“When Ethics Fails, The Law Steps In”…Or In This Case, Technology

That’s part of a feature from a 1920’s magazine about how catchers and pitchers communicate regarding pitch selection in baseball. (I had Earl Smith on one of my favorite Strat-O-Matic teams, the 1922 Giants!) Trying to steal signs so a batter would know what pitch was coming—a huge advantage—was long part of the game and considered legal and fair, as long as the efforts came on the field. Once a team started using  spies in the stands and secret relay systems not involving players, the practice became unethical.

In 2017, as exhaustively discussed here in these posts, the Houston Astros used a technology-assisted system of sign stealing to win their division, the American League play-offs, and the World Series. It was one of the three most significant scandals in the history of the sport, trailing only the Black Sox World Series fixing plot in 1919 and the steroid scandal on the Nineties. Baseball, as a sport that values continuity and nostalgia, hates to change, but as with its acceptance of replay challenges to over-turn bad calls by umpires, the sport cannot pretend that technology hasn’t rendered some aspects of the game obsolete. There are too many ways to use technology to steal signs now.

Major League Baseball, following the Ethics Alarms motto that when ethics fails, the law steps in (and usually makes a mess of things), tightened its rules and penalties for illegal sign-stealing, but wisely recognized that rules wouldn’t be enough. Baseball managers, coaches and player are not known for well-functioning ethics alarms, and the financial benefits of cheating can be substantial: several Astros players had spectacular years at the plate in 2017 far beyond what they achieved before or since. All of them are many millions richer for it.

And thus it is that Major League Baseball announced yesterday that teams this season will begin using electronic devices that transmit signals from catchers to pitchers. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “On ‘Decertification,’ Everybody’s Wrong (Or Lying)…”

Ethics Alarms is about ethics, not politics, but politics, especially in recent years, has increasingly been about the defining and flagging of unethical conduct. Typically elections have been an area in which both parties revel in accusing each other of dishonest and unethical conduct that they also engage in when it suits their needs; we recently saw, for example, the report on Democrats using “dark money” in the 2020 election cycle after condemning Republicans for their lack of transparency regarding campaign contributions, and either party climbing up on a metaphorical high horse over gerrymandering is laughable.

The accusations over the 2020 Presidential election are materially different, in part because 95% of the news media has taken a side the constitutes aggressive partisan activism: the claim that suspicions about the fairness and legitimacy of the vote count—in the absence of many safeguards that previous elections had made standard practice—were “disproven” and “groundless.” The use of ballot drop boxes, for example, raise the immediate specter of voter fraud, and one that is difficult to dispel. Did the actual voter drop off the ballot? Did that voter mark the ballot with his or her name on it? How secure is the box against tampering? The existence of such dubious devices in any close election guarantees public distrust, and should. Yet the news media is pushing the left’s false narrative that laws that ban drop-off boxes are “voter suppression.”

Here is Null Pointer on the matter, in the Comment of the Day on the post, “On ‘Decertification,’ Everybody’s Wrong (Or Lying)…”

One tip before you read: what is being described regarding elections is the condition Ethics Alarms dubs “Bizarro World Ethics.”

***

Let’s just look a some truths about the 2020 election and see if we cannot deduce what might be going on.

Truth #1: The Democrats got up to shenanigans in the 2020 election, and if the exact nature of those shenanigans were laid out to the people, the people would probably nearly unanimously agree the shenanigans amounted to cheating. The people would not unanimously ADMIT it was cheating, but they would know. The Democrats do not want the people on the left to know that they engaged in behavior that essentially amounts to cheating.

Truth #2: The election is not going to be undone. It was never going to be undone. Everyone who isn’t a complete moron knows it cannot be undone. Everyone who knows it cannot be undone is not going to admit that they know it cannot be undone, however, because a lot of people hate the Democrats and like to piss the Democrats off. Polling is useless.

Truth #3: The Democrats cheat. The Democrats have always cheated, at least at the regional level. Everyone on the right knows the Democrats cheat. Everyone on the left thinks a majority of people agree with them about everything, rendering cheating unnecessary. The people on the left would be shocked to find out that a huge percentage of the population does not agree with them.

Truth #4: The Republicans let the Democrats cheat. The Republicans have always let the Democrats cheat because political calculations produced an equation that said it was more politically expedient to let the Democrats cheat than to call them on it. The Democrats have escalated their cheating over time because they can. The Democrats accuse everyone else of cheating to keep the political calculations in their favor by confusing their base. Continue reading

The Russian Figure Skater And The Beijing Olympics’ Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Ethics Call

I suppose it should not be a surprise that these most unethical of all Olympiads (since the Olympics should never have been held in this totalitarian, ethics-free nation to begin with) would feature the most unethical decision imaginable. If I cared one whit about the disgusting charade in China and who wins what, I might really be upset. As it is, I’m just going to point out, dispassionate, the ethics rot on display.

