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Armistice Day Ethics Warm-Up, 11/11/18: Pettiness, Tit-For-Tat, And Fake All-Stars

Good Morning!

Why Nora Bayes? Let me tell you a story…

I learned about Nora Bayes (1880-1928) while mounting a production of a “lost” musical, George S. Kauffman’s Hollywood satire “Hollywood Pinafore,” which was essentially a parody of Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic, “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Nora was mentioned in a laugh line in the script, so the 1941 show assumed that the audience knew who she was. I had never heard of her, so I did some research. She was a fascinating character, and a huge vaudeville and Broadway singing and comedy star, household name huge. “Over There” was one of her biggest hits; another was “Shine on Harvest Moon,” which she wrote with her second husband (she ultimately had five), Jack Norwith. He also wrote “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” another Bayes standard. According to one online biography, Bayes Bayes “provided some flamboyant, indeed extreme, examples of the broad social changes happening in the United States in the early twentieth century, namely the questioning of traditional roles for women as well as the challenges to male political and economic power that marked the women’s movement of the time.”

I almost wrote about her in April. As regular readers here know, I believe it is the our duty to honor the memories, accomplishments and cultural influence of past figures in American history, because the more we remember, the more we learn, and the wiser and more ethical we are. Somehow Nora Bayes, famous as she one was, had been in an unmarked grave for 90 years.  On April 21, a group of Nora Bayes enthusiasts placed a granite headstone over her plot. The New York Times told the strange tale here.

Now I think of Nora Bayes every time I hear “Over There,” “Shine on Harvest Moon,” and “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” Maybe you will too.

1. Truth in labeling. Major League Baseball has sent a team to Japan to play a series of exhibition games against a Japanese All-Star team, reviving a long-time tradition that had been suspended for several years. As you may know, the U.S. was critical in introducing baseball to Japan, and sent several major stars there to help get the sport established. Playing in Japan is mostly a lark for the American players, but the games are taken very seriously by the Japanese. In the first two games, the MLB All-Stars have lost, greatly pleasing the locals.

I don’t begrudge the Japanese fans their David and Goliath fantasies, but calling the U.S. team “All-Stars” is misrepresentation. For example, one of the pitchers who got clobbered in the last game, a 9-6  contest that began with the Japanese team jumping out to a 9-0 lead, was a Red Sox pitcher named Brian Johnson. I like Johnson, a crafty swing-man who had some good moments last season, but he’s a lifetime 6-6 pitcher who was left off the Red Sox post-season roster, and will have to battle to stay in the majors next season. I know you can’t sell tickets if the U.S. team is called the “All the players we could talk into coming to Japan Team,” but that’s what it is.

2. Tit for Tat  may be funny, but it’s not ethical. Representative Dan Crenshaw, the veteran who was mocked last week on Saturday Night Live for his disfiguring war wound, appeared on the show last night to mock the appearance of his tormenter, Pete Davidson. Crenshaw was unusually poised for a pol on a comedy show, and the bit successfully got Davidson and SNL, which had been widely criticized for its nasty routine, off the hook. Clever. Successful. Funny. Still wrong, however. This represents an endorsement of Donald Trump ethics, as well as the endlessly repeated rationalization for the non-stop ad hominem attacks the President has inflicted on him daily by the news media and others. The President famously—infamously around here—has always said that if you attack him, he’ll attack you back harder. His haters argue, in turn, that their tactics are justified by his. This is how the culture got in the escalating spiral to Hell it is in. I don’t blame Crenshaw: if he hadn’t accepted the invitation to get funny revenge on Davidson, he would have looks like a petty jerk. Nonetheless, he has now officially become part of the problem, not just a victim of it.

