Ethics Dunce: Secretary Of Transportation (And Proud Dad!) Pete Buttigieg [Updated]

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When I wrote in September about Boston Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo abusing his paternal leave privileges to abandon his team at a crucial time in its battle to make 2021 the play-offs, I expected a lot of heated criticism (I didn’t, though I did get a provocative counter argument that became a Comment of the Day.) I wrote in part,

The Boston Red Sox recently completed a disastrous collapse that dropped them from first place in the American League East to third. As they went into battle with the two teams now ahead of them, their hottest hitter, Alex Verdugo, vanished on a four game paternity leave. Shortly thereafter, another hot hitter, Hunter Renfroe, was lost for five days on bereavement leave after his father died of cancer. T’was not always thus: in the days before the Players’ Union bargained to add such mid-season leave as a new benefit, if a player’s wife was in labor or a loved one died, it was at the team’s discretion whether he would be permitted to leave the team. OK, I can appreciate the need for the benefit, but both players abused the right. These guys both earn millions of dollars a year. They both routinely talk about the team’s quest to win the World Series, yet when their team really needed them, they absented themselves for many days because they could. That’s a betrayal of the team, team mates, and fans.

By the force of pure moral luck, Verdugo’s indulgence did no damage in the end: the Sox made the play-offs and have prospered (so far, though they lost last night), in great part because of Verdugo’s clutch hitting upon his return. That doesn’t change my ethics verdict on his dereliction of duty however (which the player reminds me of every time he gets a hit now, because Verdugo makes a baby-rocking gesture to his team mates in the dugout.) Compared to the Biden administration’s Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, however, Alex Verdugo is a model of dedication and responsibility.

Buttigieg and his husband Chasten adopted infant twins named Penelope and Joseph in August. The little bundles of joy arrived as product shortages and the supply chain problems had made themselves evident, a developing crisis that is worsening, and one that threatens the economy as well as businesses, jobs and the welfare of millions of Americans. It is also a situation squarely within the jurisdiction of the Transportation Department. Not since the airplane-executed terror attacks of September 11, 2001 has that agency had such a crucial task before it, nor have more Americans needed the performance of DOT to be diligent, timely, and effective.

Never mind! The Secretary of Transportation decided that this was still an appropriate time to take advantage of the Biden administration’s “family friendly” policies, and took two full months of paid leave while the supply chain problems multiplied and expanded. He wasn’t even online with his department during most of that time.

I apologize, Alex! Compared to Paternal Pete, you’re a self-sacrificing hero. I wish you were Secretary of Transportation.

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Ray Fosse And A Lesson In How Ethics Evolve

People who don’t read the baseball-related posts here miss the point: sports in general and baseball in particular create ethical problems that clarify ethics in all fields. The story of former catcher and broadcaster Ray Fosse is a prime example.

Fosse, was an All-Star catcher, a multiple Gold Glove-winner, a two-time World Series champ, and a long-time broadcaster who died yesterday, of cancer at the age of 74. His claim on immortality is the famous play above, which ended the 1970 All-Star Game, back when baseball’s “Mid-Season Classic” was more than just a chummy parade of stars playing baseball with the intensity of an office picnic softball game.

In 1970, Fosse was in his first full big league season with the Cleveland Indians, and signaled that he could be one of the all-time greats at his position. He won a Gold Glove, received some MVP votes, and had a 23-game hitting streak from early June into early July (That’s a lot. especially for a catcher). Fosse made the All-Star team that year and had his rendezvous with destiny when, in the bottom of 12th inning of a tense, tie game, the Reds’ Pete Rose, famous for his hustle and trying to score the winning run from second base, was beaten by the throw home but smashed into Fosse at home plate, causing the catcher to drop the ball and winning the game for the National league. It was a thrilling play, one of the most memorable in the nearly 90 years history of the exhibition, but Rose separated and fractured Fosse’s shoulder. Fosse continued to play for the rest of the 1970 season but because doctors didn’t discover the injuries until the following season his body never healed properly. Fosse would suffer lingering effects from play for the rest of his life. He also was never as good a player again.

