From The Ethics Alarms Mailbag: “Are Unwritten Rules Unethical?”

unwritten rules

The short answer is “No,” but the context of the question is fascinating, because it’s an example of the problem with unwritten rules generally. Unwritten rules are cultural norms, that’s all, and all cultures have them. They serve as manners, social balms and traditions that fill in the inevitable gaps and loopholes that formal, written rules inevitably leave uncovered. But cultures evolve, and extreme situations create exemptions where cultural norms no longer make sense.

No culture has more so-called unwritten rules than baseball, and this situation from two days ago triggered the question.

With the Chicago White Sox, currently with the best record in baseball, were ahead of the pathetic Minnesots Twins 15-4. The Twins, not wanting to waste a real pitcher on a blwo-out, turned to utility infielder Willians Astudillo to face the ChiSox in the final inning. Throwing a the classic “nothing ball” that most non-pitchers bring to the mound in such situations, Astudillo retired the first two batters but fell behind 3-0 to White Sox catcher Yermin Mercedes. On the next pitch, a lob to get the ball over the plate, Mercedes swung away blasted the 47 mph toss out of the ball parkfor a 16-4 lead.

The Twins broadcasters and many of the Twins players were offended, saying that Mercedes had breached the unwritten rule that says players shouldn’t try to “show up” the losing team in a rout. You don’t steal bases, you don’t sacrifice, and you don’t swing away at an “eephus pitch” to get a cheap home run. It’s essentially a Golden Rule based unwritten rule, though when it applies is a matter of dispute. Baseball teams have made up some very large deficits through the decades: a win is never a sure thing no matter what the score. Eleven runs, however, is certainly a big enough gap to make the rule relevant: the odds against a comeback are astronomical.

On the other hand, players are paid according to their statistics. Mercedes’ homer off of a non-pitcher will look the same in the record books as if Jacob DeGrom had thrown the ball.

But wait…there’s more! In the next game, an eventual 5-4 Minnesota win,Twins manager Rocco Baldelli andT wins reliever Tyler Duffey were ejected (they will also be fined and suspended) after Duffey threw a fastball behind Mercedes in retaliation for the “unwritten rule” breach. Baldelli, following the usual script, swore that the pitch was an accident, and that it was just a coincidence that his reliever scared the hell out of the same player who hit the controversial home run the previous night.

Then White Sox manager Tony La Russa announced that he agreed with the Twins throwing at his player, because Mercedes had broken an unwritten rule! This, in turn, was also an unwritten rule. Managers must not criticize their own players in public, and never, ever endorse the opposing team throwing at one of them. (I’ve never heard of any manager doing this.)

The White Sox did not take LaRussa’s violation well. Chicago pitcher Lance Lynn tweeted, “If a position player is on the mound, there are no rules. Let’s get the damn game over with. And if you have a problem with whatever happened, then put a pitcher out there.”

Exactly.

Unwritten rules are ethical if:

  • Everybody knows what they are
  • They have a legitimate purpose
  • It is understood that as there are always exceptions where written rules don’t apply, there are exceptions where unwritten rules don’t apply,
  • Everyone pays attention to the evolving nature of the culture involved, and
  • It is understood that unwritten rules exist to make a culture more reasonable and rational. If an unwritten rule doesn’t accomplish that, then the rule should be revoked.

___________________________

Pointer: JutGory

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D-Day 75th Anniversary Ethics Warm-Up, June 6, 2019: Stumbling As We Try To Keep America Worthy Of Their Sacrifice [UPDATED!]

U.S. WWII veterans from the United States attend a ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial situated above Omaha Beach to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day, in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.

I have a special reason for being a devotee of D-Day: I may be here because my father missed it. He was supposed to be in the invasion, but as an observer, not a combatant. Dad never explained how he got that plum assignment, but before he had the honor, an idiot in his company blew part of my father’s foot apart while playing with a hand grenade nearby. (You’ll be happy to hear that said idiot advanced human evolution by blowing himself up in the process.) Thus Jack Sr. was in an army hospital on June 6, and had to wait for the Battle of the Bulge to be part of an iconic W.W. II conflict.

1. Somehow, I don’t think this is the society they thought they were fighting for…

At Rutherford High School in Bay County, Florida, a teacher  wrote “WTF” on a student’s science homework. His mother complained, calling the vulgar acronym “inappropriate.”

Boy, what a prude.

I just saw another of the increasingly common TV ads where evoking a vulgar word is used for humorous value.  One of the cell phone networks includes an exclamation of “Holy shirt!” (Get it? HAR!) when a father’s gray attire suddenly explodes into color as soon as the family upgrades its network.  “What the Shirt” is also a trendy shirt company.