Fifteen-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva  tested positive for trimetazidine, a banned substance that improves athletic performance, in the  urine sample that Valieva submitted at the Russian national championship on Christmas. The drug, known as TMZ, is a heart medication that can increase endurance. But the result was not confirmed and relayed to Russian officials or to her for more than six weeks. Russia’s antidoping agency said it learned of the failed test on February 7. On that day, the teen led the Russians to a gold medal in the team event.

Let’s stop right there. She tested positive for a banned substance, and that should have stopped her from competing in the Olympics. It doesn’t matter why the test results were delayed (the Russians cheat, and have always cheated). It doesn’t matter whose fault it was. Valieva was ineligible, and whenever it was discovered that she was ineligible, the only fair and ethical response was to disqualify her. This also meant that her team would be disqualified, because a disqualified skater helped it win the team event.

Ethics can be hard, but this conclusion isn’t hard. It is obvious and irrefutable. Because she shouldn’t have been competing at all, and would not have been had either someone in Russia not cheated or was incredibly incompetent, the skater had no right to be skating, and any athlete or athlete who would have won had she not been illicitly permitted in the Games has been treated unfairly, robbed, cheated, pick your term.

That ought to have been the immediate decision. Instead, Olympic “arbitrators” (Arbitrators are supposed to have impeccable ethics alarms, and not the ethical instincts of Hillary Clinton. Who are these fools?) ruled that Valieva not only wouldn’t be disqualified but could continue competing, but that any medals in any event in which she places the top three will not be awarded. The question of who wins what medal, and whether Valieva wins any, will wait until after her doping case is definitively settled, which may take months. 

Ethics Dunces. Irredeemable cowards. Morons. Continue reading

Baseball Hall Of Fame Ethics: This 2016 Post Just Became Ripe And Moot At The Same Time

The sportswriters who decide who is admitted to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voted in David Ortiz yesterday. The Red Sox and Boston icon (Carl Yastrzemski once said that while Ted Williams was the greatest Boston baseball player, Ortiz was the most important, and he was right) sailed into the Hall in his first year of eligibility, an honor few players have ever been accorded.

It was no surprise. In addition to having unquestionable statistical qualifications, “Big Papi” is also personally popular. That matters, a lot; the writers this year rejected Boston pitching ace Curt Schilling who also has impeccable Hall qualifications, because they don’t like him. Schilling is opinionated, combative, religious, and worst of all, politically conservative. Can’t have that. On the plus side, the writers also rejected steroid cheats Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, as well as almost certain steroid cheats Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield.

In 2016, anticipating and dreading yesterday’s news, I wrote a post titled, “The Wrenching Problem Of David Ortiz, The Human Slippery Slope.”

Here it is again.

Ethics conflicts force us to choose when multiple ethical principles and values point to diametrically opposed resolutions.  Often, a solution can be found where the unethical aspects of the resolution can be mitigated, but not this one. It is a tale of an ethics conflict without a satisfactory resolution.

I didn’t want to write this post. I considered waiting five years to write it, when the issue will be unavoidable and a decision mandatory. Today, however, is the day on which all of Boston, New England, and most of baseball will be honoring Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who will be playing his finale regular season game after a 20 years career.  His 2016 season is quite possibly the best year any professional baseball player has had as his final one; it is definitely the best season any batter has had at the age of 40 or more. Ortiz is an icon and a hero in Boston, for good reason. Ortiz was instrumental in breaking his team’s infamous 86-year long “curse” that saw it come close to winning the World Series again and again, only to fail in various dramatic or humiliating ways. He was a leader and an offensive centerpiece of three World Champion teams in 2004, 2007, and 2013. Most notably, his record as a clutch hitter, both in the regular season and the post season is unmatched. You can bring yourself up to speed on Ortiz’s career and his importance to the Red Sox, which means his importance to the city and its culture, for nowhere in America takes baseball as seriously as Beantown, here.

