Comment Of The Day: “Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/12/2019…” Item #2, Dan Hudson’s Paternity Leave

“Wait, What??? YOU’RE SKIPPING THE GAME THAT WILL DECIDE THE PENNANT???”

In a post sparked by the the current National League Championship Series (boy, I hope I don’t have to add that the sport is baseball) I had written in part,

“The ethical thing would have been [for Washington Nationals relief pitcher Daniel Hudson, the team’s closer] to pass on the opportunity to take the game off. The Nationals major weakness is a terrible bullpen, and Hudson is one of the few reliable  relief pitchers on the team. As it happened, the Nats won a close game, but that’s just moral luck. They might have lost because of his absence. That loss might have cost the team its chance to go to the World Series. Millions of dollars would be lost to the franchise that pays Hudson seven figures to improve its fortunes. The careers, lives and family fortunes of his team mates would be affected; the jobs and income of hundreds of merchants and others who rely on the success or failure of the team would have been put at risk. How could anyone argue that the emotional support Hudson would lend his wife during childbirth outweighs all of that, or constitutes a superior ethical obligation?”

Who? Why reader Tim Hayes, that’s who, who not only argued thusly, but did so at a Comment of the Day level, and then responded to my subsequent challenges with equally excellent responses. This gave him the Ethics Alarms equivalent of a three home-run game, and I’m going honor him with the whole sequence.

Here is Ethics Alarms slugger Tim Hayes‘s three-dinger Comment of the Day, on Item #2 in “Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/12/2019…” :

Counter-argument on the Hudson situation – For the Nationals to have placed themselves in a position where a single player taking advantage of a promised benefit at his job (the paternity leave) created a realistic chance of them losing the game (due to their lack of hiring sufficient healthy talent into their bullpen) is inherently unethical as an organization, because it creates a situation where all the groups you mentioned can be placed in dire straits by what happens to a single performer. Attaching the consequences for the team’s unethical staffing decision to Hudson’s personal behavior is unfair; The team did not choose to get him to negotiate away the benefit he invoked (which, for the appropriate compensation, they presumably could have), and was therefore at least aware of the possibility that something outside their control could sideline Hudson. That it was his wife giving birth, and not Hudson being hit by a self-driving car, which resulted in their not having access to him, was merely a result of luck (pregnancy and births being both notoriously difficult to plan, and the Nationals presence in the playoffs being, from the admittedly little I understand of baseball, something which was unexpected to say the least).

Hudson has two sets of competing ethical concerns in this scenario – that to his wife and soon to be family, and that to the organization which had hired him. Fortunately for him, his organization had already created a waiver of their concerns (the paternal leave promised to him), in the case of this exact dilemma arising. His decision to prioritize the ethical concerns of his immediate family when allowed to by the organizations own policies is ethically neutral at worst – depending on how you rank ethical obligations to strangers versus family, it could easily be argued that he is fulfilling a greater ethical obligation in favor of merely neglecting a host of lesser obligations.

Keep in mind that maternal mortality has been on the rise in the US for the last 30 years – steadily increasing from 9.1 deaths per 100,000 births in 1986, to 14 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015, while the rate of major complications from the process of giving birth nearly tripled between 1993 and 2014. We have no idea how dangerous this pregnancy was thought to be by their doctors, but it was his third with his wife – it is entirely conceivable that it could have considerably more high risk than the average. Prioritizing his ethical obligation to be present in the event his family might need him is an entirely understandable decision on Hudson’s part, especially when it is a decision his employer has chosen to allow him.

Also, it is clear Hudson had warned his employer multiple times about the overlap (some suggestions indicate as far back as August), and been in communication with them about his intention to exercise the benefits they had promised him, as the playoff season became more likely, and eventually certain. Hudson and his family did try to make the situation as convenient for the Nationals as possible – Having sought to induce labor prematurely, so it would not conflict with the games, and allow him to play. Truly, that is a family going above and beyond the ethical considerations they owe a member’s employer and the strangers that rely upon the employer.

Again, the failure of the Nationals to shore up their bullpen difficulties, for what, at that point, should have an expected staffing issue, is what is truly unethical in the situation.

I responded that the annual failure of the Nats to successfully construct a reliable and sturdy bullpen despite good faith and reasonable efforts didn’t relieve relieve player of their ethical priorities, concluding, “Bad luck isn’t unethical, and thinking it is constitutes consequentialism.” Tim responded…well, ethically:

Valid point – I have to admit that I’m not enough of a baseball fan to have known the full history of the Nats travails in the bullpen, and when I started working up that post, I didn’t do enough research to be informed on that front. Having looked into it a bit more now, I would agree that as an organization, they have been unlucky, and that does offer them protection against being judged unethical for the weakness of their bullpen.

