Baseball, and all its annual ethics puzzles, begins in about two weeks when Spring Training gets underway. Meanwhile, I have to tolerate everyone talking about Tom Brady and the Cheating Patriots as the NFL makes billions encouraging Americans to cheer for the gradual lobotomizing of young athletes for their pigskin entertainment. Still, even the off-season of America’s Pastime provides ethics fodder.
Frank Thomas, the 6’6″ 300 pound ex-first baseman, never was suspected of using steroids before he was elected to the Hall of Fame, in part because he was naturally so huge and strong that if he had used steroids he would have ended up battling Godzilla in Tokyo. “The Big Hurt,” as he was called, was and is an outspoken opponent of steroid use in baseball, but speaking at the annual White Sox fan convention last week, he proved that he is an ethics bush-leaguer.
The recent Hall of Fame vote elected two players, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez, long rumored to be users of performance enhancing drugs, and the vote totals showed increased support for uber-steroid cheat Barry Bonds and accused steroid-user Roger Clemens. The New York Post reported that Thomas said, without mentioning names, after he was asked how he felt about the election results,
“Not happy at all. Some of these guys were great players. But they wouldn’t have been great players without drugs. … I don’t mind these guys doing what they want to do for their families and make their money. But don’t come calling to the Hall of Fame and say ‘I’m supposed to be in the Hall of Fame’ when you know you cheated. They should be in now, as far as I’m concerned. They’ve let a few people in already we all know. It’s uncomfortable at this point. I’m sure this year’s going to be uncomfortable because we’ve got two great players going in, but they know. It’s no secret. If they didn’t do it, they would be stomping and kicking and in interviews saying, ‘I didn’t do it.’ …Trust me, there’s a lot of internal talk going on,” he said. “A lot of guys that I respect that are real, true Hall of Famers, all they have is their legacy. They didn’t make this kind of money. … They’re not happy about this at all.”
This is an ethics whiff if I ever saw one.
1. Thomas impugns the honesty and integrity of specific players without mentioning their names, but making it clear who he means. That’s cowardly and unfair. If he has accusations to level, let him make them without being a weasel about it. That’s how he would want to to be treated, I presume. This is a fat Golden Rule pitch if I ever saw one. How did Thomas miss it?
2. If Thomas really knows Bagwell and Rodriquez are cheats, let’s hear how he knows. He must have evidence, if he “knows.” Did he see them inject themselves? Did they tell him they used steroids? He has an obligation to justify that smear with facts. I doubt that he has any facts. Just rumors.
3. If he knows, does that mean he knew? If he knew they had cheated before Bagwell and Rodriquez were elected, why didn’t he come forward and say, “These players cheated with drugs, and here is how I know”?
Why are you telling us this now, Frank, when you claim the harm is done? You are arguing for standards, but didn’t do your part as a professional to uphold those standards. You should be called “The Big Hypocrite.”
4. The argument that Bagwell and Rodriquez must be guilty because they haven’t protested loudly, called their accusers liars and filed lawsuits is an ignorant one. A false and baseless accusation doesn’t create an ethical obligation on the part of the wrongly accused. Some victims of false accusations choose to sue, but defamation is hard to prove, and often it can’t be proven. If the accuser wins, it is often taken as a validation of the accusation by the public.
Many PR and legal experts believe that the smartest way to respond to false accusations is to brush them off, saying, as Bagwell has, ‘I know I have done nothing wrong, and I don’t have to prove otherwise to anybody. They can believe what they want to believe.’ It is often impossible to prove a negative, and denying slander keeps it in the headlines.
5. The argument that because some steroid users may have hidden their cheating sufficiently to get elected to the Hall without being caught, all steroid users should be admitted is not so much an unethical argument (though it is irresponsible) as it is a bone-headed one. This exemplifies two wrongs make a right rationalizing. Reasoning similarly, if we know that O.J. was acquitted despite murdering two people, shouldn’t all double murderers be freed too? If admitting two suspected steroid-users taints the Hall, as Thomas says, then it naturally follows that the Hall isn’t harmed by letting in all the successful proven PED cheats? Hmmmn. Good thinking there, big guy. Maybe Frank’s nickname should be “The Big Dope.” That would be kind of ironic…
6. Later in his comments, Thomas hit into an ethics double play, arguing that Pete Rose, who…oh, I’m sick of Pete, you can catch up here...should also be elected to the Hall, saying,
“I think in this society, everybody deserves a second chance.If you’re gonna let the PED guys in, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”
Wait, Big Dope, are you saying he deserves a second chance, or that he only should get in because the Hall is now a Hall of Shame? The two statements are contradictory, but, to be fair, they are equally ethically demented. Pete Rose has had many, many chances, and lied repeatedly. And a second chance at what? A second chance not to violate a nearly century-old rule in baseball that if you gamble on baseball games, you’re risking the sport’s integrity and credibility and are banned for life? That train has left the station.
7. As for the second part, many years ago, Bill James wrote an essay about the case for electing Shoeless Joe Jackson into the Hall. It ended with a memorable tongue in cheek rant:
“My own opinion as to whether or not Joe Jackson should be put in the Hall of Fame is that of course he should: it is only a question of priorities. I think there are some equally great players who should go first, like Billy Williams, Herman Long, Minnie Minoso, and Elroy Face. Then, too, the players of the nineteenth century have never really gotten their due — Ed McKean, Pete Browning, Harry Stovey and several others have been waiting a long time. The players of the Negro leagues committed no crime except their color; I think we would need to look closely at the credentials of several of those before we decide where Jackson fits in. You wouldn’t want the great stars of the thirties and forties, who are still living and can enjoy the honor, to pass away while waiting for the Hall of Fame to get done with the Black Sox, would you? And then there are some other players who should be considered strongly — Ron Santo, Ken Boyer, Larry Doby, Al Rosen, Roy Sievers, Vic Wertz, Lefty O’Doul, Sadaharu Oh; there should probably be better provisions made for people whose contributions to the game were not made on the field, like Grantland Rice, Barney Dreyfuss, Harry Pulliam, maybe Mrs. Babe Ruth and Mrs. Lou Gehrig, the guy who wrote Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Harry Caray. And, too, we do not want to forget the wonderful stars of the minor leagues, who brought baseball to most of the country before television and expansion — men like Ray Perry, Larry Gilbert, Jack Dunn and Nick Cullop. When they are in we can turn our attention to such wortwhile stars of our own memories as Roger Maris, Buddy Bell, Fred Hutchinson, Larry Bowa, Bill North, Omar Moreno and Duane Kuiper. And then, at last, when every honest ballplayer who ever played the game, at any level from Babe Ruth ball through the majors, when every coach, writer, umpire and organist who has helped to make baseball the wonderful game that it is rather than trying to destroy it with the poison of deceit, when each has been given his due, then I think we should hold our noses and make room for Joe Jackson to join the Hall of Fame. It is only right.”
The same applies to Pete Rose, Frank.
And Barry Bonds.
Pointer: MLB Network
Thanks to LoSonnambulo for the James quote.