Baseball All-Star Game Ethics Musings: Taking Confirmation Bias Out Of Appeal Plays, and More


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.

Seven points:

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.


18 thoughts on “Baseball All-Star Game Ethics Musings: Taking Confirmation Bias Out Of Appeal Plays, and More

  1. Tabata’s hit-by-pitch felt especially unsportsmanlike because his armored elbow allowed him to take his base without having to suffer for it.

    Withholding the on-field call from review umpires would be great, but how can you prevent them from seeing the call on the video? Perhaps careful editing could hide it, but we’re already waiting long enough for the review.

  2. Don Drysdale was on the verge of a consecutive shutout innings pitch record when he plunked a batter with the bases jammed. The umpire enforced the rule that the batter didn’t make an effort to prevent being hit. Streak continued.

    Batters have made a living out of being hit. And now with the body armor and quick warnings. Ron Hunt of the Mets was notorious.

    I would love to see consistency on the strike zone within the game and among the umpires. Some great metrics on umps who are either batter or pitcher friendly.

    • Thank you, I almost related that Drysdale episode, and I’m very glad you did. It would be a pretty weird rule that the only time you call an intentional effort to get hit is when it prevents history from being made.

  3. “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).)

    That is a stupid rule. So pitchers don’t have enough advantage already?

    The rule should be a right-of-way for batters: If the pitch is outside the strike zone and the ball strikes the batter, the batter deserves first base. Period. For safety of the game, an automatic ejection rule should apply to any batter who is struck by errant pitches twice in any nine-inning span of one game, or twice in the span of any game. The same ejection rule – plus with automatic suspension of, say, 14 or 21 days – should apply to any pitcher whose pitches strike the same batter twice in a game. Discretion should remain with the umpire regarding ejection of either pitcher or batter on the first instance of any pitch striking a batter. A pitch that strikes a batter on the hands or on the knob of the bat, whether the ball strikes wood before or after striking the hands, should never be either a foul ball (strike) or a live ball.

        • Pitchers should be able to hit batters by accident. Do you think its random chance that some batters get hit 15, 25 times a year and others aren’t hit at all? Batters count on pitchers not wanting to hit them, and stand in the strike zone. The only way to stop it is to let them get hit, and if they are in the strike zone, have nothing but a strike to show for it.

          This is part of the game, a necessary part. Baseball ain’t softball.

          Hence: “Weenie.”

          • I was a pitcher and when I coached I coached pitchers. There is a battle in the Great Confrontation and that is the inside part of the plate.That was where I would do my main activity and set-up for the outside. If the batter wished a confrontation that was his risk – not mine. Would I dust someone? I’ll let you guess on that. I told kids that pitched do not be afraid to go inside. You pitch giving that up you have just extended the strike zone for the hitter and taken away 1/3 rd of it from you. The batter now controls the meat of the plate and can cover the outside. You get that six inches back you now have the outside in your favor. You go inside and back them off when they do make contract they have not extended so you get weak grounders, foul tips and pop-ups.

            Some hitters never back down and make all sorts of adjustments and that is at all levels. They learn the zone and know what to layoff of. Tough outs that you have to change speeds on and mix it up. You learn what hitters love and hate. Now there is extensive metrics so an MLB player (pitcher/batter) knows just what weakness and strengths exist.

            Today there are hitters whose hands are over the freaking plate! Take a look at Shane Victorino. He essentially robs you of that part of the plate and it is a no win situation. Man can get plunked on a freaking strike. Take you base and get a warning. Pure BS. Gibby or Drysdale would have put a Zimmer plate in his head by now.

            • Shane is hit constantly. The amazing one was Tony Conigliaro, whose HEAD was often over the plate, and he also tended to freeze when a ball came at him. Bad combination. I loved Tony, but his fate was preordained, and was not the pitcher’s fault.

              • The Tony C. story is interesting. Sal “The Barber” Maglie was the new pitching coach and goal #1 for him and Dick Williams was to Have Lonborg grow a pair. Lonborg got the message and notched his glove every time he hit a batter. Led the league. All season long Sox had pitching wars and when they were on the West Coast Lonborg pitched against LA. Both teams had several close calls and in a few days LA came East to play the Red Sox.

                Hamilton was a sidewinder who had actually led the NL in walks and wild pitches as a rookie so he had control questions. Tony hung over the plate and had a tendency to freeze on inside pitches. High and tight and the rest is history.

                Was it a purpose pitch? IMO – no doubt. Did he intend to hit him? IMO it was suppose to just dust him. Half-azz control.

                • I’ll add a little tutorial on the ethics of baseball and using the ball as a weapon – it certainly can be.

