Yes, this one is about baseball. Trust me, I can find baseball ethics stories even when there’s no baseball. It is also about moral luck, how unethical conduct can have good results and vice-versa, and Chaos Theory, which posits that in complex systems, even insignificant changes can set into motion unpredictable chain reactions, and where they stop, nobody knows.
On Oct. 2, 1983, the Boston Red Sox said goodbye to Carl Yastrzemski at Fenway Park. I was there, along with my wife, thanks to the kindness of a good friend (who eventually real-life de-friended me over a political disagreement in an episode I will never understand. I don’t like to think about it,) Yaz got a great send-off for his final game, with an hour-long pregame ceremony, the retirement of his No. 8 jersey and a letter, read aloud to the crowd, from President Reagan. Yaz, memorably, rounded the park, touching the hands of the fans, and dramatically ripped off his jersey as he went down the steps of the dugout for the last time as a player. I’ll never forget it.
Since the retirement of a Red Sox legend after 22 years was the biggest story in the city as well as in baseball, the Boston sports talk radio show “The Sports Huddle” on WHDH decided to play a little joke. Let me interject here that “The Sports Huddle” was always a vile feature of the sports scene in Boston, uncivil, unfair, with loutish hosts and the kinds of callers who epitomized the worst stereotypes of Boston fans. It’s gone now, and good riddance. But I digress….
The show decided it would be funny to ignore Carl Yastrzemski, who the show and its callers had been generally vicious about for a decade, and to devote its four-hours on Yaz’s day to a joke tribute to as unremarkable a baseball figure as they could find. The producers settled on the first-base coach of the Montreal Expos, 55-year-old Vern Rapp, who had once managed the St. Louis Cardinals without distinction, and who had announced that he would end his baseball career at the end of the the 1983 season. Of course, only the most hard- core baseball fans in Boston would have any idea who Vern Rapp was.
The Sports Huddle jerks decided to play it all straight, presenting a solemn ,extended tribute to the mediocre, obsure,Expos coach. They tracked down former minor league teammates of Rapp’s, friends from his time in St. Louis, and Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon, interviewing them all about Rapp’s fine qualities as a baseball man and human being, and how much baseball would miss him. Then they interviewed Rapp himself. Nobody suspected that it was all a put-on.
At least nobody dumped a bucket of blood on his head, like they did to Carrie White. Continue reading