Rose was unapologetic, and most conceded that his tactic was a clean play. Fosse was blocking the plate, and the only way Rose could score was to reach home while making him drop the ball. The controversy was over whether it was ethical for Rose to risk injuring another player in an exhibition game. Had Rose epitomized a sporting ideal by playing hard to win—after all, he could have been hurt too—or had he engaged in poor sportsmanship?

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A Déjà Vu Ethics Dunce: Pete Rose

Pete Rose

I confess that at this time of year, with the Boston Red Sox in the play-offs (and doing splendidly so far), my thoughts keep defaulting to baseball and baseball ethics. However, I couldn’t have resisted this inspiration in the dead of winter.

I was already considering writing about how Major League Baseball has now abandoned its former principled stand against gambling on the game to the point where its gambling industry partners are encouraging suckers to bet on game details like extra-base hits and runs-batted-in, and during games, using special bonus pay-offs—you know, like the casinos that give out free chips to get tourists hooked? How MLB is going to square this sudden embrace of professional gambling with the sport’s so-called “third rail” rule that demands a lifetime ban of any player, coach or manager who is caught betting on baseball games is anybody’s guess.

Pete Rose, the all-time career hits leader, is the most famous victim of the third rail, and he was also my very first Ethics Dunce. In January of 2004, Pete’s sleaziness helped launched The Ethics Scoreboard when I wrote,

Pete Rose now admits he bet on baseball (after ten years of lying about it) but says that his bets (always in favor of his team, never against it, he says) as manager of the Cincinnati Reds never effected his management decisions, and thus he did not harm the integrity of the game. He feels he should be let back into the game as a manager.

A couple of things, Pete:

1) Even if this were true, fans of the game cannot put their faith in the outcome of games when they know that those who help determine the outcome might be motivated by their wagers. This is the reason that we call “the appearance of impropriety” an ethical problem.

2) Presumably you did not bet on the Reds when a key player was sitting out, or when your starting pitcher wasn’t feeling good. Right? Or are we supposed to believe that you bet large amounts of money while already in debt to bookies in circumstances when you thought you would lose? So every time you didn’t bet on the Reds, you were sending information to the bookies, and it affected their odds on the game. Got it?

3) You say you never bet against the Reds. You used to say you never bet on baseball. You’re a liar. Why should anyone believe you now?

Pete continued to embarrass himself and baseball, leading to several posts on Ethics Alarms. My favorite Pete Post is this one, in which I wrote in part,

All of the above could be more concisely summarized by six words: Pete Rose is a stupid man. As comedian Ron White says, “You can’t fix stupid.” Manfred, in his letter telling Pete that he can forget about any future employment in baseball, noted more than once that Rose does not appear to understand the import and purpose of the rule he violated, which exists  to protect the integrity of the game. Indeed,  Pete Rose wouldn’t know what integrity was if it sat on his face.

“This final chapter (I hope) in the sad Rose gambling saga drives home a fact that is under-appreciated in the ethics world. Ethics is hard, and requires attention, critical thinking, and a modicum of intelligence. Ethics involves choosing among competing options in difficult situations, often under pressure; it involves recognizing when non-ethical considerations are threatening to overwhelm ethical principles; it involves being able to understand why an ethical society is preferable to a corrupt one, and the difference between rationalizations and ethical values.

When tying your shoes is a challenge, most of this is out of the question. Or to put it in Pete Rose terms, if you are seeking forgiveness for  placing bets on baseball when you knew that baseball bans anyone who does that, and can’t figure out that continuing to gamble on baseball isn’t going to help your case, the chances that you are going to be able to figure out whether a particular situation requires an application of the Rule of Universality or not are those of Frosty the Snowman bumpety-bump-bumping safely through Hell...”

As you have probably guessed by now, that was not “the final chapter.” A new chapter came out today. Pete, who is always playing some angle to make money off of his baseball exploits because he is perpetually broke, has launched a sports gambling podcast.

