Once Again, Hall Of Fame Ethics (Or The Lack Of Them)

Schilling

The MLB Hall of Fame vote, at least since the Steroid Era, gives us a window into the ethics of baseball writers, and the view is pretty grim. Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballots, many of which are made public before the election results are revealed, annually show dead ethics alarms and an absence of critical thinking, but as someone who has been reading these guys (they are almost all guys) since I was 12, this is no surprise. The smart and thoughtful ones like Joe Posnanski, Roger Angell, Bill James and Peter Gammons, are exceptions. I wouldn’t trust most of the rest to take out the trash.

A player who has been retired for at least five years has to be on 75% of the writers’ ballots (ten players can be listed on a ballot) needed to be “enshrined,” as they like to say in the Cooperstown museum, and a player has ten tries to make it. This year, nobody was selected.

The result was a slap in the face to former Orioles, Philadelphia, Arizona and Red Sox starting pitcher Curt Schilling, and was intended to be. He just missed the 75% level last year, and usually that means that a player gets in the Hall the next time, especially in a year like this one, where there were no major additions to the candidates. Schilling, by prior standards, by statistical analysis, and by the simple reality that he was famous while playing and had a single iconic moment that will keep him in baseball lore forever—the “bloody sock” game, should be an easy call. Yet ESPN and other sources refer to him as “controversial.” Why is he controversial? He’s controversial because he is religious, conservative, Republican, and an outspoken Trump supporter, none of which has a thing to do with baseball. Schilling also, to his credit, refuses to submit to his critics and the social media mobs. He is independent and comfortable with who he is, he is articulate in expressing his opinions (at least by typical athlete standards), and can and will defend his points of view. He shouldn’t have to, however, to be admitted to the Hall of Fame.

His sportsmanship and professional comportment while playing was never less than impeccable. Curt Schilling has a deep respect for the game (one opinion that has been held against him is his insistence that steroid users are cheaters), and he has done nothing since leaving baseball that was sufficiently vile to harm it in any way. To the contrary, he and his wife (now battling cancer) have been active in charity work and community projects. That satisfies the Hall’s so-called “character clause.”

Continue reading

I Know, I Know, But I Swore I Would Never Let A Bad Barry Bonds Defense Go Unanswered

There are a few reoccurring assertions that Ethics Alarms readers know I am duty bound to defenestrate, no matter how repetitious it is for them and me. The gender gap argument in salary is one; election night in 2016 spawned another, when hack historian Doug Brinkley falsely claimed that the same party seldom holds the White House for three straight terms. That Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct was “private personal conduct” unrelated to his professional trustworthiness was long on my list, though that one seems to be, finally, discredited. There are others involving gun control, marriage, illegal immigration and more; I should list them in one place some day.

None annoys me any more, however, than the rationalizations mounted to claim that steroid cheats belong in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

It happened again this week, as it will every time the Hall of Fame ballots are counted this time of year. On the MLB Channel on Sirius-XM, two alleged experts, analysts Casey Stern and former pitcher Brad Lidge each gave their list of ten former players who belonged in the Hall of Fame, and both listed Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens as deserving. When Lidge went through his “reasoning”—I hate scare quotes, but here they are unavoidable—I wanted to leap through my car radio and throw him out his studio.

It wasn’t just the unethical opinion that infuriated me. It was the sheer ignorance and intellectual laziness of it. The man clearly has never practiced critical thinking in his life. Nobody taught him. Like the President, he literally doesn’t know what ethics are, and reasons by rationalizations and conventional wisdom, meaning that if enough dolts say something, it becomes a persuasive position to him. It is unethical—malpractice, negligence, incompetence—to argue like this when you are holding yourself up as an expert, and addressing the public through mass media. You are making the public more ignorant and stupid, and less able to think clearly, with every word. Stern, who is about five times smarter and more articulate than Lidge, used slightly less moronic arguments to defend Bonds, but only slightly.

So I’m sorry if you have heard this before, but I made a promise to myself, my readers, and baseball, which I love. Here are Lidge’s arguments to allow Bonds into the Hall of Fame, and why they are crap.

  • Bonds was on his way to a Hall of Fame career before he used steroids.

