Baseball May Be Missing, But Baseball Ethics Marches On; The MLB Verdict On The Boston Red Sox Sign Stealing Allegations

If you are just joining us, the Houston Astros (if you don’t know that’s a baseball team, then none of this will make sense to you, and neither does the United States in all likelihood) were slammed by Major League Baseball after it was determined that the team, primarily through the efforts of then-coach Alex Cora and veteran player Carlos Beltran, systematically utilized cameras at home games to steal catchers’ signs to opposing pitchers and relay them to Astros batters during their at-bats. This, the investigation found, continued through the 2017 season, post-season and World Series, which the Astros won. (Ethics Alarms covered the cheating scandal from many aspects, here.) The punishment meted out to the Astros was substantial, though not as severe as some, including me, would have liked. I think the team should have been stripped of their 2017 World Championship.

Shortly after the Astros scandal was first revealed by the baseball news media, the next year’s World Champions, the Boston Red Sox, were accused of another sign stealing scheme during 2018, one that involved using the team’s video replay equipment, which is near the dugout during games, to study the opposing team’s signs and relay them to batters. This seemed especially ominous since the bench coach  who had been identified as the mastermind behind the Astros scheme in 2017 was the manager of the Red Sox in 2018, and had led them to a record-setting World Series run.

MLB interviewed Red Sox players and management in a mysteriously long investigation, and only yesterday revealed the results and the sanctions. Boston’s video replay system operator J.T. Watkins was suspended without pay for one year, and banned from holding that same position with any team. Boston was stripped of the  its second-round draft pick in the2020  amateur.  Alex Cora, who was fired by the Red Sox in January after the revelations from the Astros investigation,  was suspended for this year, but only for his Astros conduct in 2017. The investigation exonerated him of any role in the Sox matter, which MLB found to be confined to Watkins acting on his own intermittently, and a few players. Continue reading

It’s Time Again For The Ethics Alarms Mailbag! The Question: Wait, What? Your Vote In 2016 Was A Write In?

Here I was, all set to write a substantial post  updating the newly launched Coronavirus Ethics Train  Wreck, and I encountered this question in the comments to today’s Warm-up, in reaction to my reply to another commenter:

“Wait…at the time you were lecturing all the commentariat about how it was unethical to “throw away your vote” by not voting for one of the two major political party candidates? When did you change your mind on that a do a write-in?”

The questioner was Tim Levier, one of five active Ethics Alarms regular commenters who date back to the old, still off-line (but coming back!) Ethics Scoreboard, so attention had to be paid. If he could have missed my late campaign reversal of the position he described–I would describe my stated logic a bit differently, as “the lesser of two evils is still the lesser of two evils—then that critical moment could have been missed by anyone, or even everyone.

Thus I went back into the October and November 2016 archives, which was fascinating.:

  • As always when I do this, I start wondering what became of some previously active commenters. Whither THE Bill? Where have you gone, wyogranny, T Bird, carcarwhite, joed68?

I know I take this too personally, but it still bothers me.

  • You know, this is damn good blog: thorough, extensive, unpredictable, well-written, diverse, funny, educational. I like it! The only one that comes close to being as interesting without descending into periodic eccentric weirdness or ideological rigidity was the old Popehat, and that’s gone now.  I worked hard on it that year, and have ever since. It should have a lot more traffic and influence than it does, but that’s a reflection on the inadequacies and bad taste of those who don’t come here. I’m proud of the product.

There. I said it.

  • The first time I expressed doubt in my position that I would have to hold back my gorge, defy my principles, and vote for Hillary Clinton was earlier than I thought. It was here, on September 25, 2016. The subject of the post was Clinton’s campaign manager, Robbie Mook, saying that  debate moderators should run interference for her and intervene to contradict and rebut Trump’s assertions, “unlike every other Presidential debate and every legitimate and fair debate of any kind, where that responsibility rests with the debaters.”

I responded to his  Unethical Quote Of The Month by writing, in part, Continue reading

No, It’s Not “Cheating” Or Unfair For The DNC To Keep Tulsi Gabbard Out Of Upcoming Debates.

The conservative media is trolling the Democrats over their likely exclusion of Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard from the upcoming Democratic candidates debates. They say that since Gabbard won a single delegate in the primary election in American Samoa (for heaven’s sake), this should get her an invitation to the next televised debate under the rules set out by the DNC. (I haven’t checked the rules, so I’m assuming they are being accurately represented. Since I don’t believe it matters what the rules say, I’m not going to take the time to check.)

DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa squished Tulsi’s hopes with this tweet:

Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Girl Scout Cookie Cheats?