That’s only half the story for Ortiz. Much of his impact on the team, the town and the game has come from his remarkable personality, a unique mixture of intensity, charm, intelligence, generosity, pride and charisma. After the 2013 terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon, which shook the city as much as any event since the Boston Massacre, Ortiz made himself the symbol of Boston’s anger and defiance with an emotional speech at Fenway Park. Then he put an exclamation point on his defiance by leading the Red Sox, a last place team the year before, to another World Series title. Continue reading

Tuesday That Feels Like Monday Ethics Clarifications, 7/6/2021

clarifications

1. What a surprise! Cheating works! Since Major League Baseball decided to enforce its 100 year old rule against doctoring the baseball as pitchers had recently begun using glue to let them throw faster and snap off devastating curve balls, the results have been obvious and significant. In a month since umpires were directed to check, the MLB batting average has gone up by seven points (it was at a record low before the enforcement). Scoring has increased, and several pitchers rumored to be dependent of “the sticky stuff,” notably Yankee All-Star Gerrit Cole, have been hit hard in recent starts. This is because, of the 35 pitchers with the highest four-seam spin rate on June 3, 33 of them saw a decline in spin rate since then by an average drop of 96 RPMs. Consequently, batters aren’t striking out as often.

2. Please clarify: Should I apply the Julie Principle to Maxine Waters? We know she’s an idiot, ignorant, partisan to the point of poisoning democracy and a race-baiting, hateful blight on Congress, her party, the nation and homo sapiens generally. Is there anything accomplished by complaining about Waters acting like Waters, since she’s obviously not going to change? [You can refresh your understanding of the Julie Principle here.] Water was in fine, typical form over the Independence day weekend, blathering as only a fool like her could,

“July 4th … & so, the Declaration of Independence says all men are created equal,” Waters began. “Equal to what? What men? Only white men? Isn’t it something that they wrote this in 1776 when African Americans were enslaved? They weren’t thinking about us then, but we’re thinking about us now!”

Of course, we know that “they” were thinking about black slaves a great deal, as anyone who reads about the debate over the Declaration in the Continental Congress knows. But why should a senior Congresswoman know anything about the founding of the nation? Maxine continued,

“Further, the Dec. of Ind. says we hold these truths to be “self-evident” yet:

– 17 states have enacted voter suppression laws

– Supreme Court gutted Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act

– George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice

Need I say more? #July4”

No, actually, Maxine, you didn’t even need to say that: we already knew you were a blathering, hateful dummy. But just to clarify:

  • Laws that are intended to ensure the integrity of elections are not “voter suppression laws”
  • The Supreme Court confirmed that the Federal Government should not meddle in state matters except for demonstrable evidence of racial bias, and since the standards in Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act were based on the conduct of Southern states through 1964 only (that’s 57 years ago) and thus did not reflect any reforms, changes or improvement, making the law out of date, SCOTUS quite correctly demanded new data and Congressional update. Get to work.
  • There is literally zero evidence that George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, or Tamir Rice met their unfortunate fates because of racial bias.

Or is it silly even to pay attention to Waters’ incurable bile?

Continue reading

Baseball Has A Cheating Problem That Is Old, Was Supposedly Addressed Decades Ago, And Is Strangling The Game. It Is Relevant To More Than Baseball (Part 3: The Crackdown)

Before the 2021 season started, Major League Baseball claimed that it was about to start enforcing the rule against applying foreign substances to the baseball. Why. one might wonder. As Part I described, baseball has been casual about this rule for a long time, and the pattern goes back even longer than when Ethics Alarms first discussed it. In 1920, the game, trying to clean up its tarnished image in the wake of 1919 Black Sox scandal, banned the spitball as well as other “trick pitches” that involved altering the ball itself a few pitchers who were regarded as “spitball specialists” were “grandfathered” meaning that they were allowed to keep throwing the otherwise illegal pitch while others were not. This is not the way to make a rule against cheating, and the ambivalence about the spitball continued well into the 1980s. Baseball, and especially sportswriters, seemed to think this particular kind of cheating was cute. Only a few pitchers could throw a spitball, and those who did, notably Gaylord Perry, now in the Hall of Fame, were only occasionally caught and punished. Baseball finally made a rule that a pitcher couldn’t bring his fingers to his mouth; if he did, an automatic ball was called. Meanwhile, umpire searches of a suspected pitcher using other substances like K-Y jelly, usually hidden in a cap, became the stuff of comedy, as in the famous sequence from “The Naked Gun” above.