Yes, and that brilliant scientist was on the way to a Nobel prize before he falsified his data. This idiotic argument–maybe the worst of the worst—absurdly holds that if  something would have occurred if a disqualifying event hadn’t happened, the disqualifying event shouldn’t count. It also embodies the “he didn’t have to cheat, so his cheating was no big deal” fallacy. This would have excused Richard Nixon: after all, he won by a landslide anyway, so what difference does it make that he tried to illegally undermine the McGovern campaign? Ugh. It makes me crazy even writing about this one.

  • Bonds cheated during a period when cheating was rampant, so a lot of the player he surpassed weren’t disadvantaged.

Continue reading

Baseball Hall Of Fame Ethics Bulletin

The results of the voting for the Major league Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown are in. The Baseball Writers Association of America elected Braves third-base great  Chipper Jones, slugger Jim Thome , relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman and Montreal Expo legend Vladimir Guerrero, excellent ad deserving choices all.

Joe Morgan is happy tonight. The writers did not elect Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa or Gary Sheffield, steroid cheats all. Nor did any of them come particularly close to the 75% of ballots cast (a voter can select up to ten) necessary for enshrinement.

Good.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/2/2018: Cheaters, Stoners And Head Explosions

good morning

(i lived in e e cummings’ old dorm room as a college freshman. never got him at all, but it would be great not to have to worry about the shift key)

1 Three wrongs don’t make a right. They track baseball’s Hall of Fame votes as they come in now, using those ballots that the baseball writers make public (not all of them do). It looks like neither Barry Bonds, nor Roger Clemens, the all-time “greats”—cheaters cannot be fairly considered great—who sullied the game and its records by using performance enhancing drugs, are not gaining support to the extent than many predicted, and will fall short again.

Good. That makes six years down and only four more to go before the two are no longer eligible for this method of entering Cooperstown. Not so good is the development that the newer and younger voters tend to support Barry and the Rocket while the older sportswriters they replace as voters did not. Why is this? Well, the young Turks don’t see anything wrong with illegal drugs, for one thing: they probably used–use?— them themselves. Next, they have been hearing the routine rationalizations and flawed arguments defending Bonds for 20 years, which can rot one’s brain—I know they have nearly rotted mine, and I know they are worthless. Mostly, I think, each succeeding American generation has less ethical literacy and competence than the one before. The field isn’t taught in grade school, is barely mentioned in the media, and unlike the good ol’ days of “The Lone Ranger,” “Father Knows Best”  and “The Defenders,” popular culture undermines an ethical culture more than it nurtures one.

There is also a new bad argument for letting in Bonds and Clemens, which would then open the floodgates for arguably worse baseball deplorables like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez—who knows? Maybe even Pete Rose. That line of reasoning  is that since the Baseball Commissioner, Bud Selig, who averted his gaze while the steroid epidemic was infecting every team and the evidence was undeniable, was admitted to the Hall last year by his complicit cronies, the cheating players he enabled should be forgiven too.

That this is increasingly being cited a justification by the younger writers tells us that mothers aren’t teaching their kids that two wrongs don’t make a right any more.

2.Three wrongs don’t make a right, Part II. In related news, California went all-pot-head at midnight New Years Eve. My conviction that legalizing marijuana is an abdication of government’s responsibility to protect society, a leap down a deadly slippery slope, and the product of greed and cowardice hasn’t abated one iota, but I’m happy to have a large-scale experiment to prove me wrong—or right. Now we can expect a wave of stoners as well as illegal immigrants into the Golden State—ah, what a paradise it will be! This creeping crud in U.S. culture is also in part the result of a terrible example of “two wrongs make a right” fallacy—I’m sure you have either heard it or—yecchh—used it yourself. “Alcohol and tobacco are worse than marijuana, and they are legal!”

Yes, about that: guess what is on the rise and killing more people? From the New York Times a few days ago:

[A]lcohol overuse remains a persistent public health problem and is responsible for more deaths, as many as 88,000 per year. … [T]here has been about a 50 percent uptick in emergency room visits related to heavy drinking. After declining for three decades, deaths from cirrhosis, often linked to alcohol consumption, have been on the rise since 2006….[B]inge drinking — often defined as five per day for men and four per day for women — is on the rise among women, older Americans and minorities. Behind those figures there’s the personal toll — measured in relationships strained or broken, career goals not met and the many nights that college students can’t remember.

3. Gee, thanks, David, I love starting a new year with my brains on the ceiling...David Leonhardt, one of the many Democratic operatives with press credentials (Instapundit calls them)  writing for New York Times, exploded my head with his New Years column, “7 Wishes for 2018.” His wishes 1, 2, 6 and 7 each would have done the trick by themselves, but collectively it was Krakatoa all over again.

