Ethics Dunce: ARod-Plunking Red Sox Pitcher Ryan Dempster

I’ll admit it: I came thiiiiis close to designating Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster an Ethics Hero. Right after he intentionally threw a fastball  into Alex Rodriguez’s ribs on what would have been ball four, I was ready to write the post. Good for Dempster, I thought, making a statement for all the players who deplore steroids and the cheats who use them and for all the fans who feel that sociopathic, lying, greedy players who have debased the greatest game on earth with their use of PEDs. I continued to think that even after the Red Sox lost last night’s game against the Yankees, in no small part because Dempster put the Yankee third baseman, who continues to play while he appeals Major League Baseball’s suspension of him for this season and next, on base.

I was not, however, thinking clearly or ethically at the time.

Now, I am. Continue reading

The Ethics of Cheering Alex Rodriguez

Poor Alex Rodriguez and his wife...

Poor, downtrodden, Alex Rodriguez and his wife…

Baseball’s most embarrassing super-star, the steroid cheat Alex Rodriguez, in playing for the New York Yankees while appealing his long suspension by Major League baseball. As he is unquestionably a repeat liar and a serial violator of the game’s rules against PED’s (performance enhancing drugs), as he signed a contract, in part generated by the results of his cheating, that will both enrich him by millions and handicap his team competitively while conferring few, if any benefits, as he would qualify, by most objective standards, as the antithesis of a sports hero, the fact that Arod, as he is called, still was cheered by a vocal minority in Yankee Stadium when he made his season debut this week is intriguing. What does this mean? Can it be ethical to cheer Rodriquez now?

These are deceptively complex and difficult questions. The threshold  issue is whether cheering or jeering any sports figure, or any public figure at all, is an act with ethical content rather than just a communication of an opinion. Is it conduct, or just “words”? I think, in the context of the Rodriquez situation, a sound argument can be made that it is conduct. Registering group approval or disapproval of prominent conduct by someone of status and influence is a crucial societal function in setting standards, registering disapproval, and prompting shame, regret, apology and reform—none of which, so far at least, seem to register with Arod.

That is pretty clearly what the boos convey, but what about the cheers? If the boos are ethical—they are if the disapproval is proportionate, rational, fair, and just—then are the cheers automatically unethical? Not necessarily. Here are some of the things those cheers could be expressing: Continue reading

Ethics Corrupter: Yankee Third Baseman Alex Rodriquez; Ethics Dunce: Yankee Manager Joe Girardi; Disgraced: The New York Yankees

Corrupted!

Corrupted!

Today, Major League Baseball announced that it was suspending Alex Rodriquez, the New York Yankees aging superstar, for the remainder of the 2013 season and the 2014 season for  using banned performance enhancing drugs, and impeding baseball’s investigation of his cheating. This was the climax (but not the end) of a long, drawn out, messy process and investigation involving a sleazy Miami drug lab, called Biogenesis, now closed down, which had records indicating that many professional baseball players had obtained banned substances.

Former National League MVP Ryan Braun (who I keep calling “Steve”) has already been banned for the rest of the year by the evidence obtained from Biogenesis records. The process has been marred by serial leaks from MLB  (unfair to the players involved, including Rodriquez) and ugly maneuvering between Rodriguez, who has been recovering from a serious hip issue, and the Yankees, who owe him approximately a gazillion dollars (thanks to an idiotic career contract signed in 2007 after he had already admitted to using steroids once), would like nothing more than for him to vanish in a puff of smoke and sulfur.

To explain the baroque ins and outs of baseball’s steroid wars, its player union relations, and the various intersecting agreements, special clauses and other things that have an impact on Rodriquez’s suspension would take too long here and would even bore the baseball fans. What you need to know now is this: Continue reading

Should Steroid Users Make Baseball’s All-Star Team? Should Felonious and Hypocritical Ex-Governors Be Elected Comptroller?

Bartolo and Eliot

USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan made what I assume will be a controversial argument that baseball players who have tested positive for steroids at any point in their careers should be permanently banned from being honored with inclusion on baseball’s All-Star teams. This is controversial, because a lot of misguided souls, including sportswriters, think that proven steroid cheats ought to be allowed into baseball’s Hall of Fame, a much greater and more significant career honor. The issue arises because Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon, who last year tested positive for banned PED’s (Performance Enhancing Drugs)and was suspended for 5o days, has been selected for the American League All-Star squad. Brennan writes,

“Colon, and every other performance-enhancing drug user in baseball, should never be allowed to become an All-Star, or win any MLB award. No Cy Young, no MVP, no batting title, no nothing. It doesn’t matter that he was caught and suspended last year, not this year…The bottom line is, you don’t suddenly become a non-cheater once your suspension is over. Colon is 40 years old, yet he’s having his best season in eight years. Where have we heard that before? Even though last year’s illegal testosterone isn’t still in his system, it helped build the body that he is using today…Because Colon and his tainted body are in the All-Star Game, someone like (Tampa Bay pitcher Matt) Moore is not. He has the same record as Colon, 12-3, but with a higher ERA, 3.42 to Colon’s 2.69. We’re presuming, of course, that Moore is not on PEDs, which means his season is more impressive than Colon’s because it isn’t built on a chemical foundation as Colon’s is…It’s a privilege to receive these honors, not a right. They are extras, add-ons, awards to be cheered. They do not belong to the Brauns, A-Rods and Colons of this world. Those players should be given absolutely nothing to celebrate.” Continue reading

And This, Craig, is Why Barry Bonds Should Only Get In The Hall Of Fame With A Ticket

Blame Barry, Chris.

