Bud Selig Is The Barry Bonds Of Baseball Commissioners…So Why Was He Just Elected To The Hall Of Fame?

Bud. I had a more descriptive caption, but decided that it wasn't professional...

Bud Selig. I had a more descriptive caption, but decided that it wasn’t professional…

Let me state my bias up front: I detest Bud Selig.

He became Major League Baseball’s first non-Commissioner Commissioner when baseball’s owners decided that Fay Vincent was doing the job of independent, uncorrupted overseer of the game’s welfare and integrity too literally for their tastes, fired him, and installed one of their own. That was Selig, a wealthy auto sales impresario who owned the Milwaukee Brewers and never saw a dollar he wouldn’t debase himself for.

The owners suspected that Vincent, a smart and decent man, might use his power to block the looming baseball labor-management impasse, benefiting the players. They dumped him just in time to give the job to an “independent overseer” who had the Mother of All Conflicts of Interest in the upcoming war: he was management. . Sure enough, under Bud’s fair and balanced leadership, the most devastating work stoppage in baseball history arrived in 1994. It stopped the season late and wiped out the World Series. It killed the Montreal Expos, for all intents and purposes, crushed the baseball card and memorabilia industry (it still hasn’t completely recovered), and nearly sent the sport itself into a death spiral. Baseball was saved, not by Selig, but by a combination of luck, the inherent greatness of the game, and Cal Ripken, who broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak (I was there to see it!) in the season after the strike to remind fans and the nation of baseball’s glorious past and why they cared about it.

From that point, Selig oversaw explosive growth in the game’s revenues, exposure, merchandising, player salaries and popularity, He shattered a lot of traditions to do it: the elimination of any real distinction between the leagues, expanded play-offs, wild card teams (which I hate, since they allow second place teams to become champions over the teams that defeated them during the season, but then there was the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox…) inter-league play, instant replay, penalties for big-spending teams, baseball in November, and more. If you are an ends justifies the means fan, Selig’s your man. He ended his more than two decades as the sport’s top executive with the game stronger and richer than ever.

He did this, however, despite and in part because he quietly enabled the scourge of steroid use among players, permitted cheating to go on right under his nose, and was shocked…shocked! to discover that all those players who began topping their previous best seasons at advanced ages when virtually all athletes go into decline, and all those players who turned up at spring training 25 pounds heavier and looking like Lou Ferrigno, and a few of those players breaking career and season records that hadn’t been approached in decades, were using illegal and banned performance enhancing drugs.  When this dawned on him, two steroid users, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, had shattered Roger Maris’s record for home runs in a season in the same year—what a coinkydink!—and another, the grotesquely inflated Barry Bonds, had not only broken the new record but was on the road to surpass Hank Aaron’s career homer record. 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

Jenrry Mejia, The Inexplicable Ethics Mega-Dunce

mejia

What is the explanation for this?

Jenrry Mejia is a young New York Mets relief pitcher who until recently had a bright future as a star closer and a guaranteed multi-millionaire.  Now, entirely on his own initiative, he has become the first player ever banned from baseball for using steroids .

This is not easy, though Mejia did it with ease…and speed.  After recovering from Tommy John surgery, Mejia was establishing himself as the Mets closer by the end of the 2014 season. But he began the 2015 season with an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a common PED (Performance Enhancing Drug), then, even before completing that punishment,  flunked another urine test and earned himself a 162-game suspension a few months later.

Knowing full well that a third positive test would end his career, Mejia tried a different banned steroid, was caught again, and that third strike triggered a lifetime expulsion from major league baseball under the sport’s rules. Nobody has been that reckless and stupid, not even Manny Ramirez (who was caught twice), and Manny’s picture is in the dictionary under “reckless and stupid.” Continue reading

No, Lisa, Alex Rodriguez Has Not Suddenly Become a Role Model. Also, YECCCHHHH…

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez warms up before the Yankees' American League baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts August 16, 2013.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Some role model.