In a culture where casual public vulgarity is treated as normal and even clever, it is no surprise that alleged professionals often have no functioning ethics alarms regarding their language, or any sense of respect, etiquette, gentility or decorum. After all, when a newly elected Congresswoman thinks it’s appropriate to shout “We’re going to impeach the motherfucker!” and suffers no adverse consequences, what do we expect?

2. Somehow, I don’t think this is the society they thought they were fighting for…wait, didn’t I just write that?

Sueretta Emke complained that she was dining with her family at a Golden Corral in Erie, Pennsylvania, when the manager told her that her attire was inappropriate and that some customers had complained. Asked Emke said the manager couldn’t answer when she was asked what was so inappropriate about her outfit. It was a mystery!

For some reason the phrase “res ipsa loquitur” keeps coming to mind.

Call me crazy, but I doubt that if  Ms. Emke’s croptop and Daisy Dukes had fit her more like this…

…anyone would have complained, or even if someone had, that the manager would have ejected her.  She was being fat-shamed. On the other hand, even at a Golden Corral, diners should have enough respect for others to adopt at least minimum standards of appropriate attire. On the OTHER hand—Did you know that Edward Albee wrote a play called “The Man With Three Arms? It was not a success—unless restaurants have stated, publicized and displayed  dress codes, it is unfair to arbitrarily discriminate against the unattractive exhibitionist and slobs while allowing the attractive ones to dine unmolested. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up. 10/9/18: Ecstatic Because The Red Sox Clobbered The Yankees 16-1 Edition

GOOOD Morning!

1. Unwritten and incoherent rules…During last night’s ALDS Game #3 between the Yankees and Red Sox, won by Boston by the historic score of 16-1, color man Ron Darling, former pitcher and Yale grad, repeatedly alluded to “unwritten rules” that the Red Sox either were or were not observing. Bad, said Ron: a Sox player stealing second when the score was 10-1. Bad: A Sox player swinging away when the count was three balls, no strikes. (Darling: “I’d find that offensive.”) Good: a Sox base-runner at third not scoring when his team was ahead 15-1 and the ball bounced away from the Yankee first baseman. (“A veteran move,” said Darling.) Acceptable: when the same runner eventually did run home when the pitcher threw the ball past the catcher to the backstop. Darling’s concern was the observance of the  professional courtesy not to try to embarrass an adversary once the game was clearly out of reach.

My view: it’s nonsense. The obligations of both teams is to play their hardest at all times, regardless of the score. That means doing nothing different whether one’s team is winning 5-4 or 10-1. On baseball, no game is certain until the final out. Not only have I seen a team lose a game after leading 10-0, I’ve seen the Red Sox do it. What would completely humiliate any team is losing after having such a huge lead, but no “unwritten rule” says that it’s offensive for a team in the Yankee’s position last night to keep trying to pull off a miracle until the fat lady sings.

This is what’s wrong with unwritten rules; people make them up as they go along.

In Darling’s defense, he went to Yale…

2. Confession: I don’t get it. I understand why  Democratic officials and operatives are claiming that the conduct of the Republicans was reprehensible during the Kavanaugh hearings: they were embarrassed, defeated, and exposed, and now are spinning and lying to save face. I do NOT comprehend how any citizen of either party can honestly make similar claims, often in the most intemperate and unhinged manner. (Dave Hogue, a design lead at Google, tweeted, “You are finished, @GOP. You polished the final nail for your own coffins. F–K. YOU. ALL. TO. HELL. I hope the last images burned into your slimy, evil, treasonous retinas are millions of women laughing and clapping and celebrating as your souls descend into the flames.” I have previously sane Facebook friends who are only slightly less furious.)

Democrats and their allied protesters tried to disrupt the hearings from the opening gavel. The questioning of the judge by Senator Booker and others was intemperate, unfair, and disrespectful. Senator Feinstein’s handling of the Blasey-Ford letter was indefensible by any logic, and her later demonstration of  contrived outrage was transparent in its dishonesty. The desperate anointment of Dr. Ford indicated that the Democratic Party has officially rejected basic standards of fairness and decency, as well as the core democratic concepts of due process, equal justice, presumed innocence, while embracing the loony idea that “all victims should be believed” as long as they are women and they are accusing men, who, if they deny the accusations, should be disbelieved based on their gender. (This is bigotry, in case you have been confused by #MeToo demagogues.)

In related news, independent voters overwhelmingly disapprove of the Democrats’ handling of the Kavanaugh nomination by a 28-point margin according to  a new CNN/SSRS poll (I know, I know: polls), or put another way, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Continue reading

Baseball Brawl Ethics [UPDATED]

I noted in the Morning Warm-Up that last night’s Red Sox-Yankee rumble put me in a good mood. I should elaborate: it’s not because I like seeing a New York Yankee player get a fat lip, although I do. It is because such episodes are usually rife with ethics good and bad, and this one was no exception. Here it is again…

It began with an earlier play. Yankee rookie DH Tyler Austin employed an illegal slide when he was forced at second base. A few years ago, the Dodgers’ Chase Utley broke a shortstop’s leg while sliding into him hard to break up a double play. The ugly injury was on national TV, because it was in the play-offs, and Major League Baseball enacted a major rule change.