3. Stop making me defend President Trump Dept.  You see, I am kicked around on Facebook for not just falling meekly into line and declaring that everything Donald Trump does is an outrage and proof that he should be impeached. I tell you, it’s tempting. The mass bullying campaign to herd everyone into the undemocratic effort to overthrow an elected President using relentless criticism and flagrant double standards has been effective in stifling others, and it also serves as a kind of mass cultural hypnosis. I don’t like defending Trump. He is doing serious damage to his office, as are his unhinged foes, who are apparently willing to destroy the nation, democracy, and the Constitution to “save” it from him. But I will not be intimidated out of pointing out the revolting pettiness, hypocrisy and unfairness of his critics. Two examples surfaced yesterday. Continue reading

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Presenting Two (Terrific) Baseball Ethics Comments Of The Day By Slickwilly

I apologize for combining these two deserving comments into a single post, but the baseball season is over, and as much as I try to make the case that readers who are tragically immune to baseball’s charms should still read and ponder the ethics posts this most ethically complex of sports inspires, most don’t, and I also have a backlog of Comments of the Day that feels like a 400 lb monkey on my back.

First is Slickwilly’s Comment of the Day on the Halloween post, Unfinished World Series Ethics Business. He is discussing this iconic moment, when a crippled Kirk Gibson limped to the plate as a pinch-hitter against the best closer in the game at teh time, Dennis Eckersley:

Used a clip from one of your posts to teach my kids last night: Game 1 of 1988 World Series last at bat.

The mental aspect of Baseball was NEVER more apparent than in that at bat. The names and teams are irrelevant. Dangerous runner at first as the tying run, two outs, bottom of the ninth inning. Crippled power hitter is substituted to bat for the bottom of the lineout, in hopes of a base hit.

Pitcher, a professional at the top of his game, has not allowed a home run since late August: a powerful matchup indeed!

First two pitches are fouled away. Pitcher starts messing with the batter by throwing to first (where there was no chance of an out.) Two more foul balls and the count is still 0-2. Pitcher continues to throw to first, where the runner is taking progressively larger leads.

Batter hits almost a bunt down the first base line: foul. However, we see how badly the batter is hurt: he is almost limping and could never reach first base on an infield hit. Indeed, he is so banged up he did not take the field during the warm ups: a sign that the manager never expected to play him. (One suspects that a pinch runner would be used, should a base hit occur.)

The mental game continues with the pitcher, way ahead in the count, throwing hard-to-hit pitches in an attempt to make the batter strike out. The batter gets a hold of a pitch: foul ball. Pitcher throws outside again. Now the count is 2-2. More throws to first, and the runner is a legitimate threat to steal second as the count evens up.

The pitcher throws way outside, and the runner steals second, getting into scoring position. Now the count is 3-2, and the advantage goes to the batter: a base hit can tie the game!

The batter hands some of the crap back to the pitcher: calls time out just as the pitcher has his mental focus for the deciding pitch. The batter takes his stance, and HIS focus is unshaken: you can see it in his stance, how he holds his head, how he holds his bat, everything. This man suddenly exudes confidence, and the pitcher can see it. Everyone in the ballpark can see it!

Sometimes, in Baseball, a thing is meant to be. I cannot explain it, but there are moments where you know you are about to see greatness, where all of the little factors are lining up to produce a great play. There is a feeling in the air at such times, and it is palatable even on video and across decades of time. For those who worship at the altar of Baseball, these are the moments that make the game great.

Pitcher throws a low slider (betting on a junk pitch!) and as a result, hangs out what Baseball fans affectionately call ‘red meat’ for the batter, who gets EVERY BIT OF THAT PITCH AND SENDS IT ON A TOUR OF THE RIGHT FIELD BLEACHERS!

The second of Slickwilly’s CsOTD came in response to Question: You Are Offered 300 Million Dollars To Do What You Want To Do Where You Say You Want To Do It For The Next Ten Years. Why Would You Say, “No”? Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/9/2018: Twitter Revelations

Good Morning!