Just yesterday I bought my yearly two boxes of Thin Mints from some incredibly adorable little girls selling the Girl Scout cookies from a card table outside my local CVS. I had planned on buying them from a Girl Scout I have never met, though the agency of her mother, who sold them to me last year. But she never got in touch with me—I think she’s another one who is steamed at me for some post here (over at Windypundit, it’s slam Jack Marshall day by another former commenter) —so the adorable little girls got my 20 bucks this year.

Today I encounter an interesting opinion piece that holds that mothers like my friend are “cheaters.” JM Finster writes:

As with any fund-drive, the idea is to support the cause, but with the cookies, uniquely, customers buy them to give “the awesome girls who sell them,” in the words of the Girl Scouts, “the opportunity to learn essential life skills, soar in confidence, and quickly discover the leader within.” Research has shown that none of that happens when parents sell the cookies at work..So it is that the cookies land on a desk in a skyscraper without a Girl Scout in sight.

The cookie drive should be better than that. Selling is crucial to every endeavor, in that it requires the ability to make a convincing presentation, to answer questions, and to project self-assurance. Everyone needs to do that, in one form or another, but that last attribute, in particular, is sometimes lacking in the best of us, especially shy young ladies.

Since Girl Scout troops keep track of sales by individuals, even offering prizes for the best results, parent-cheaters can hardly resist the chance to prove their own sales skills and boost their girl to the top of the ranking. …If a Scout comes over to the house for a sales call, a parent will undoubtedly come along as an escort. That’s all right, except that the parent will do all the talking, no matter how hard one tries to give the awesome girl standing off to the side the opportunity to learn essential life skills, soar in confidence, and quickly discover the leader within. With the adult recording the sale and later delivering the cookies, their daughter the Girl Scout—all in one stroke!—wins a prize for outstanding sales and loses the chance to learn something about sales…For the sake of the runny-nosed little girl, who keeps poor sales records, lets her boxes get crushed in the back of the car, and exhibits more enthusiasm than smooth-talk, kindly sidestep the parent-cheaters and let her learn. In fact, make her learn and insist she does the talking. 

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz to kick off March:

Are parents who help Girl Scouts sell more cookies cheating?

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/21/2020: Our Cheating Hearts

I can’t sleep.

While I’m thinking about Hank, I recommend Ken Burns’ latest documentary, “Country Music,” and I’m not exactly a country music buff (though my father’s favorite song was “The Wabash Cannonball” . Burns has always had a fondness for ethics stories, and his latest work is full of them.

How did I not know that Williams died before he turned 30? Based on his amazing output of classic songs, I assumed he must have lived to be 90. He’s the Buddy Holly of Country, or perhaps the Mozart.

1. Before we get to the real cheating, stop making me defend Mike Bloomberg! From Yahoo, in a post headlined, Bloomberg Shares Doctored Debate Video To Hide Dismal Performance” by David Moye, who needs a head transplant:

  “On Thursday morning, the billionaire businessman released a deceptively edited video that falsely suggested he rendered the other candidates speechless at one point….The video begins at the moment when the former New York City mayor declared: “I’m the only one here I think that’s ever started a business.” During the actual exchange, his comment was greeted with about four seconds of silence, but the video below falsely implied it was more like 20….whoever edited Bloomberg’s video tweet took moments from other parts of the debate to make it look as if his declaration was so powerful candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former Vice President Joe Biden had no response.”

Garbage! The critics are doing the exact same thing they did to President Trump’s video that kept showing video of Nancy Pelosi ripping up his State of the Union speech interspersed with the President’s admirable guests, like the 100-year-old Tuskeegee Airman. Anyone who couldn’t tell that the video was edited to make a point rather than to deceive is too dumb to vote. Similarly, anyone who believes that a Democratic candidates debate stage would ever stay silent for 20 seconds doesn’t know what a debate is, and has been watching cartoons all his life. A satirically edited video isn’t deceptive just because some viewers are dumber than boxes of kitty litter. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/17/2020: The Presidents Day Edition

Good morning, guys!

Thank-you for your service!

In honor of our Presidents, Ethics Alarms is  posting some of the best and most important Presidential speeches during the day. We’ll see how many I get up; there are a lot of excellent ones to choose from.

In all of these cases, whichever I post, a President was acting in one of the non-partisan functions of the office, when the President’s job is to represent all of our nation’s citizens. It is a disturbing fact that the current President has been virtually blocked from discharging these duties, as part off the long, relentless effort by the A.U.C.—the Axis Of Unethical Conduct: Democrats, the “resistance,” and the mainstream media—to deny his Presidency’s legitimacy and to reduce his support among the public to the point where it becomes politically feasible to remove him without an election.