Here are David’s four wishes: Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Baseball Great Joe Morgan

The baseball writers are filling out their Hall of Fame ballots, and Hall of Fame member Joe Morgan authored a much-needed letter on behalf of his fellow honorees to urge voters to keep steroid cheats out of the Hall. He wrote—on Hall of Fame stationary, so it is clear that this was both personal and official:

The Hall of Fame is Special – A Letter from Joe Morgan

Over the years, I have been approached by many Hall of Fame members telling me we needed to do  something to speak out about the possibility of steroid users entering the Hall of Fame. This issue  has been bubbling below the surface for quite a while. 

I hope you don’t mind if I bring to your attention what I’m hearing. 

Please keep in mind I don’t speak for every single member of the Hall of Fame. I don’t know how  everyone feels, but I do know how many of the Hall of Famers feel. 

I, along with other Hall of Fame Baseball players, have the deepest respect for you and all the writers who vote to decide who enters Baseball’s most hallowed shrine, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For some 80 years, the men and women of the BBWAA have cast ballots that have made the Hall into the wonderful place it is. 

I think the Hall of Fame is special. There is a sanctity to being elected to the Hall. It is revered. It is  the hardest Hall of Fame to enter, of any sport in America. 

But times change, and a day we all knew was coming has now arrived. Players who played during  the steroid era have become eligible for entry into the Hall of Fame. 

The more we Hall of Famers talk about this – and we talk about it a lot – we realize we can no longer  sit silent. Many of us have come to think that silence will be considered complicity. Or that fans  might think we are ok if the standards of election to the Hall of Fame are relaxed, at least relaxed  enough for steroid users to enter and become members of the most sacred place in Baseball. We don’t want fans ever to think that. 

We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They  cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here. 

Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League  Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those  are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right. 

Now, I recognize there are players identified as users on the Mitchell Report who deny they were  users. That’s why this is a tricky issue. Not everything is black and white – there are shades of gray  here. It’s why your job as a voter is and has always been a difficult and important job. I have faith in  your judgment and know that ultimately, this is your call. 

But it still occurs to me that anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat  the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players, and fans too, doesn’t  belong in the Hall of Fame. By cheating, they put up huge numbers, and they made great players  who didn’t cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s not right. 

And that’s why I, and other Hall of Famers, feel so strongly about this.  

It’s gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they’ll no longer  come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies or other events. Some feel they can’t share a stage  with players who did steroids. The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame  too. The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will  divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear. 

Section 5 of the Rules for Election states, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing  ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player  played.” 

I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up; but if a player did steroids,  his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution  he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness. 

Steroid use put Baseball through a tainted era where records were shattered. “It was a steroidal farce,” wrote Michael Powell in the New York Times. It is no accident that those records held up for decades until the steroid era began, and they haven’t been broken since the steroid era ended.  Sadly, steroids worked. 

Dan Naulty was a journeyman pitcher in the late 1990s who admitted he took steroids, noting that his fastball went from 87 to 96. He told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in 2012, “I was a full-blown  cheater, and I knew it. You didn’t need a written rule. I was violating clear principles that were laid down within the rules. I understood I was violating implicit principles.” 

The Hall of Fame has always had its share of colorful characters, some of whom broke or bent society’s rules in their era. By today’s standards, some might not have gotten in. Times change and  society improves. What once was accepted no longer is. 

But steroid users don’t belong here. What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change  for the worse. 

Steroid users knew they were taking a drug that physically improved how they played. Taking  steroids is a decision. It’s the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of. 

I and other Hall of Famers played hard all our lives to achieve what we did. I love this game and am  proud of it. I hope the Hall of Fame’s standards won’t be lowered with the passage of time.  For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls  honor those who played the game hard and right. I hope it will always remain that way. 

Sincerely, 

Joe Morgan

Good.

I agree in every respect. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/9/17

GOOD MORNING!

1. The Pope gave an interview saying, in Italian of course, that the United States of America, which he offensively grouped with Russia, China, North Korea and Syria, have “a distorted vision of the world.”