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Friday Ethics Potpourri, 9/24/2021: On PBS, Boeing, A Political Hack Law Dean, And Caring

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Many thanks to reader and commenter Jeff for bringing that lawn sign to my attention. It’s available here. I wish I had thought of it; one of these days I’ll get around to making a “Bias Makes You Stupid” T-shirt as an Ethics Alarms accessory. I would never post such a sign on my lawn for the same reason I object to the virtue-signaling signs in my neighborhood: I didn’t ask to my neighbors’ political views thrust in my face, and I don’t inflict mine of them. However, if a someone living in a house on my cul-de-sac inflicted a “No human being is illegal” missive on their lawn where I had to look at it every day, the sign above would be going up as a response faster than you can say “Jack Robinson,” though I don’t know why anyone would say “Jack Robinson.”

1. Roger Angell on caring…It’s September, and the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees start a three game series tonight with nine games left to the season. It could well determined which of the two teams will go on to the post-season, with a shot at the World Series. The encounter brings back a flood of memories, wonderful and horrible, about previous Sox-Yankee battles of note, including one from 1949, before I was born. I worked with a veteran lawyer at a D.C. association who was perpetually bitter about all things, and all because the Red Sox blew a pennant to New York that year by choking away the final two games of the season. For me, moments like this are reassuring and keep me feeling forever young: as I watch such games, I realize that I am doing and and feeling exactly what I was doing and feeling from the age of 12 on. Nothing has changed. Roger Angell, one of my favorite writers, eloquently described why this is important in his essay “Agincourt and After,” from his collection,”Five Seasons”:

“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitive as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look — I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naivete — the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball — seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”

A small price indeed.

2. PBS may be a progressive propaganda organ, but the facts will out. A streaming service offers the channel’s documentaries for a pittance, and they are a reliable source of perspective and enlightenment. One that my wife and I watched this past week was about the development of the FDA and other federal agencies that protected the public and workers. When workers at manufacturing plants making leaded gasoline started dying of lead poisoning, the government scientists’ solution was to just ban the product. General Motors and Standard Oil fought back and overturned the ban, assuring Congress that they could make leaded gas safe to produce, and they did. This was a classic example of why we must not let scientists dictate public policy: leaded gasoline transformed transportation and benefited the public. The scientists’ approach was just to eliminate risk; they didn’t care about progress, the economy, jobs or anything else. Science needs to be one of many considerations, and when scientists have been co-opted by partisan bias, as they are now, this is more true than ever.

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A Baseball Ethics Meets Legal Ethics Spectacular!

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You can imagine how happy this ethics mash-up makes me.

In legal ethics, a perpetual controversy involved what a law yer should do when another lawyer inadvertently sends him or her confidential information intended for the adversary lawyer’s client, and the information is a smoking gun that could win the receiving lawyer’s case. In the old days, when this involved some clerk in a law firm sending a load of documents to the opposition by mistake, the rule was simple. It was called “the Wigmore Rule,” after the famous law professor, John Henry Wigmore (above) who coined the phrase, “You snooze, you lose.”

In brief, the convention was that if a lawyer was careless enough to let this happen, he or she was at fault, and the lawyer getting the confidential documents could use them to benefit his or her client. The advent of faxes, and later the internet, and after that metadata, however, through what was largely settled law and ethics into a tangle that has yet to be settled. Technology made such errors much more common and also easier to make, and the American Bar Association’s opinions on the matter bounced back and forth like ping-pong balls, first saying that a Golden Rule approach should apply, with lawyers sending the material back to the technologically-challenged lawyer without looking it over, then concluding that lawyers should know how to use essential technology (back to the Wigmore Rule!), until the newest technological developments made them sympathetic again to lawyers who don’t get confidential metadata out of their emails. Last I checked, the state bars still don’t agree, but many are drifting back to the Wigmore Rule once again…as they should.

Now, you might well ask, how does this relate to baseball ethics?

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Comment Of The Day: “Post-Labor Day Ethics Laments, 9/7/21” (Item #1, The Baseball Player’s Long Paternity Leave)

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The Comment of the Day below is really two consecutive comments in the same thread, as Sarah B. argues that fathers are not only justified in leaving their jobs at critical times to be with their wives at childbirth and thereafter for as long as they deem necessary, but that this is the most ethical choice. My note prompting her response involved the case of Red Sox star Alex Verdugo, who left the team at a crucial time when the season hung in the balance, and stayed away for four days to be with his girlfriend and their new-born child: there is no indication that he provided anything but companionship and moral support.