MLB became lax about enforcement, and predictably, some pitchers, and eventually most pitchers, took what was accepted as a “little” pine tar to get a better grip on the ball and, aided by modern chemistry, began using so-called “sticky stuff” to get higher rates of spin on the ball than they could with their natural talents. This development accelerated after 2018, when home runs became more common than ever before. When the rate of homers reached absurd levels in 2019, breaking the rules against putting foreign substances on the ball was viewed as a matter of professional survival. Pitchers experimented, trying Tyrus Sticky Grip, Firm Grip spray, Pelican Grip Dip stick and Spider Tack, a glue intended for use in World’s Strongest Man competitions and whose advertisements show someone using it to lift a cinder block with his palm. Some combined several of those products to create their own personal “sticky stuff.” Their clubs used Edgertronic high-speed cameras and TrackMan and Rapsodo pitch-tracking devices to see which version of the glue worked best.

Continue reading

Baseball Has A Cheating Problem …It Is Relevant To More Than Baseball (Part 2): Unethical Quote Of The Week: Boston Red Sox Manager Alex Cora

Cora

“I come from suspension and I know how embarrassing that is and how tough that is, not only on you as a person but your family, your friends and the people that love you. Ten games, a year, two years, three years, it doesn’t matter. Being suspended is hell and you don’t want to go through that. I was very open to them and hopefully they understand that.”

—Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora on Major League Baseball’s threat of 10 game suspensions for pitchers  caught cheating by using sticky substances on baseballs , a practice that has been against the rules  for a hundred years.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote that Alex Cora, then serving a one year suspension from Major League baseball, didn’t “get it,” it being why cheating is wrong, what ethics is, and why it is important to act ethically in all aspects of life. He still doesn’t get it. Cora (you can catch up here) was suspended because he engineered and oversaw a  season long sign-stealing scheme as bench coach in 2017 for the Houston Astros, who used it to inflate their offense and ultimately win the World Series. When it was finally discovered, Cora was the acclaimed manager of the Boston Red Sox, who succeeded the Astros as World Champions in 2018. The Red Sox had been cheating in their triumphant season too, though not as extensively, and  an investigation blamed it all on a low-level coach., not Cora, though Cora was his supervisor, and the whole thing seemed oddly reminiscent of Cora’s cheating in Houston. Continue reading

Baseball Has A Cheating Problem That Is Old, Was Supposedly Addressed Decades Ago, And Is Strangling The Game. It Is Relevant To More Than Baseball (Part 1: Introduction)

Baseball sticky

Since about four other readers pay any attention to my baseball ethics posts, let me say right up front why this a mistake. Baseball’s current pitchers using foreign substances on the ball problem is, ethically, exactly the same as our nation’s election cheating scandal, or the illegal immigration crisis. It arises from the same dead-headed rationalizations, intellectual laziness, and self-serving deception. We can and should learn from it. But we won’t.

If you want to ignore the latest baseball ethics scandal as a niche problem unrelated to greater ethics principles, be my guest. You will be missing an important and still developing lesson.

Baseball’s hitting is way down this year, and pitching is more dominant than it has been since the mid-1960s. There is a reason: almost every pitcher is using some kind of sticky substance on the ball. This increases “spin rate,” which before computers and other technology was impossible to see, much less measure. The faster a pitcher can make a ball spin, the more it moves, curves and dives at higher speeds. Sticky substances allow a pitcher to do that. Using them is against the rules; it’s cheating. But for years now, the same kind of ethics-addled fools who allowed Barry Bonds and other cheats to use illegal steroids and wreck the game’s home run records as long as they lied about it have let pitchers illegally doctor the ball.

This week, the whole, completely avoidable ethics train wreck became an engine of destruction for the National Pastime.

Unfortunately, one has to understand the context to comprehend what is going on now, and that means looking backwards, in this case, to 2014. Here, with some edits, are two Ethics Alarms essays that provide the context. The first was titled “The Abysmal Quality of Ethical Reasoning in Baseball: A Depressing Case Study.” The second, Pineda-Pine Tar, Part II: Baseball Clarifies Its Bizarro Ethics Culture, appeared 13 days later. Yes, what is happening now was foretold by conditions that were evident seven years ago. The remaining parts of this series will bring you, and the train wreck, up to date.

***

What happened was this: During last night’s Red Sox-Yankee game in Yankee Stadium, the Boston broadcasting team of Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy noticed a glossy brown substance on New York starting pitcher Michael Pineda’s pitching hand. It was very obvious, especially once the NESN cameras started zooming in on it.   “There’s that substance, that absolutely looks like pine tar,” play-by-play man Don Orsillo said. “Yeah, that’s not legal,” color commentator and former player Jerry Remy replied.

Indeed it isn’t.  According to rule 8.02(a)(2), (4) and (5), the pitcher shall not expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove; apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball; [or]  deface the ball in any manner.

