Ethics Dunces: The National Baseball Congress

Kaiser Carlile

Kaiser Carlile

Shortly before my father died, and a little more than a year before she did, my mother made a series of jaw-dropping statements in a conversation with me and Dad. “You mean to tell me that I could wake up one morning, feeling fine, and then just drop dead later that same day?”

My father actually did a Danny Thomas spit-take with his coke.

“What??” said my father, who saw this occur to a lot of people during the war. “Of course! We’re over 80! It can happen any second! It always can happen any second! People die, every day, for no reason, suddenly, stupidly all the time!”

“Well, I just refuse to accept that!” said my mother, who really did think that she had a right to live forever.

For some reason Mom came to mind when I read that the National Baseball Congress had decided that it will not use bat boys or bat girls for the remainder of its World Series games in Wichita following the death of 9-year-old Kaiser Carlile.  The bat boy for the Liberal (Kansas) Bee Jays died Sunday, a day after a freak accident in which the boy was struck in the head by the swing of a player warming up near the on-deck circle. Though he was wearing a helmet and was immediately treated by home plate umpire Mark Goldfeder, a paramedic, the injuries inflicted by the bat proved fatal.

This is the ultimate example of death by random chance. Out of the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of baseball games at all levels of competition using children to fetch players’ bats and carry them back and forth to the dugout, this is the only instance I can find of one being fatally injured. It is simply not a perilous job, and the kids who do it love it. Kaiser Carlisle loved it.

From Bob Lutz’s column about the tragedy:

“This is a 9-year-old kid, small in stature, who just wanted to be one of the guys,” said Mike Carlile… “Kaiser can’t wait to get to the ballpark every day…Watching him interact with the guys on the team is comical. They kid each other, gig each other.… Kaiser and our head coach (Adam Anderson) were very tight. It was special. This is just a crappy deal.”…One of the highlights of a Bee Jays home game at Brent Gould Field this season — Kaiser’s first as bat boy — came when public address announcer Guy Rice introduced him. From the very first time, Kaiser received one of the best and loudest ovations. “The crowd would erupt,” [ team broadcaster ]Kappelmann said. “They just love him. He’s been a sparkplug for our team. And one of the players described to me on the post-game Saturday, Kaiser is the life of the team. He’s a fun-loving kid and every time we saw him he brought a smile to our faces.”

Presumably the other children serving in this traditional role on the tournament’s eight remaining teams have similar relationships to their teams and their players. Yet they are the ones being…what? Protected? Punished? Sacrificed?….in the knee-jerk response to Kaiser’s death.

“We suspended the program for the rest of the tournament because of the situation that happened this weekend,” Jason Ybarra told USA TODAY Sports. The operations manager for the NBC Baseball Foundation  said some teams brought batboys with them, including the Bee Jays, but that  Monday’s decision suspends the use of batboys in all circumstances.

Why? What possible connection does this rash and foolish decision have to anything, other than appearing to “do something” about a tragedy that can’t be undone? This is another example of officials responding to a random, unpredictable event with the Barn Door Fallacy, taking pointless and futile action that would have prevented what has already occurred.

Most of the time, this reflex human and bureaucratic reaction to shocking events (conduct supported by a whopping 15 rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms list) is just stupid and annoying ( the x-raying of Halloween candy and Trick-or-Treat-o-phobia because one evil father poisoned his own son’s candy decades ago) or stupid, expensive and annoying (the useless and incompetent TSA operations since 9-11), but this instance is just cruel.

If the NBC wants to honor the fallen bat boy, they should do it by enhancing the experiences of those like him, not eliminating them.



62 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: The National Baseball Congress

  1. But moratoriums are completely logical for relatively unprecedented events, in order to buy time to evaluate the likelihood of the event occurring with greater occurrence.

    What isn’t logical is that this time, they automatically made the moratorium into the final, permanent, decision – skipping the whole “evaluation” phase of any moratorium.

  2. I see your point, but agree with NBC officials. I also believe they’ll take a closer look at the use of bat boys/girls after the season and if necessary, make adjustments. Nothing sinister, just caution, maybe an abundance of it. But reading the story broke my heart. I coach a high school team and we had a bat boy this past season. I honestly lived I fear of him being hit, with a bat or ball every day. He was almost run over by a scoring base runner one time also. It’s a rich tradition, but perhaps we need to consider an age requirement. 9 may be too young. And who wants to see this repeat itself? Regardless of how infrequent…

    • But that’s just emotional risk aversion, right? We have plenty of data: being a bat boy is safer than walking to school, riding a bicycle or playing soccer. The only way to make sure there is never another injured bat boy is to eliminate them all. It’s the “just one child” argument again.