Yesterday’s Washington Post “Outlook” section was polluted by a column by blogger Lisa Swan, and were her message not so ethically offensive, I would be inclined to ignore it. Her masterpiece was titled, “The Redemption of A-Rod,” and it argued that because Yankee designated hitter Alex Rodriguez has played unexpectedly well for his team after a one-year suspension, because the team is doing well this season, because he has not, as in the past, been involved in some embarrassing or slimy scandal on field or off for the grand total of nearly three months, and most of all, because Yankee fans are cheering him, he has become, in her words, a “role model.” She writes, and I am suppressing a gag reflex as I type this:

“We want our role models to be perfect, especially for our children’s sake. But what can flawless, contour-free statues — the marble creatures on pedestals — really teach us about overcoming adversity? The reality is that most of us have more A-Rod in us than we do Jeter. No. 2 is cool but boring; No. 13 is the one who, after decades of trying, finally bested his demons — the flawed human who dug his own grave, then climbed out of it.”

The stunning thing is that A-Rod’s biggest and most ethically obtuse fan does a reasonably fair job of summarizing his illegal, dishonest, unsportsmanlike, narcissist and sociopathic behavior. She writes… Continue reading

No, Craig, Barry Bonds Wasn’t A “Great” Baseball Player. Bernie Madoff Wasn’t A “Great” Investment Manager, Either

Christy Mathewson, a genuine hero. Barry Bonds would have made him want to throw up.

Christy Mathewson, a genuine hero. Barry Bonds would have made him want to throw up.

I like and admire Craig Calcaterra, who blogs entertainingly and perceptively about baseball on the NBC Sports website. I suppose I’m a bit jealous of him too: he’s a lawyer who now earns his living blogging about something he loves.

But Craig has always been a bit confused about how to regard baseball’s steroid cheats (they are cheats, which should answer any questions, but somehow doesn’t for a lot of people), and predictably, I suppose, he couldn’t resist reacting to the early results of Major League Baseball’s “Franchise Four” promotion, in which fans vote (until mid-May) for “the most impactful players who best represent each Major League franchise” as well as some other categories, including “Four Greatest Living Players.” The early results have Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver leading in the “Greatest Living Players” category, so Craig snarked that this is sad, because “it must mean Barry Bonds has died in a tragic cycling and/or Google Glass accident and no one thought to tell me.”

No, Craig, this is what someone failed to tell you: cheaters in any profession are not “great” by definition. Great baseball players, like great lawyers, writers, doctors, scientists and Presidents, bring honor on their profession, don’t corrupt everyone around them, don’t force people who admire them to embrace unethical conduct and turn them into aiders and abetters, and accomplish their great achievements while obeying the law, following the rules, and serving as role models for everyone who follows them. Barry Bonds was not a great baseball player. He had the ability to be one, but not the character.

Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver never once disgraced their game while they wore a uniform, and indeed made baseball stronger and better while they played. Good choices all.

The disgrace is that San Francisco fans voted Bonds as one of that team’s “Franchise Four,”  dishonoring great Giants of the past like Juan Marichal, as well as New York Giants greats like Christy Mathewson, Bill Terry, Carl Hubbell, and Mel Ott, Hall of Famers  and lifetime Giants who played with honesty and sportsmanship. But Giants fans warped values are among the casualties of Bonds’ career…and one more reason he can’t be rated anything but a great villain.

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

The Alex Rodriguez Suspension, Barry Bonds, And The Slippery Slope

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez stretches before American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston

In a decision that further defines major league baseball’s cultural standards regarding performance enhancing drugs and the players who use them, New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the entire 2014 season and post-season by an arbitrator yesterday. Rodriguez, a long-time superstar who was once considered a lock to break baseball’s career home run record, and who is the highest paid player in the game, was suspended for illicit drug use without testing positive under the game’s union-negotiated testing system. He was, instead, suspended for a violation of the player’s Basic Agreement under baseball management’s right to police the game and do what is in its best interests.