The Pope, who has spent the bulk of his adult life seeing the world through the narrowly focused lense of the Catholic Church, and who hails from a South American leftist state, thinks that the United States has a distorted view of the world. Wow. Besides the stunning hubris of this pronouncement, the Pope is engaging in an abuse of position and influence, and a remarkably short-sighted one. If he wants to exercise any influence at all over citizens of the world who have not been indoctrinate since childhood to regard him as a godly sage by virtue of a secret political vote by a bunch of superannuated Cardinals, he has to earn credibility by the evident quality of the statements he makes. Later on, in the same interview, the Pope made it clear that his  undistorted vision of the world involves endorsing open borders.

I think the Pope has a distorted view of the trustworthiness of celibate men who have access to young boys, so I really couldn’t care less what he thinks about U.S. policies when he can’t objectively and responsibly process the terrible realities in his own organization.

2. I’ve been reading and  listening to sportswriters since I was ten, and I have to say that I have little respect for the critical thinking skills of most of them. I was gobsmacked by an example of why this morning, as Steve Buckley, a long-time baseball reporter for the Hub’s #2 paper The Boston Herald, opined in a virtue-signaling mess of a column that “War heroes, not David Ortiz, deserve streets named after them.” David Ortiz, in case you live in a fallout shelter, is the recently retired iconic slugger of the Boston Red Sox. The team recently retired his number, and in a related honor, the city of Boston re-named a small street near the park after him. It had earlier named one of the many bridges in the city after him.

“We should reserve the streets, the corners, the squares, the playgrounds, to remember the men and women who died serving our country.” Buckley writes. Why? He never really gives a reason, he just tells us that this is the way it should be.  Why are the veterans who die in military service more honor-worthy than those who risked their lives but survived? Since when are society’s only real heroes military heroes? Is he a time-traveler from Ancient Sparta? Do contributions to society during peacetime or on the home front matter less to a community than what happens on a foreign battlefield?

What about fallen police officers and fire fighters? Not worth a street name? Philanthropists, inventors and innovators who made life better for all, launched businesses, created jobs, helped families and neighborhood thrive—these don’t warrant a little bit of  local immortality?  David Ortiz made millions of people happy. In a racially divided city, Ortiz, a black man, became the face of Boston sports, at least for those who were nauseated by Tom Brady’s smug countenance.  That was as important as his clutch home runs. Trivializing Ortiz’s contributions to Boston (the relationship of Bostonians to their infuriating baseball team is too complex to explain quickly to anyone who hasn’t been part of it) is trivializing the importance of entertainment and popular culture, which is nothing short of ignorant, especially in the United States. In the District of Columbia, a school is named after Duke Ellington. Good. In Los Angeles, for decades until California leftists finally removed it, a major airport was named after John Wayne. Excellent. And in Boston, the largest tunnel is named after Ted Williams, but maybe Buckley thinks that’s OK because Williams was a combat flier in two wars. (Pssst! Ted’s tunnel isn’t bearing his name because he crash-landed that jet, Steve!)

As a society and a species, we have a duty to remember those who have contributed to the culture we enjoy. There aren’t enough streets, schools, bridges and parks to honor them all, but they all deserve to be honored. Continue reading

The Wrenching Problem Of David Ortiz, The Human Slippery Slope

papi_fame

Ethics conflicts force us to choose when multiple ethical principles and values point to diametrically opposed resolutions.  Often, a solution can be found where the unethical aspects of the resolution can be mitigated, but not this one. It is a tale of an ethics conflict without a satisfactory resolution.

I didn’t want to write this post. I considered waiting five years to write it, when the issue will be unavoidable and a decision mandatory. Toda, however, is the day on which all of Boston, New England, and most of baseball will be honoring Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who will be playing his finale regular season game after a 20 years career.  His 2016 season is quite possibly the best year any professional baseball player has had as his final one; it is definitely the best season any batter has had at the age of 40 or more. Ortiz is an icon and a hero in Boston, for good reason. Ortiz was instrumental in breaking his team’s infamous 86-year long “curse” that saw it come close to winning the World Series again and again, only to fail in various dramatic or humiliating ways. He was a leader and an offensive centerpiece of three World Champion teams in 2004, 2007, and 2013. Most notably, his record as a clutch hitter, both in the regular season and the post season is unmatched. You can bring yourself up to speed on Ortiz’s career and his importance to the Red Sox, which means his importance to the city and its culture, for nowhere in America takes baseball as seriously as Beantown, here.

That’s only half the story for Ortiz. Much of his impact on the team, the town and the game has come from his remarkable personality, a unique mixture of intensity, charm, intelligence, generosity, pride and charisma. After the 2013 terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon, which shook the city as much as any event since the Boston Massacre, Ortiz made himself the symbol of Boston’s anger and defiance with an emotional speech at Fenway Park. Then he put an exclamation point on his defiance by leading the Red Sox, a last place team the year before, to another World Series title.