The nation needs those non-partisan Presidential moments, because they symbolize unity and strengthen, rather than weaken, our bonds: throwing out the first pitch of the baseball season, attending the funerals of distinguished Americans, hosting the Kennedy Center Honors. It is not this President’s fault that he had been prevented from doing his job.

1. Why look! Here’s another example! Yesterday President Trump, having been invited to serve as grand marshal for the Daytona 500, uttered the traditional “Gentlemen, start your engines!” and boarded  his official limousine, nicknamed “The Beast”, and, with a U.S. and Presidential flag on the front fenders flapping in the wind, headed out onto the track, pacing the full field of cars.

The Horror. Tweeted Maggie Halberman, the usual co-author of New York Times front page features—inevitably negative– on the Trump administration,

Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias! Obama and Bush throwing out the baseball season’s ceremonial first pitches, Obama using his limo for a Jerry Seinfeld comedy bit, and prominently attending an NCAA basketball tournament game–all good! President Trump serving as grand marshal at a NASCAR event? Unacceptably political.

This is smoking gun bias from the journalist the Times uses to inform its readers about what this President does.

2. Now Trump’s stupid tweets, however, are another matter entirely.  Politico reports on what District Judge Reggie Walton, a Reagan appointee,  had  to say about President Trump’s gratuitous social media commentary on the McCabe investigation: Continue reading

The Astros Sign-Stealing Scandal, Continued And Continuing

Rather than abating, the fallout from the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal is getting more intense.

On Valentine’s Day, Los Angeles Dodger star Cody Bellinger, the reigning National League MVP, told reporters , “I thought [Baseball Commissioner Rob] Manfred’s punishment was weak, giving [the Astros players}  immunity. I mean these guys were cheating for three years. I think what people don’t realize is [Astros second baseman José ] Altuve stole an MVP from [Yankee rightfielder Aaron] Judge in ’17. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.”

The Astros defeated the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series, stealing their signs while doing so, according to MLB’s investigation.

Astros star shortstop Carlos Correa returned fire: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/13/2020: I’m So Sorry I Missed Your Birthday, Mr. Lincoln.

I am awash with shame.

Yesterday was Abe Lincoln’s birthday, and I didn’t remember until late last night. This is the inevitable result of Presidents Day, the lazy combination of Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays into one floating holiday that lumps all our Presidents together as if they were equally laudable. (They are all laudable, but not equally.) Thus Franklin Pierce gets as much love from our calendar as Abe and George, which is ridiculous. ( President Pierce’s birthday I remember, because it’s the same date as my wedding anniversary, November 23.) In the old days before the blight of Presidents Day, school children would spend both February 12 and 22  learning about and doing projects related Lincoln or Washington. Without either of these great leaders, we probably don’t have a nation today, or if we do, it would be a vastly diminished one. Our first and Sixteenth Presidents tower over the rest in leadership ability, vision, and impact on our history and culture. Both deserve their own holiday, because every American should take at least a day out of every year to remember these two icons and honor their essential contributions, at great sacrifice, to the existence of the United States of America as well as the welfare of all of its citizens, past, present and future.

Today, most Americans couldn’t describe what Lincoln said at Gettysburg, and that’s not a recent phenomenon. In the classic movie “Ruggles of Red Gap,” a barroom full of Americans in a Western frontier town are unable to recall Lincoln’s message, but the very British butler, recently immigrated, can. Charles Laughton, who played the butler, continued to deliver Lincoln’s masterpiece throughout his career after that scene became the highlight of the movie. You can watch it here—I’d embed it, but there is no YouTube version.

1. Self promotion dept. I’ll be participating in a live podcast later today, discussing the ethical implications of nepotism. Details to come.

2. Still more developments in the Houston Astros cheating scandal. Earlier this morning I watched a live press conference from the Astros Spring Training camp about the sign stealing scheme. From a public relations standpoint, the spectacle made the Astros problems worse.

Stars  Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve spoke for a grand total of 90 seconds, sounding for all the world  like American prisoners of war in North Korea. Owner Jim Crane did most of the talking, which was unfortunate for the Astros and baseball. He  took no responsibility at all for what went on in 2017, though he was at the top of the organization chart: this is called the “Ken Lay excuse.” Worse, Crane repeatedly refused to acknowledge that using a secret camera to relay to the Astros dugout the opposing catchers’ signs telling pitchers what to throw, which were then relayed to  Astros batters by players banging on trash cans, constituted cheating. All Crane would say was “We broke the rules. We can argue about what you want to call it.”

Worse still, Crane said that it was impossible to say whether the team’s full year of sign stealing, including the playoffs and the World Series (which the Astros won), gave his team a competitive advantage. “Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t” he said. “Our opinion is this didn’t impact the game. We had a good team. We won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.”

