Baseball Ethics While Watching Baseball, Part 1: “Nothing”

I should be writing an evening ethics potpourri, but I’m watching the Red Sox, who have been terrible, play the Mets, who I detest, so I’m too distracted. But while I was sitting here, two baseball ethics issues popped up. I can chew gum and walk at the same time, but I can chew gum and think about gum.

The first issue is schadenfreude-related. John McNamara died today in his eighties. He’s the Boston Red Sox manager most fans, including me, hold responsible for the Sox losing to the Mets in the 1986 World Series`. I’m sure Johnny Mac, as he was called, was a wonderful husband and father, but he was a lazy, terrible manager who got jobs when lazy, terrible team owners wanted to choose an organization man who wouldn’t rock the boat. He was incompetent, basicly, like so many middle managers in conventional businesses who take jobs away from better, harder-working, smarter people because they know how to play the right games and suck up to the right people. As a baseball manager his stock in trade was inertia. He had a flat learning curve, assumed problems would solve themselves eventually, and never took risks.

He was the epitome of a hack, in short. Such employees and professionals are a blight on society and civilization, but it’s not intentional, and not exactly their fault that there are too many of their breed, and that collectively they make life for the rest of us more nasty, brutish and short than it should be.

During the 1986 World Series, nothing was going right in my life, and the Red Sox finally winning the World Series for the first time in my lifetime (or my father’s lifetime, for that matter) meant  more to me than it should have. In the 9th inning of the 6th game  of the  1986 Series, the Red Sox held a two-run lead. The team was three outs from away from winning it’s first World Championship since 1918. All season long, McNamara had used a defensive replacement for first-baseman Bill Buckner, Dave Stapleton, when the Sox were ahead in the late innings. Buckner could barely run; he played on guts and  tape.

This time, however, McNamara let Buckner stay at his position. He wanted him to be able to celebrate on the field with his team mates, the epitome of counting your chickens before they hatch. Then he brought in his rookie closer to pitch. Calvin Schiraldi had been magnificent down the stretch in the regular season, but looked like deer in the headlights in the post-season. Everybody noticed how tentative and erratic he had been pitching; everyone but McNamara.  Any alert manager would have turned to Bob Stanley, his veteran reliever who had been unhittable in recent games. But remember: Johnny Mac wasn’t proactive.  Making changes sets you up for criticism.

The rest is history.  Schiraldi couldn’t get the last out, and the Mets won the game when the third run of the inning scored because Buckner couldn’t field an easy dribbler. The Sox went on to lose Game 7 and the Series. I and two friends were marketing a Red Sox trivia game in the Boston area, and all the stores cancelled their orders, setting off a breach that cost me two of my oldest friends. BIll Buckner’s life wasn’t exactly ruined, but he is infamous as the goat of that Series, his kids were harassed, and he was bitter and angry for a long time. It took the Red Sox 18 more years to finally win a World Series.

It was all moral luck, of course. I shouldn’t be resentful of MacNamara after all these years. But when I learned of his death, I couldn’t help it. I didn’t feel sorry or sad. I felt nothing, and I feel badly about that. It took everything in me not to think, “Good.”

At least there’s song in “A Chorus Line”about a similar reaction:

The next baseball ethics issue is an offshoot of the Houston Astros cheating scandal, and I’ll cover that in Part 2.


6 thoughts on “Baseball Ethics While Watching Baseball, Part 1: “Nothing”

  1. Not quite as meaningful, but us Texas Rangers fans felt this in game six of the 2011 series, one strike away from winning the series. Of course our manager was a womanizing coke-head instead of just lazy. Of course the Sox have won it twice since then, matching the total number of appearances (and losses) in the entire history of the Rangers.

  2. This was creepy–while I was writing this post, the Red Sox went into the ninth with a 2-run lead over the Mets. The Mets got one, and nearly won the game—just like in 1986.

    But Buckner wasn’t there to have the ball go under his legs….

  3. Jack, I empathize with you; I cannot challenge your assessment of MacNamara. But moral luck aside, I do believe the ’86 Mets were one of the greatest baseball teams of all time. I think they could have whipped most, if not any and all, of the other earlier seasons’ teams that are typically tagged with that “GOAT” caliber. That whole ’86 season just seemed like a high-water mark for so many MLB teams’ greatness.

    • Oh – and I watched the Astros lose an extra-inning game to the Dodgers tonight. I feel pain that is surely at least a little like yours.

      • Yeah, and the Dodgers made a bit of MLB history — first ever lead off two run home run.

        That stupid rule reminds me of the change the NCAA made, I think last season, to their football overtime rules — starting, I believe, with the 4th OT they toss out any semblance of football and just do extra points until someone wins.

        I really fail to comprehend the mania for getting extra inning / overtime games over instantly. Extra inning games, especially, have long been some of the most intense games of the season (and especially of the post-season). I guess that my boomer age privilege speaking….

    • Absolutely. The Mets were the best team, populated though it was with some of the biggest jerks ever to play the game. Of course, the 1946 Red Sox were at least as far superior to the Cardinals in that Series, and lost. The seasons determine the best teams. The World Series determine which team plays best against the toughest competition under pressure. The Mets were the greatest NL team of the 80s. just as the Reds were the greatest team of the 70s and the Cardinals were the best NL team of the 60’s. It was the Sox fate to face all three in a 7 game World Series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.