Baseball Ethics The Dodgers’ Insane, Incompetent, Mookie Betts Contract

It is being reported that the Los Angeles Dodgers are about to sign an extension with new right-fielder Mookie Betts, acquired over the winter in a stunning trade with the Boston Red Sox, for an estimated 12-13 year contract at about 35 million dollars a year.

When I was giving my lecture to the Smithsonian about baseball this week, I mentioned writer Bill James’ argument that baseball is not “just a business” as detractors like to say. He has pointed out that because baseball’s market does not treat it as a business, but as a pastime, entertainment, a cultural touchpoint and a community institution, baseball teams are not run as rational businesses. Indeed, they are frequently run irresponsibly and incompetently, based on emotion and sentiment.

‘Twas not always thus. In the early days of professional baseball right up the end of the Calvin Griffith era in Minnesota, many teams were run as the sole sources of income by their owners, though by the time Griffith died, he was the last of that species. Beginning with Tom Yawkey’s purchase of the then perennial doormat Red Sox, however, the baseball owner as community philanthropist was born. Yawkey was a rich lumber tycoon, and he spent money lavishly on Boston teams to win games and make fans happy. He certainly increased the value of his sports franchise asset, but from a business standpoint his management was often irrational.

The Dodgers contract with Betts is in this tradition. Betts is a free agent after this year; that’s why the Red Sox traded him, because he was going to put himself up for sale to the largest bidder. The Dodgers sensed that the virus-truncated season changed the equation for them and the player: Mookie, one of the most talented, productive and likable players in the game, would not have a chance in 60 games to enhance his value, and each year passed  for a player is depreciation. Betts will be 28 this season, and most players peak at that age. Continue reading

More All-Star Vote Cheating: A Lesson In How Corruption Spreads

KC-Royals-logo

Using computer technology to exceed the voting limitations of Major League Baseballs (sloppy, naive, badly-conceived) on-line voting rules to elect the American and National League All-Star teams, some Kansas City hackers managed to flood the virtual ballot box with enough votes to elect four Royals players to the squad (after a brief, frightening period when it looked like they would elect eight). Two of the starting Royal All-Stars, shortstop Alcides Escobar and catcher Salvador Perez, are clearly bogus victors who owe their slots and bonus provisions to the cheating ways of a couple of computer savvy fans—or, perhaps, a couple of assholes who distorted the vote, weakened the team, lessened the quality of the game and forced deserving players off the team because they could, to puff up their little pigeon chests with hacker pride.

Every year, MLB hold a supplemental election to let the fans choose among five candidates in each league who have impressive records but haven’t made the All-Star squad. That one is online only, and unlike the main vote, there are no limits to voting. With typical sensitivity (I don’t think the MLB’s leadership could define what cheating is with a gun at their heads), the brass ignored the obvious fact that someone in Kansas City was making a travesty out of the process, and paved the way for him/them/it to do it again. Sure enough, the one Royal on the list of candidates for the final slot, 3rd baseman Mike Moustakas, is leading the early returns. There are already six Royals on the team, not counting the manager, Ned Yost. Of course, MLB could have avoided this obvious problem by leaving Royals off the American League’s final five. Naaaa. That would make sense. Continue reading

The Unforgivable Conflict of Interest: Sports Agents, Robbing Their Ignorant Clients

The ethical course is to choose.

The ethical course is to choose.

Sports agents are rich, powerful, and ethically handicapped by inherent conflicts of interest. The first two qualities so far have insulated them from dealing fairly and openly with the second. This is wrong, and has got to stop. For it to stop, it would help if the players, their unions, the sports leagues and the sports media didn’t either intentionally pretend not to see the obvious, or weren’t too biased and ignorant to realize what’s going on.

Four years ago, I wrote about this problem in a long piece for Hardball Times, a baseball wonk blog of consistent high quality.  The specific agent I was writing about was Scott Boras, the king of baseball player agents, but the egregious conflict I flagged isn’t confined to that professional sport; it’s present in all of them. In the article, I argued that Boras, a lawyer, is engaged in the practice of law when serving as an agent and was therefore violating the legal ethics rules, which prohibits having clients whose interests are directly adverse to each other, specifically in the so-called “Zero-Sum Conflict” situation.

A lawyer can’t assist two clients bidding for the same contract, because the better job he does for one, the worse his other client fares. A lawyer can’t sue a defendant for every penny that defendant has on behalf of one client when he or she has another client or two that have grievances against that same defendant—if the lawyer is successful with the first client, he’s just ruined his other clients’ chances of recovery. There is some controversy over whether the legal ethics rules automatically apply to a lawyer-agent like Boras, but never mind—whether he is subject to the legal ethics rules or not when serving as an agent, the conflict of interest he is blithely ignoring still applies, still harms his clients, still puts money in his pockets, and still should not be permitted. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: The Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the National League West regular season championship last night by beating their divisional rivals, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Traditionally, when such moments occur away from the winner’s home park, they are celebrated with a happy mob scene around the pitcher’s mound and then a retreat to the clubhouse, where campaign and revelry reign.