(I just learned that he is not married to the mother (above). No, I don’t think that changes the ethics issue, though it raises others.)

I stated that this was a breach of his duty to the team, which he is paid handsomely to respect. I am quite certain that this is the correct ethical position, but my view represents the resolution of an ethics conflict, where two ethical principles oppose one another. I can’t say that how Sarah prioritizes these principles is wrong, only that I would prioritize them differently, and have in analogous situations.

Here is Sarah B’s Comment of the Day on #1 from the post, “Post-Labor Day Ethics Laments, 9/7/21.” I will have a few rebuttal points at the end…

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“The priorities are linked, but still need to be ranked and four days is nothing. Heck, if my husband only got four days after the birth of our children, unless his absence from me would literally cause someone to die, I’d give him the choice of his job or his family. If we want men to step up and be good husbands and fathers (which would do amazing things for our society) we need to let them do that. Considering what a woman’s body goes through with the birth of a child and the incredible amount of healing she must do after the fact, four days barely lets a mom get home from the hospital (having had complication-free natural births has led to us getting to go home on day three at my hospital) and set up a good feeding schedule for the first kid (my best kid so far took two weeks before we got the bugs worked out enough for their health and mine). Subsequent kids require so much more because of the need to care for the older children too. The fact of being in high levels of pain for every action and dealing with incredible dizziness for days lead to a new mom being a literal danger to herself and the baby (not to mention any other kids) if left alone. According to my OBs, that condition is totally normal, even expected.

“Due to the danger, new moms are forbidden from lifting their own child or walking with the child in their arms in my hospital. My hospital also asks about the support a mother can expect for at least two weeks post baby before they will even let the child go home with the mother. Sure, a lot of us rely on other family members for that second (or third or fourth week), but the dad has to be there in the beginning if he wants to start himself off on a good foot of proper prioritization of responsibility. Most marriages I have seen where a dad does not give totally of himself for 1-2 weeks after a baby are at best strained. The mother needs support, and who is best able and most desired to give that support, but the father of the baby? If MLB cannot give new fathers a week away at minimum, they need to require that their players are celibate while on contract, so no babies come about. If a multimillion dollar contract is enough to abandon a wife and kid for at a time of great need, it should be enough to abandon sex for. Family is the primary responsibility, and all the more so at the birth of a baby.

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Trevor Bauer Is Guilty Until Proven Innocent, And His Punishment Will Be Complete Before Such Proof Can Occur

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This is what #MeToo has wrought.

Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, last year’s Cy Young winner as the best pitcher in the National League and currently the game’s highest paid player, hasn’t been able to pitch for his team since late June. The reason: he has been accused of domestic abuse. Accused.

Ethics Alarms first reported on his story here, writing,

“A restraining order was taken out against Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, last year’s National League Cy Young winner. Bauer is a sportswriter favorite for his outspoken social media presence and progressive politics, so this will be a blow to the sportswriting woke. The woman making the allegations had what started as a consensual relationship with the pitcher, but in a 67-page document, alleges that Bauer assaulted her on two different occasions, punching her in the face, vagina, and buttocks, sticking his fingers down her throat, and strangling her to the point where she lost consciousness twice, an experience she said she did not consent to. After the second choking episode, the woman awoke to find Bauer punching her in the head and face, inflicting serious injuries. She contacted police, and there is now an active investigation of Bauer by the Pasadena, California police department. If any of her account is true, Bauer faces serious discipline from baseball, which has been (finally) cracking down on domestic abuse by players in recent years.”

I seriously miswrote, and should have known better. Baseball has a well-established tradition of taking action against players regardless of whether accusations have been proven. Indeed, the eight Chicago Black Sox who were accused of throwing the World Series in 1919 had been acquitted by a jury (They were guilty as sin, but then so was O.J.) were banned from baseball for life anyway. Pete Rose was banned for betting on baseball games before the evidence was definitive (Pete eventually confessed years later).

