Tag Archives: Bryce Harper

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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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”?

This, we recently learned, is exactly what Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, 25, did when his team, the Washington Nationals, made him such an offer at the end of the 2018 season.

Harper has frequently stated that he loves playing in Washington, and would like to continue his career there. He is also regarded as the most valuable baseball free agent since Alex Rodriguez entered free agency almost 20 years ago and received a record contract. (You know what happened to him, right?) His agent, Scott Boras, has said in the past that a realistic target for Harper on the open market is $400,000,000, and most experts thinks Boras is nuts.

I see only three possible explanations for Harper turning down the Nationals offer: 1) He’s an idiot, 2) he is getting irresponsible and conflicted advice from his agent, or 3) he was lying when he said he wanted to play in D.C.

If your answer is “4) He’s greedy,” I submit that this is indistinguishable from #1. I defy anyone to explain how their life is enhanced in any way  by making 40 million a year rather than 30 million. Harper has no children, but since “I’m doing this for my kids” is the default rationalization used by players when they accept the highest bid,  I also defy anyone to explain how his theoretical children would have significantly better or different lives if Daddy makes an extra 100 million over the next 10 years—especially since another mega-million dollar contract will probably come into play after that. Continue reading

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“A Nation Of Assholes” Epilogue, Baseball Edition

To be fair, Donald Trump supporters and Trump himself are not the only ones who would transform the United States into a rude, boorish snakepit of jerks and narcissists.

There is Bryce Harper, for example, shown above in his minor league days blowing a kiss to a pitcher after a home run.  In a much discussed interview with ESPN, Harper decried the “unwritten rules” of Major League Baseball, which, among other things, disapprove of showboating, trash-talking, styling, and showing up  opposing players. Naturally, many sportswriters, whose IQ and ethical standards hover perilously close to those of the juvenile, none-too-swift Harper, are flocking to his side.

“It’s a tired sport because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do,” Harper said in the interview. “I’m not saying baseball is . . . boring . . . but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair. If that’s Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom or Manny Machado or Joc Pederson or Andrew McCutchen or Yasiel Puig — there’s so many guys now who are so much fun.”

Nobody’s against fun, of course, and there have been many players past and present whose unique flair was justly celebrated. Harper, not being a rhetoric master, probably mixed up the harmless with the toxic in his list unintentionally, but there’s no excuse for Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Tom Boswell, other than the fact that intellectual dishonesty is his career calling card.

“From Willie Mays basket catches to Pete Rose sprinting to first on a walk to Dennis Eckersley fanning his finger-pistol at hitters he had struck out, baseball needs all the authentic extroverted individuality it can get, ” writes Boswell in his piece about Harper in the Washington Post. Ah yes, the device of the deceptive metaphor. Willie Mays used the basket catch because that’s the way he caught baseballs. Pete Rose ran to first on walks because he hustled.

The pistol routine Eckersley used (occasionally)? He was being a jerk. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Washington Nationals Star Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper

The knock on Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ 22 year-old burgeoning superstar who will soon be named the 2015 NL MVP, is that he’s immature, cocky, and self-destructive. But he seems to have proven himself to be far less so than the same sportswriters who have so often leveled such doubts about his character. This is good news for the Nationals and their fans, and also for suckers like me, who believe that baseball stars have an obligation to be good role models.

I wrote here about the late September, mid-game dugout fight between Harper and Jonathan Papelbon, a late season acquisition by the Nats whose arrival as a new bullpen ace coincided with team’s collapse in the National League East race. Post hoc ergo propter hoc being as seductive a logical fallacy as it is, Nats fans and, less excusably, the D.C. sports press blamed much of the Nats failure on the ex-Phillies, ex-Red Sox closer, along with manager Matt Williams, who was fired immediately after the regular season. Papelbon was also blamed for the fight, which is fair: he started it.

I noted in a follow-up post: Continue reading

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The Aftermath: Final Observations On The Papelbon-Harper Incident

Jonathan Papelbon in another career highlight...

