Baseball's Ethics

Although baseball may be our national pastime, it is fraught with many ethical transgressions, as I will demonstrate in the following analysis of the game and its players.

Let’s start with the pitcher. The main intention of the pitcher is to prevent the batter from hitting the ball. Frankly, this seems somewhat insensitive. After all, it wouldn’t be much of a game if none of the batters ever made contact, or got on base. Furthermore, the pitcher relies on the ethically dubious practice of deception as a main tool of his trade. Throwing balls that curve, drop and move around in all directions does not seem to enhance the batter’s chance of getting a hit. Furthermore, pitchers have been known to ‘spit’ on the baseball. Nowadays it is politely referred to as: “going to his mouth.” Spitballs have been declared illegal. But ‘going to the mouth’ is permissible as long as the umpire deems it cold enough to do so. Well heck, why don’t they just put a portable kerosene heater on the mound to keep the pitcher toasty warm? This would avoid the subjectivity involved when an umpire must decide if it is cold enough to allow the pitcher to break the law and throw, what are for all practical purposes....spitballs. All in all, Pitchers are a rather pampered, nasty breed. I wouldn’t want one as a friend.

The catcher is probably the most valuable and undervalued member of the team. He just squats there inning after inning saving everybody a lot of time. Just imagine how much longer baseball games would be if there was no one there to catch the pitcher’s balls! Of course the catcher is no saint, and engages in some suspicious activities of his own. If you look closely you will notice the catcher moving his fingers around in apparently aimless, spastic motions. These are known as ‘signs’... so that only he and the pitcher will know what kind of motion the ball coming from the pitcher’s hand will have. Personally, I find such duplicitous activities unacceptable and un-American. Why doesn’t the catcher just signal the folks watching the game and let us all know what kind of pitch is coming next? It would be a lot more interesting that way. He would also be helping the batter do his job, as well.

Now the first baseman is generally a rather upstanding fellow on first glance. He seems to be there only to come to the aid of others. When a ball is hit on the ground, the first baseman runs to the bag and catches the thrown ball. This is very helpful to the infielders who otherwise would have to run to first base all by themselves in an effort to get there before the batter. Thus, the first baseman saves them a lot of time and energy. Moreover, he is often known to stretch his whole body out to help catch a poorly thrown ball, and always tries to evade the batter running down the line, craftily removing his foot from the base allowing the runner to continue unimpeded wherever he might be going. He also catches ‘line drives’ which probably hurt his hand a lot more than he lets on. A stoical fellow indeed!

At times the first baseman will 'hold' the runner to prevent him from stealing second base. This is particularly friendly and thoughtful as the runner could be 'caught' in his attempt to steal and have to trot back to the dugout, crestfallen and ashamed. As a matter of fact, these days holding the runner can be considered to be somewhat homo-erotic...which is ok, depending on what part of the country the game is being played. But most of the time first basemen are standing away from first base. This is because they probably envy the second basemen, and would like to get closer to them.

The second baseman is usually much more agile and quick than the first baseman, which is why the first baseman likes to hang out in his vicinity. Now we have to give the second baseman some credit. He could easily pout about, not being first. Instead he goes about his business making some amazing plays in the field, scooping up ground balls left and right and jumping high to avoid an oncoming runner’s disruptive intent to ‘break up’ double plays. But it must be noted that if the second baseman would settle for just a single play (or out) instead of always trying to ‘get 2' then there would be considerably fewer runners trying upend him and ruin his career. Always trying to get a double play seems somewhat greedy and over the top... I think many of our progressive thinkers would agree

Moving on to third base, the so called ‘hot corner,’ we find a player who selflessly risks physical damage and humiliation on almost every play. Balls hit to the third baseman can be hit so hard that it is amazing more of these guys aren’t simply decapitated. Then, at the same time they have to be ready to ‘charge’ weakly hit balls or bunts and throw the ball in some of the most contorted, unnatural postures one would want to see. The risk of bobbling these balls or throwing them seriously awry is very real, and third basemen are known to make several errors in just one inning.

One can only conclude that third basemen are essentially masochists and can only undermine the team’s spirit. Baseball teams must maintain a highly toned, positive mental attitude. Players who put themselves at such high risk as third basemen only subvert a team’s morale, and are therefore a corrupting influence due to their proclivity to make more than their share of mistakes.