I would still contend that, having given the Nationals as much advance notice of the event as he did, and considering the steps Hudson and his family took to try and mitigate the birth’s impact, Hudson had fulfilled, and indeed gone beyond, his direct ethical responsibility to the club – any ethical obligations he had to their supporters and merchants are far more nebulous things. They attach to him only indirectly, through his presence as a member of the Nationals – it is, after all, the Nationals who have the direct responsibility of performing well so that everyone outside but adjacent to the franchise can thrive, and ensuring they are in a position to do so. Hudson and his family still strove to meet those obligations, as tenuous as they were – they didn’t simply tell everyone to go screw themselves, but tried to induce labor on October 10th, when it would not have been a great hardship for the team, falling between the NLDS and NLCS. It is here that, if we are to absolve the Nationals of being being judged unethical due to bad luck, we must also absolve Hudson of our ethical judgments, on the same basis – natural births resulted in there being no rooms for induced labor available until Friday, rather than the Thursday they had been hoping for.

Hudson’s choice to honor a direct, personally created, obligation to his family, over multiple obligations that are degrees removed, and which did not attach to him until after the direct obligation was created, should not be something we can find any great ethical fault with. If we did so, the ethical obligations of care that any of us have to our own family would always be overshadowed by the nearly infinite, but much less direct obligations we owe to other members of our neighborhood, society, and species. Especially when we consider that the game Hudson missed was merely Game 1 of a best-of-seven series, judging Hudson harshly, over bad fortune in a situation where he and his family tried to do the best they could to honor those tenuous obligations without sacrificing the more concrete obligations among themselves, would be unfair. It might have been an ethically laudable action, if Hudson had chosen to support his teammates and the strangers dependent upon the organization over being present with his own family, in the circumstances he found himself – but I don’t think I can agree that it was an ethically obligatory course of action for him to do so.

Not convinced,  I replied that “giving an organization that depends on you plenty of notice that you plan on abandoning them in their hour of need doesn’t change the fact that you will abandon them in their hour of need.”  Then I hauled out my big guns: Emanuel Kant and Carl Yastrzemski:

“Are you willing to apply Kant’s Rule of Universality? In 1967, the Boston Red Sox won a fluke pennant that changed the franchise forever. The reason was an incredible season by Carl Yastrzemski, calculated by WAR metrics to be the second most influential performance by a player of all time. MLB had no paternity right then. The season came down to two games against the Twins, who came to Boston needing a single win to take the pennant. The Sox had to win both. With Yaz in the line-up, the Red Sox were a winning team; without him, they were a sub .500 team. The whole season was quest, a cause, a celebrated battle by a young team that had fished tied for last place the year before to shock the baseball world. They had excited the city, even getting credit for helping Boston avoid the race riots that afflicted other major cities. Would you still say that Yastrzemski would be making the ethical choice to skip one or both of those critical games to be with his wife when she delivered?”

And Tim had an answer…

Judging past behavior by the ethical standards of today is fraught – Yastrzemski would almost certainly have been canned for making that decision in a time when paternity benefits did not exist for the players, and, depending upon his skills and the potential for employment of himself and his wife, it would definitely be arguable as to whether he had making the best decision for his family (yes, his all time stats indicate he was an amazing player, but would another team have taken the chance of signing someone who had not missed those games? I don’t know enough about the other team managers to judge that). I think I’d still be comfortable saying Yastrzemski was making AN ethical choice to skip one or both of the games, IF he had also made the Sox aware that it would be his choice on the same time scale, and taken as many steps to avoid having made the decision.

As with Hudson, I don’t think making the decision to play was unethical. If he had made that decision because he believed it was all that was keeping his city from anarchy and would revitalize their economy, etc, it would have been a clear cut case of sacrificing personally to pursue a course of action based on its benefits to the community – the sort of thing which we acknowledge goes above and beyond the usual ethical obligations any individual possesses, but which hopefully inspire all of us to potentially be better members of our community in the long run.