I know I’ve been belly-aching about the decline in views on Ethics Alarms this year. There are a lot of theories, but one certainty: I’ve written fewer posts.  Beginning in July, I’ve had an unavoidable two-hour commitment during the work week that has compressed my schedule, and removed crucial time that would normally be used, in part, to create one or two additional blog commentaries. The task also left me fatigued and frequently caused time crunches with other projects. That commitment finally ends after today. I would celebrate, but I don’t have the energy.

1. Twitter bites Bill James. James, the free-thinking, courageous baseball iconoclast often credited with creating the discipline of sabermetrics, has been an inspiration to me for decades in his relentless commitment to banishing bias, majority beliefs and conventional wisdom from his analysis. (“Signature significance,” often mentioned here, is Bill’s term.) Yesterday, I learned that Bill was once again the target of fury within the baseball establishment (it doesn’t “get” Bill, and never will), this time because of a series of tweets he issued in discussing baseball with some followers.  Inspired by Washington Nationals free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper’s rejection of a 300 million dollar offer from his club, Bill was musing about the conventional wisdom that players. especially stars, are the reason people watch baseball. Among other tweets, he wrote,

“If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them, the game would go on; in three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are…The entire GAME is the product…We’re all replaceable, the players as much as the beer vendors. If they’re unhappy about that, talk to God about it; I don’t make these rules.”

This attracted the ire of the Players Association, which deliberately or  foolishly misconstrued what James was trying to convey. As a long-time reader of James’ work, I have seen this theme before. It’s a simple (but too complex for most players and broadcasters, essentially) proposition: even if the over-all quality of the players was reduced, the game being played would look and feel the same, its thrills, strange bounces and dramatic turns would be unchanged, the new, lesser players would yield new stars, and the popularity of the sport would not be significantly diminished. James makes such observations to jolt people out of comfortable assumptions, and force them to think. Too many people in baseball don’t want to think, or don’t know how. James also suggested that for a baseball player who was paid $3,000,000 a year to feel underpaid was ridiculous in some respects. Of course the Players Association and the players themselves couldn’t let that go without objection.

James is a consultant to the Boston Red Sox, and the team felt it had to reject James’ theories in this matter…mustn’t make the union mad, after all. The team wrote:

“Bill James is a consultant to the Red Sox. He is not an employee, nor does he speak for the club. His comments on Twitter were inappropriate and do not reflect the opinions of the Red Sox front office or its ownership group. Our Championships (sic) would not have been possible without our incredibly talented players — they are the backbone of our franchise and our industry. To insinuate otherwise is absurd.”

Of course, James never said that the game could be played without players.

To his credit, and typical of him, James took full responsibility for the mess. “I understand that the Red Sox are not in business to offend people, and certainly regret that I gave offense to anyone,” he wrote. That was clearly not an apology, nor was it intended as one. James has not retracted his statements. He has said that he should have been clearer. Speaking of his rebuke from the Red Sox, he said,

“I’m not offended. None of us in the organization — or, like me, sort of attached to the organization although not exactly in the organization — none of us should give offense unnecessarily. If I did that — and obviously I must have — it isn’t their fault; it’s mine. I do think that my remarks, taken in context, could not be misunderstood in the way that they have been. But it is pathetic for a writer to say ‘I’ve been misunderstood.’ Our job is to make ourselves understood.”

Yesterday, I heard one of the Sirius-XM Major League Baseball hosts ridicule the idea that a millionaire player shouldn’t feel underpaid, citing the salaries move and TV stars get. But James point, if anything, is more valid in reference to that industry. In my tiny corner of professional theater, I have encountered literally dozens of actors, actresses and artists who are as talented and accomplished as many, indeed most, of the stars who get paid multiple millions for their performances. If every film actor alive decided to emigrate to Denmark, it would take less than three years to replenish the talent pool. It would not even take one.  For the most part, he public goes to see good movies, not stars. Movies, not actors, are the product.

