Baseball Ethics

Baseball Ethics January 20, 2020

A woman in a friendly poker game is dealt a lousy hand. Nonetheless, she leans in with a sparkle in her eye. She bets with confidence. On her turn to draw cards, she requests zero. Her bluff or gamesmanship is part of poker. It’s normal, expected and ethical.
Her roommate, who is not playing, circles the table, replenishing drinks. Her roommate gives the woman a small cue about the prospects for the other players. This is cheating. Anyone who plays poker, even casually, knows what is acceptable bluffing and knows that hiding an extra card or getting outside information is cheating.

As the batter is rounding first, the second baseman pretends to get a throw from the right fielder, who is still fumbling in the corner. The batter/base runner halts and returns to first. This is bluffing. It’s normal, expected and ethical. The next batter uses a drug that supposedly enhances performance. This is cheating. Anyone who plays baseball, even on a sandlot, knows what is acceptable bluffing and knows that corking a bat or taking PEDs is cheating.
The Houston Astros know that a base runner can acceptably steal signs; that’s part of the game. They also know that hiding a camera or a buzzer or a telescope in the scoreboard or the outfield stands is cheating. Children know the difference. High-paid baseball executives know the difference.
If the rules of a game change, the boundary difference between bluffing and cheating can move. Some suggest that teams be allowed to have sign-recognition technology in the outfield stands. Presumably both teams will have this allowance. If such becomes the rule, sign-stealing by way of outfield devices is no longer stealing; it is technology-enhanced gamesmanship. It is also, by the way, no longer an advantage.
Any change along those lines, in my opinion, takes baseball further away from its natural setting and further into video-dimension and cyber-reality. Who needs umpires if the rules establish K-Zone as the arbiter? Who needs human players if a video game is no longer a simulation but is taken for the real thing? That’s one fan’s opinion.

Mike Fiers was on the Houston Astros through 2017, though he did not play in their World Series championship. He then went to Detroit and in August 2018 was traded to the Oakland A’s. There have been rumors about Astros’ cheating for some time, but in recent weeks Fiers told a journalist what he knew about hidden cameras and electronic devices in Houston.
Jessica Mendoza is an announcer with ESPN, mostly on TV. She is also a paid advisor to the New York Mets. On an ESPN radio show, Golic and Wingo, she expressed disappointment with Fiers for tattling. She thinks Fiers could have talked to the baseball commissioner, but should not have talked to the press.
A high school student knows that a classmate steals a Pepsi each day in the lunchroom. There is probably no need for tattling, for breaking the bonds of student solidarity. A parish priest knows that a fellow priest has improper contact with children. He does not immediately call the police. Instead, he presumes others know the situation and assumes the church bureaucracy will handle it. A code of silence and a culture of secrecy soon bankrupt the entire church—financially and morally. Four police detectives know that a colleague has brutalized a suspect. They do not immediately notify the states attorney, presuming that the police bureaucracy will catch up if warranted. A code of silence soon enough erodes trust on the streets and endangers the safety of police and citizens.

Maybe the Astros are like high school students. The manager and general manager look like adults and are paid like adults. But maybe their code of silence is akin to high school shenanigans and, though it blemishes a cherished sport, maybe their behavior is not sufficiently grievous.
Mendoza, to be clear, was not applauding Astros’ behavior. But she should know that cheating is different from bluffing; that cheating spoils a good game and it erodes trust in our aching society. Her radio comment on Fiers was inappropriate, particularly coming from a journalist.

Droel edits a newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

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