From the beginning of professional baseball, runners had been allowed to plow into infielders trying to make the pivot at second base and complete a double play like linebackers blitzing a quarterback. The resulting collisions often wrecked knees, ankles and careers, and a ridiculous tradition developed. Umpires allowed infielders to come off the bag before they actually received the ball for the force-out, as long as they were close to the base. The out was called anyway: it was known as the “neighborhood play,” because the infielder’s foot was in the neighborhood of second. After Utley’s slide, baseball made the attempt to interfere with the double play by slamming into the fielder illegal, with the consequence being that the double play was called complete whether the relay throw to first was completed or not.

Ethically, I applauded the rule change. For one thing, the take-out slide was already illegal: runners aren’t allowed to interfere with fielders according to the original rules, but take-out slides were tolerated, indeed encouraged anyway. As often happens when rules are ignored, integrity suffered, resulting in that absurd “neighborhood” convention. The so-called baseball purists complained, and still are complaining, but trading illegal-but-allowed hard slides that required calling imaginary outs and needlessly injured players for some gratuitous violence in a non-violent sport was always an unwise exchange.

So now a baserunner bearing down on second base when a double-play may be in progress has to slide  at the base, not at the fielder. But last night, Austin had his leg high as he slid, and spiked second baseman Brock Holt, Holt, who never threw to first, had words with the Yankee, and both dugouts emptied, though no punches were thrown. It was an illegal slide, no question about it, but because Holt wasn’t interfered with, the umpires did nothing. No penalty out was called. Austin wasn’t thrown out of the game.

This is when the ancient baseball code kicked in. A Yankee had tried to hurt a Red Sox player with an illegal slide, and had gotten away scot-free. If the Sox did nothing to retaliate, they would be showing weakness. I have literally  seen this plot a thousand times. I said to my wife, watching the game with me, “The Red Sox are going to throw at Austin, and there will be a fight.”

Sure enough, Sox reliever Joe Kelly, who throws pitches between 96 and 100 mph, threw a fastball into Austin’s back  later in the game. Austin charged the mound, as you can see, and all heck broke loose.

Ethics notes: Continue reading

Baseball’s Childish Ethics: An Embarrassing Case Study

It is often said that baseball is a child’s game, but that doesn’t excuse professional baseball players holding on to childish traditions regarding the “right way to play the game” that are not right, frequently dangerous, and mind-numbingly stupid to boot.

Last week, beginning a weekend series in Baltimore, the Boston Red Sox were enmeshed in a close game., losing 2-0, with time running out. With the Orioles batting and Manny Machado (Non-baseball fans: he is the very young, very large, very talented O’s third-baseman, a joy to watch and already a super-star) on first, Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts fielded a slowly bouncing ground ball and flipped a weak throw to Dustin Pedroia (Non-baseball fans: he is the small, cocky, excellent Sox second baseman, the best fielder at his position in 2016, a former MVP, and the acknowledged leader of the team now that David Ortiz has retired). Pedroia caught the ball in a first baseman’s stretch, awkwardly, just in time to force out Machado: a double play was out of the question. Machado, however, came into the base hard, sliding late, and barreling right over the bag with his spikes raised. (It looks on the tape as if one foot was elevated  when it hit the base.) Machado’s momentum took him into Pedroia, knocking him down and spiking him, as well as injuring his knee and ankle. Machado appeared to try to catch the Sox player after he passed over the base.

There was no question that Machado was out, but the Red Sox manager argued that the slide was illegal: since last year, runners are not allowed to try to break up double plays by intentionally sliding at opposing fielders. Late slides, slides not intended to allow the runner to get to second base, and sliding past teh base to upend the second baseman or shortstop will be called as obstruction, and the batter is then called out to complete the double play. The umpires disagreed with Farrell, and that is still being debated; it’s not relevant here. Pedroia, meanwhile, was led off the field, obviously injured.

After the game, Red Sox TV analysts and former players Jim Rice (Sox Hall of Fame Sox slugger) and Steve Lyons (an opinionated jackass) chuckled about what was coming. Ancient baseball tradition required, they explained, that the Red Sox “protect their player” who was injured by a careless, inept, or intentionally illegal slide. This meant, they explained, that a Red Sox pitcher in the next game was obligated to hit Machado with a pitch in retaliation. “He knows it!” said Rice. “He’ll be expecting it.” Lyons nodded and laughed. (Full disclosure: I hated Steve Lyons as a player, and I loathe him as an analyst.)

