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?

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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The Latest Kentucky Derby Doping Scandal Should End Horse Racing…Let’s Hope It Does

Derby cheat

Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a postrace drug test, and if the results stand, his victory will be nullified. The horse’s Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert revealed the test results yesterday. The three-year-old colt tested positive for elevated levels of betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid and sometimes used to relieve joint pain in horses. Medina Spirit’s post-race test revealed 21 picograms per milliliter, which is more than double the allowed limit in Kentucky racing.

If the original results are confirmed, Baffert will have a chance to appeal. Meanwhile, Churchill Downs suspended” Baffert “from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack.”

While the Derby’s winner is under suspicion, the second “jewel” in racing’s Triple Crown, The Preakness, takes place in five days. Medina Spirit will run, even as his legitimacy as Kentucky Derby is in doubt.

The Kentucky Derby is the only horse race most Americans know anything about or pay attention to: a cheating scandal in the Derby is racing’s equivalent of baseball’s 1919 fixed World Series. The difference is that baseball was on the ascendant in 1919, while horse racing today is is barely hanging on by its hooves. Moreover, drugging in horse racing has been epidemic for decades.

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Evening Ethics Cool-Down, 5/5/21: Toyota, Patents, And The Cheating Homecoming Queen

Frozen-Jack-Nicholson

I don’t want to over-use the “This Date In Ethics” concept, but attention must be paid: this was the day, in 1961,that Navy Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. boarded the Freedom 7 space capsule to becoming the first American astronaut to travel into space.

In these times where so many aspects of our culture are working to imbue Americans with fear of living, when people wear masks in their cars and teachers are willing to cripple both the economy and children’s education to minimize their risk of catching a virus, it should be remembered that a young, healthy man risked his life and the chance of a fiery death to advance America’s science and the spirit of exploration.

1. For some reason (Cognitive dissonance?) I haven’t been checking Althouse as often since she decided that her readers were hogging too much attention on her blog by insisting on posting comments. She still has an admirable talent for cutting through the BS. Reacting to today’s announcement that Facebook’s “quasi-indepedent” board upheld FaceBook’s partisan and anti-democratic ban on Donald Trump’s posts. Ann writes, “I’m not surprised. If the decision had gone the other way, Facebook could have found some new offense and banned him again.”

Not could have, though; would have.

2. How is this fair or equitable? Once again, Toyota is giving a special discount to “recent college graduates.” This is, of course, ham-handed pro-college virtue-signaling, but wouldn’t you guess that non-college grads of the same age need such discounts more? In the TV ad, we see a nice, upper-middle class white girl from childhood to college—it sure looks like her parents can afford a car…or she can afford a full-price cheaper car. Interestingly, this is one of the relatively few TV ads running now that dares to feature a white character who doesn’t at least mitigate her ingrained evil by being part of a mixed-race family.

Special deals on products and services for special categories of Americans—yes, even veterans—are divisive and incoherent.

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The Trevor Bauer Affair: “What’s Going On Here?” Unclear So Far, But It’s About Ethics

This developing ethics story comes out of baseball, and if you skip the baseball ethics stories, this one shows why that is a mistake. The erstwhile National Pastime is certainly off to a flying start this season in ethics controversies, what with the game’s bone-headed decision to get involved in race-baiting politics seeded by Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams. This new controversy has the advantage of actually being about the game on the field. It also has a marvelous jumble of factors , real and hinted: history, tradition, real rules, unwritten ruled, rationalizations, hypocrisy, persecution, tarnished heroes, and maybe revenge.

Here we go…

Trevor Bauer is a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers whose fame, reputation and salary ($34 million a year for three years) are out of proportion to his record, which stood at 75-64 as this season dawns. At 30, this is roughly the equivalent of the success achieved by such immortals as Chris Young, Ben McDonald, and Chuck Dobson, mediocrities all. But Bauer is 1) unusually articulate 2) a social media master, and 3) had his best two seasons, including winning a Cy Young Award in last year’s shortened, pseudo-season, just as he was nearing free agency. Many players and his primary team in his career, the Cleveland Indians, don’t like Bauer, and not just because opinionated players are never popular with management. He once knocked himself out a crucial post-season start by cutting a pitching hand finger playing with a drone (he loves drones). In 2019, after allowing seven runs, Bauer threw a baseball over the centerfield wall, after seeing his manager Terry Francona come out of the dugout to remove him from the game. Bauer apologized profusely, but it was the final straw, and the Indians traded him.