The next time I wrote about Bauer‘s case was a month later:

“Dodgers pitcher and reigning Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, remains in limbo and under administrative, paid leave while baseball investigates the horrific allegations of abuse against him. Meanwhile, the Dodgers players have told reporters that they don’t want him back, though whether this is because he is an infamous pain in the neck or because he beats up women is unclear. Since the MLB policy appears to be based on “believe all women” and a “preponderance of the evidence” standard rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” I find it ethically troubling. (It resembles the way the Obama and Biden administrations want campus sexual abuse matters to be handled.) If, and I think this is doubtful, Bauer escapes charges and is still suspended, he is an excellent bet to challenge MLB’s “guilty until proven innocent” approach in the courts. Pains-in-the-necks have their uses.”

Last week, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed to extend the Bauer’s administrative leave (he’s still being paid) through the end of the World Series, which the Dodgers still have a fighting chance to be part of should they make the play-offs. There has been no new evidence since June; the accusations against Bauer remain just that. He denies them, saying that the rough sex he had with his accuser was entirely consensual, and that he is the victim of a shakedown.

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A Baseball Ethics Quiz: Moral Luck And The Deflected Ball

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I was surprised to find how often I have written about the Steve Bartman incident (shown above) here. For those of you who missed it (and if you are not a baseball fan, couldn’t care less) the episode is rife with ethics lessons.

Bartman was the hapless young Chicago Cubs fan in 2003 who unintentionally interfered with a foul ball that might have been catchable by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou in the decisive game of 2003 National League Championship Series. Bartman’s mistake (it didn’t help that he was wearing earphones and watching the ball rather than the action on the field) began a chain of random events that ended in a complete collapse by Chicago in that very same half-inning, sending the Miami Marlins and not the Cubs, who had seemed comfortably ahead, to the World Series.

Bartman issued a sincere and pitiful apology but it didn’t help. He was widely vilified by Chicago fans, who at that point had not seen a pennant-winning team in their lifetimes. Sportswriters joined in, and he was literally run out of town. Bartman’s name then became part of Cubs and baseball lore, one more chapter in the sad saga had been called “the Billy Goat Curse,” the uncanny inability of the Chicago National League team to win it all. The Cubs finally broke the imaginary curse in 2016, and in a show of kindness and remorse, privately awarded Bartman  an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring.

That was nice, but Bartman’s life had already been, if not ruined, seriously degraded by the incident. I thought about poor Steve last night, when a foul ball nearing Fenway Park’s “Green Monster” left field wall wafted its way down the foul line. As Sox outfielder Danny Santana tracked it, so did several fans in the seats that look over the grandstand onto the field. Their eyes were on the ball, and as it moved way from foul territory into fair–maybe: in Fenway Park at that point, it is only a matter of a few feet’s difference—one fan lunged for the ball, deflecting it away from Santana’s glove.

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Post-Labor Day Ethics Laments, 9/7/21

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You could yesterday, September 6, “Moral Luck Day.” On that date in 1901, President William McKinley was shaking hands at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo when a 28-year-old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz approached him with a pistol in his hand wrapped in a handkerchief, and fired two bullets into the President’s chest. Touchingly, McKinley’s immediate thoughts were of his wife, Ida, who was in poor physical and emotional health. “Be careful how you tell her!” he whispered to an aide. Eight days later, McKinley was dead. But what Czolgosz intended as a strike to the heart of America’s government had the opposite effect, making Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican considered too independent, radical and uncontrollable (unlike McKinley) by his own party to be in the White House, exactly what GOP leaders never wanted him to be. Teddy made the United States a world power, greatly expanded the power of his office and the government itself, and was, in short, an anarchist’s nightmare.

