Ethics Dunce And Revealed Jerk: Former Houston Astros Pitcher Gerrit Cole

Incredible.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

Gerrit Cole’s team, the Houston Astros, had just suffered a shocking defeat in the 2019 World Series at the hands of the underdog ( and significantly inferior) Washington Nationals. Cole had won the last Astros victory in Game 5 in impressive fashion, but his team returned home to Houston—where they had the best home record in baseball— to lose their third and fourth consecutive games in their  own stadium (they had never lost more than three straight all year) and  become the only team in World Series history to lose in seven games without winning a single home game.

The script for players on losing World Series teams is old and well-established. They say that they are proud of their team and team mates. They say that they wish the team could have won a championship for its fans, the best fans in the world. They say they are heartbroken, but that they salute the victors.  This isn’t hard.

But Gerrit Cole, after the final game of the 2019 World Series, appeared on TV wearing the cap of his agent’s company, and said, “I’m not an employee of the team.” 

That was, technically, correct: Cole became a free agent the second the last game of the season ended and  his contract expired. He was, however, still a  member of the group of men who had played baseball together all year and who, one would think, cared a little bit about each other and what they had tried to accomplish.

Cole apparently wasn’t thinking about that at all. He was relishing the huge contract the consensus believes he will sign as a free agent this winter, and thus he was more interested in promoting his agent than honoring his team.

What a mercenary, self-centered jerk. Couldn’t he wait until he was off live TV and THEN  startscreaming, ‘Yippee! I’m going to be richer than Croesus!  I’ll have it all, all I tell you! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”?

Who does this?

Gerrit Cole, apparently. The next day Cole tweeted out sentiments that stuck to the script, because, I’ll wager, his agent told him that his act after the game could cost him (and his agent) a few million bucks or so. Can’t have that. An employee of Cole’s super-agent, Scott Boras, probably drafted the statement.

I just know that all baseball players can’t be assholes like this. The same question occurs to me that I wrestled with last off-season, when the big free-agents were mega-jerks Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Is it ever competent, responsible business to make an established jerk the top salaried employee in your organization? Isn’t that a version of The King’s Pass? Doesn’t it say that bieng a jerk is OK, that it doesn’t matter if you’re good enough? Was it just happenstance that neither the Phillies, who signed Harper, nor the Padres, who signed Machado, appeared to benefit much from their new hires? What Cole did, I think, is signature significance. No player I’d want as a team mate acts like that.

Naturally over at NBC  Sports, Bill Baer, one of the baseball blog’s two ethically challenged social justice warrior-sportswriters  (the other is Craig Calcaterra) rationalized Cole’s disgusting performance:

“We expect loyalty from players but rarely, if ever, ask that of the owners. Players give up their bodies on a year-in, year-out basis only to be discarded the moment they no longer provide value for their teams. “Baseball is a business” we often hear, but it’s only ever uttered to justify disloyal, impersonal decision-making by front-office types. Why should players have to feign loyalty when ownership doesn’t? Cole was a mercenary for the Astros for two years and now he’s going to in search of a potentially record-breaking contract, as he should. Hopefully more players follow Cole’s lead, no longer feeling obligated to do extra labor for teams that wouldn’t do the same for them. The players have had way more leverage than they have given themselves credit for having over the years. The hat debate is symbolic of the larger, neverending battle between baseball ownership and its labor force. Cole, in this way, is a trendsetter.’

This is propaganda and a lie. Over the winter, when David Ortiz was shot and in critical condition in the Dominican Republic, the Boston Red Sox, no longer his employer, sent a private set to transport him to a U.S. hospital. There are many, many examples of such loyalty, and not only in Boston.

Baer really thinks it will be good for the sport if the players make it crystal clear that all they care about is money? If Gerrit Cole starts a trend, I’ll join another one that will be starting shortly thereafter: finding something better to do with my time. passion and money than following baseball.

13 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce And Revealed Jerk: Former Houston Astros Pitcher Gerrit Cole

  1. I think sports ethics is it’s own thing to a degree because it’s based on its own set of rules, conventions, and traditions. Like if we said “stealing bases is immoral, it’s permitted but it’s generally considered low” maybe that would be the case if enough people believed it. I think we could find examples of that through sports that are unique to those sports.

    In the case of Cole, there’s a tradition that you’re supposed to heavily follow a script but to a degree that negates the point of post-game interviews and post-game press conferences which are notoriously dull and devoid of authenticity. There have gotta be moral consequences to that on some degree: Wasting everyone’s time, not being honest (which Kant would agree with as lying is always wrong). At the same time, the act of denigrating teammates is also immoral (for the most part, Cole was refraining from making a comment).

