World Series Ethics: Another Pine Tar Sighting, As Baseball Ethics Rot Gets A Thumbs Up From Legal Ethics Rot

Sal Perez

Cameras during Game #2 of the 2015 World Series revealed that Kansas City Royals catcher Sal Perez had what appeared to be pine tar on his shin guard during the game. This would presumably be there for the purpose of surreptitiously smearing some of the gunk on the ball, then throwing it back to the pitcher so he could “get a better grip on the ball,” a.k.a “tamper with the baseball so it can do loop-de-loops.” This is illegal. It is cheating. According to Rule 8.02(a)(2), (4) and (5), the pitcher shall not expectorate on the ball, on either hand or his glove; apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball; [or]  deface the ball in any manner. The rule is unambiguous, and if a pitcher or a catcher is caught violating the rule, they are thrown out of the game with a suspension and fine to follow.

None of this happened to Perez or his pitcher that night. According to NBC Sports blogger Craig Calcaterra, a former practicing lawyer who I am officially disgusted with, the reason was that “Nobody cares,” including Calcaterra.

I wrote extensively about Major League Baseball’s unethical attitude toward violations of this particular rule last year, after an absurd sequence in which Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda was caught by TV cameras apparently using pine tar on his pitches without compliant from the opposing Red Sox, followed by Sox manager John Farrell saying that he hoped he would be “more discreet” about his cheating “next time,” and then when Pineda was more obvious about it next time, Farrell complained to the umpires, who threw Pineda out of the game (he was also suspended). I wrote,

In subsequent interviews with Farrell and others, the explanation that emerged was this gibberish: “everybody” uses something to grip the ball better when it is cold (and often when it isn’t); hitters don’t mind because they don’t want to get hit. Pineda’s offense wasn’t that he used pine tar, but that, as Farrell suggested before the game, that he was “blatant” about it. That gave Farrell no choice, you see….even though his own pitchers also use foreign substances to grip the ball (in unequivocal violation of a baseball rule), and this sets his team up for “retaliation.”

I feel like I’m going crazy.

Everyone agrees that it’s acceptable  to break a rule that an umpire will throw you out of the game for breaking?

Breaking the rule secretly and discretely is fine; but breaking the rule so the cameras and the fans can see that you are breaking it is unforgivable?

Pineda’s offense wasn’t that he broke the rule, but that he was open and obvious about it?

What kind of ethics reasoning is that? If there is a rule, enforce it. If the rule is deemed useless or ill-considered, get rid of it. To have not only a professional sport, but the professional sport’s championship series and showcase, operate by the “principle” that rules will be arbitrarily enforce and ignored and that all it takes to make cheating not cheating is for the opposing team to agree that it is cheating too obliterates the integrity of the game, the championship, and the rules. Isn’t that obvious?

Not to lawyer Calcaterra. Get a load of this: Craig writes in part…

More significantly the Mets — who would be the ones to make an issue out of it if an issue was to be made — laughed the matter off… Either for the stated reason — what [ Mets Manager Terry] Collins said about better grip [ so batters won’t get hit by pitches] (1) [  “I don’t know if  [the Mets catcher] does it. He probably does. Throughout baseball, everyone does.” (2)]— or for the more plausible reason: the pine tar or whatever it is does give the pitcher an advantage but their pitchers are doing it too, so there’s no percentage in getting into accusations over it during a game.(3) Heck, Yogi Berra was doing this for Whitey Ford before your mom was born. If Yogi did it, who are you to throw stones? (4), (5)

People like bright red lines when it comes to matters of cheating, but it doesn’t really work like that in practice. It’s dangerous to have situational ethics, but in some situations ethics are practically and somewhat understandably malleable. If the Mets are willing to look the other way(6) and they were, either because they simply don’t care (7)or because their catchers have gunk on their shinguards too — I’m not sure where the mandate to start inspecting shinguards comes from, even if pine tar on shinguards is not, strictly speaking, kosher.

I underlined the screaming rationalizations Craig is endorsing, an impressive seven in one paragraph, two verbatim; the rest is just obviously unethical or mind-numbingly stupid. The Rationalizations are (1) #29. The Altruistic Switcheroo: “It’s for his own good,” (2)  1. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it”, (3)  3. Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best,”   (4) 11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?” (5) 32. The Unethical Role Model: “He/She would have done the same thing” (6) 42. The Hillary Inoculation, or “If he/she doesn’t care, why should anyone else?” and (7) 50. The Apathy Defense, or “Nobody Cares.”

His argument also encompasses two more:  30. The Prospective Repeal: “It’s a bad law/stupid rule,” and 39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?” The stupid section is this gibberish:

“People like bright red lines when it comes to matters of cheating, but it doesn’t really work like that in practice. It’s dangerous to have situational ethics, but in some situations ethics are practically and somewhat understandably malleable. …I’m not sure where the mandate to start inspecting shinguards comes from, even if pine tar on shinguards is not, strictly speaking, kosher.”

