Comment of the Day: “World Series Ethics: Another Pine Tar Sighting, As Baseball Ethics Rot Gets A Thumbs Up From Legal Ethics Rot”

Volquez, unaware...

Volquez, unaware…

I think I made a poor call deciding not to write about the interesting ethics question that arose during Game #1 of the just completed World Series.

We learned during the broadcast of Game 2 on Fox that Daniel Volquez, the father of Kansas city Royals Game #1 starting pitcher Edinson Volquez, had died of heart trouble during the day in the Dominican Republic. But Volquez’s family had asked the team not to inform Volquez until after the game, and the team, on behalf of the family, asked the same of the broadcasters, directing them to withhold the news from the TV audience. I decided to pass on the story because I couldn’t confirm that Volquez didn’t know about his father’s passing, though it now appears he did not. That was foolish: the ethics issues are the same regardless of whether he knew.

Fortunately Ethics Alarms reader Noah D. insisted that the issue was attention worthy, and wrote his own commentary. I’ll have some comment at the end. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, World Series Ethics: Another Pine Tar Sighting, As Baseball Ethics Rot Gets A Thumbs Up From Legal Ethics Rot:

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’m back. My assessment is

….that while “family comes first,” a professional in this situation needs to be able to put his emotions aside and put professional duties first. If I were the Royals manager, Ned Yost, I wouldn’t say to my first game starter, “It’s up to you; whatever you decide, I’ll support.” (Nor “take all the time you want.”) That’s not Yost’s job. His job is to do what’s best for the team, and that means doing everything possible to make his pitcher stay, get his emotions under control and do his job. The father, after all, was dead. Volquez couldn’t change anything by going home, but he was crucial to the Royals fate in the Series.

….the manager not trusting Volquez to be professional was an insult, unless he knew that the pitcher was emotional and unprofessional. Then it was Yost’s duty, for the team’s good, not to tell him about his father.

….the family has no standing to tell the team or Fox what to disclose, and neither the Royals nor Fox should have considered the desires of the family in deciding what to do. The three parties’ objectives and duties are different: the family is concerned about Volquez, the Royals are concerned about the Royals, and Fox is obligated to care about neither the family nor the Royals, but its audience.

Fox should have reported the death as soon as it learned about it, the requests of the Royals and the family notwithstanding. This is the slipperiest of slopes. Journalists must not make judgments about what news we can handle. They aren’t that wise, or trustworthy.

9 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “World Series Ethics: Another Pine Tar Sighting, As Baseball Ethics Rot Gets A Thumbs Up From Legal Ethics Rot”

  1. “That’s not Yost’s job. His job is to do what’s best for the team, and that means doing everything possible to make his pitcher stay, get his emotions under control and do his job.” And if your job doesn’t include being a human being?

    “The father, after all, was dead.” Moral luck?

    “Volquez couldn’t change anything by going home, but he was crucial to the Royals fate in the Series.” A rationalization?

    What about the golden rule? It doesn’t apply during game one of the World Series?

    This is the aspect of organizational behavior that has made Scott Adams of “Dilbert” fame deservedly a very wealthy man. As one of my fellow associates during my big firm days said of our place in life: “We’re all just drill bits.”

    • 1. He’s not paid to be a human being. He’s paid to be a leader. Leaders know when not to be human beings.
      2. Moral luck involves what happens after you make a decision. If Yost had told the pitcher that his father was GOING to die, then it would be moral luck.
      3. Not a rationalization at all. It’s called balancing. Where are his services most crucial, not objectively, but in Yost’s position? Easy call.
      4. Nope, the Golden Rule doesn’t apply, because its an organizational decision. Would Churchill have let Coventry be bombed if he was not the leader of GB, but only acting for himself?
      5. Dilbert’s just taking potshots; its organization satire without fairness or context. In fact, that’s why I’m sick of it. He couldn’t manage a popsicle stand.

      • May favorite Dilbert cartoon: Panel 1: Boss is berating intern. Panel 2: Intern, goggle-eyed, “Dad?” Panel 3: Boss, squinting, “Are there more of you at home?”

        My favorite New Yorker law firm cartoon: Early middle aged/young turk partner sitting at desk to younger partner sitting in client chair, mildly bug-eyed: “Is it right? Is it fair? Get a grip, Hopkins, it’s a law firm!”

  2. I’ve actually worked in an environment where I wouldn’t know family news until my boss told me. I would expect them to pass it on when they could, limiting danger to the mission. The mission in this case would be slightly more important than a fucking game.

    If the end of that wasn’t clear, baseball is, in the end, entertainment. I’d feel betrayed if my manager know my father died and hid it from me. An employer that lies (and yes, this ommission was a lie) to their subirdinates for their own gain is unethica. Baseball is awesome, but it isn’t life and death. Deal with it fans. Family does come first. And this is coming from someone who understands a dead body is just meat.

    Failing to tell me about an important family issue to win a game? Fuck. Life and grieving is more important than even the world series. Maybe I could play (see Torrey Smith finding out his younger brother, that he raised, died in a motorcycle crash, then having a career game), maybe I couldn’t, but a job is nothing in this case.

    I’d apologize for the language, but I think this topic deserves it. No, he couldn’t do anything for his dead father, and yes, the family’s wishes were to withhold the info, but fuck that. He deserved to know, and this was a betrayal that, to me, would be unforgivable.

    Fuck the family.
    Fuck the Royals.
    Fuck Fox.
    Fuck anyone backing this decision.
    Ethics failure all around.

    • My only quibble with your analysis, tgt, is “The mission in this case would be slightly more important than a fucking game.” If you are a MLB baseball player/ manager/ team in the World Series, winning that game is as important a mission as there is. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that the nation pays more attention to and spends more money on than cancer research. In context, it is everything. It’s not a game to them: its an occupation, a life’s work, cultural history, the family fortune, cultural history, a business, the passion of millions.

      Other than that, which doesn’t change the reasoning, you are right. Volquez, as I suggested by writing that withholding the information was an insult, has every reason to be furious, unless he had told Yost that if anything like this happened as he was preparing to pitch, don’t tell him.

      [And I still owe you an Orioles game.]

  3. “it’s just business, Daniel,” comes to mind. This is my concern with ethics. It sometimes seems to be little more than elaborate ex post facto rationalization. The aunt who sues her nephew gets slammed (along with the lawyers who defend her decision) while Yost gets a pass because baseball is big business and an eight year old Royals fan might be upset if someone else pitched the first game and his Royals lost the first game of seven. The aunt is slammed for trying to recover her medical expenses from an insurer while the Kaufman heirs or whomever owns the Royals now need to be protected?

    • Apples and pangolins. The Aunt’s first obligation is to family. The manager’s is to the team and the business. This ethics conflict territory—you have to prioritize principles. There’s no inconsistency. What you are doing, and I’ve heard it a lot, is holding baseball to a different standard than other serious business enterprises because it’s a game. Winning championships define success for franchises, strengthen communities and economies, change careers and lives. But all of that should be subordinate to one man’s personal tragedy? That’s bad leadership, bad management and bad ethics.

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