Jonathan Papelbon in another career highlight…

More on the aftermath of the incident that has the baseball world talking and the sports ethics world cogitating…

1) The Nationals punished the right player, suspending reliever Papelbon for four games, which combined with the three games the league suspended him for intentionally throwing at a player in an earlier game, ends his season in embarrassing fashion. The four lost games will cost the closer about $280,000 in salary, and his total loss, with the additional three games, will be close to a half-million dollars.

2) The word out of the Nationals clubhouse is that many players agree that Harper was dogging it to first base (the impetus for the criticism that started the fight) and that Papelbon was within his rights to call Harper on his lack of hustle. This indicates that Papelbon was reacting to a perceived lack of leadership on the team. In fact, the team does lack leadership, as manager Matt Williams is neither respected nor listened to, and this was one of the reasons the heavily favored Nats collapsed down the pennant stretch. Thus it seems that Papelbon, a recent acquisition who was new to the Nats culture, may have been trying to fill a leadership vacuum and botched it. Still, he engaged in his unethical conduct for an ethical reason; that only places him in “the ends justify the means” territory, however.

Moreover, any team whose leader is Jonathan Papelbon is in big, big trouble.

3) Incredibly, manager Matt Williams, who left Papelbon in the game after the fight to pitch the ninth and get clobbered, claimed that he wouldn’t have done so if he was aware of what happened. Williams said that he was at the other end of the dugout, and didn’t understand the import of the commotion that had players shouting and separating two combatants, including his best player and his current pitcher. Wow.  The Nats dugout isn’t that long. He wasn’t curious? Didn’t he feel, as the man in charge, a need to investigate? Worse still, none of his coaches felt that he needed to be informed, even considering that this was happening in full view of the fans and TV cameras.  Continue reading

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An Unethical Photo And Caption, And The Ethics Fog Of A Baseball Fight

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals is grabbed by Jonathan Papelbon #58 in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on September 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 538595765 ORIG FILE ID: 490330798

According to USA Today and many other reputable news sources, Washington Nationals pitcher Jonathan Papelbon “choked” team mate Bryce Harper in a dugout altercation in full view of fans and TV cameras during yesterday’s loss to the Phillidelphia Phillies. The photo above, freezing the moment in which Papelbon’s hand touched Harper’s neck, was presented full page width in the Nats’ home town paper, the Washington Post.

Now here’s the video:

Papelbon’s hand was on Harper’s throat for less than a second, as opposed to the impression given by the still, in which you can almost hear Harper gagging ACK! GAH! LLLLGGGGHHH!  The USA Today headline “Bryce Harper was choked by Jonathan Papelbon in Nationals’ dugout fight” is pure sensationalism and an intentional misrepresentation. I’m not even certain Papelbon was trying to choke Harper, but if he was, he failed immediately because Harper backed away.

This incident transcends its context for ethical interest, because it demonstrates how much context and biases influence public and media assessments of right and wrong.

First, some context: Continue reading

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Yet Another Consequentialism Lesson From Baseball

It's for your own good, kid.

It’s for your own good, kid.

Consequentialism is the ethical fallacy of  judging an action right or wrong according to its ultimate effects, which are unknowable at the time the decision is made. This is, essentially, the equivalent of a “the ends justify the means” philosophy applied as a backward-looking tautology: if the end result turns out to be desirable, then it  justifies the means and the act was ethical. If the ends are undesirable, then the conduct was wrong unethical. People do tend to think to think this way, which is why decisions that don’t work out are frequently called mistakes. Conduct is not a mistake, however, if it was the best possible decision at the time, arrived at logically and according to sound principles.

Sports, and particularly baseball, reinforce the adoption of consequentialism, which is one way sports can make people stupid….especially sportswriters, who love to second-guess managers, players and coaches by using hindsight bias: it’s easy to pronounce a decision a mistake once you already know its results. Easy, and unfair.

On Saturday afternoon, Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams punished his 21-year-old star outfielder Bryce Harper for not running hard to first base on a ground ball tapper back to the pitcher in the top of the sixth inning. The punishment Williams levied was Old School: Williams benched the young player—just like Joe Cronin did to Ted Williams in 1939 and 1940–sending the message that either you hustle and play hard, or you don’t play, no matter how good you are. This is his duty as a manager, a leader, a mentor and a teacher, and it makes a vital statement to the entire team. Continue reading

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