I know for a fact that Craig isn’t stupid, so this qualifies as a full-fledged ethics breakdown. I hope it occurred in the strikingly ethically clueless world of sports journalism, because if he thought like this as a lawyer, he was lucky not to get disbarred.

“People like bright red lines when it comes to matters of cheating, but it doesn’t really work like that in practice.”

Sure it does. If a player breaks a rule that is in black and white in the Rule Book, unambiguous and clear like this rule, he’s cheating, and should be stopped and punished. “But it doesn’t really work like that in practice” just means, “Thanks to corrupt and unethical people who think like me,” cheaters often get away with it.

“It’s dangerous to have situational ethics, but in some situations ethics are practically and somewhat understandably malleable.”

In other words, situational ethics! “Malleable” means that one changes one’s ethics to meet one’s needs: that’s not ethics, that’s making up rules and values as you go along; that’s expediency. “Somewhat understandably” is lawyer-talk for “I know this is bullshit, but I bet I can slip it by the dumb ones.”

“I’m not sure where the mandate to start inspecting shinguards comes from…

Well let me explain it for you, Craig: the mandate comes from the fact that there’s a rule against a pitcher using pine tar on pitches, players are doing it anyway, in the World Series, and umpires are charges with seeing that the rules are obeyed.  Clear now?

Craig’s arguing like a defense lawyer—a bad one.

“…even if pine tar on shinguards is not, strictly speaking, kosher.”

Utter deceit. This also a variation on Hillary’s trademark rationalization, 19A The Insidious Confession, or “It wasn’t the best choice,”   minimizing an offense by a misleading description. Not only isn’t it “strictly kosher,” it’s flat-out illegal, banned conduct. Saying it’s not strictly kosher is true, but misleading. Not strictly kosher means not kosher, and kosher, in a non-Jewish faith context, means genuine, legitimate, proper, above-board, genuine, correct, legitimate, legit, fine, admissible, acceptable, or orthodox. Things that are not any of those things may be illegal, but kosher still doesn’t mean legal.

If a rule is determined to be a bad one, then eliminate it. Until it is eliminated, violating it is cheating. Teams can’t eliminate a rule by mutually agreeing to violate it. Does Craig think two lawyers agreeing to fabricate evidence and encourage perjury would eliminate the unethical nature of their conduct? Does he think the trial would still have any integrity if that was allowed to occur? I know: baseball isn’t the justice system.

But rules are rules.


21 thoughts on “World Series Ethics: Another Pine Tar Sighting, As Baseball Ethics Rot Gets A Thumbs Up From Legal Ethics Rot

  1. A cooperative catcher is an absolute necessity when one wishes to doctor a ball. There are a variety of substances and locations for a pitcher to use to apply to the ball. I personally liked petroleum jelly. Best location was behind my ears or under my sock as I casually “tied” a shoe. A catcher can also cut the ball but the placement of the cut has to be quite strategic since personally experimentation usually narrows it to specific areas. I found near the seam to be my best and use that for the basis of my grip. A catcher has equipment that can have a simple point that can be developed for such use. The shin pads have many such locations that one can take advantage of. The catcher is also responsible for clean-up and maintenance of the ball if it is a “wet load.” This “out” pitch ( wet or dry) is not used to any great extent but reserved for select moments.

    The use of a doctored ball is a real effort. Like a kunckleball you can have the mechanics down but the results may not be necessarily what you wish. I have no idea of the exact aerodynamics, but for me it acted somewhat like a slider or the famed “nickle curve” as it was once called. That was for the “wet” ball. I also found that with a certain seam cut I could create a drop so the ball appeared to be a 12 to 6 curve.

    Obviously I was not a professional and at the level I played (high school/legion) a ball would remain in play for quite a bit. At the MLB level it gets tossed constantly, so the advantage certainly has decreased over the years.

    My experience came from a man who befriend me and was quite a “town ball” pitcher back when it was legal to juice up a ball.

    Pine tar is an absolute bitch. I can’t imagine using it when there are better substances available.

  2. Jack, Jack, Jack.

    Baseball is so full of “unwritten rules” that only baseball players and managers can decipher and manipulate that trying to be rational about them is futile. Sorry.

    Just check out the strike zone: the batter’s knees to the letters on his chest? Hah. Hah. Hah. In the National League, the strike zone is from the belt buckle down to… who the hell knows where? The middle of the shins? The show laces? Bizarre.

    We need a new exception to ethics: The curveball hitter’s pass. If you can hit a curve ball you can make up the rules as you go along. I never got a hit even in ten and under so I’m not qualified.

    It’s all in the hands of “baseball men.” And it’s incomprehensible to the rest of us mere mortals. Have a beer.

    • I know cynics like to say this, and maybe you are being sarcastic, but I did a lot of research on unwritten baseball rules, which is juts another way of saying “culture” and “ethics.” (I can send you my paper on it if you like.) Baseball players try to cheat in many ways, some are regarded as ecceptoble cheats and some are not, but the game itself is still supposed to catch cheats and punish them. The tradition of baseball was that if a player could trap a ball and make the umpire think it was a catch, there was no obligation to tell the truth to his team’s detriment—not cheating, therefore. Similarly with a batter who could fool an umpire into thinking he was hit by a pitch; ditto the catcher who moves a pitch into the strike zone after he catches it. There’s no rule against fooling an umpire, and eventually the first two were handled by new technology, with the appeal process. The game is moving toward less cheating, however, not more.