2. Just so you know that I’m a nice guy...A lawyer representing someone I criticized in a post from several years ago contacted me and asked if I would take the post down. His client, he told me, has been periodically contacted on social media by individuals who have read my post, and she is embarrassed by the episode I was writing about. The lawyer did not demand that I remove the post. He did not claim that I had defamed anyone; he conceded that I had published an opinion within my range of expertise, and that he had no grounds to force me to do anything. He just said that his client would be very grateful if I took down the post.

I checked the statistics. I rather liked the essay, but it had attracted few comments, no more than a hundred or so people had read it, and the topic was now moot. I took it down.

3. The Bad Guys (cont.) Matt Yglesias is an infamous left-wing pundit, and not a very bright one, in my experience. Naturally, he writes for Vox. In the wake of another leftist mob setting out to intimidate those with whom they disagree (Note: I will NOT take down a post if a mob outside my house demands it) Yglesias tweeted,

I think the idea behind terrorizing his family, like it or not as a strategy, is to make them feel some of the fear that the victims of MAGA-inspired violence feel thanks to the non-stop racial incitement coming from Tucker, Trump, etc….I agree that this is probably not tactically sound but if your instinct is to empathize with the fear of the Carlson family rather than with the fear of his victims then you should take a moment to reflect on why that is….I met a woman who didn’t leave the house for months because she was afraid of being picked up by ICE and never seeing her US citizen kids and husband again. What sense was there in terrorizing her family?…I honestly cannot empathize with Tucker Carlson’s wife at all — I agree that protesting at her house was tactically unwise and shouldn’t be done — but I am utterly unable to identify with her plight on any level.

The entire series is signature significance for someone with no ethical comprehension or bearings whatsoever. There is nothing here but bias and rationalizations, and no news  organization who employs such an ethically-handicapped writer can be trusted or taken seriously. Because an illegal immigrant is frightened of the fair and legal consequences of her own actions and choices, it is legitimate for a mob to terrify the family of conservative news commentator. Allow me to add intellectual bankruptcy to Yglesias’s undeniable maladies.

Now he’s deleted all of his tweets. Too late! We know you’re a vicious, biased idiot, Matt.

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Unfinished World Series Ethics Business

Today the victorious Boston Red Sox took their now traditional duck boat parade through Boston and down the Charles River, so even for the Sox, the 2018 season is officially done.  My job isn’t however, because there were two striking examples of moral luck and consequentialism during the World Series, and apparently I was the only one who noticed.

I. The “Bad News Bears” moment.

When Red Sox Game 4 starter Eduardo Rodriguez surrendered what seemed at the time to be a decisive three-run homer to Yasiel Puig, putting the Sox behind in the 6th inning 4-0, he angrily hurled his glove to the mound. Commentators joked about how he resembled the Bad New Bears’ combative, potty-mouthed shortstop Tanner in the Little League classic, but other than the ribbing, nobody criticized “E-Rod.” Indeed, his manager, Alex Cora, exonerated him for the home run, saying that he, the manager, screwed up by letting his tiring pitcher face the dangerous Puig.

Yet earlier this season, Boston reliever Carson Smith, regarded as an important member of the Red Sox relief squad, threw his glove in the dugout after giving up a home run, and partially dislocated his shoulder. He was lost for the season, and both team officials and Boston sportswriters blamed Smith for his injury. He injured himself you see. It was stupid and selfish, and showed him to be unprofessional and untrustworthy. Many thought Smith should be fined, or even released. Yet it was a completely freak injury. It wasn’t as if Smith had punched a wall or a water cooler. Baseball players throw their gloves all the time, and I’ve never seen it injure anyone. So why was Carson Smith treated as a pariah for throwing his glove, but Eddie Rodriguez doing the same thing shrugged off? The only reason is that Smith’s angry gesture happened to injure him , which nobody, including Smith, could have predicted. In fact, Rodriquez was more, much more, irresponsible than Smith, because he knew throwing a glove could cause an injury. He knew, because it happened to Smith. Continue reading

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Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up After The Red Sox Complete An Unprecedented Late Inning Comeback In The World Series HAHAHAHAHA!, 10/28/18: Obama’s “Norms”, Goodbye Apu, #MeToo Hypocrisy, And “Roshomon,” Chicago-Style

Focus, Jack, focus!