But not in the case of the 2013 Dodgers. Seeing the inviting swimming pool that is a unique center field feature of Chase Field, the giddy Dodger team jumped the fence and splashed into the pool to celebrate. The Arizona Republic, in an editorial today, accurately expressed the reaction of the Diamondback fans and community:

“In the interests of good sportsmanship, here’s to the 2013 National League West Division champs.Congratulations are in order. Even to a bunch as classless as the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first players not wearing Diamondbacks uniforms to celebrate a championship by diving into the Chase Field pool. Informally, the Arizona Diamondbacks management had asked their Dodgers counterparts, should their lads clinch the division at Chase Field, to kindly celebrate in the clubhouse until the fans cleared out. For safety’s sake. Well, the Diamondbacks got their answer. Effectively: We got some “safety,” for you. Right here….” Continue reading

The Real Meaning of Manny Being Manny

The only surprising aspect of the news yesterday that former baseball slugger-savant Manny Ramirez had been arrested for allegedly slugging his wife—the one alleging being said wife—is that any baseball fans were surprised. If anything was written in the Book of Fate, it was that this man, so completely lacking in respect for basic ethical values, was destined for trouble with the law.

While he was playing, of course, Manny’s uncivilized and cheerful contempt for basic rules and principles of right and wrong were tolerated by his employers, amused sportswriters and evoked cheers from fans. He was a great, great hitter, you see: who cares if he was habitually rude, unprofessional, slovenly, careless, disloyal, disrespectful and above all, selfish to his core? Look! He’s having fun! Isn’t that charming? Stop harping on little details, like hustling, sportsmanship, or being honest. Let Manny be Manny! Continue reading

Manny Post Script: The Signature of a Jerk

Manny Ramirez, the now-retired ex-baseball slugger, provoked the predictable responses from the media and fellow players in the wake of his sudden retirement after being notified that he would be the first major league player to face a 100 game suspension for failing a mandated PED test (that’s “performance enhancing drugs” for all of you who don’t know who Barry Bonds is), because no player had ever been caught TWICE before.

Everyone was in agreement that this meant: Continue reading

Manny Ramirez’s Perfect Exit

The most unethical baseball player since the Black Sox

From  Major League Baseball:

“Major League Baseball recently notified Manny Ramirez of an issue under Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Rather than continue with the process under the Program, Ramirez has informed MLB that he is retiring as an active player. If Ramirez seeks reinstatement in the future, the process under the Drug Program will be completed. MLB will not have any further comment on this matter.”

Perfect. Perfect.

Manny Ramirez was an impressively talented baseball player with discipline of an untrained Irish Setter, and the selfishness of a six-year-old. Throughout his career, he was a textbook example of the management fallacy known as the star principle, in which an extremely talented individual is allowed to break the rules and defy an organization’s culture in direct proportion to his perceived value. Continue reading

Manny, Kanye, and the Farce of Self-Serving Apologies

Two habitual bad actors in the world of entertainment apologized this week, for similar reasons and with equivalent credibility.

First, baseball slugger Manny Ramirez issued an apology to his former team once removed, The Boston Red Sox, for forcing the team to trade him in the middle of the 2008 pennant race because Manny was faking injuries, refusing to hustle during game, assaulting employees, and poisoning team morale and discipline. “I think everything was my fault,” Ramirez said. “You’ve got to be a real man to realize when you do wrong. Hey, it was my fault, right? I’m already past that stage. I’m happy. I’m in a new team,” Manny told reporters. He was with a new team, all right: the Dodgers, his previous team, let him go to the Chicago White Sox for nothing because, well, he was faking injuries, dogging it in the field…same act, different stage. So what was the apology about?

Manny, or more likely his agent, realizes this most recent break with a team as the result of his habitually juvenile and unprofessional attitude might cost him a lot of money at contract time—Ramirez is a free agent after all. So contrition was called for—two full years after he laughed off any suggestions that he was at fault for the Boston debacle, and proved that he had been loafing on the field by playing in L.A. like he was on fire. This isn’t an apology; it’s damage control, and thus is a deceitful and dishonest apology that has nothing whatsoever to do with genuine regret. The big tip-off is that Ramirez felt he had to explain why his apology was so admirable. Yes, Manny, you have to be a real man to admit you’re wrong; a real jerk to fake an apology to fool a future employer into believing that you’ve turned over a new leaf, and real fool to believe anyone will fall for it.

Then there is rapper Kanye West. Continue reading

The Ethics of Booing Manny Ramirez

As it so often does, the world of sport is presenting us with a clear ethical conflict tomorrow night—one of those times when we have to prioritize ethical values, and decide which is more important in our culture, because if we meet one, we violate another.

Manny Ramirez will be returning to Boston’s Fenway Park in a Dodger uniform, as Boston hosts Los Angeles in an inter-league contest. Continue reading