2 count if he felt Tabata should have gotten out of the way.
1.) The rule is a dead letter: it is never enforced.
2.) It should be enforced.
3.) Since it isn’t, however, it is a legitimate gray area for players to exploit.
4.) Exploiting it here seems especially nasty: spoiling a pitcher’s change at immortality when there is no real chance of winning the game seems like poor sportsmanship exemplified.
5.) On the other hand, you never know. Winning rallies have humble beginnings.
6.) For his part, Tabata swore that he wasn’t trying to get hit.
7.) For his, pitcher Scherzer said that he did believe Tabata tried to get hit, and didn’t blame him. “I probably would have done the same thing,” he said. This, of course, doesn’t let Tabata off the ethics hook: see Rationalization #42.
3. Going into tonight’s season-pausing game, the second year of appeals of close calls on the field is under fire from managers who feel that the umpires who review challenged on-field plays are too willing to yield to the judgment of the fellow umpires who made the original calls. When a challenged play is reviewed on videotape, the options for the studio-based umpires doing the checking are to confirm the play, reverse it as clearly wrong, or let the call stand because the video is not unequivocal enough to justify over-turning a call on the field; that is, the umpires are given the benefit of the doubt. Managers feel that “benefit” extends to “probably wrong, but not worth embarrassing the umpire over.”
Sportswriter Jon Heyman recently suggested that the reviewing umpires not be told what the call was that they are reviewing. Of course! That would remove confirmation bias from the equation, which subconsciously, if not consciously, influences the reviewing umpires to confirm the calls already made. The question shouldn’t be “Was this a wrong call?” but “What is the right one?”
Asked about this, MLB’s Joe Torre answered something that sounded like “Hummanama…” There is no good rebuttal, if the objective is to get the call right.