1. Not the World Series, ETHICS! And speaking of ethics…

  • What kind of lie is this? Rich Hill, the Dodgers starting pitcher last night who almost unhittable, said in an interview that he “liked” his team’s chances of winning the Series despite being behind 3 games to 1. World Series history and basic math says that the chances are “slim.” He likes the slim chances? Does he really like them? Does he believe liking them means they are more likely to break his way?

Is he just lying to buck up his team and its fans, when he really doesn’t “like” the chances at all, not being, you know, an idiot? Does that make it a “good lie”?

  • The Fox World Series broadcast team of Joe Buck and John Smoltz is incompetent. In a potentially game-changing play in which the Boston catcher’s throw attempting to complete a home-to-first double-play sailed past first, allowing the game’s first run to score, the two alleged experts said that there was no interference. Wrong. There was interference, and it was obvious: Bellinger, the Dodgers runner, was on the infield grass rather than the yard-wide running lane to the right of the baseline, which exists precisely for plays like that, when the catcher needs a lane to throw unimpeded to first base to get the out.  It should have been called runner’s interference, completing a double-play and ending the inning without a run scoring. Instead, the run scored on the errant throw from Boston catcher Vasquez, and the next batter, Yasiel Puig, hit a three-run homer to give L.A. a 4-0 lead. There was no discussion of the rules and issues involved.

But after the game, over at the MLB cable channel, former Yankees manager Joe Girardi and baseball analyst Harold Reynolds graphically illustrated that the interference should have been called. This is what the Fox broadcasters are paid for: to explain the nuances of the rules and the game to the average World Series viewer, whose baseball acumen is rudimentary. The umpires missed the play, even though as Reynold pointed out, it was called many times during the season. Umpires are reluctant to call interference of any kind during the post-season, because it’s messy, and guarantees controversy and an on-field arguments.

  • For an unusual first ball ceremony, former Red Sox-Oakland Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley (Now an ace Boston TV color man, known New England-wide as “Eck”) threw a pitch to ex-Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager as Kirk Gibson stood in the batters box. Gibson, you should recall, hit the famous “The Natural” home run off Eckersley to win Game #1 of the 1988 World Series, after limping to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning. How many ex-players would voluntarily re-enact their worst moment on the field on national TV? Imagine Ralph Branca throwing a ceremonial first pitch to Bobby Thompson.

Eck personifies humility and exemplary sportsmanship.

  • Trump Tweets, Baseball Division. This made me laugh out loud, I have to admit. During the game, the President criticized Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decision to replace Hill with his first baseball tweet:

“It is amazing how a manager takes out a pitcher who is loose & dominating through almost 7 innings, Rich Hill of Dodgers, and brings in nervous reliever(s) who get shellacked. 4 run lead gone. Managers do it all the time, big mistake!”

I wish the President would confine all of his tweeting to second-guessing managers and coaches. It’s obnoxious, but harmless. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, presented with the tweet during his post-game press conference, handed it ethically and well. Steely-faced, he asked, “The President said that?” and responded, sufficiently respectfully, “I’m happy he was tuning in and watching the game. I don’t know how many Dodgers games he’s watched. I don’t think he was privy to the conversation. That’s one man’s opinion.”  Roberts was referring to the fact that Hill told him that he might be getting fatigued. Nonetheless, lots of people other than the President questioned Robert’s decision.

It is pure hindsight bias, of course, as well as consequentialism. If the Dodger bullpen had held a late-inning  4-run lead as every previous World Series bullpen had, nobody would be criticizing Roberts.