    I think Cole was tactless but at the same time and you can call him a bad sport, but at teams we all fail that way after a loss. Cole just didn’t show the best side of himself to the public and at least that was interesting

    • I’ll list your errors (since we’re taking baseball), and you decide if you want to learn or not:

      1. You are mixing up morality and ethics. Check the glossary.
      2. Sports ethics is no different from any other professional ethics: the are rules, principles, values and convention according to the culture.
      3. Base stealing is a bad example, since it is explicitly legal in baseball’s rules. Sign-stealing is more what you want, but whether it’s ethical or not has nothing to do with what the public believes. Sign-stealing is legit unless cheating is involved. Cheating means non-field personnel involved or mechanical or electronic means.
      4. I don’t what you’re talking about regarding “moral consequences” of dull interviews. They are mostly dull because a) athletes are not especially articulate b) the questions are idiotic: “How does winning this game feel?” and c) the obligations to team mates and the sport don’t change. Kant’s absolutism regarding lies is, like a lot of absolutism, fantasy, and he would be a lousy sports analyst. You really think it would be ethically desirable to have a player say, “We lost because our starting pitching sucks and our manager is an idiot”? It might be honest, and not boring, but it would also tear the team apart. Kant’s not relevant.
      5. Unethical conduct is often interesting; that’s why this blog exists.

      Welcome to EthicsAlarms, and keep weighing in!

  2. Aside from revealing to the world that he’s a total asshole, what did he think would be accomplished by advertising his agent on the hat? Anyone who wants to hire him next season knows who his agent is, or can easily find out. The TV viewers don’t care who his agent is, and even if they did care, they’re almost certainly not in the market to hire a sports agent or a major league baseball pitcher. Even his agent apparently didn’t appreciate the “free” advertising. So what was the point, other than to explicitly prove that he’s either a complete jerkwad or incredibly stupid?

    • Two words explain this entire incident from beginning to end, Jeff: “Scott” and “Boras.” If he’s your agent, you’ve made it. He’s an ethics corrupter of incalculable dimensions.

      On a related note, as the Nats closed in a the title, I couldn’t help wondering whether Bryce Harper going to the Phillies wasn’t addition by subtraction for the Nats, and significantly so.

    • “Aside from revealing to the world that he’s a total asshole, what did he think would be accomplished by advertising his agent on the hat?”

      Clearly he lacks functioning Asshole Alarms.

  3. I usually demure on baseball-related commentary because I don’t watch professional baseball much, but this one struck me as much more generally applicable than usual:

    Is it ever competent, responsible business to make an established jerk the top salaried employee in your organization? Isn’t that a version of The King’s Pass?

    I think that’s a great question.

    So let’s look at this in a non-sports context. Would we be okay as an employer with paying top salary to a talented guy with a well-known public reputation for being a self-centered asshole who is anything but a team player? His results are indisputable, but his personality is abrasive, his maturation is completely arrested at fifteen, his learning curve is as steep as the Nevada Salt Flats, and every time he opens his mouth he embarrasses his employer.

    I’m going to say yes. We hired just such a guy as President of the United States. So Americans are either incompetent, or, perhaps, the results are sometimes worth the price.

    So that’s the question for whoever Cole’s next employer is. Is this meat worth the pain? If yes, then, well, break out the gold card, boys!

    With respect to the ethics question, which I have ignored, you mentioned the Kings Pass. I think this is apt. What the Kings Pass tells us with respect to employment qualifications is that results are often elevated over character, integrity, honesty, and all the other ethical values we want in an employee.

    Finally, let’s look a this in terms of the MLB. In most sports, like football, basketball and soccer, team cohesion isn’t just valuable, it’s indispensable for success.

    But baseball is different. If Billy Beane’s Moneyball approach to the game proved anything, it is that the team concept in baseball is vastly overvalued. Statistical production is the main driver in a competitive team, and baseball statistics, by their comprehensive nature, can tell a team all it needs to know. Managing an unruly person is much easier in a sport that depends on more on individual statistical production rather than teamwork.

    So from an MLB perspective, yes, it is probably competent, responsible business in a hold-your-nose way. The negatives are greatly mitigated by the value the statistical performance of the player brings to the table. As long as he isn’t getting arrested or being allowed special privileges that would inspire teammates to rebel on the field, it’s probably better for the team to bring in such a jerk in a game like baseball.

    I won’t even address the BS that Bill Baer spewed. You’ve done yeoman’s work there that needs no help from me.

  4. I didn’t understand his comment when I read it, and I really still don’t. It didn’t make sense to me.

    But, regarding baseball players who don’t look only to exact the very last penny from their team: It seems to me that you can find a prime example on the very same Houston Astros. A couple years ago Jose Altuve signed an extension to his contract. Even then, it was clear that this is probably the one of the very best to ever wear an Astros uniform. He could very easily have waited until he became a free agent and commanded a contract that would probably make Scott Boras drool (don’t know if Altuve is one of Boras’s players or not). Instead he signed what was termed a team friendly extension, but one that ensured he’d be an Astro for a long time to come.

    There are a lot of reasons folks down in Houston absolutely love Altuve, and this is one of them. He’s the engine that makes the Astros run — yea, verily the little engine that could if I might coin a phrase. 🙂

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