The Amazing Saga Of Big Papi And Maverick Schutte: This One Has Everything, Folks: Baseball! The Bambino! Courage! Kindness! Compassion! Heroics! Moral Luck! Hubris! Consequentialism! And Dammit, I’m Crying Again

Let’s see if I can through this to the Ethics Quiz portion without shorting out my laptop.

Maverick Schutte, a 6-year-old from Cheyenne, Wyoming, has required over 30 surgeries, including five open chest procedures,  to treat a heart condition.He still must be hooked up to a ventilator most of each day to allow oxygen to reach his lungs, and more surgery will be needed, as he is in constant danger of heart failure.

The child’s greatest joy is baseball, and he has adopted his father’s team, the Boston Red Sox, as his passion. The Children’s Miracle Network put the family in touch with former Red Sox player Kevin Millar, now an MLB host and broadcaster, and Millar contacted Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, Maverick’s favorite, after the family explained that Maverick was in the hospital again and needed a morale boost. With Millar, Ortiz made a video for Maverick, ending with Ortiz promising to hit a home run that night, just for him. I didn’t believe it when I heard the story, but it was true. “Stay positive, keep the faith, and I’m going to hit a home run for you (Friday night),” Ortiz says in the video. “Remember that.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today before, as Paul Harvey would say, you learn “the rest of the story”…

Was it ethical for Ortiz to make such a promise to Maverick?

Babe Ruth famously made such a promise to one desperately sick child, and it became part of baseball legend.

In 1926, 11-year-old Johnny Sylvester was already renowned among his pals as a Babe Ruth fanatic when he was  kicked in the head by a horse while vacationing with his family.  He developed a dangerous infection in his skull, and  recovery was far from certain. One of Johnny’s father’s business partners had connections with Yankees management, and during the 1926 World Series between New York and the St. Louis Cardinals, he arranged to have the Yankees and the Cardinals each sign a baseball for the bedridden New Jersey boy. The Sultan of Swat didn’t just sign his name, however: he wrote, “I’ll knock a homer for Wednesday’s game.”

Babe not only made good on his promise, he hit three homers in the fourth game of the series, and later told newspaper interviewers that they were all for Johnny, making the boy a national celebrity. After the World Series (the Yankees lost), Ruth did visit Sylvester in person, and miraculously, Sylvester began to recover. By 1928, he was well enough to attend the season opener at Yankee Stadium. Here’s Babe with Johnny:

Johhny and the Babe

In 1947, when Ruth was dying of cancer in his Manhattan apartment, Johnny came to visit him, to say thank-you, and good-bye.

The home-run promise to a dying child has become a trope and a cliche. In the “Seinfeld” episode, “The Wink,” Kramer bargained with a hospitalized child to get back a card signed by the Yankees by promising the obnoxious tyke that his favortie Yankee, Paul O’Neill, would hit two home runs for the boy. John Candy played a perplexed Babe Ruth in an “SCTV” skit in which a pathetic and greedy Johnny demands that Babe hit four home runs and keeps adding to his list of requests until the Babe snaps…

Even for Babe Ruth, it was dishonest and unethical to promise even a single home run. It is outrageous hubris, but then, that was Babe. Promising to do anything one does not have full control over is the equivalent of a lie: it falsely represents that the promiser does have such control, and can perform the task at will. Making such a promise to a vulnerable and trusting child, as the Babe and Big Papi did, is therefore irresponsible. (It’s even more irresponsible that a candidate making such promises to voters.)

The rest of the story? If you watched the first video, you already know it. Ortiz not only hit a home run that night, it won the game, ironically against the New York Yankees. The pitcher was Yankee relief ace Dellin Betances, among the toughest pitchers to hit in all of baseball. Ortiz had never before had a hit off of him, and this was his last at bat. Said Ortiz…

“Look at when I hit it, when I was facing a guy I was 0-for-7 against, and everybody knows how good Betances is in his career. When things like that happen, it makes you believe that there’s something special out there that we should believe in. And after the game, Millar came to me and Millar was crying and he was showing me the video that Maverick sent his dad, Maverick’s the little kid. It was very touching and I started thinking about it right after. When I got home, that was really when I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this really happened.’ It is what it is.Millar told me that his parents haven’t seen him that happy in a long time. He has been very sick. I always say that there’s something special out there. I’m a huge believer in that.”