Blame Barry, Chris.

In Baltimore, a young, slugging first baseman is leading the charge to get the Baltimore Orioles into the American League play-offs. He is on a home run pace that could net him 60  or more, and fans voted him the starting first baseman on his league’s All-Star team. Because his production this year far exceeds anything he had accomplished before, however, Chris Davis’s emergence isn’t being celebrated as much as it is being suspected. Another steroid scandal looms over major league baseball, one which threatens to engulf two former MVPs, as well as other players. Fans and sportswriters don’t trust players any more, or their power totals, not since Mark McGwire and especially Barry Bonds juiced and injected their way to shattering the game’s home run records.

This bothers lawyer/baseball blogger Craig Calcaterra, and it should., as someone concerned with justice. Of the smearing of Davis, he calls it…

“…utterly baseless speculation; Davis has always had tremendous power but is now, in the past year, matched it up with better plate discipline — is the product of a media landscape which has decided that every power hitter is a ‘roider. Jose Bautista got this treatment a couple of years ago. Davis is getting it now. Everyone who engages in this business does so because they’ve been convinced by the baseball media that such speculation is not just justified but necessary. It’s neither of those things. The drug testing system put in place had avoiding these parlor games as one of its primary justifications. But that’s not good enough for some, apparently.” Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: The Baseball Writers Association of America

Nope.

Nope.

In the Baseball Hall of Fame balloting announced today, those who elect baseball’s greats to its shrine of heroes failed to give anyone the requisite 75% ballots required for election. That’s too bad: Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Mike Piazza are deserving candidates.

The writers also did not elect unrepentant cheater, record thief and game-corrupter Barry Bonds, however, who was on only 36.2% of the ballots, slightly less than suspected steroid cheat Roger Clemens (37.6).

Good.

Unethical Quote of the Week: W.G. Hamm

“What I know about Lance Armstrong is that he inspired thousands of cancer victims and made their lives better. What I know about Mr. Armstrong is that when my wife and my son were both suffering from cancer, his story and his book helped them cope with their diseases. What I know about Mr. Armstrong is that the good that he did far outweighs the fact that he was trapped in a culture of drug use within the cycling fraternity. What I know about Mr. Armstrong is that he has been needlessly demonized by people who do not realize the balance between his good deeds and his bad deeds.”

—-W. G. Hamm, in his Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post. Hamm was praising a fatuous, rationalization-riddled  column by Post sportswriter Sally Jenkins in which she catalogued and endorsed every excuse and justification trotted out by Armstrong’s enablers and defenders.

would have loved Vlad.

W. G. would have loved Vlad.

I don’t know W.G. Hamm. I’m sure he’s the salt of the earth, and a part of me is queasy about picking on his letter praising Jenkins’ ridiculous column rather than tackling the truly ethically offensive and brain-dead column itself. One reason is that I have written extensively, frequently and recently about the arguments, if you can call them that, made by Jenkins. Her column really is spectacularly bad; here’s one passage that send me to the bathroom, for example:

“Maybe I’m not angry at Lance because for two decades now I’ve had serious questions about the wisdom and fairness of the “anti-doping” effort, which consists of criminalizing and demonizing athletes for what boils down to using medications without a prescription.”

No, it boils down to using medications without a prescription and using them to cheat in athletic contests for money and fame, while defrauding the public, you silly, dishonest woman. Continue reading

Of Course Barry Bonds Doesn’t Belong In The Hall Of Fame

Buy a ticket, Barry.

Buy a ticket, Barry.

A full complement of baseball’s steroid class is among the 37 players on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, so it was predictable that a new round of arguments would surface claiming that it is unfair, illogical, inconsistent or otherwise unseemly to exclude Barry Bonds and others from enshrinement. Predictable but frustrating: the arguments in favor of Bonds are arguments against maintaining ethical values, in baseball, sports, and American society.  It is also an annoying debate to engage in, and I have been engaging in it in various forms for many years, because Bonds’ defenders typically represent themselves as modern, reasonable, and realistic, while anyone making the quaint argument that cheating on a grand scale should earn shame rather than honors is mocked as judgmental, sanctimonious and naïve.  As ever, I am a glutton for punishment, and since otherwise wise and perceptive commentators like NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra choose to ally themselves with Bonds, I really am obligated to point out what a corrupt, illogical and unethical position it is.  If I and people like me don’t persist in this, we’ll have cheating approved as a cultural norm before we know what hit us.