Bauer, among other opinions, has been among the most vocal critics (and one of the few player critics) of the Houston Astros in particular (see here), and cheating in baseball generally.

After the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, baseball cracked down on pitchers doctoring the ball with foreign substances or by marring the surface to make it do tricks. Nonetheless, that many pitchers continued to try to slip spit, or Vaseline, or slippery elm, or pine tar onto the ball has been assumed, indeed known, ever since. This year, as part of the game trying to cut down on strike-outs which have reached boring levels (baseball is more entertaining the more the ball is put in play), MLB announced that umpires would be checking the balls more carefully and regularly to ensure that the rule against doctoring the ball wasn’t being violated. Lo and Behold, the first pitcher to have his thrown baseballs collected for inspection based on suspicion of doctoring was…Trevor Bauer!

How ironic!

Part of the game’s new policy is examining Statcast spin-rate data to determine unusual upticks for individual pitchers. What does that mean? “Spin-rate,” which now van be measured via computer technology, determines how much a thrown ball moves in curves, sliders and other breaking balls, as well as fastballs. The quicker the spin-rate, the harder the ball is to hit. Bauer has tweeted and spoken about spin-rate, and how using stuff on the ball speeds it up. Coincidentally, while Bauer’s normal spin rate on his fastball was about 2,250 r.p.m. in 2018, which is the league average, his spin rate began rising by 300 r.p.m. is 2019, and rose still more last season. So did his effectiveness.

Funny.

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My Head Can’t Explode Any More Over Trump Derangement Stories—Like This One [CORRECTED]

Six professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School signed a letter demanding that Penn President Amy Gutmann investigate allegations that President Donald Trump fraudulently gained admission to the university 50 years ago.

“Failing to investigate an allegation of fraud at such a level broadcasts to prospective students and the world at large that the playing field is not equal,” wrote the professors in part.  The allegation? It was made by Trump-family feud exploiter Mary Trump, the President’s niece, in her book, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.” She wrote that someone named Joe Shapiro, whom she described as a “smart kid with a reputation for being a good test taker,” was paid “well” to take the SAT for the President, thus helping Trump get into the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate.

Now, she has clarified that this was a different Joe Shapiro than the one married to Maria Shriver, though that Joe has known the President for years. (That Joe Shapiro could sue her.) No, it’s another Joe Shapiro…one who can’t be found. Mary says she is certain  Trump cheated on his SATs, though she has no proof at all (and obviously wasn’t on hand for the test), because she trusts the people who told her, whom she does not name. “I’m counting on people I trust who told me this story. So, in terms of documentation, no, I can’t prove it. But I can certainly say with 100% certainty that I was told this story by a source very close to Donald,” she told George Stephanopoulas on ABC.

Mary later said  she got the idea from the President’s 83-year-old sister, whom Mary—this is a real class act we’re talking about here—surreptitiously taped trashing her brother. At one point in the hours of tapes made in 2018 and 2019, the President’s older sister said she “believed” her brother cheated on the “SATs or whatever.”  So apparently Mary is 100% sure that she “was told the story” by her aunt, who, since she said she “believed” her brother cheated on his, well, some test, apparently had no first hand information on the matter herself. Why nobody has asked the retired judge to explain why she “believes” her brother cheated, I don’t know. But she, being a lawyer, could tell them that the tape would be inadmissible as evidence of what she thought, if she was still around to testify directly.

[Notice of correction: I initially wrote that Trump’s sister was dead. Stupid mistake. Thanks to Michael for the heads up.]

That makes Mary’s claim double hearsay. Continue reading