                  At all levels there are pitchers who are classified as head-hunters. Their goal is to inflict both fear and pain by simply targeting a player from the neck up. In actuality this is really rather difficult to do. I had impeccable control – and no “stuff” – so I could – if I wished “Stick it in his ear.” I had no stomach for that and few do.

                  So lets say I face a right-hand hitter. I throw right-handed. I have “orders” that someone must pay the price for some indiscretion by the other team. I would aim for the upper left thigh. Hit the knee they suffer. The thigh it’s a bruise. Aim like that and batter cannot escape. For those who wish to up the fear ante you aim for the left shoulder blade. Natural reaction is to turn and twist towards the plate. Almost impossible to escape. But you are precariously close to the head.

                  Depending upon the situation I would often or my catcher would our victim. You NEVER, EVER hit the player who committed the indiscretion. Let his teammates get pissed at him for causing the situation. Now we would more often than not tell the player he has been chosen to equal the score. That pitch #2 will be a candy-cane headed for his thigh. You would be surprised – or maybe not – that most would just become a statue and get plunked.

                  The danger is when the battle continues.

                  Two of my sons played on different teams in a high profile town league for 16-18 year-olds. We had two teams in the league with other towns. Both boys pitched on different teams. Both were very good. Both pitched against each other. The first two times up each Bro plunked his sibling. The third at bat the umpire calls over both boys, the coaches and me out of the stands. Tells them they hit each other again both will be tossed and both will get suspended and your father will be banned from the field. “Why me?” His response? “You fathered them.” Now that was a good Blue!

                    • I agree, great story. Sure wish the leagues I was in had umps like that one. I swear, some of our umps were paid off by some of the worst parents. Many of our most fun and fair games were when the best Dads stepped in to take over the umpiring.

                • That’s my memory of it as well. Amusingly, Lonborg was called “Gentleman Jim.” His willingness to come inside was regarded as a major reason for his sudden emergence as an ace in ’67. Sal was certainly the guy to teach him.

                  Tony got broken bones from being hit in his first two seasons. My Dad, eerily, said in Tony’s rookie year that sooner or later he would be seriously beaned. I heard the whack over the radio that night. Nobody who knew anything blamed Hamilton.

                  Boy, Tony was a great hitter…magical in the clutch. Breaks my heart every time I think about him.

                  • I was listening that night, also. Player who reminded me of Tony C. when he hit – Jeff Bagwell.

                    Hamilton was sick about it. He came inside….nothing wrong with that. He also had questionable control and reports I’ve read is Tony froze.

                    • It’s interesting: in the Sox promotional spot about memories, it shows “the legend in Left”(Ted, of course) and then “The spirit in right”—showing Tony C., for a second, at bat. All those years, and Boston remembers.

          • Did I say that pitchers should not be able to hit batters by accident? No. I just said the rules should be rock-hard about limiting accidents. Of course some batters will get hit more than others. So what? Pitchers should throw mostly strikes, so some pitchers will hit more batters than others. (God, how I wish that principle had been honored when *I* was a “pitcher” (just a thrower, really). I had little to no control; I was dangerous. Heck, I hit almost as many batters as I walked – HATED that. Those guys were my friends and schoolmates. I NEVER wanted to pitch; EVERY manager or coach who had charge of me INSISTED that I pitch – till they gave up.)

            Did I say that a batter who gets hit by a pitch in the strike zone should get first base? No. Why else do you think I said the rules should require a BATTER who is hit to be tossed? (I realize I did not write it the way I meant it above; I apologize.) Batters gotta learn to (1) suffer the HBP when they deserve it, (2) deal with being tossed for standing in their strike zone (call it a right-of-way for pitchers, unless the BAT makes contact), and (3) learn, as an alternative to getting tossed, how to bat with less risk of being hit by strikes. Now, hitting was my thing, when I played. I stood closer to the plate than most; my hands hung out over the plate while holding the bat ready, at least in my early days. I was hit only a few times, never on the hands, and that was against a caliber of pitchers, most of who had less control than the guys in MLB. But even the pitchers with good control did not hit me. I eventually decided to hold my hands high and back, away from the plate, and just in time because I was starting to face pitchers with enough velocity to shatter my hands, had I continued to stand “all-natural.” (I continued to stand close to the plate – always did that.) Despite my batting stance, I was not hit as often as others on my team. And I was a force as a hitter, as tempting a target to be hit as any in my league.

            To clarify what I said in the earlier comment: “For safety of the game, an automatic ejection rule should apply to any batter who is struck by a pitch twice in the span of any game.”
            (That deleted “[struck] by errant pitches,” to emphasize that a batter who lets himself get plunked by strikes does not deserve to stay the game – talk about weenies! – what a cheap, talentless way to try to beat a pitcher!)

            I am not going to comment on your closing “ain’t softball.” Just snicker.

            Hence: Reasonable.

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