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.