      • I don’t think we need to eliminate all bat boys. But we make them wear helmets for a reason. it can be dangerous and they are small. I see this as a temporary moratorium until they can reevaluate. if they eliminate for next season (which I doubt) you’d have a stronger argument.

        • It’s a proportion thing. I’ve already shown that moratoria are acceptable. But this isn’t one. The duration of a temporary cessation should be directly related to how long it takes to evaluate a risk and develop controls (if necessary). The entire season seems awfully long to take for evaluation…

          • What are you talking about? The “suspension” and that’s what it is, is for the duration of this tournament. 5 days with 8 teams. NBC absolutely did the right thing, and will reevaluate later. I don’t even see ethical argument. Absolutely no one is hurt by this decision.

            • All the kids who came expecting to be bat boys are hurt, of course, and for no good reason. No new information was learned or discovered. If I had said to the NBC organizers, “Gee, what if a bat boy isn’t paying attention, and a batter is distracted taking his warm ups, and he just happens to be swinging just in the wrong place as the kid walks into the bat, and he dies. They what?” Would they say, Omygod let’s eliminate bat boys!” Or would they say, “Well, anything can happen, you know. The fact is that this is extremely unlikely.” And the fact that the unlikely happens doesn’t make it more likely.

              No one is hurt is a rationalization, you know. Nobody would be hurt it they started using noodles for bats and nerf balls, either.

              • We play the allegory game all day. What if tomorrow, a bat boy, spooked and scared by happened to this kid, is overly cautious, and gets hit, or run over when in the wrong space? By a bat or a ball? It’s a needless risk, despite the admittedly low one that it is. Those kids are no more hurt than if the game got rained out. They’er still there and part of the team. The batboy experience has little to do with the actual collection of bats. It’s a way to seep the love for the game into a kid. It’s getting to play catch in the outfield with the players, and have them hit you ground balls. And none of this is threatened by limiting a kids time on the field during a game that means something to someone. I want kids in the dugout, and like the idea of a bat boy, am not opposed to looking at it. Common sense….

                • Fascinating, UR. We’ve had a hundred years to look at it, thousands upon thousands of batboys of all ages and all levels of the game. Common sense dictates that one outlier suddenly calls all that data and experience into question, erases it, renders it irrelevant compared to a vivid fluke that is still raw in the imagination? That’s common sense? I think that’s reflex over-reaction driven by emotion, as the barn door fallacy always is.

                  Common sense is accepting that we can’t avoid every fluke or plan for every random event, and that tragedies sometimes occur for no good reason, with nobody to blame.

                    • I knew one of the guys that was in the powder magazine when that happened; GMG2 Ken Truitt. He described to me what he saw when he went in the turret right after it happened. He knew all of the guys who died, and a few were close friends. I should look him up, now that you’ve reminded me.

                    • No doubt. I’ve been on a battleship kick lately and that accident in particular. Knowing just how quickly, given modern military technology, a minor hiccup can turn into a platoon destroying conflagration, it was sickening to read a transcript of the final documented words of the guys in the turret:

                      “My god! The powder is smoldering!!!”

                      “Mort! Mort! Mort! Mort!”

                      *possibly an order, though muffled, to “get the damned breach closed now!”*

                      “My god there’s a flash!”

                      Then nothing but concussion.

      • First of all, absolutely heartbreaking story all around. Granted. And the one child rationalization, standing alone, is no more availing than the Michael Dukakis daughter rape question. However, to your specific point, Jack, about walking to school and playing soccer, I respectfully part ways somewhat. Everything in life is a valuation of costs and benefits from the moment you put your socks on until the moment you go to bed.

        As an example, I could eliminate traffic mortalities tomorrow. The speed limit is now 5 miles per hour and we all drive around in nerf cars. 30,000 traffic deaths a year completely eliminated (well, I’ll allow for one or two freak accidents, even under those scenarios). However, morbid as it sounds, we as a society have implicitly made a determination that those deaths are a worthwhile price of driving from Michigan to Florida in less than 24 hours or living in the suburbs yet driving 15 or 20 minutes to work each day (large cities excepted).

        So, under a cost-benefit analysis, most parents would say that walking to school, riding a bicycle, or playing soccer, provides a greater benefit to children and their parents (healthy happy kids, parents not having to take them to school, whatever) than the rather small risk of a fatality. All parents, at least subconsciously, have weighed the costs and benefits.

