Case Study In How Sports Encourages Consequentialism: The 1968 Detroit Tigers

Mickey Stanley in 1968: learning a new position in the World Series, making us dumber...

Mickey Stanley in 1968: learning a new position in the World Series, making us dumber…

Frequent readers here know that I often inveigh against consequentialism in its various forms, from labeling sound decisions “mistakes” when they don’t pan out due to uncontrollable factors, to pronouncing unethical conduct as ethical because it chanced to have some beneficent results. This particular hydra seems to be a tough one to kill, and one of the reasons is, I realize, the pervasiveness of sports in our culture.

Reflecting on sporting contests, particularly those involving teams, routinely generates hindsight bias on the part of fans and sports commentators….for one thing, it’s fun to second guess managers and coaches from the safety of an armschair or from behind a computer screen. Unfortunately, the practice endorses consequentialism. Decisions that result in a win are seldom criticized, no matter how moronic or misguided they may have been; tactics that ended in defeat are always called “mistakes,” or worse.

The baseball post-season began yesterday. We won’t see a World Series game until October is almost over, but there was a time, children, long ago, before divisions and the designated hitter, before steroids and ESPN, when in major league baseball, the World Series was the post season. This was the case 45 years ago, in 1968, when the Detroit Tigers, who had clobbered the American League competition on the way to a 103-59 record, including the last 30 game-winning season by any pitcher, turned in by Denny McLain. They were about to face the reigning baseball champions from 1967, the NL’s St. Louis Cardinals, led by future Hall of Famers Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda, and Bob Gibson. Both were veteran teams and well-balanced; there was every reason to believe that each had a good chance at victory. Certainly, neither was in need of any last-minute overhaul.

Nonetheless, Tigers manager Mayo Smith decided to take a gamble. Continue reading

Deadly Incompetence in Seattle….Luckily, It Was Just a Game

I know about the ADA, but still...hiring blind umpires who can't count just isn't working out...

It is rare that an ethics outrage repeats itself so closely that I could recycle a previous essay and just change the names. This occurred, however, in Seattle this past Saturday, in the baseball game between the Mariners and the San Diego Padres. San Diego’s Cameron Maybin walked on a 3-2 count (four balls are required by the rules) and eventually scored the only run of the game on Antonio Gonzalez’s fifth-inning single, allowing the Padres to defeat the Mariners 1-0 on Saturday night.

With one out in the fifth, Maybin walked when a pitch was called high by home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi. A video review of the at-bat by official scorer Dan Peterson confirmed the count should have been 3-2 when Maybin trotted to first base, meaning that his turn at the plate wasn’t completed. But Cuzzi, who like all umpires carries a pitch counter, saw that the stadium scoreboard showed a three-ball count before the pitch, and since 1) technology is always right 2) he wasn’t paying attention 3) he can’t count to “4” and 4) (or is it 3?) it isn’t like calling balls and strikes is his job or anything, he decided that the player had earned a base on balls. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Detroit Pitcher Armando Galarraga

When Umpire Jim Joyce apologized to Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga, the man whose perfect game he destroyed with an erroneous “safe” call on what should have been the 27th and final out, he gave him a hug and graciously accepted it without rancor. In interviews, Galarraga has said, “What else could I do?” A great many of his colleagues would have had some alternatives, and they would have not been pleasant. Galarraga is handling his disappointment, frustration and bad luck with superb grace and kindness, in the best tradition of the Golden Rule.

“Nobody’s perfect,” he told ESPN, accepting Joyce’s mistake as human and not malicious. But Armando Galarraga was perfect, both on the mound in Detroit, and in his noble response to misfortune.