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

The Replay and Integrity: Baseball at an Ethics Crossroads

On the final day of baseball’s regular season, the San Francisco Giants were playing the San Diego Padres in a contest with post-season implications for both teams. Had the Padres won , it would have forced two one-game playoffs, with the loser of a Giants-Padres showdown today facing the Braves on Tuesday to determine the National League Wild Card team. In the bottom of the first, the Giants’ Andres Torres smashed a Mat Latos  pitch down the left-field line. The ball clearly landed right on the chalk-marked foul line, kicking up a cloud of white dust as undeniable proof that the ball was fair,and the batter destined for second base or beyond. Third-base ump Mike Everitt called it foul, however. Broadcasters, the Giants managers, everyone protested and pointed, but to no avail.

The Giant’s won anyway, so it only mattered to Torres’s batting average. But a time-bomb is ticking. Baseball, which was embarrassed last season into adopting video replay for home run calls, allows no videotape mandated reversals on other blown umpire calls. As the game heads into its period of highest visibility, when casual baseball fans start paying attention to the best teams playing for the title, the likelihood of an obviously wrong call by an umpire leading to an undeserved win in a crucial game is unacceptably high. Why does baseball’s leadership resist a solution? Continue reading

How New Ethical Standards Get Made

Jim Joyce, the American league umpire who cost Armando Galaraga a perfect game by missing the what should have been the final out of the game, achieved immediate respect for admitting his mistake and apologizing to the pitcher and the public. Now another umpire, Gary Cederstrom, following Joyce’s lead, has admitted and apologized for a botched call, a wretched called strike on Johnny Damon that ended another Tigers game with a strikeout when it should have been a game-tying ball four (the bases were loaded at the time.)

ESPN commentator John Kruk and baseball blogger Rob Neyer have expressed dismay at the apparent trend, but it is a legitimate cultural shift in ethical standards.  Continue reading

Milt Pappas in the Baseball Ethics Wilderness

Polls say the vast majority of baseball fans wanted Commissioner Bug Selig to over-rule umpire Jim Joyce after the fact and award Armando Galarraga a perfect game. The point of view is purely emotional, and as an ad hoc break with the rules, traditions and practices of the game would be so devastating to baseball’s integrity that I did not expect anyone outside the sport to adopt it. I was very wrong about that. Ex-pitcher, ESPN commentator and blogger Curt Schilling and Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jon Heyman were just a few of the voices calling for Bud to announce that Joyce’s epic mistake, among the thousands and thousands of terrible judgment calls by umpires in the game’s history, should be the one that is changed after the game is over.

But an ex-pitcher who threw a no-hitter himself, Milt Pappas, did us all a favor by showing the ethics wilderness this kind of thinking can cause to sprout overnight. First, Pappas wistfully suggests that if Galarraga’s lost perfect game can be saved by Selig, maybe his 38-year-old not-quite-perfect no-hitter  can be similarly burnished. Pappas also believes that a perfect game is so important, umpires should consciously try to one along. if I interpret his “logic” properly, he thinks that on Joyce’s erroneous call the umpire should have called the runner “out” on a close call even if he was safe. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Detroit Pitcher Armando Galarraga

When Umpire Jim Joyce apologized to Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga, the man whose perfect game he destroyed with an erroneous “safe” call on what should have been the 27th and final out, he gave him a hug and graciously accepted it without rancor. In interviews, Galarraga has said, “What else could I do?” A great many of his colleagues would have had some alternatives, and they would have not been pleasant. Galarraga is handling his disappointment, frustration and bad luck with superb grace and kindness, in the best tradition of the Golden Rule.

“Nobody’s perfect,” he told ESPN, accepting Joyce’s mistake as human and not malicious. But Armando Galarraga was perfect, both on the mound in Detroit, and in his noble response to misfortune.