Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Dunce And Revealed Jerk: Former Houston Astros Pitcher Gerrit Cole”

For non-fans with the imagination to explore them, the Ethics Alarms baseball posts usually involve interesting ethics issues that are relevant to other fields. Perhaps no such post exemplifies this more than the recent essay reacting to a controversy after the 2019 World Series. The favored Houston Astros had lost in shocking fashion to the underdog Washington Nationals in a dramatic seventh game, and its ace pitcher, Gerrit Cole, apparently couldn’t wait to shed his Astros jersey and announce his free agency, which is widely expected to provide him with more than a third of a billion dollars. While the rest of his team was consoling each other and licking their wounds, Cole donned the cap of his super-agent’s company, and proclaimed that he was no longer on the team.

Ethics Alarms veteran commentator Glenn Logan was previously a distinguished sports blogger—though concentrating on college basketball, not baseball—and he authored the following Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Dunce And Revealed Jerk: Former Houston Astros Pitcher Gerrit Cole”:

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 Major League Baseball. 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.

I’m back. Glenn is certainly correct that of all the major team sports, baseball benefits the most from isolated, individual performance. Yet, ironically, it is also the sport in which a single star has the least impact. NBA teams frequently go from losers to winners with addition of a single transformational superstar. A stand-out NFL quarterback can have the same impact on a football team. In baseball, teams frequently find that the subtraction of a superstar who is also a jerk can create the legendary “addition by subtraction” effect. How can that be, if Glenn is right (and he is) that baseball teams are a more a collection of individual performances than coordinated units?

Well, it’s the magic of the game, and one reason it’s fascinating. Losing teams suddenly become winners because something clicks. Baseball fiction—and there is more baseball fiction than with all the other three major sports combined—habitually explores this theme. In Damn Yankees, habitual losers become winners with the intervetion of the Devil. In “The Natural,” it’s a magic bat that changes everything.  In “Bang the Drum Slowly,” a team’s shared empathy for a dying team mate makes them winners. “Angels in the Outfield” attributes a team’s turnaround to heavenly intervention.

The team that defeated the Astros, the Washington Nationals, were a classic real-life example of this mystical phenomenon. They had lost the team’s most talented player, young super-star Bryce Harper, over the winter: like Cole, he had abandoned his team for money. Harper was also a renowned jerk. The Harper-less Nationals, still favored to be contenders, started horribly, and were almost unanimously written off as doomed my mid-June, with a losing record and a dead squad

But the Nationals had picked up a veteran journeyman outfielder in May.named Gerardo Parra. On June 19. The Washington Nationals  decided he needed to change his “walk-up” music. The annoying “Baby Shark” song had taken over his home thanks to his kids, and that certified earworm tortured him to the extent that he asked that it become his new theme song. Parra got two hits that day, and the Nationals swept a doubleheader, starting a 15-4 streak that put them back in the pennant race. The Nationals started using the Baby Shark song to rally the crowd, as it became the Nats fight song and good luck charm. The players and the fans started making shark-biting gestures after hits (finger chomps), run-producing hits (hands) and home runs (whole arm chomps). For the first time, maybe ever, the Washington Nationals were having fun, and loving the game. They were also winning, and believing in themselves. They had become a team.



9 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Dunce And Revealed Jerk: Former Houston Astros Pitcher Gerrit Cole”

  1. Gerardo Parra. Sigh. Another former Diamondbacks player or manager in the WS. Let’s not forget Chip Hale, former third base coach in Phoenix and fairly expert enraged field manager “handler.” Did not know about the “Baby Shark” thing. Thanks for that. Funny and cute. Parra’s a very fun to watch player. Seems like a good guy. A grown up. A professional.

  2. I never thought about baseball in metaphysical terms, but after so many movies and books describing that very thing, I wonder why it didn’t occur to me.

    Probably because I don’t generally subscribe to the idea, but I can’t deny it shows up sometimes, usually in ways that nobody could predict. And baseball does seem to have a history of that happening perhaps more often than other sports.

    Addition by subtraction is occasionally a thing in college basketball, for example, for reasons not necessarily related to the temperament of the player subtracted. Sometimes, it just forms a kind of chemistry that was absent when he was there, not necessarily because he was a jerk, but because a certain something was either missing or interfered with when he was on the floor. I have seen similar things happen in college football.

    So kudos for the additional perspective, and thank you for the Comment of the Day.

    • I wasn’t planning on adding so much to your COTD, which stands on its own, but that angle struck me as I was posting it, and it has been something I have thought a lot about over the years. I’m glad you don’t mind.

  3. I remember remarking in one of the comment threads on this blog, sometime in late 2015 or early 2016 (whenever TRUMP officially started his POTUS candidacy), that TRUMP’s “Make America Great Again” baseball cap was a stroke of genius. I firmly believe that, in the same way that the Baby Shark song helped to transform the Nationals’ team and fanbase cultures, that cap was one of the keys to TRUMP’s successful POTUS bid. I think the cap and slogan did as much to win over voters from a broad political spectrum as the outsider-ness of TRUMP the man. Metaphysical influence. “Keep America Great” is OK, but too unfocused (I think) to have the same influence in the coming 2020 elections.

    • I don’t think changing away from MAGA will be needed. All the self inflicted cultural wounds from different and competing causes has made too many Americans forget those things that made America great. Worse they work against and villefy those virtues in the public areas, from news to comic books to the latest flailing sequel. There is so much power in convincing people they are victims, these people refuse to admit there is also power in becoming great, working to improve over past mistakes without wallowing in them. Everyone becoming a victim is not healthy or empowering. One mindset is a sad pessimism, but I prefer the more optimistic future where we all get better, we can all become heroes.

  4. Humans are weird. The fact that it’s not individual sports is why you can’t count team changes in or out. Something in the dynamics changes that you can’t quantify. Attitude, the fact that a new player is a nice dude and everyone likes working together better now… Yes, sportsball algorithms, etc. can tell a lot, but once the players are practicing, that’s when you can find out if it works or not. And the spark of magic. Jack, you’ve seen this with toxic cast members. Yes, they can be incredible in the role, but the whole show can improve when the toxic actor is fired and a much more amenable person, though perhaps not as on fire in the role, shows up. Everyone can gel as a cast and get the show UP.

    • Indeed I have. There are also performers and production staff members who are like Parra. There’s a breed of tropical fish that supposedly calms the whole tank when it’s put in with otherwise antagonistic species. Same thing.

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