World Series Ethics: He Tipped His Cap

What would Ted Williams have done? We know the answer to THAT question...

What would Ted Williams have done? We know the answer to THAT question…

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series last night, making me happy. Something else happened too.

Some background is in order. The great Ted Williams used to give Boston baseball fans the biggest hat tip in baseball as they cheered him after a home run. This was when he was first known as “the Kid’ and indeed was one, as his Hall of Fame trajectory was obvious from the moment he stepped on a major league field in 1939 at the tender age of 19. Gradually but rapidly, a vicious local press and some ugly incidents in response to a few jackasses in the stands caused the Kid to sour on the admission-paying mortals who booed him when he struck out, and he decided to ignore their cheers, refusing to extend the traditional courtesy of a hat tip to the fans as he rounded the bases after a home run—which, since he was Ted Williams, happened frequently. Williams  spent his whole career in the city of Boston playing before those fans who offended him in his twenties, but right up to and after his final home run, which he hit, famously, in his last at bat, the Red Sox fans got no hat tip from Ted. He rounded the bases the final time as they cheered themselves hoarse, and never looked up or acknowledged their praise. Screw ’em.

That was Red Sox pitcher John Lackey’s attitude toward the current generation of Fenway fans, for similar reasons. He had been signed to a rich, long-term contract in 2010 to be a Red Sox mound ace, but arrived in Boston with his arm deteriorating and his abilities diminished. 2010 was a disappointing season for Lackey and 2011 was worse, as he pitched in pain for a team that was short of hurlers. The 2011 Red Sox became infamous for their late-season collapse and underachieving starting pitchers, and no one on that team was jeered on the field or savaged in the call-in sports shows like John Lackey. He missed the entire next Red Sox season recovering from arm surgery after the 2011 collapse, and thus missed the 2012 debacle that was even worse. In 2013, however, Lackey returned with a renewed right arm, a fit body and a fierce determination to finally live up to the big contract. He did, too. He pitched well all season, and became a key factor in the Boston charge to the World Series, as they rose from last place in their division in 2012 to first.

In 2013, Lackey received nothing but cheers from the surprised and grateful Boston fans. Nevertheless, he adamantly maintained the Kid’s attitude—“Screw ’em”—all season long. As he walked into to the Red Sox dugout after being relieved in another fine pitching performance and the Boston fans saluted him, Lackey refused to reciprocate with the traditional hat tip, all season long and through the play-offs. The fans were fickle hypocrites, and their loyalty conditional. They booed him when he was valiantly pitching hurt and embarrassed in 2011, and he wasn’t going to forget it. They were going to get snubbed like they deserved, and that was the way it was going to be.

Last night the Boston Red Sox won their third World Series in the last ten years. It was the first time the home team fans had been able to witness the deciding game since 1918 (as the Fox announcers informed the presumably senile audience over and over and over again), and John Lackey was the pitching star for the home town team. The night was a love fest for Boston baseball fans, as they cheered every move of their frequently star-crossed and quirky team, and no Red Sox player was cheered more loudly than John Lackey, as he walked off the field for the final time in 2013 in the 7th inning, with his team safely ahead by five runs. They stood and applauded and chanted his name, as he moved deliberately to the Boston dugout, head down, grim, just like Ted on that gray day in 1960 when he hit homer number 521.

Then he tipped his cap.

It was a small thing, the smallest really, only a gesture and for most players, most of the time, an automatic one…except that it symbolized the ethical virtues of grace, forgiveness, gratitude, humility and fairness. This memorable, wonderful night for the Boston Red Sox and the grand old city it represents—my home town– was no time to let bitterness and resentment prevail. Unlike Ted Williams (who wouldn’t make his peace with Boston fans until years later, when he returned as an opposition manager), John Lackey found the strength and decency to let it go.

It was, as I said, a small thing. But it took character, and it was the right thing to do.

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Graphic: USA Today

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Sportswriter Joe Posnanski

Picked off first, Kolton Wong curses the fates...

Picked off first, Kolten Wong curses the fates…

Just as baseball’s post season was starting, I wrote a post about how U.S. society’s flawed use of consequentialism to judge merit, wisdom and ethics is encouraged by our sporting events. The example I used was an old one, from the 1968 World Series, which I consider to be a classic and extreme example. This morning, the great sports essayist Joe Posnanski addressed the same issue, focusing on an event in last night’s weird World Series game, which ended like none other in post season history. With two outs and the potential tying run at the plate, Boston relief pitcher Koji Uehara picked off St.Louis pinch-runner Kolten Wong to end the game and stop the Cardinals’ most dangerous sluggers from batting with a chance to tie or win the game. Posnanski marvels at how what he considers a foolish decision to station the first baseman near the base for a pick-off throw had good results, and how hard it is for us to focus on process rather than results. He is, of course, talking about the appeal of consequentialism, and the way baseball encourages it. I beat him to it by almost a month, but Posnanski amplifies the point nicely. Here’s Joe: Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Umpire Jim Joyce…Again

Obstruction play

Last night, a close and exciting Game #3 of the baseball’s World Series ended in the most unsatisfying manner possible, especially for Boston Red Sox fans. The winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning scored because of an obstruction call at third base, made by umpire Jim Joyce, giving the victory in a tense battle to the St. Louis Cardinals. Although fans saw baserunner Allen Craig tagged out at home for the final out of the frame, sending the game into extra-innings, or so they thought, Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks was ruled to have obstructed Craig from getting up and scoring from third on an errant throw, though both runner and fielder were caught in a tangle after a collision at third due to no fault of their own. The relevant rule says that if in the umpire’s judgement a fielder, regardless of fault or intent, impedes a runner trying to reach the next base, and that the umpire also concludes that the runner would have reached the base safely without the fielder’s impediment, then the runner will be awarded the base. This meant that Craig was awarded home plate, his team was awarded the winning run, and the game was over.

The obstruction was clear and undeniable, but in many sports, such a technical call would never be permitted to decide a crucial or championship game, and even in baseball, there are umpires who might not have the courage to make such an unpopular call. Rules, however, are rules, and a sport that suspends or alters its rules for entertainment value lacks integrity.

Baseball was fortunate to have an umpire at third base who has proved his integrity before, veteran Jim Joyce. Millions of Boston fans hate him ( though not quite as much as they hated umpire Larry Burnett, whose failure to make an interference call in Boston’s favor cost the Red Sox Game #3 of the 1975 Series) this morning, but the game they care about so passionately, in my view, has never looked better.

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Pointer: Craig Calcaterra

Facts: NBC Sports

 

Case Study: The Botched DP, Baseball, Ethics Evolution, and “Getting It Right”

manager-mike-matheny-argues

I know this is a long essay.

Yes, it involves baseball.

Bear with me. I think it is worth your time.

Last night, in Game 1 of the 2013 World Series, embarrassingly kicked away by the St. Louis Cardinals and won handily by some team called the Boston Red Sox,  an intricate ethics drama appeared, allowing us to see the painful process whereby a culture’s ethical standards evolve and change in response to accumulated wisdom, altered attitudes and changing conditions. An obviously mistaken umpire’s call was reversed by the other umpires on the field as the Cardinals manager argued not that the original call had been correct, but that reversing it was a violation of tradition, established practice and precedent….in other words, doing so was wrong, unfair, unethical because “We’ve never  done it this way,” a variation of the Golden Rationalization, “Everybody does it.”   You should not have to appreciate baseball (but if you don’t, what’s the matter with you?) to find the process illuminating and thought-provoking. Continue reading