Calcaterra has been supporting Bonds as a Hall of Fame candidate for a while now, but the title of his latest essay, “It’s Lunacy To Keep Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens Out of the Hall of Fame” is a gauntlet that begs to be picked up.  “Bonds and Clemens,” Craig writes, “ are two players who, in a just world, would be unanimous selections for induction…”  I find this an indefensible, even shocking, statement, both before and after the writer attempts to defend it. In a just world, a member of a profession who achieved his prominence in part by breaking the law and the rules, as well as lying about it, should be accorded the highest honor that profession has!  What an astounding point of view.

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to leave Clemens out of this, in part because I can see a Hall of Fame voter credibly deciding that there isn’t enough evidence to conclude that The Rocket really did use performance enhancing drugs on the way to forging one of the top five pitching careers of all time, and in part because I suspect Craig of pairing Bonds and Clemens to make his various rationalizations more pallatable than they would be in defense of Bonds alone.  Belief in Roger’s steroid cheating rests entirely on the testimony of a proven liar and slime-ball, his former trainer. MLB’s Mitchell Report sided with the trainer, and I’m inclined to as well, but Clemens’ unfitness for the Hall of Fame, unlike Bonds (and Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and some others), is not an open-and-shut case.

I give credit to Craig for not raising my least favorite of the Bonds defenses, that he has to be regarded as innocent because he has not been “proven guilty.” Calcaterra is a lawyer, and he understands the over-use and misuse of that cliché, as well as how it only applies when “guilty” means “you’re going to jail.” Indeed, he begins by conceding the obvious, that the evidence that Barry Bonds used steroids is overwhelming, which it is.

His first argument, however, is terrible. Under the ironic heading “Baseball Bonafides,” Calcaterra begins by reciting Bonds’ (and Clemens’) impressive list of achievements, which taken at face value show Barry Bonds to be one the best of the best, not just a qualified Hall of Fame baseball player, but an epitome of a Hall of Fame player along with such legends as Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson , Ted Williams and Willie Mays. “Put simply,” Craig says in conclusion, Bonds is an “immortal.” But he’s not-–not if he cheated, not if he achieved his historic status by corrupting his sport and lying to team mates and fans. And, as Calcaterra admits at the outset, this he did. As a result, the fact that Bonds won a record seven Most Valuable Player Awards is irrelevant. He cheated to win some of those awards. He gets no credit for them.  In Bonds’s case, “baseball bonafides” are not bona fide at all. Continue reading

The Ethics Incompleteness Dilemma and MLB’s Melky Cabrera “Solution”

Who cares what Melky wants?

[ When we last visited the messy Melky Cabrera situation, people were clamoring for baseball to rule Cabrera ineligible for the National League batting championship he seemed destined to win because the Giants outfielder had been suspended for the rest of the season for testing positive for steroids. The suspension froze his average, then as now leading the NL, and because he had already amassed sufficient at bats to qualify for the title, this meant that 1) he would benefit from what was supposed to be a punishment and 2) the most prestigious of all baseball season titles would be won by a proven cheater. I explained why taking the title away from Melky would be unethical as well as unwise:

“…There is a very good reason why the Constitution bans ex post facto laws—laws that make something illegal retroactively, so someone can become a criminal for something they did that was legal when they did it. Allowing such rules is an invitation to an abuse of power, culminating, in the worst case scenario, with the modern day equivalents of the Russian or French Revolutions, where people are executed for “crimes” that were not crimes at all. Even cheaters have rights, and one of them is to know what their risks are when they cheat. Cabrera knew that he risked suspension, a loss of millions in income, and permanent harm to his reputation and career. He did not know that he risked not winning a batting championship if he qualified for it, or being put in the stocks, being exiled to Portugal, or having his children subjected to human medical experiments. Should a player suspended for performing enhancing drug use after testing positive be disqualified from winning a batting championship that season? That seems fair and reasonable, but because Major League Baseball didn’t think of it when they were making the rules, it would be unfair for Cabrera to be subjected to such a penalty, which would embody the inherently unfair principle of an ex post facto law. Some people just can’t process this. People just shouldn’t get away with intentional bad conduct, they say. …Such people are unwittingly willing to dismember the bedrock principle of due process, which requires that we know by what rules and laws our conduct society will use to judge our conduct, and that we know what the penalties for violating them will be, or at least have a the opportunity to find these things out. No, of course it’s not fair for Melky Cabrera to win a batting championship by cheating, but a society that allows him to be penalized in ways he could not have anticipated using a rule imposed after the fact is an unfair society, and ethics is ultimately about building a more ethical society.”

Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball who is always as likely to make a terrible decision as a good one, said that he would not take any action on the matter. But that was not the end of the story…]

Yesterday, Major League Baseball announced that Melky Cabrera would not be eligible for the batting title after all. Continue reading