While I agree with your statement that “giving an organization that depends on you plenty of [notice] that you plan on abandoning them in their hour of need doesn’t change the fact that you will abandon them in their hour of need,” I think I disagree with the assessment that that this abandonment is unethical, simply because of it being a perceived (or real) hour of need. A common lament of all the worst companies and managers I’ve ever encountered or heard about is “How dare you quit/retire/go on vacation/take maternity leave/attend your graduation/get married? Don’t you understand the hardship that causes us?” Yes, often the employee does understand that hardship; this is what the whole point of providing notice is about – it allows the organization a chance to mitigate that hardship by making arrangements for the situation. To argue that an employee must sacrifice on the behalf of the organization, and do or not do something because they are indispensable, creates a sort of reverse Star’s Pass (the Star’s Obligation?) – Because you have been identified as a key performer, you are presumed to have a greater ethical responsibility to the organization.

Very rarely are these obligations justified – a person who has worked for you for 50 years and gives you 6 months notice they will be retiring has no fault for your failure to actually start looking for a replacement until it’s only a month before that departure – even if they are leaving right before tax season at your accounting firm. Maybe they will choose to stay and help out on a part time basis – but doing so is stepping above and beyond their actual ethical obligations to you. Particularly in a field like professional sports, where employment is borderline indenture (your employer can literally sell you without your agreement), I’m leery of creating any hard and fast rule that, simply because someone thinks you are indispensable, you must sacrifice personal ethical obligations (and/or non-ethical considerations) on their behalf.

I disagree with much of this as well, but I’m impressed with the argument!

14 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/12/2019…” Item #2, Dan Hudson’s Paternity Leave

  1. I have been out of commission here for a bit, but, no disrespect to the Yaz, if Sandy Koufax never came up in the Hudson discussion, something is missing.
    -Jut

    • Yikes. I missed that too, Shame on me. From Wiki:

      Koufax garnered headlines by declining to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because of his observance of the Jewish religious holiday of Yom Kippur. This decision garnered national attention as an example of conflict between professional pressures and personal religious beliefs. Don Drysdale pitched the opener, but was hit hard by the Minnesota Twins.

      In Game 2, Koufax pitched six innings, giving up two runs, and the Twins won the Game 5–1 and took an early 2–0 lead in the series. The Dodgers fought back in Games 3 and 4, with wins by Claude Osteen and Drysdale. With the Series tied at 2 to 2, Koufax pitched a complete game shutout in Game 5 for a 3–2 Dodgers lead as the Series returned to Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium for Game 6. The Twins won Game 6 to force a seventh game. Starting Game 7 on just two days of rest, Koufax pitched through fatigue and arthritic pain. Despite giving up on his curveball early in the game after failing to throw strikes with it in the first two innings and pitching the rest of the game relying almost entirely on fastballs, Koufax threw a three-hit shutout to clinch the Series. The performance earned him his second World Series MVP award.

      The most games a pitcher can start is 3 times in a 7 game series, so Sandy’s religious obligations didn’t really make him miss a start. Then moral luck too a hand: since the Dodgers won and Koufax was the MVP, it was hard to fault him. If they had lost….

      • All that aside, should he have pitched Game 1?

        Was he wrong not to?

        That is the closest analogy to Hudson I see (at least from the high profile nature of it-I think the Simpsons even made a joke about it).

        I give Koufax a pass. I think Hudson is okay too (and I think the Hudson case brings up many complicated issues that were not necessarily present for Koufax.

        -Jut

        • One’s fealty to one’s religion to all else is incomprehensible to me, but I have to respect that priority, especially as I have been researching Sir Thomas More this week. So as with Desmond Doss’s refusal to carry a rifle in WWII, and Ali’s decision to resist the draft, Koufax’s decision has to be respected, and thus he can’t be faulted. However, if you believe in the Highest Power of All, defying Him is a much, MUCH bigger deal than defying your wife or the LA Dodgers. Or to paraphrase More in “A Man for all Seasons,”It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world—but for Walter Alston?”

  2. This seems like almost a no brainer, but then I’m not a fan of any pro-sports. If the benefit is available and not a hollow facade, Murphey’s law says that sooner or later it wil happen for an important game. This isn’t a conflict over rhinoplasty which could more plausibly wait for the offseason. It could also be over a child’s death so there are medical situations that few would argue are lesser to a game or two. When dads were less involved during the birth, you had situations lie Julius LaRosa being canned on-air by Arthur Godfrey because he missed a rehearsal. The team’s policy reflects the changes since then. I would respect him for choosing either priority as long as he made a good faith effort to mitigate the effects for the side he decided against.

    As a small thread, so many employers make no bones about ‘it’s only business’ decisions that impact diligent employess who go the extra mile, they don’t get that loyalty is a two-way transaction. Every job must pay you, but the intangibles make some jobs a golden era. Employers don’t automatically get loyalty, loyalty in both directions is earned.