2. The confiscated handicapped van. [Pointer: Michael Ejercito] Andrea Santiago’s $15,000 van with a customized wheelchair lift was confiscated  by the City of Chicago as an abandoned vehicle. She has polio and multiple sclerosis, and the family claims the vehicle was parked legally and obviously not abandoned. This is a Roshomon situation, for the accounts of the city and the family are irreconcilable. Chicago’s Department of Streets & Sanitation sent this statement: Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Red Sox Rightfielder Mookie Betts

I guess in fairness I owe the Red Sox this one, after yesterday’s post.

Mookie Betts, the young Red Sox star widely assumed to be the American League MVP once the votes are tallied, had three hits in Game 2 of the World Series this week, and after the game, joined his cousin delivering food to the homeless outside the Boston Public Library. Betts did not summon reporters and photographers to the scene, in the immortal tradition of Babe Ruth, who always seemed to have a scribe nearby when he promised a sick kid at the hospital a home run that day. In the Boston tradition of Ted Williams, who regularly visited juvenile cancer patients without fanfare, Mookie did his charity work anonymously, wearing a hoodie so he would not be recognized. Someone recognized him nonetheless—this was Boston, after all, and Mookie is especially recognizable, so the local media got the story anyway.

Mookie seems too good to be true: he’s always modest and humble, he’s polite, he’s astoundingly talented, he’s nice, and he’s so  cute. I’m afraid to hope he’ll stay that way; Boston has had other lovable young stars who gradually became insufferable as their fame and paychecks increased (see Clemens, Roger). Mookie seems like the real thing, but you never know. For now, at least, he’s a terrific role model, not just for young baseball fans, but for other players and celebrities, present and future.

 

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Ethics Warm-Up, 10/24/2018: Catchers, Judges, Photographers, And Journalists Behaving Badly. Then There Are The Bombers….

Good afternoon!

You might as well know: I’ve been what they euphemistically  call “under the weather” recently. Ethics is getting in the way of my naps…

1. About those bombs…Not much that needs to be said about the explosive devices sent to Soros, the Clintons, Obama and—it fits–CNN, except this: it was inevitable. With conservatives being harassed and attacked in public places, Fox News offices and Republican offices being vandalized, and Democratic leadership and the media openly feeding the hate while rationalizing extreme incivility ( Philippe Reines, former adviser to Hillary Clinton, on MSNBC regarding mobs harassing Mitch McConnell and others: “People are doing these things because it’s all that’s left.” Gee, I guess there were some other tactics left after all, eh, Phil?), that some unstable wacko would decide to bring a gun to knife fight was a near certainty. Naturally, the news media and Democrats want to blame Republicans for the crimes. That’s not going to defuse the situation, and it’s also wrong.  The blame falls on all of those who have encouraged the rhetoric of hate and uncivil conduct rather than conducting political debate in a manner that doesn’t shame democracy.

You can make that list as easily as I can. When the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, the extreme anti-government rhetoric—by the standards of those times, at least–of the Right was fairly accorded the bulk of the blame for raising anger to a dangerous level. This time, the hate machine is being operated around the clock by the Left, and for two years without a break or a significant easing on the accelerator—indeed, it is pretty much the Democratic theme of the 2018 elections.

2. It’s a huge bat! It’s a black-robed blur! It’ SUPER JUDGE! In Chehalis, Washington, Judge R.W. Buzzard left the bench and chased  after two handcuffed inmates when they made a run for it from his Washington state courtroom. 22-year-old Tanner Jacobson and 28-year-old Kodey Howard bolted for the door and down  four flights of stairs, but the judge grabbed Howard just as he was about to exit the courthouse, and Jacobson was caught by police apprehended Jacobson a few blocks away.

As with the cases of bank tellers and grocery clerks who spontaneously play vigilante, the judge was exceeding his authority and interfering with law enforcement. This wasn’t his job, and is not the kind of image the judiciary wants to project. He should be disciplined, but probably won’t be.

Sheriff Rob Snaza said of the incident, “These things don’t happen very often.” No kidding. And they shouldn’t happen at all.
Continue reading

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