Performance-based arguments against electing Ortiz to baseball’s Hall of Fame are, at this point, untenable. Entering his final game, Ortiz had 541 home runs, (17th all-time), 1,768 RBI, (22nd), and 632 doubles, (10th).  He is only the third player in history to have more than 500 home runs and 600 doubles.  He ranks among the greatest post season hitters in baseball history with 17 home runs, 60 RBI and 21 doubles. His postseason average is .295 with an on base percentage of .409, a slugging percentage of .553 and a .962 OPS (the sum of the two.) Most great players did worse in the post season than during the regular season, for the obvious reason: the competition was better. Ortiz was better, which informs regarding his character and dedication.

The one lingering argument against admitting Ortiz to a ranks of Ruth, Williams, Aaron, Mays, Cobb, Hornsby, Griffey and the rest is that he has spent most of his career as a designated hitter, the American League’s 1973 invention, much reviled by National League fans and baseball traditionalists, designed to allow real batters relive fans from watching pitchers make fools of themselves at the plate. This makes him “half a player,” the argument goes. No designated hitter has ever been elected to the Hall, so that argument has prevailed so far. It was always a weak one—how did being lousy fielders like so many Hall of Fame sluggers make them greater players than one who never hurt his team at all with his glove? Now that a designated hitter has shown himself to be in the elite ranks of all the greatest batters, the argument sounds more like hysterical anti-DH bias than ever.

I should also note, before getting to the main point of this post, that I love Ortiz. I am a life-time Red Sox fan, Boston born, bred and marinated, and Big Papi is special. He is one of the most interesting and admirable sports figures of my lifetime, and what he has meant to my city and my favorite sport is beyond quantifying. Few great athletes demonstrate persuasively that they are also great and admirable human beings. Ortiz is one of them.

Nonetheless, it is crucial that David Ortiz not be elected to the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible five years from now, and that he never be admitted. On the matter of assessing the fitness for baseball honors of those who defiled the game by inflating their statistics, changing the outcome of games and harming players who abided by the rules, David Ortiz is a human slippery slope. Ortiz deserves to be in the Hall based on all admission criteria, including character and sportsmanship, but his admission will open the doors wide for players who are unfit, polluting the Hall of Fame and baseball’s values forever.

It’s not worth the trade off. This is the ethics conflict: one cannot be fair and just to “Big Papi” without doing widespread harm to the sport, and I would argue, the entire culture. Continue reading

The Black Lives Matters Effect, Part I: The Tenor And The Blogger

Singing the right lyrics also matters, you boob...

Singing the right lyrics also matters, you boob…

One thing you have to say for Black Lives Matters: it is good at making people make asses of themselves. “Late Night” host Seth Myers was yesterday’s example, but there are oh-so-many-more, and much worse.

For example, in the pre-game ceremonies of the Major League Baseball 2016 All-Star Game in San Diego, a Canadian tenor, apparently driven to distraction by the reverential treatment given to a group that promotes race hatred and a color-based standard for law-enforcement, snapped while performing the Canadian national anthem. Remigio Pereira, a member of  the vocal group The Tenors tapped to sing the anthem, held up a handwritten sign that read “All Lives Matter” altered the lyrics in the line “With glowing hearts we see thee rise. The True North strong and free” to “We’re all brothers and sisters, all lives matter to the great.”

This doesn’t fit the music, and is even worse than the real lyrics, which is quite a feat. Of course, Remigio was unethical to do this, expropriating an event that had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter, nor race, nor politics to make his own grandstanding statement (come to think of it, baseball does have something to do with grandstands. The stunt was disrespectful of everyone—his hosts, Major League Baseball; San Diego; the captive audience in the stadium, the TV audience, Canada. It was also a breach of trust that directly and perhaps fatally wounded his group, which immediately suspended him (Can we say F-I-R-E-D, Tenors? Sure we can) and issued an abject apology.

The statement was not unduly disrespectful to Black Lives Matter, however, which has shown itself to be unworthy of respect, as all divisive hate groups are.