The evidence that Rodriguez was a flagrant and long-time steroid abuser came from documents obtained from Biogenesis, a lab that developed drugs for athletes and others, as well as convincing testimony. Rodriguez had challenged the suspension in a grievance procedure after MLB handed down a 211 game suspension during the 2013 season. The arbitrator’s ruling, which is confidential, apparently concluded that the player not only cheated, but obstructed efforts to enforce baseball’s intensified anti-drug measures in the wake of the wide-spread use of PEDs in the 90’s and thereafter.

As expected, the result produced the usual complaints and rationalizations from the disturbingly large contingent of baseball fans and writers who remain obdurate regarding the offensiveness of steroid cheating, claiming that it was “a part of the game,” that the objections to it are inconsistent, and that baseball’s vilification of users is hypocritical. They had been practicing these and related arguments for months as they waited for the baseball Hall of Fame voting results announced last week, in which about 65% of the voters showed that they regarded steroid use as a disqualification for the honor, even when a player-user had excelled on the field. Rodriquez’s defeat deeply undermines the cause of the steroid defenders, and the likelihood that their argument will ever prevail. Continue reading

The Fifth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2013 (Part One)

This is the first installment of the Worst.  It says something, and not something happy, that this segment of the year-end awards are more than twice as voluminous, and far more competitive, than the “Best” of 2013 ethics. Well, nobody said it would be easy….

Ethics Train Wreck of the Year

trainwreck

Obamacare, a.k.a Affordable Care Act. This is quite an achievement, as there were at least two other three Ethics Train Wrecks rolling along in 2013 that would have been easy victors in a less horrible year. One of them, The Trayvon Martin- George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck, was last year’s winner, and still wreaked ethics carnage across the culture, thanks to Zimmerman’s trial (which never should hev been brought), the biased media coverage, the incompetent prosecution, the inept judge, and then afterward, the ignorant and/or racially motivated attacks on the jury for doing its job well and fairly against overwhelming odds. Yet as bad as this hangover from 2012 was, the Sandy Hook Ethics Train Wreck was arguably even worse. The news media decided to go Soviet and abandon all pretense of objectivity, essentially becoming an Obama Administration propaganda tool for gun control. Elected officials lied their heads off; so did the aroused NRA. Gun owners talked and behaved like they were about to be Gulaged. Legislators shamelessly used the grief of victims to stampede public opinion; children became props; fake statistics were everywhere; brain-damaged Gabby Gifford was programmed to read child-like messages as if they were the conclusions of research papers. The President’s total lack of political leadership skill again came front and center, then, when he had failed to do what he promised to do, the opposition was vilified by celebrities like Jim Carrey, who called them murderers and worse.

But the Affordable Care Act lapped both of these. It revealed itself to be a five-year long train wreck that just took a break after an earlier stretch where the bill was passed without due diligence by its supporters and using a cynical by-passing of due process. A Presidential lie intentionally devised to deceive the public was repeated for the five-year span, and then exposed when the law began to take affect….but not before the law inspired Republicans to force a reckless and irresponsible shut-down, a mini-train wreck within the train wreck.  The website debacle was initially spun by the news media (not working worth a damn isn’t a “glich”), then the evidence of near criminal ineptitude became impossible not to report. The indisputable evidence that the President of the United States had sold a program under false pretenses came to light, prompting dozens of politicians, bloggers, pundits and reporters to destroy their credibility forever (I hope) by desperately trying to either rationalize the lie ( “the ends justify the means”), call it something other than what it was (The New York Times’ disgraceful “incorrect promise” was one low point), or simply deny that it was a lie at all (Democratic Chair Debby Wasserman Schultz, setting a new low for personal dishonesty, itself an achievement in her case). Then, when the public pressure and political fall-out became unbearable. the President just began amending the provisions of his own law on the fly, except that it was the nation’s law, and it’s unconstitutional to do that—this, after the mantra from Democrats and the news media during the shut-down debate was that the ACA was “settled law.”  HHS Secretary Sibelius misled Congress, the White House denied that her stated goals were goals once it was obvious they wouldn’t be met; and nobody was held responsible for yet another Obama Administration debacle. And there’s a lot more, with the train wreck still moving at top speed.

