Ethics Alarms Baseball Ethics Special Report: The Boston Red Sox, Sign Stealing, Technology, And Cheating [UPDATED]

[I got the news about Major League Baseball’s announcement that the Boston Red Sox had admitted that some of the team’s employers and players had engaged in illegal sign-stealing about an hour before the Sox-Blue Jays game was scheduled. My intent was to write the post about it last night after the game. The game, however, went 19 innings and lasted 6 hours. (The Sox won, and absent this scandal, it would have been a big news story itself, one of the most important victories of the year and one that set several team records.) So the post didn’t get written, and believe it or not, I have occasional priorities and commitments that take precedent over my profit and income free ethics blog. Thus I consider the multiple e-mails and Facebook messages I have received accusing me of ducking the issue less than amusing, an unwarranted attack on my integrity. To all of those individuals, most of whom barely read the news reports, I say, “Bite me.”]

Yesterday afternoon the New York Times broke the following story, which reads in part:

Investigators for Major League Baseball have determined that the Red Sox, who are in first place in the American League East and very likely headed to the playoffs, executed a scheme to illicitly steal hand signals from opponents’ catchers in games against the second-place Yankees and other teams, according to several people briefed on the matter.

The baseball inquiry began about two weeks ago, after the Yankees’ general manager, Brian Cashman, filed a detailed complaint with the commissioner’s office that included video the Yankees shot of the Red Sox dugout during a three-game series between the two teams in Boston last month.

The Yankees, who had long been suspicious of the Red Sox’ stealing catchers’ signs in Fenway Park, contended the video showed a member of the Red Sox training staff looking at his Apple Watch in the dugout. The trainer then relayed a message to other players in the dugout, who, in turn, would signal teammates on the field about the type of pitch that was about to be thrown, according to the people familiar with the case.

Baseball investigators corroborated the Yankees’ claims based on video the commissioner’s office uses for instant replay and broadcasts, the people said. The commissioner’s office then confronted the Red Sox, who admitted that their trainers had received signals from video replay personnel and then relayed that information to Red Sox players — an operation that had been in place for at least several weeks.

As reported by ESPN, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement,

“We actually do not have a rule against sign-stealing. It has been a part of the game for a very, very long time. To the extent that there was a violation of the rule here, it was a violation by one or the other [team] that involved the use of electronic equipment. It’s the electronic equipment that creates the violation. I think the rule against electronic equipment has a number of policy reasons behind it, but one of them is we don’t want to escalate attempts to figure out what a pitcher is going to throw by introducing electronics into that mix.To the extent there was a violation on either side, we are 100 percent comfortable that it’s not an ongoing issue, that if it happened, it is no longer. I think that’s important from an integrity perspective going forward.”

This is a complicated story, and part of not one complicated ethics category, but several: technology ethics, baseball ethics, cheating, and general ethics. In the interests of clarity, I’m going to cover the story in a series of short observations, each with a heading. At the end of this post, I have posted a long published essay I authored about baseball ethics within the culture of the game. Those who are not familiar with these issues, which are fascinating, might want to read that first. it is helpful background information.

Points and Observations:

  • Traditional sign-stealing in baseball is not regarded as cheating. This seems counter intuitive because of the word “stealing.” Sign-stealing refers to teams decoding the signals given by the catcher to the pitcher (regarding what kind of pitches to throw and where ), and the coach or the dugout to a batter or baserunner (in bunt and hit-and run plays). Theoretically, knowing the other team’s signals provides an advantage, as to a batter who knows that the next pitch will be a curve rather than a fastball. Usually, signs from the catcher to the pitcher are in jeopardy when there is a runner on second base. He can see the catcher’s signs as well as the pitcher can. Catchers use finger-signs in various combinations to ask for various pitches, and position their gloves to indicate where they want the balls thrown. If the runner at second can signal to the batter what the catcher has told the pitcher to throw, the batter may have an advantage.

This is why catchers often go to the pitching mound when a runner is on second base. They change the signs. The second baseman will often join them, because it is his job to know what pitch is being thrown so he can signal (usually behind his back, using his hand) to his team’s outfielders. An outside fastball makes it unlikely that the batter will pull the ball, for example.

Sign-stealing on the field, using just eyesight and hands, is what players call “the game within the game.” Joe Girardi, the Yankee manager, said in an interview yesterday that he just assumes every team is trying to steal signs, whether they are or not. Continue reading

“Your Boss Is Insane”

On the site Learn Stuff, Sarah Wenger has produced an infographic with a strong ethics message, aimed at the vast number of people in management and supervisory positions in business who abuse their position and power, making those they lead miserable, unproductive, and insane themselves. How many horrible bosses inflict themselves on the nation? That is a mystery, though we know it’s a lot. Incompetent, unfair and irresponsible supervisors at all levels,  as the feature states,

“cost their employees their health and the U.S. economy some serious cash. Employees with bad bosses can lose their hair, gain weight and up their chances of heart disease by a whopping 25%. And to top it all off, poorly managed workplaces are less profitable and have lower levels of productivity. Psychopathic bosses: bad for you, bad for the economy.”

The problem is that management is hard, leadership is harder, formal training in either cannot cure personality defects that make being successful in these two endeavors unlikely, and because truly talented managers and leaders are so rare, most people rise to positions of power without ever experiencing what effective leadership is. A good starting point for any boss is a commitment to fairness and respect, as well as an understanding of what responsibility and accountability mean. That, of course, means ethics.

Here is Sarah Wenger’s infographic, “Your Boss is Insane,” re-published with her permission: Continue reading

Do Nicer People Earn Less Money? Of Course They Do. And That’s the Way it Should be.

Leo Durocher figured out that "nice guys finish last" 60 years ago, and he never went to college. Now three academics, after extensive research, have "discovered" the same thing. Ah, scholarship!

A study by Cornell professor Beth A. Livingston,  Timothy A. Judge of the University of Notre Dame and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario study used survey data to examine “agreeableness” and found that disagreeable men made 18%, or $9,772 annually, more in salary than those who are more accommodating. The salary disparity was  less among women, with disagreeable females making 5% or $1,828, more than those who are easier to get along with. Does this shock you? It shouldn’t.

As is depressingly often the case, the academics who come up with such crack-brain studies—I read this one, and will want that wasted hour back when I’m on my death-bed so I can watch one last re-run of “Magnum, P.I.”—have so little experience with the working world and the reality of non-academic cultures that they don’t even comprehend their own research and draw absurd conclusions from it.

“The problem is, many managers often don’t realize they reward disagreeableness,” Livingston told the Wall Street Journal. “You can say this is what you value as a company, but your compensation system may not really reflect that, especially if you leave compensation decisions to individual managers.”

Oh brother. Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: Newt Gingrich’s (Ex-) Campaign Staff

"So, Newt: you'd rather be tanned than be President? Fine. Bye!"

One can tell a great deal about leaders from the quality of those who choose to follow them, and one can tell a great deal about followers by whom they choose as their leader. When Rick Tyler, a longtime Newt Gingrich spokesman, Rob Johnson, Gingrich’s campaign manager, Dave Carney and Katon Dawson, senior strategists to the former House Speaker’s presidential campaign, media consultant Sam Dawson, Iowa strategist Craig Schoenfeld, South Carolina operative Walter Whetsell and adviser Scott Rials resigned en masse from the Gingrich campaign organization last week, we learned a lot. Continue reading