The Black Lives Matters effect is wide-ranging, however, as this episode shows. It not only makes Canadian tenors irresponsible, but sportswriters too. Over at NBC Sports online, baseball blogger Craig Calcaterra couldn’t perceive the unethical nature of a performer hijacking a paid gig for his own purposes, but lectured his readers on the sin of using the term “All Lives Matter,” writing,

This may not seem terribly controversial to some, but in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement that has risen over the past few years, “All Lives Matter” has come to be seen as a reactionary response which fundamentally misunderstands — often intentionally — the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement. And is used to belittle and marginalize the Black Lives Matter Movement. The phrase “black lives matter” does not mean that “black lives matter more than any other lives.” If it did, sure, maybe “All Lives Matter” would be a reasonable response. But “Black Lives Matter” is a response to a society and, particularly, police, which treat blacks as lesser persons and who do not face repercussions for harming and in some cases killing black people through excessive force. It’s “black lives matter too” — a necessary statement, sadly — not “black lives matter more.”

Sigh. Continue reading

The Absolute Worst Of The Terrible Arguments For Putting Barry Bonds In The Hall Of Fame

815-Baseball-Hall-of-Fame-CEvery year at this time, I issue commentary on the “steroid-users in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame” controversy. I’m not going to disappoint you this year.

Today the Hall will announce who the baseball writers deemed worthy, and, as usual, the acknowledged steroid cheats with Hall of Fame statistics will be resoundingly rejected. I don’t feel like revisiting this subject in depth again right now: I have done so before, many times. However, yesterday I nearly drove off the road listing to MLB radio commentators Casey Stern and Jim Bowden, supposedly baseball experts, give their reasons for voting for the entire range of steroid cheats, from Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire to Roger Clemens and the despicable Alex Rodriquez.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame, alone among the sports Halls,  includes ethics in its criteria for entry: a player must exhibit sportsmanship, integrity and have been a credit to the game. The average sportswriter who votes for candidates is about as conversant in ethics as he is in Aramaic, leading to an endless debate involving every rationalization on the list and  analogies so terrible that they melt the brain.For example, I constantly hear and read that the evidence that Barry Bonds used steroids is “circumstantial” so it is unfair to tar him as a steroid user. Such commentators don’t know what circumstantial evidence is. Criminals can be justly convicted beyond a reasonable doubt by circumstantial evidence, which is also known as indirect evidence. Direct evidence, if believed, proves the existence of a particular fact.  Circumstantial evidence proves facts other than the particular fact  to be proved, but reason and experience indicates that the indirect evidence is so closely associated with the fact to be proved that the fact to be proved may be fairly inferred by existence of the circumstantial evidence. There is direct evidence that Bonds was a steroid-user, but the circumstantial evidence, as the well-researched book “Game of Shadows” showed, is so voluminous that it alone is decisive. Literally no one thinks Bonds is innocent of using steroids. [You can read my analysis of the case against Bonds here, here, and here.]

Stern and Bowden, however, claim that it is unfair to refuse the honor of Hall of Fame membership to suspected steroid users because it is inevitable that some players who used steroids and were never caught or suspected will make it into the Hall, if there aren’t such undetected cheat in the Hall already. Continue reading

Yet Another Consequentialism Lesson From Baseball

It's for your own good, kid.

It’s for your own good, kid.

Consequentialism is the ethical fallacy of  judging an action right or wrong according to its ultimate effects, which are unknowable at the time the decision is made. This is, essentially, the equivalent of a “the ends justify the means” philosophy applied as a backward-looking tautology: if the end result turns out to be desirable, then it  justifies the means and the act was ethical. If the ends are undesirable, then the conduct was wrong unethical. People do tend to think to think this way, which is why decisions that don’t work out are frequently called mistakes. Conduct is not a mistake, however, if it was the best possible decision at the time, arrived at logically and according to sound principles.

Sports, and particularly baseball, reinforce the adoption of consequentialism, which is one way sports can make people stupid….especially sportswriters, who love to second-guess managers, players and coaches by using hindsight bias: it’s easy to pronounce a decision a mistake once you already know its results. Easy, and unfair.

On Saturday afternoon, Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams punished his 21-year-old star outfielder Bryce Harper for not running hard to first base on a ground ball tapper back to the pitcher in the top of the sixth inning. The punishment Williams levied was Old School: Williams benched the young player—just like Joe Cronin did to Ted Williams in 1939 and 1940–sending the message that either you hustle and play hard, or you don’t play, no matter how good you are. This is his duty as a manager, a leader, a mentor and a teacher, and it makes a vital statement to the entire team. Continue reading