        Now, being a bat boy does involve a relatively small risk or cost. However, I would posit that it also provides a relatively small benefit (as opposed to riding a bike, playing soccer, or walking to school) even though there are undoubtedly some benefits. Up until now, I don’t think people contemplated potential death as a cost, so maybe a small benefit outweighed almost nonexistent risk (and then only probably risk of bodily injury). However, now that people know it’s a possibility (some parents no doubt already knew this and refused to let their children be bat boys and girls), isn’t a moratorium proper to evaluate the cost benefit analysis in this light? If the benefit is small enough, then one child indeed may be too many.

  3. Im sorry but I disagree.

    In any organization when you have a death you should do a safety stand down, evaluate what happened and why and then move to correct it before resuming work. Now they couldn’t very well cancel the tournament so they eliminated the position of batboy for now until they can figure out what happened.

    Also 8 is way too young to be running out on the field as a batboy. MLB had the right idea when they raised the minimum age to 14.

    • No doubt moratoria are necessary. But this isn’t a moratorium…they cancelled the whole practice for the duration… much more time than is necessary to evaluate the risks and implement useful controls (if even necessary).

      • But how long is the duration? Is it long enough to do that or is the tournament over in the next day or two? If the tournament is going to last a while then they can easily fix this in the next day or two.

        Although I still think 8 years old is too young for a batboy.

        • Valid clarifying question. I have no idea how long the tournament will last after this.

          But it doesn’t sound like this is a moratorium to evaluate the risk but rather the final decision to control the risk.

          • I just checked and it ends Saturday. I suppose they could have thrown some type of briefing together and taught the kids what to do insure their safety but I think its easier to just suspend the use until after the tournament.

    • It was an accident, that’s all. “Safety stand-down” sounds good, but in this case it’s nonsense, and maybe just insurance company terror. There is no danger. In fact, after an accident like this, there will never be a safer environment for bat boys than this tournament! They’ll be scared stiff, and every batter will be paranoid.

      If nine isn’t too young to play baseball, it obviously isn’t too young to pick up bats.

      • There is a difference playing the game with other 9 year olds and running out onto the field when the game is being played by college players.

        If there is NO danger , why is this kid dead?

        Accidents don’t just happen, they happen because people make mistakes.

        I once watched a Chief Petty officer run into the prop of a C-2 as it was parking. Why did it happen? Because he wasn’t paying attention. By your reasoning it just happened and there was no danger.

        • I think Jack was making the statistical connection that 1 death caused by an instance out of 10,000,000 similar instances that didn’t result in death is, for all intents and purposes, 0.

        • You can’t eliminate all risk. This accident required two people to not pay attention, and a bat to hit exactly the wrong place on a little boy’s head at the exact worst point in the backswing. The kid wasn’t running on the field, and there weren’t a bunch of them. Just one boy at a time, in a job that had never ended anyone’s life for a century. If a piece of a satellite had fallen on him, it couldn’t have been more random. Or less preventable beforehand.

          As my father told my mother: “Well, you have to accept it, that’s all. That’s life.”

      • In fact, after an accident like this, there will never be a safer environment for bat boys than this tournament! They’ll be scared stiff, and every batter will be paranoid.

        Oddly enough, people tend to make more errors when they are paranoid. Baseball is a game of instinct and split second decisions. When one is second guessing every move, they are sloppier. If everyone is nervous about the bat boys, the quality of play may suffer, and distracted players may bump the risk. (And if the batboys are “scared stiff”, what fun is it?)

        I’ve written before about how people are generally bad assessors of risk. While the risk is factually small, suspending the batboy program for a week while players and staff grieve and play on does not seem disproportionately over cautious.

        Cancelling it forever, once cooler heads are not in the middle of running a tournament, I would agree would be incompetent.

  4. I fear for this generation of kids. Risk can not be absolutely eliminated from life by bureaucratic decisions and helicopter parents. We are going to create a generation of wimps depriving kids of the ability to participate in fun activities like baseball.

    • We’re engineering a generation of dependent slaves, too timid to bite the hand that feeds them. Progressives are insecure and weak, generally-speaking, and long to have a ” big brother” to take care of them. This can only be accomplished by brainwashing the masses to be meek and subservient. Freedom is too messy and scary.

  5. The parents of the boy who died apparently attended the next game and encouraged the team to do well — THEY understand that it was a freak accident.

