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.”

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Baseball Brawl Ethics [UPDATED]

I noted in the Morning Warm-Up that last night’s Red Sox-Yankee rumble put me in a good mood. I should elaborate: it’s not because I like seeing a New York Yankee player get a fat lip, although I do. It is because such episodes are usually rife with ethics good and bad, and this one was no exception. Here it is again…

It began with an earlier play. Yankee rookie DH Tyler Austin employed an illegal slide when he was forced at second base. A few years ago, the Dodgers’ Chase Utley broke a shortstop’s leg while sliding into him hard to break up a double play. The ugly injury was on national TV, because it was in the play-offs, and Major League Baseball enacted a major rule change.

From the beginning of professional baseball, runners had been allowed to plow into infielders trying to make the pivot at second base and complete a double play like linebackers blitzing a quarterback. The resulting collisions often wrecked knees, ankles and careers, and a ridiculous tradition developed. Umpires allowed infielders to come off the bag before they actually received the ball for the force-out, as long as they were close to the base. The out was called anyway: it was known as the “neighborhood play,” because the infielder’s foot was in the neighborhood of second. After Utley’s slide, baseball made the attempt to interfere with the double play by slamming into the fielder illegal, with the consequence being that the double play was called complete whether the relay throw to first was completed or not.

Ethically, I applauded the rule change. For one thing, the take-out slide was already illegal: runners aren’t allowed to interfere with fielders according to the original rules, but take-out slides were tolerated, indeed encouraged anyway. As often happens when rules are ignored, integrity suffered, resulting in that absurd “neighborhood” convention. The so-called baseball purists complained, and still are complaining, but trading illegal-but-allowed hard slides that required calling imaginary outs and needlessly injured players for some gratuitous violence in a non-violent sport was always an unwise exchange.

So now a baserunner bearing down on second base when a double-play may be in progress has to slide  at the base, not at the fielder. But last night, Austin had his leg high as he slid, and spiked second baseman Brock Holt, Holt, who never threw to first, had words with the Yankee, and both dugouts emptied, though no punches were thrown. It was an illegal slide, no question about it, but because Holt wasn’t interfered with, the umpires did nothing. No penalty out was called. Austin wasn’t thrown out of the game.

This is when the ancient baseball code kicked in. A Yankee had tried to hurt a Red Sox player with an illegal slide, and had gotten away scot-free. If the Sox did nothing to retaliate, they would be showing weakness. I have literally  seen this plot a thousand times. I said to my wife, watching the game with me, “The Red Sox are going to throw at Austin, and there will be a fight.”

Sure enough, Sox reliever Joe Kelly, who throws pitches between 96 and 100 mph, threw a fastball into Austin’s back  later in the game. Austin charged the mound, as you can see, and all heck broke loose.

Ethics notes: 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