In The Baseball Dead Of Winter, An Old And Unresolved Ethics Problem Glows Bright

From left to right: MLB, players, and the union.

…as Major League Baseball ignores it, as usual.

Ethics alarms test: Scott Boras, lawyer and player agent, represents two Washington Nationals free agents in their prime. One is Stephen Strasburg, one of the best and most sought after starting pitchers in the game. He was seeking, on the advice of his agent, a long-term contract of more than 30 million dollars a year. Another is Anthony Rendon, third-baseman, and the Nationals’ best player in 2019, their championship year. He also is seeking a salary of at least 30 million per year, over many years. He is a fan favorite in Washington, D.C., and obviously enjoys playing there. Contrary to popular belief, however, Major League baseball teams do not have endless supplies of money, though they have a lot. Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals general manager, told the sports media and Washington fans that the team could not afford to sign both Strasberg and Rendon at the rates they were demanding and the marketplace dictated.

Is there a problem, and if so, what is it?

You shouldn’t need much time to answer, but then again, thousands of baseball sportswriters and the entire baseball establishment havn’t figured this out over many years, do I’ll give you a “Jeopardy!” period of reflection:

OK, contestants,what’s your answer? Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Aborted No-Hitter

Friday night, Miami pitcher Adam Conley  was pitching a no-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers with two outs in the eighth inning, meaning that he was just four outs away. A no-hitter—no hits, no runs, for an entire game—places a pitcher name in the  Hall of Fame. It makes him an instant part of sports history. In today’s hyper-celebrity culture, it means interviews and endorsements.

Moreover, the Marlins needed something to make their fans feel better. Dee Gordon, the team’s star second baseman, had just tested positive for steroids and was suspended for 80 games. Nonetheless, Marlins manager Don Mattingly lifted Conley because he had exceeded his pitch count. Though baseball paid little attention to the statistic for 70 years, today teams carefully monitor how many pitches a hurler throws, both to anticipate ineffectiveness, and to guard against injury.

In Conley’s case, he had never thrown more than a hundred pitches in a game, and had topped out at 116. To Mattingly and Marlins pitching coach Juan Nieves, that meant that even on the verge of immortality, Conley had to be removed. Conley was angry, though he said all the right things after the game. Still, knowing the alleged risk to his arm and career, he wanted to try to finish his masterpiece. (The Marlins blew the no-hitter and the shutout in the 9th, though still managed to win 5-3.)

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Was removing Conley “for his own good” when he wanted to have the chance at a no-hitter fair?

Continue reading

The Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg Dilemma

The real problem with Stephen Strasburg’s pitching arm is that it’s attached to his neck…

I must apologize to those who care about baseball-related ethics matters. I have been so immersed in the problems dogging my sad and dispirited Boston Red Sox that I have neglected the more glaring ethics issue looming over my current home town team, the Washington Nationals, currently on top of the National League East and almost certainly bound for their first post-season appearance. They face that prospect, however, with a problem: before the season began, management pledged that Stephen Strasburg, the team’s young fire-balling ace who seems destined for a Hall of Fame career, will be shut down for good once he hits 180 innings or less. Strasburg has already had serious arm surgery once, and conventional baseball wisdom now holds that throwing too many pitches before a pitcher has matured risks his arm, his effectiveness and his career. What this means now, however, that was hardly conceivable when the pledge was made, is that the Nationals could be battling the best teams in baseball in pursuit of a World Series title with their best pitcher completely healthy but in mothballs.

I had only given this matter perfunctory focus, concluding as a fan that it was a screwball plan that would never be executed, and not thinking much about the ethics of the controversy—and as you might imagine, it’s a big controversy in the Washington area sports pages. It took respected baseball writer John Feinstein to shock me out of my apathy with his sensible and well-reasoned column on the issue today, that ended thusly:

“Pitching a healthy Strasburg in October is not a betrayal, it’s simply recognizing that circumstances have changed. Not pitching him is a betrayal: to the pitcher, to the team, to the fans and to the city.” Continue reading