  6. If 9-year olds can be on the field or bench, then they should just take down the protective netting behind the plate because it means baseball isn’t dangerous. It is dangerous – a nine year old has no business being on a bench near where grown men are throwing 90+ and hitting them back 100+. They just don’t have the focus to pay attention to every pitch.

    • False Analogy.

      The danger of sitting *directly* in the “line of fire” of 90 MPH fast balls that, when “tipped” or “fouled” will, apparently randomly continue backwards into the crowd IS VASTLY greater than the danger to a bat boy running on the field when most of the action of a play is complete or not yet started.

        • What did this kid’s age have to do with the accident? PLAYERS get hit by backswings. His height was an issue: he was small for his age. If he had been taller, he would have been hit in the chest. Let’s have a minimum height requirement! Let’s have batboys on stilts!

          Did you know that many teams have used dwarfs and midgets as bat boys?

          • Again, nothing to do with the accident. This competition is of grown men – 18 years and up, including a sprinkling of guys in their thirties. Line drives get knocked into dugouts, bats fly from batters’ hands and into dugouts, players occasionally run into dugouts after pop fouls. That’s all dangerous activity, and nine year olds can’t process that quickly enough.

            I know nothing of the background of this, so of course I’ll tell you exactly what it is: forty years or more ago, these teams all would have had a bat boy who was twelve or fourteen, but kids that age just don’t think that this is the coolest thing in the world anymore, so they’ve dropped down to 9-year olds.

            The same goes for every sport: keep little kids away from the field when men are playing.

            • The kid was a relative of team personnel, which is often the case. He happened to be 9. I don’t think there would be any trouble finding older kids. But again, the age had nothing to do with the accident or the decision. If he had been 14, would the NBC not have done the same thing? If young bat boys are in so much peril why is this the first one has been badly injured? The fact is that it isn’t dangerous. A nine year old in the dugout is no more in peril than a 9 year old in the stands—less, because there are a bunch of ball players around him.

  7. Anecdotally, I have done many, many things both as a kid and as an adult on a regular basis that could’ve cost me my life. As a kid, I climbed innumerable trees to a height of 100 feet from the ground or more, climbed rocks where a fall could’ve easily killed me.

    As an adult, I worked in the engine room of a nuclear submarine, and in the shipyard, swam with sharks, even crossed the street in downtown Cairo (if you’ve never tried that, well, you couldn’t possibly know how dangerous that is) among many other things where an inch, a momentary lapse, or mere fate could’ve meant death.

    This kid wasn’t doing anything nearly that dangerous. So if we rethink that one, I guess we should rethink them all. “Just one child,” indeed.

    This reminds me of the Benjamin Franklin quote, ““They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I view playing hard and working fearlessly as essential liberty; but I can see times are changing, and not for the better. The thing about life is that it ends. Always. Sometimes sooner than we’d like, but when we worry about nothing but safety and death, perhaps we don’t deserve life.

    • Life is not safe.

      Its all a balance of deciding – what risk actually can be ignored or mitigated in order for me to have a fulfilling life.

      A boy SHOULD climb a tree even if 1 in 10,000 fall and break an arm or 1 in 1,000,000 fall and die.

  8. This story reminds me of being a kid in Miami, Florida and watching a Pony League game. I was just killing time and hanging out. Watching big kids, or so I thought at the time. Sixteen? Anyway, the City of Miami was building a golf course on the part of the park next to the baseball diamond. The land which used to be a farm the prisoners in the jail used to raise vegetables on. My dad sold the city tractors and farm equipment the prisoners could use. But I digress. There was a hole dug right next to the back stop of the baseball diamond the game was being played on. Either a water hazard or just a temporary hole. If you scratch the surface in Miamuh, you hit water. So, during the course of a game, a kid drowned in that water hazard or temporary hole. The fire guys arrived and the ambulances came and there were scuba divers, the whole deal. The kid died. The game proceeded. Kids who didn’t know how to swim in Miami were considered dopes. As were their parents who didn’t get them swimming lessons.

    My how times have changed. It was sad for the kid who died being a bat boy, but kids died. Being a kid was dangerous in the fifties and sixties.

    And you know what, there was a B-26 on static display in the same park, Grapeland Heights. I think that plane was known as the “Widow Maker.” Very hard to fly and fast. We could climb all through it without supervision. Twenty years before that kid died, life was dangerous for the twenty year olds who flew over Europe when the Germans didn’t want visitors.

    Anecdotal, and irrelevant, but still….

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