Fraud of the Year

Iowa State University biomedical sciences assistant professor Dong-Pyou Han, who resigned after admitting he tainted blood samples to get desired outcomes in research animals, allowing him to claim a break-through in the effort to develop an AIDS vaccine. The National Institutes of Health had awarded Han’s research team $19 million in multi-year grants.

Incompetent Elected Officials of the Year

  • Elected Body (National): House Republicans, who staged a wholly useless, expensive and damaging government shut-down on “principle,” without ever articulating what that principle was sufficiently for anyone responsible to agree with them. Runner-Up: The California House Legislature, which passed a law allowing illegal aliens to practice law.
  • National Elected Official:  President Obama.  From being incapable of working with Congress, to refusing to fire incompetents, to not knowing what was going on in his own administration, to drawing red lines he wasn’t willing to defend (and then advocating killing people just to show he was willing to defend them), to undermining the trust and faith in both his office and himself by uttering unequivocal lies, President Obama had one of the worst years of self-inflicted miscalculations, errors, failures and reversals of any U.S. President in history. I’m sorry to have to say it, but it’s true.
  • Local Elected Official: Storey County (Nevada) Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R). Wheeler told a group that if his constituents demanded it, he would vote (with a heavy heart)  to reinstate slavery, as he felt doing so would be his duty as a representative. Runner-up: Maryland House of Delegates Member Don Dwyer (R), who after a drunk driving and drunk boat piloting episode, the latter injuring several people, blamed his conduct in part of feeling betrayed over his colleagues approval of gay marriage in Maryland.

Sexual Harasser Of The Year Continue reading

Here’s The Ethics Lesson From The Hall Of Fame Voting Results Tomorrow…

HOF

And that lesson is: sportswriters have no clue when it comes to ethical analysis, or any other kind of analysis, really.

Tomorrow the results of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting will be announced, and those former stars receiving at least 75% of the vote will be officially enshrined as immortals. Every year before the steroid era, the voting was preceded by weird arguments that made no sense, like the one about whether a former player should be a “first time electee.” Some writers would concede that a given player was great enough for the Hall, but not vote for him because “he wasn’t good enough to get in on the first ballot.” This was, and is, ridiculous, and unfair. The question is, “Was this player great enough to deserve enshrinement, when the standards are unchanging?” It’s a yes or no question. “Maybe next year” is not a valid answer.

Thus I suppose that it should be no surprise that these same clods, faced with some really difficult ethical lines to draw in the wake of the so-called steroid era, show themselves to be not merely dunces, but ethics dunces as well. I just heard a sportswriter, Marty Noble, tell a baseball talk show that he won’t vote for any player about whom there is any question whatsoever regarding whether he cheated with steroids, including doubts based on rumors, whispering campaigns, looks, suspicions and drug tests. But he still voted for some players, he says. Well, that’s just wrong, by his own standards—he can’t be 100% sure about anyone. He also said that while he can vote for up to ten players, and agreed that there are more than ten players this year who have strong Hall credentials, he’s only voting for three. Why? Because, he says, the induction ceremony is too long.

Yes, he’s an idiot. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: ESPN Blogger David Schoenfield

...reason is emotion, and emotion is reason...

…reason is emotion, and emotion is reason…

Every year about this time, a large group of baseball writers, not to mention fans, expose their ethics and analytical deficiencies by making terrible arguments for admitting steroid-using stars of note into baseball’s Hall of Fame. The voting for the Hall is going on now, you see, and this year a bumper crop of candidates were either proven steroid users or reasonably suspected of being so.

Also every year at this time, I pick one of those ethically-challenged writers as an Ethics Dunce. This year, the winner is ESPN’s David Schoenfield, by virtue of a sentence near the end of a recent post in support of Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez, neither of whom are on the Performance Enhancing Drug suspicion list, as Hall of Fame candidates. Schoenfield wrote,

“The PED disagreements are all about emotion (“Cheaters!”) versus reason (“It was part of the game in that era, we don’t know who did what, etc.”).

Talk about a big, fat, hanging curveball over the heart of the plate! Continue reading