In later interviews with the players after the press conference, it sounded like everyone had been prepped to keep saying “2017” over and over, because there are lingering suspicions that the Astros scam extended into 2018 and 2019. As commentator Matt Vasgersian mused afterward on the MLB cable channel, if the Astros had won a championship cheating all the way through 2017 and hadn’t been caught, why would they suddenly stop the next season? Continue reading

Was Mike Fiers Right To Blow The Whistle On The Astros’ Sign-Stealing Scheme? Pedro Martinez Has A Nuanced Ethics Answer

Martinez (L) and Fiers (R)

Last week I posted about ESPN baseball color commentator Jessica Mendoza earning her Ethics Dunce stripes for essentially calling Mike Fiers, the Oakland A’s pitcher who revealed to reporters that his former team, the 2017 Astros, had cheated their way to a  World Series title, a snitch. She said in part,

“When I first heard about it, it hits you like any teammate would. It’s something that you don’t do. I totally get telling your future teammates, helping them win, letting people know. But to go public with it and call them out and start all of this, it’s hard to swallow.”

Now Hall of Fame great Pedro Martinez , intrepid as ever, has weighed in with a verdict on Fiers that counters the accepted narrative that Fiers is a role model. Pedro also faults Fiers, but not for the reason Mendoza does. Pedro Martinez, fascinatingly enough, evaluates the problem by regarding a baseball team member as having similar relationship to his team mates as a lawyer does to a client.

That is not as much of a stretch as it might seem at first glance. Professions like that of lawyers is based on trust, and so is the relationship between team mates in sports (as well as partners in police cars, members of  military units, a manager and a personal assistant, and other close working relationships). The analogy is useful and apt.

Pedro opined (in an interview with radio WEEI in Boston, which broadcasts Red Sox games):

“If he was to do it when he was playing for the Houston Astros I would say Mike Fiers has guts. But to go and do it after you leave the Houston Astros because they don’t have you anymore, that doesn’t show me anything…You’re just a bad teammate. …

Now everybody knows you are going to have a whistle-blower in any other situation too [if Fiers is on your team.]. Whatever happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse and Fiers broke the rules. I agree with cleaning up the game. I agree that the fact that the Commissioner is taking a hard hand on this….

BUT!

“If you have integrity you find ways to tell everybody in the clubhouse, ‘Hey, we might get in trouble for this. I don’t want to be part of this.’ You call your GM. You tell him. Or you call anybody you can or MLB or someone and say, ‘I don’t want to be part of this.’ Or you tell the team, ‘Get me out of here, I don’t want to be part of this.’ Then you show me something. But if you leave Houston and most likely you didn’t agree with Houston when you left and then you go and drop the entire team under the bus I don’t trust you. I won’t trust you because did have that rule.”

Continue reading

Lunchtime Ethics Snack, 1/17/2020: Dirty Money, Dirty Baseball, And “Parasite”

Yum or Yecchh?

1. And the baseball cheating scandal is still roiling! I feel sorry for ethics enthusiasts who are missing out on this fascinating episode because they shut down when baseball is mentioned. One emerging issue that focuses on “woke” (and in some quadrants, sadly, female) leadership models has become evident. The two managers fired in the sign-stealing scandal were part of the “new wave” of “collaborative” baseball managers that teams embraced in recent years. They are sensitive to the players’ needs; they don’t give orders as much as set flexible boundaries; they are not confrontational, and they absorb and guide the culture of the clubhouse rather than dictate it. Then we learn, in MLB’s report on its investigation, that when Houston’s A.J. Hinch discovered (in 2017) that his bench coach and his players were operating an elaborate sign-stealing operation that he knew violated the rules , he made it known that he disapproved, but never ordered them to stop. Now baseball commentators are saying that the Astros need to hire an “old school” manager (like the ones who have been put out to pasture over the last five years) who will be leader, who will lay down the law, and who won’t shy away from confrontation for fear of not being “collaborative.”

Duh. How did anyone come to think effective leaders should do otherwise? Leaders need to lead. Leading doesn’t have to be autocratic, but a leader who acts like Hinch did in this matter is no leader at all.

In another revelation regarding the scandal, the report by Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred states that when Manfred put teams on notice in a Sept. 15, 2017 memo that using electronic means to steal and relay opposing teams’ signs during games would henceforth be  severely punished, Houston General Manager Jeff Luhnow “did not forward the memoranda and did not confirm that the players and field staff were in compliance … Had Luhnow taken those steps in September 2017 it is clear to me that the Astros would have ceased both sign-stealing schemes at the time.”

This is gross managerial negligence, and it puts Lahlow’s self-serving statement that he had no involvement in his team’s cheating in perspective. Continue reading