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.

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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:

Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “World Series Ethics: Another Pine Tar Sighting, As Baseball Ethics Rot Gets A Thumbs Up From Legal Ethics Rot”

Volquez, unaware...

Volquez, unaware…

I think I made a poor call deciding not to write about the interesting ethics question that arose during Game #1 of the just completed World Series.

We learned during the broadcast of Game 2 on Fox that Daniel Volquez, the father of Kansas city Royals Game #1 starting pitcher Edinson Volquez, had died of heart trouble during the day in the Dominican Republic. But Volquez’s family had asked the team not to inform Volquez until after the game, and the team, on behalf of the family, asked the same of the broadcasters, directing them to withhold the news from the TV audience. I decided to pass on the story because I couldn’t confirm that Volquez didn’t know about his father’s passing, though it now appears he did not. That was foolish: the ethics issues are the same regardless of whether he knew.

Fortunately Ethics Alarms reader Noah D. insisted that the issue was attention worthy, and wrote his own commentary. I’ll have some comment at the end. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, World Series Ethics: Another Pine Tar Sighting, As Baseball Ethics Rot Gets A Thumbs Up From Legal Ethics Rot: Continue reading

World Series Ethics: Another Pine Tar Sighting, As Baseball Ethics Rot Gets A Thumbs Up From Legal Ethics Rot

Sal Perez

Cameras during Game #2 of the 2015 World Series revealed that Kansas City Royals catcher Sal Perez had what appeared to be pine tar on his shin guard during the game. This would presumably be there for the purpose of surreptitiously smearing some of the gunk on the ball, then throwing it back to the pitcher so he could “get a better grip on the ball,” a.k.a “tamper with the baseball so it can do loop-de-loops.” This is illegal. It is cheating. According to Rule 8.02(a)(2), (4) and (5), the pitcher shall not expectorate on the ball, on either hand or his glove; apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball; [or]  deface the ball in any manner. The rule is unambiguous, and if a pitcher or a catcher is caught violating the rule, they are thrown out of the game with a suspension and fine to follow.

None of this happened to Perez or his pitcher that night. According to NBC Sports blogger Craig Calcaterra, a former practicing lawyer who I am officially disgusted with, the reason was that “Nobody cares,” including Calcaterra.

I wrote extensively about Major League Baseball’s unethical attitude toward violations of this particular rule last year, after an absurd sequence in which Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda was caught by TV cameras apparently using pine tar on his pitches without compliant from the opposing Red Sox, followed by Sox manager John Farrell saying that he hoped he would be “more discreet” about his cheating “next time,” and then when Pineda was more obvious about it next time, Farrell complained to the umpires, who threw Pineda out of the game (he was also suspended). I wrote, Continue reading

Adam Wainwright’s Foul All-Star Ethics

"Boy, I'm  glad Wainwright threw me a pitch a Little Leaguer could hit, because I'm just about done. I sure hope he tells everyone about it,.."

“Boy, I’m glad Wainwright threw me a pitch a Little Leaguer could hit, because I’m just about done. I sure hope he tells everyone about it,..”

St. Louis Cardinals pitching ace Adam Wainwright lost MLB’s 2014 All-Star Game for the National League (though he was not the official losing pitcher). He gave up three quick runs in the first inning, and his squad never overcame the deficit, losing 5-3. As a result, his league’s champion at the end of the season, which could conceivably be his own team, will labor at a disadvantage: the league that wins the All-Star game get the home advantage, which recently, at least, has been decisive.

None of that reflects poorly on the pitcher. He got hit hard by a group of likely Hall of Famers (Derek Jeter, Mike Trout, Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera) in an exhibition game that doesn’t count in the standings. So what?

This, however, does reflect poorly on Wainwright:

The game began with a long ovation for AL lead-off batter Derek Jeter, the Yankee shortstop who is retiring after this season following a storied career. Wainwright, in what appeared to be a class move, placed his glove and the ball on the mound in Minnesota’s Target Field and  stepped off to applaud, becoming, for a moment, just another fan giving a well-earned tribute to an all-time great. Then, three pitches into Jeter’s at bat, the living legend lined a ringing double to right field as if scripted, giving the crowd another chance to cheer, and triggering the American League’s winning rally. Later, in the dugout being interviewed on live TV, Wainwright announced that he had given Jeter “a couple of pipe shots”—that is, grooved his pitches so Jeter could get a hit.

Horrible. This is wrong in every way, no matter how you turn it—poor sportsmanship, disrespectful to Jeter, damaging to the game, and dumb: Continue reading

The Sterling Backlash: Signature Significance, Racism, Hypocrisy, and Double Standards

Bennie Thompson

“No big deal, he’s  just a Congressman…”

I often use the term “signature significance” in posts, and since it is a term that is not often applied to ethics, I thought today would be a perfect time to illustrate it in its original context, while clarifying the ethical murk around the Donald Sterling Ethics Train Wreck.

The original context of the phenomenon of signature significance is baseball, and I just watched an example of it. Today Red Sox left-hander John Lester beat the Oakland A’s, a very good team, by hurling eight innings in which he gave up no runs, only one hit, two bases on balls, while striking out 15 batters. If you don’t know anything about the game, let me tell you: this is extraordinarily good. Pitching performances can be measured and compared by using the “game score” method, developed by sabermetrics (that is, baseball statistics) pioneer Bill James. The best game score ever achieved was 105; the highest score in major league history for a pitcher who did not pitch all nine innings (as with Lester today) is 95, and has only been done once. (Theoretically, a game score could be as high as 145)

James also devised the term “signature significance” in the context of such games. His research showed that pitchers who were not outstanding talents never pitched a game with such a high game score even once—it simply didn’t happen. Thus, he reasoned, pitching a single game like Lester’s (the actual game he used was a similar performance by a young Roger Clemens before anyone knew what Clemens would become) was sufficient proof, all by itself, to conclude fairly and scientifically that the game was meaningful, without any other data. In cases of signature significance, he explained, the usual statistical rule that small sample sizes are not reliable indicators do not apply. Sometimes one incident, performance or episode is sufficient to make a confident verdict.