      The strike zone is non-sequitur: it’s not cheating, it’s just bad officiating. The umpires aren’t cheating by not following the strike zone, and for almost ten years MLB has been testing umpires against an electronic strike zone. This discrepancy too has gotten much, much better

  3. My assumption is the pine tar was for Perez’ personal use. In the game in question Perez had taken a nasty one off his throwing hand. After several minutes he returned to action so….just maybe?

  4. I was interested in what you thought about the Royals organization not telling Edinson Volquez that his father had died. Something really rubbed me the wrong way about that. I admit, all I know about it is from the Fox commentators, who are long on cheerleading, short on insight. There was something about the way they used him that disgusted me. Not telling him until after he’d completed his start. And tonight, the distasteful, teed up “feel good” story of him going out to win one for his Dad. (Sports broadcasters use this one all the time.) As if he didn’t win, what? His father would be disappointed in him?

    • Noah, I was looking for confirmation that Volquez didn’t know. Is that certain? I can excuse the Royals from telling him, if they felt it might affect his performance, though I think it’s a bad and insulting call if it happened. I can’t excuse the media for doing it. If it’s news, it’s news. Fox said his family told them to not mention his Dad’s death until he had left the game.Typical media arrogance. The family members don’t have a legitimate right to withhold the news from the rest of us.

      • There are mixed reports on whether he knew or not. Some say he didn’t some say he did. What’s clear is the Royals manager didn’t find out until just before the game and was under the impression he didn’t know. Some players said they didn’t find out until the game was almost over.

        The family members absolutely the right to withhold it from the rest of us. Its their family and their business.

        Its FOX that doesn’t have the right to withhold it, its news they should have reported it. Although by reporting it they may as well tell Volquez over the PA system because with modern social media it would have spread through the park like wildfire. And you know some classless Mets fan would have yelled something to him about it.

      • I was trying to get at what I think could be a fascinating ethics question: supposing that Volquez didn’t know, is it right for the Kansas City Royals not to tell him, in order to get a good start from him? Or we could broaden the question to our everyday lives: is it ever ethical for an employer to not inform an employee of a family member’s death, for the purpose of him/her having you perform the duties of your employment? With Volquez, I agree with Rick M., “family comes first.” I’m willing to bet it’d be darn near impossible to find an employer (the kind us folk work for, anyway) who wouldn’t have immediately informed us and told us to take all the time we need. Going back to Volquez, shouldn’t that have been his decision whether to pitch or, presumably, leave to meet his family?

        There are admittedly holes in my argument here. Any of our bosses wouldn’t need to inform us, as we’d probably have our cell phones on our hips waiting for the call. And, as I said in my first post, I don’t know the details. Volquez may have known, and it was, of course, perfectly right for him to pitch. My point being that it was his decision to make. In my thinking anyway. Certainly these are way different circumstances than we’d find ourselves in. Game 1 of the World Series and you’re one of the Royals’ aces! Extenuating circumstances?

        On a separate note, I’m grateful for a site like this. If I had posted this on another site I would have been accused of being a Mets fan and would have gotten, at least, 48. Ethics Jiu Jitsu, or “Haters Gonna Hate!” I’m not a Mets fan, I didn’t really know too much about their team before I started watching the postseason other than David Wright is from around my neck of the woods. I had no pony in this race. Though watching the Royals in the postseason these last two years has made me dislike them. They’re a young team and act like it. They need to show a little more decorum. For instance, not all jumping out of the dugout on every play. Sorry, folks. I’m being a fuddy-duddy, as my mother would say.

        • I’ll take the youthful enthusiasm of the Royals over the arrogant whining of the Toronto Bluejays any day of the week. Bautista’s bat flip didn’t irk me nearly as much as the throwing of his teammate under the bus for an error that started a really bad inning for them. You will NEVER see a Royal player do that. Their affection and respect for each other is blatantly obvious and if it comes across as over the top to the uninformed viewer, so be it. Even if they hadn’t won the World Series, they are the most lovable team in baseball.

            • We hardly saw him play, but I understand he mentored many of the younger players behind the scenes. Thought his speech at the rally was epic. Think he might have a future in broadcasting–talk radio perhaps?

              • Gomes is clearly a leader and clubhouse swami. As a talking head or headless voice, he’d basically be a funnier version of Kevin Millar, and maybe as annoying. My guess is that teams will fall all over themselves trying to hire him as a coach, if he wants it.

  5. My quickest channel change during the World Series was not because of some commercial I could not bear to watch. It was when a panel of analysts appeared and my quick scan spotted a Pete Rose. I don’t recall if anyone was in the house with me at the moment, so I don’t have independent verification that my channel-change was accompanied by a most distraught “NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

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