1. Baseball ethics: The Boston Red Sox recently completed a disastrous collapse that dropped them from first place in the American League East to third. As they went into battle with the two teams now ahead of them, their hottest hitter, Alex Verdugo, vanished on a four game paternity leave. Shortly thereafter, another hot hitter, Hunter Renfroe, was lost for five days on bereavement leave after his father died of cancer. T’was not always thus: in the days before the Players’ Union bargained to add such mid-season leave as a new benefit, if a player’s wife was in labor or a loved on died, it was at the team’s discretion whether he would be permitted to leave the team. OK, I can appreciate the need for the benefit, but both players abused the right. These guys both earn millions of dollars a year. They both routinely talk about the team’s quest to win the World Series, yet when their team really needed them, they absented themselves for many days because they could. That’s a betrayal of the team, team mates, and fans. I’ve been there. My grandmother, a major influence in my life, died while I was in tech week for a major production I was directing. I flew to Boston for the wake, and flew back early the next morning. I couldn’t do anything for my grandmother. My family didn’t need me as much as the show did.And I wasn’t being paid a cent for directing that show, never mind millions of dollars.

2. Curtis Flowers is suing. Good! Curtis Flowers, whom I wrote about here, filed a lawsuit last week against Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans, who prosecuted him six times for the killings of four people at a small-town Mississippi furniture store. He was finally released in December 2019, about six months after the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the conviction and death sentence from his sixth trial, which took place in 2010. Justices said prosecutors showed an unconstitutional pattern of excluding African American jurors in the Flowers’ six trials, which kept him in prison for 26 years despite never being found guilty in a fair trial. This wasn’t a prosecution, it was a vendetta. I would like to see a bar prosecution of Evans, who abused the ethical duties of a prosecutor.

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Return To”Field Of Dreams”

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Baseball had a rare PR triumph earlier this month when it held a regular season game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox in the Iowa cornfield diamond that was the setting for the cult movie favorite “Field of Dreams.” The TV ratings were the best for any regular season broadcast in 16 years. That’s amazing, but maybe it shouldn’t be. Despite rumors of its demise, baseball still has a cultural bedrock of tradition, nostalgia and history unmatched by any other sport, professional or amateur. So many Americans would not tune in to a baseball game if they didn’t still have a flicker of affection for the sport, and if your argument is, “Yeah, but that’s just because of the movie,” the movie wouldn’t have become iconic if a lot of people didn’t care about baseball. As Terrence Mann said,

Now my confession: I’m not a wild fan of the film, nor that scene. The scene in particular is unforgivably stagey and artificial: it’s right out of the (much better) book, “Shoeless Joe,” and not even the great James Earl Jones could make it sound like anything but a recitation. I got annoyed, during the hype for the game broadcast, with “Field of Dreams” being repeatedly called “The greatest baseball movie.” I don’t regard it as that; I think it just barely makes the top five, and I could be talked out of ranking it that high.

For good reasons, many baseball writers, fans and bloggers have criticized the film over the years, and not just because it is shamelessly manipulative. But it is that. Baseball writer Craig Calcaterra, a vocal debunker of the film, writes,

“I will fully admit that a story about a father and son repairing a longstanding rift over a game of catch — with or without the magical realism elements — could form the basis of a MAJOR chills moment in an absolutely fantastic movie. The problem, as I’ve said in the past, is that “Field of Dreams” does not earn its chills moment. It is lazy in that it does not sketch out the dispute between Ray and his dad in anything approaching realistic terms — it’s dashed off in the rushed intro with almost no details — and it does nothing to explain why Ray’s moving the Earth and the Heavens to bring his dad back to that ball field is so important or why it serves as the “penance” Ray must pay for whatever reason. With no buildup or backstory, there’s no payoff.”

But worse, for me and others, is the slipshod handling of baseball history. “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was not innocent of taking a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series, he was guilty. He was not a thoughtful, wise-cracking Ray Liotta, he was just north of being a moron. He batted left-handed, and famously so, not right-handed like Liotta. When Frank Walley’s character, a magically reincarnated and youthened old ballplayer named Archie “Moonlight” Graham, whose single appearance in the major leagues was in 1905, is nearly beaned by a close pitch, he says “Hey ump, how about a warning?” Umpires didn’t warn pitchers for throwing at batters in 1905, and not for more than a half-century after that. Sloppy.

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