This is indeed an “unwritten law” of baseball, and one of the most unethical. I have seen it countless times, and the result is often fights and injuries, as well as suspensions for the pitcher’s involved and outright beanball wars. The theory is that you can’t let a team “intimidate” you, so a message must be sent. The message is “tit for tat” or “Mob Ethics”: you hurt one of ours, we hurt one of yours. Sometimes the situation requires a pitch directed at other team’s star player, when that team’s scrub injures the pitcher’s team’s star. In this case, the target was an easy call, for Machado was both the miscreant and is also the Orioles best player. Continue reading

A Baseball Integrity Conundrum: The Non-Hit That Is Always Called A Hit But Shouldn’t Be

In baseball, when a batter gets lucky and his pop-up or fly falls between fielders who could have easily caught it but who got mixed up, allowing the ball to drop in safely, it is scored as a hit, not an error, as long as neither fielder touched it on the way down. Sometimes this makes sense; usually it doesn’t. Then again, it also is ruled a hit if an immobile, fat outfielder can’t run down a fly ball that the average Little League could catch with ease, whereas if a faster outfielder runs over, catches the ball but drops it, it would be an error. Such are the scoring vagaries of baseball.

This particular rule of scoring drives some aficionados of the game nuts. Why should the pitcher be charged with a hit if his fielders were at fault? Why should a hitter get credit for a hit when what he did would have been an out if the fielders didn’t mess up, or the wind wasn’t blowing, or the sun didn’t get in their eyes? They are right, but a hit is what the game defines as a hit, and by practice and tradition, this has always been called one, so it is.

Except that on Friday night in Arlington, Texas, it wasn’t. Yu Darvish, the Abbott and Costello-named Texas Rangers ace, was pitching a masterpiece against the Boston Red Sox. In fact, with two outs in the 7th inning he was working on not just a no-hitter but a perfect game (no batter reaches base), either of which qualifies as a major, landmark achievement. Then Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (who would later single to break up the no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning) hit a high pop-up to shallow right field, an easy out….except that it fell, untouched, between the Rangers second baseman and the right fielder, Nelson Cruz, who could have and should have caught it. It was a terrible way for a pitcher to lose a perfect game and a no-hitter, and a collective sigh of disappointment came from the Texas crowd, only to turn to cheers when the scorer (local sportswriters are given the job of deciding hits and errors in Major League Baseball) ruled the ball an error on Cruz. The perfect game was gone—anything, even an error, mars that—but the no-hitter was alive!
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Ethics Quiz: Is Bunting to Break Up a No-Hitter Unethical?

I want to get this on the record for all time, because the controversy comes up almost ever baseball season. it came up again yesterday.

In Sunday’s baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels, Tiger pitcher Justin Verlander was six outs from joining Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, and Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers since 1900 with three or more no-hitters in their careers. But the Angels’ Erick Aybar tried to end the no-hitter with a bunt single leading off the eighth against Verlander. He got it, too, except that the home town scorer attempted to preserve Verlander’s historic bid by charging an error instead. (Unethical. But I digress.) Continue reading

Fired for Applauding: The Warped Ethics of Sports Reporters

I missed this story, because I regard auto racing as interesting as beetle mating, but it is an important one.

"Yeah, I report on it, but I really don't give a damn."

Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 last month, and the unexpected victory of the youngest Daytona champion ever provoked audible glee in the press box. One of the reporters on the scene, Sports Illustrated freelancer Tom Bowles, explained on Twitter and his blog why his applauding for a sporting result, considered a cardinal sin in the sportswriting profession, was not a sin after all.

He was fired. Continue reading

Oscar Ethics: Was Melissa Leo’s Campaign Wrong?

On a difficult day, I am not up to writing about heavy ethics issues, so instead I will comment on an ethics controversy that is as inconsequential as possible—one involving the Oscars.

Melissa Leo, a front-running Best Supporting Actress nominee for her role in “The Fighter,” courted controversy by violating one of the Academy Awards’ unwritten rules: “Don’t promote yourself for an Award—it’s tacky!” Leo personally placed Hollywood trade ads showing her in full glamor mode, a sharp contrast to her character in “The Fighter.” The text simply said “Consider,’ then below that, “Melissa Leo,” and in small print off to the side, the web address http://www.melissaleo.com. She argued that she needed to promote herself because her competitors were getting the benefit of big studio publicity, while she was not. Continue reading

Baseball Ethics Confusion: When Respect Is Disrespectful

After the Florida Marlins’ Brett Carroll stole second on Chicago White Sox pitcher Scott Linebrink in an attempt to pad a 7-0 lead in the fourth inning of an interleague game between the two teams, the White Sox cried foul. The Marlins, some members of the team said, had violated one of the “unwritten rules of baseball,” in other words, baseball etiquette. Continue reading