Signature significance is very useful, I have found, to rebut unethical rationalizations for unethical conduct that are used to excuse the agent of the ethical breach. “It’s only one mistake” and “Anyone can make a mistake” are the main ones. In the case of some serious kinds of bad conduct, this reasoning is misleading and false. Donald Sterling’s comments recorded and publicized by his whatever-you-call-her V. Stiviano have signature significance: they prove he’s a racist. Can you imagine any non-racist individual saying, in public or private, that he didn’t want his girlfriend being seen at his team’s games in the company of blacks?  How could this possibly occur? It wouldn’t, of course. Only those who hold racist attitudes and beliefs think and say such things. Sterling is a racist.

Stiviano, for her part, despite being the one who brought the media, the sports world and the public down on Sterling’s 80-year-old head, now says she doesn’t believe he’s a racist. Of course, she also says she’s his “silly rabbit” and that she is going to be President some day. She is an idiot. But I digress.

Other figures have made statements in the media that also have signature significance of the same sort as Sterling’s, yet the very same groups and journalists who have been whipped into a self-righteous froth over Sterling are strangely silent: Continue reading

Pineda-Pine Tar, Part II: Baseball Clarifies Its Bizarro Ethics Culture

bizarro_world-baseballYou shouldn’t have to appreciate, care about or even understand baseball to find illumination in its latest ethics controversy, which shows how cultures can go horribly wrong, precluding exactly the values that any functioning entity must embrace to remain viable and healthy. For someone like me, to whom Baseball is Life, the whole thing just makes me want to jump out the window.

You will recall that a couple weeks ago, the sport embarrassed itself by making excuses and accepting lies regarding New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda being allowed to break the game’s rules against pitchers applying foreign substances (in this case, pine tar) on the baseball while pitching to the Boston Red Sox. I wrote about it here. I interpreted the post-incident consensus of the game and its pundits as “everybody does it, so let’s not make a big deal over a little infraction on a night when it was abnormally cold and hard to grip the ball.”  That’s unethical enough, but the truth, as revealed in Part II, is far worse.

Last night, fate had Pineda on the mound against the Red Sox again. Baseball’s ethics had already begun falling apart in chunks when Sox manager John Farrell, asked about whether he expected Pineda to cheat again (for that is what using pine tar on baseballs is—cheating. Official Rule 8.02 states: “The pitcher shall not apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball.” ) answered that hopefully, if he did, he would be more discreet about it. Huh?

But Pineda was not discrete; in fact, he could not have been more obvious, or ridiculously so. After a rough first inning in which he gave up two runs, Pineda emerged from the dugout with a large, brown, greasy gob of pine tar on his neck. On TV. In nationally broadcast game. Against the same team that he was caught using pine tar against before. In that team’s home park.

In the Red Sox dugout, Manager Farrell and the team were laughing and rolling their eyes. Farrell finally shrugged, and walked out to complain to the home plate umpire, for it is an automatic ejection for a pitcher to be caught doctoring the ball. The umpire dutifully walked out to the mound—he had to have seen the offending gob before Farrell complained—and to add to the foolishness, checked Pineda’s glove, cap and jock strap before looking at the huge brown smear on his neck. Finally he did so, said, “That’s pine tar!” (in the previous game, Pineda told the press it was “dirt”) and threw him out of the game.

In subsequent interviews with Farrell and others, the explanation that emerged was this gibberish: “everybody” uses something to grip the ball better when it is cold (and often when it isn’t); hitters don’t mind because they don’t want to get hit. Pineda’s offense wasn’t that he used pine tar, but that, as Farrell suggested before the game, that he was “blatant” about it. That gave Farrell no choice, you see….even though his own pitchers also use foreign substances to grip the ball (in unequivocal violation of a baseball rule), and this sets his team up for “retaliation.”

I feel like I’m going crazy. Continue reading

The Abysmal Quality of Ethical Reasoning in Baseball: A Depressing Case Study

"Dirt."

“Dirt.”

The first bona fide ethics controversy of the 2014 baseball season has erupted, and it involves the team of my youth, the Boston Red Sox. It is not the controversy itself that is so noteworthy, for it is an old, old one: pitchers using foreign substances to doctor the balls so they dip, curve, and sing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” What is noteworthy is the reaction to the incident by players and the sports media, which has me feeling that as an ethicist, I need to think about following another sport. The ethics reasoning, or lack of it, is truly depressing.

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, my comments in bold:

  • This isn’t a new phenomenon. Show me the statute of limitations on ongoing misconduct, please. Also not new: torture, rape, adultery, incest, bribery and embezzlement. So what? That makes these things all right? Excuses society from trying to reduce their occurrence?

Continue reading

The Dilemma of the Legless High School Pitcher

Seemingly an inspirational movie in the making, Anthony Burruto is a student at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Florida. He has been playing baseball since he was 8 years old, despite the inconvenience of having both of his legs amputated when he was an infant. He plays the game on prosthetic legs that are all he has ever known, and does it well as a pitcher who can throw a mean curve and a fastball that has been clocked at 80 mph. This is Anthony’s sophomore year, and his goal was to play on Dr. Phillips High varsity baseball team this spring.

After two days of try-outs, Coach Mike Bradley cut him. Anthony’s metal legs, adept as he was at using them, made him too slow off the pitching mound when he had to field a bunt, said the coach, and teams would take advantage of his inability to jump off the mound quickly.

Sorry, kid.  Continue reading