Ortiz was saved by a combination of moral luck and his own skills. The home run appears to make his irresponsible promise a virtuous act, and seldom has the flawed logic of consequentialism been so enticing.

Maverick, of course, was ecstatic. It was arranged for him to come to Boston and meet his hero. The child was given a personal tour of Fenway Park, and threw out the first pitch of a game against the Oakland A’s this week.

All this story lacks is the same happy ending as little Johnny’s story. Unfortunately, Maverick’s future is very much in doubt: he has more heart surgery scheduled for this month. Yet David Ortiz gave him what his parents declared was the greatest experience of his young life. There may be better examples of a reckless, loving, irresponsible act working out better, but I’m getting choked up again, and I can’t think of one, or type either.

I can show you some pictures:

Mav 1






Ortiz, right after the home run…


…and a happy, happy, little boy…



Sources: North, Washington Post, Boston Herald

10 thoughts on “The Amazing Saga Of Big Papi And Maverick Schutte: This One Has Everything, Folks: Baseball! The Bambino! Courage! Kindness! Compassion! Heroics! Moral Luck! Hubris! Consequentialism! And Dammit, I’m Crying Again

    • That’s perplexing, isn’t it? The same way I feel. Papi has an impenetrable defense:

      “Hey, I promised to do it, and I did it.”

      Yeah, but that was luck.

      “Prove it.”

      Well, prove it wasn’t luck.

      “Can’t prove a negative, but the positive proof is, I said I would do it, I knew I could do it, and I did it.”

  1. Yeah, it was probably unethical to make that promise, and the result was a blazing example of moral luck and consequentialism. Yet, I am reluctant to cry foul. The Big Papi seems to be a genuinely good guy. Making that promise, and the results, made a very sick kiddo’s life a little easier and filled him and his family with much needed joy. That can’t be a bad thing. Especially, considering that the Red Socks gave him the VIP treatment. I am not a huge baseball fan but I can’t seem to type at the moment because there is this weird moisture problem messing up my vision.


    PS: I am crushed that Rush, my favorite rock band, may not tour again. That makes the meets-and-greets I had with them all the more special.

  2. Whether ethical or not from an outsider’s perspective, it must be taken into consideration that Ortiz might truly, honestly believe that divine providence would be on his side in a situation like this, or that the healing power of him delivering outweighed the risk of the child’s disappointment if he failed to.

  3. This is a situation is truly a grey area that does not fit neatly into ethical or unethical. It could easily be a reckless promise if young Maverick were known to be naive and immature. It is also an exceedingly boring world if no ever ever took a bold risk.

    In order for a six year old to appreciate a home run, the boy must know that it is hard to do. Thus, for a hubris filled home run promise to not be irresponsible, it must be at least implicit that this promise is not guaranteed. The baseball star, when speaking with the sick child, must assess the child’s maturity. Bravado might work on some more mature children; a more delicate approach might be needed for less mature children.

    Baseball is the American past time specifically because of the magic and legends. When I was six, I knew of Babe Ruth before I could add up the score in a game. If you make a safe promise, to dedicate ones efforts in game to a child, or a promise to dedicate a home run if it is hit, you put a smile on the kid’s face. For most players, this is the responsible route.

    If you are a star like Ortiz*, you have a six old mature enough to know who Ortiz is, and mature enough to know a home run is a difficult feat and not guaranteed, a bold “promise” adds to the excitement. This is the magic of baseball.

    *Stories like this make even me nostalgic for a guy who ordinarily makes my pin-stripe blue Yankee blood crawl…

    • Good points all. The child was obviously wise for his years–he had to be. And he had endured a lot more disappointment, following the Red Sox, not to mention in his own life, not to be crushed if Big Papi failed.

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