    • But it’s not an abstract issue, Marie. It’s very fact specific. I cited in the exchange other professionals who can’t and won’t sacrifice their professional duties for such symbolic leave. Your first sentence explains how bias gets in teh way of your analysis. That you don’t take the subject matter seriously is irrelevant. The point is that those who have devoted their lives to it and those who depend on them do.

      • No, my first sentence was an amused aside not a point as I generally agree. I’m interested in the baseball ethics you talk about often, even if the game itself holds very little interest. A surgeon or police officer has a higher obligation than a bookseller or farmer, times when their professional duty/oaths must override the desire to attend childbirth. And it should. (thinking someone needing emergency surgery or riots)

        I’m not as convinced a ballplayer should be in that group. A season or a series depends on more than one man, no matter how good at leading the way. I really don’t think the benefit should be offered if there’s any reluctance in putting up for playoffs. Has there been any of that from the owners, or has this been grumbling from the public worried about their standing? Considering how long births often take he probably could come back with a treat. They were stupid to offer the beni, but once it was in the contract he had every right to use it or its a fake offer.

        (labelled aside this time: I’d prefer less audience while in pain, so I’d tell him to catch a movie as his stress is making it worse.

  3. This is not a typical employer – they don’t run 5 days, 40 hours a week. Back on the olden days – my dad had to leave my mom late Sunday night before my birth because he had to work the next day. He was a teacher and since he didn’t work 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, he was expected to be there when school was in session.

    Am I the only one who doesn’t understand paternity leave or am I just an angry old man? There’s not much a man can do those first few days. If you have to have paternity leave, you should wait until the kid starts crawling at breakneck speed – that’s when another person can really be useful.

    I think he should have been at the game. And I think his wife should insisted that he be there. If you want to take a few days in the dog days of July, that’s one thing. This is the playoffs – in another few weeks you’re going to be off for the winter.

  4. If MLB wants to virtue signal by giving the player’s union a paternity leave provision, then too bad if someone takes advantage of it. All these analytics geniuses are supposed to be gods when it comes to analyzing and valuing talent. One reliable reliever acquired in a late trade? Come on, boys.
    Reminds me of watching an ’80s Harry Caray broadcast of the Cubs blowing a late lead. Harry finally lost it and wailed: “Can’t ANYBODY on this team get an out?”

    • But labor accommodations and MLB behavior has nothing to do with the basic obligations of a team member to a team, and of an employee to an employer—not to mention the fans that allow that employer to pay the employee millions of dollars.

      • Au contraire. I’m going to assume Daniel Hudson has something known as an employment contract drawn within the parameters of the collective bargaining agreement? Certainly Marvin Miller would say “labor accommodations” are the end all and be all. Or as someone else might say, “It’s nothing personal Michael, it’s just business.”

  5. I appreciate the honor and praise (both from Jack, and the others who nominated the comments, valkygrrl and Other Bill) – I enjoyed the discussion, and being challenged to think more about my initial post.

    I’m not sure I agree with the idea that professional ball players have an inherently higher set of ethical obligations than other employees to their employers, or those dependent on their employers – attaching that much meaning to their playing in the sport seems like a position which is motivated more by the emotions and sentiment surrounding the sport and the team than anything else. It is akin to the argument I hear a lot of nonprofits make, for poor treatment of their front line staff – that asking for more money or benefits shows the staff member isn’t sufficiently invested in the mission of the organization. There’s nothing inherently unethical about working to fulfill a mission not for the mission’s own sake, but because one has bills to pay, and would like to actually be able to pay them. Especially where the ball player can be sold traded away, without regard to the impact on his family or himself, arguing that they MUST accept those heightened obligations seems like something which needs to be proven, rather than simply taken as true. A doctor can not be compelled to relocate across the country to perform surgery simply because another hospital feels it needs his talents, after all – he must affirmatively accept such a relocation, either on a temporary or permanent basis. Additionally, I’m be curious what obligations you would attach from the fans to the players, that incur the players to have those additional obligations.

  6. Can’t find my comment from a few days ago… If my husband had not been present when my babies were born, he’d better have been in the hospital or something dire. As important as baseball is to people, it’s not actually earth-shattering. I wouldn’t classify it as important enough to NOT be there when I’m birthing the human the dad helped create. Labor and delivery aren’t simple, even with all the medical marvels, and you mention some of that above. I wouldn’t have even agreed to induce on a date for NON-medical reasons like this mom did- she’s nicer than me. It’s BASEBALL.

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