The Red Sox, who probably knew about the gunk on Pineda’s hand, didn’t complain to the umpires, and just went about their merry way, losing the game. Asked about the stuff on his hand, Pineda demonstrated the full range of body language indicating that he was lying his head off. “It was dirt,’ he said. Later, when the ick appeared to be gone,  Pineda explained, he had just sweated his hand clean. Right. Whatever was on his hand—beef gravy, crankcase oil, chocolate syrup…the majority of pundits think pine tar—it wasn’t “dirt.” Pineda’s manager, Joe Girardi, was brazenly evasive.

The Yankee pitcher was cheating. This isn’t a major scandal, but cheating is cheating: sports shouldn’t allow cheating of any kind, because if a sport allows some cheating, however minor, it will encourage cynical, unscrupulous and unethical individuals on the field, in the stands, and behind keyboard to excuse all other forms of cheating, from corked bats to performance enhancing drugs. Cheating is wrong. Cheating unfairly warps the results of games, and rewards dishonesty rather than skill. Cheating undermines the enjoyment of any game among serious fans who devote energy and passion to it. Any cheating is a form of rigging, a variety of lying.

And yet, this clear instance of cheating, caught on video, primarily sparked the sports commentariat, including most fans, to cite one rationalization and logical fallacy after another to justify doing nothing, and not just doing nothing, but accepting the form of cheating as “part of the game.” I’ve been reading columns and listening to the MLB channel on Sirius-XM and watch the MLB channel on Direct TV since this episode occurred. Here are the reactions:

Continue reading

Saturday Afternoon Ethics Picnic, 6/5/2020

Giant ants

And what’s a picnic without ants?

June 5, the day before D-Day, is another date chock full of ethics history. It doesn’t count, but Ronald Reagan died on this date in 2004: I was just thinking that the Great Stupid would have killed him. In Presidential history, this was the day, in 1888, President Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill that would have given a pension to war widow Johanna Loewinger, whose Civil War vet husband died 14 years after being discharged from the army. He was discharged a little less than a year after enlisting for what the army surgeon’s certificate called chronic diarrhea. Loewinger received his pension until he cut his throat in 1876. When Johanna applied for a widow’s pension it was denied; his suicide was not considered to be caused by his military service. Johanna argued that the death was part of the insanity triggered by his war service, and appealed to a member of Congress to petition Cleveland with a bill. But the President declared all previous inquests into the former soldier’s unfortunate death to be satisfactory. Mrs. Loewinger got no pension.

I always thought this was gutsy of Cleveland (or something), since he had paid someone to serve in the Union army for him after he was drafted. But there were bigger ethics landmarks on June 5:

Continue reading

The Bureau of Land Management’s Ethics Wild Horse Wreck

Wild horses

By purest coincidence, Tucker Carlson had a segment on Fox New last night about the federal government’s wild horse fiasco (I didn’t see it), a topic I’ve had on the Ethics Alarms issue runway for the better part of a month.

The Bureau of Land Management is charged with the care of the nation’s wild horses and burros. These once numbered in the millions in North America, but after the Western settlement and the diminishing of the open range after the 19 century, the beasts were widely hunted and turned into fertilizer and dog food. By 1971, when they were finally given protection by law, there were fewer than 20,000 left. But freed from predators (like man) wild horse herds increase by about 20% a year. The herds started growing faster than the government had planned or budgeted for.

About 3,500 mustangs and burros a year are rounded up and resettled into a network of government storage pastures and corrals known the holding system. The 51,000 animals in the system cost taxpayers $60 million a year, leaving little in the budget to protect the rest of the wild mustangs running free. Legislators and regulators are afraid of the wrath of PETA and voters who would he horrified at the government killing these symbols of the old West and wild America, so the country is stuck. What to do?

Well, some genius came up with the Adoption Incentive Program in 2019, which was supposed to move wild mustangs and burros out of government corrals into what dog rescue groups call “forever homes.” Horse-lovers were paid a cool $1,000 for each equine friend they adopted, a good deal for Uncle Sam, who has to pay an average of $24,000 during the lifetime of each wild horse. Thousands of alleged wild horse enthusiasts signed up to get their horses and checks. The number of horses leaving the holding system more than doubled. The Bureau of Land Management pronounced it “a win for all involved” that was helping “animals find homes with families who will care for and enjoy them for years to come.”

OK, now, you’re smart. What is the obvious flaw in this plan? Come on. Fredo Corleone could figure it out with a little effort.

Continue reading