As far as shortstops are concerned, they seem simply superfluous. Unless baseball agrees for teams to hire a ‘longstop’ as well as a shortstop, it just doesn’t seem right that they should have a place on the field. Oh sure, they make all kinds of plays and always seem to be involved in the game, but I say let’s eliminate this position entirely. For one thing, a lot of shortstops these days aren’t even that short! If we must have a shortstop, let’s get serious and bring in some real little people. More than likely the little people have been wondering for decades why they haven’t been invited to play shortstop. It seems politically incorrect not to invite little people to play a position that has taken on their salient physical character in their very namesake.

Outfielders can generally play any position, left, right or center. So for the sake of brevity, let’s just consider them a class unto themselves...and in many ways that’s just what they are: unto themselves. Really, what do they do? Stand around chomping their wads, probably engaging in thoughts and fantasies that have nothing to do with the game at hand. Did you ever hear an announcer say: “Gee, he got a late jump on that fly ball, didn’t he Joe?” Why do you think that happens as often as it does? Because the outfielder is likely to be in a world of his own. There’s no one to talk to in the great expanse of space between him and the next player who is perhaps one-hundred feet away.

Sure, sometimes he goes up against the wall to make a leaping catch and rob a batter of a home-run that should have been rightly his. But that is because the outfielder was probably never in the proper position in the first place. Did you ever see a coach or a manager trying send directions from the dugout to an outfielder? He stands there flailing his arms away trying to convey to the fielder: ‘move back... forward... left... right.’ It’s really a pathetic, primitive attempt to communicate, and even if the signals are understood, no one really knows where the ball will be going anyway, so what’s the point?

Which brings us back to the batter, the most callous and morally problematic of them all. His mission is to hit the ball where no one can catch it. He doesn’t care who he hurts as long as he gets to first base, and hopefully on to second, third, and back home, which in itself seems rather ridiculous and a waste of time since home is where he started from in the first place. Occasionally, while on his journey, the batter might be called upon to ‘steal’ a base. We all know that stealing is wrong, but that does not deter the batter in his redundant attempt to get back home. He’ll slide into other players’ private parts, spikes ablaze, and even try to kick the ball out of the catcher’s glove if necessary simply to ‘score.’ Why would he want to impede the job of another player anyway? Batters harm many people, while most of the time they don’t even get on base, so one wonders if they’re really worth all the adulation and attention they get.

When they do find themselves on base they are often subject to the “force play.” If there is a runner on first, first and second, or the bases are loaded, these runners can be ‘forced out’ at their next destination, i.e., the next base. As a seasoned observer of the game, I confess to a certain discomfort concerning this practice. Why should a runner be ‘forced’ to run in the first place? Perhaps the runner is considering something very serious, such as a solution to global warming, or a way to bring peace to the Middle East, and cannot be bothered with running to the next base at that time. Moreover, being ‘forced’ out does not seem particularly sportsmanlike. The least a fielder could do is actually tag the runner out. This suggests a far more friendly and personal connection with an opposing player.

At times a batter is asked to ‘sacrifice’ himself so as to advance a runner already on base by tapping the ball lightly (aka: bunting) or hitting the ball far enough on a fly so that a runner can beat the throw home. This is just an example of baseball’s typically overinflated sense of its own nobility. When a batter executes a sacrifice he is not charged with a plate appearance, and in some circumstances it can provide him with a run batted in. When he returns to the dugout he is greeted with ‘high fives’ and the usual array of congratulatory gesticulations. There is nothing in the least sacrificial about it.

Of course, we can’t forget the coaches and manager. As far as I can tell, no one really knows what the coaches do besides stand in the ‘coaches box’ when their team is at the plate. And why, pray tell, don’t they have the coaches out there in boxes when their team is in the field shouting instructions to help their players catch the ball, or throw to the right base? It only makes sense. Defense is as much a part of the game as anything else. Once in a while coaches will ‘wave a runner in,’ or tell him to ‘hold up.’ But most of the time they just hop, skip and jump, trying to get out of the way of balls hit in their direction, like over-the-hill cheerleaders. Coaches also transmit signals from the manager. But half the time the batter doesn’t understand the signals, and must have a conference with the coach. This just delays the game. Why not let the manager come out and talk to the batter? He’s the one who decides what signal will be given anyway.

Speaking of the manager, anybody can make a line-up card. Sometimes the manager ‘shuffles’ the line-up, hoping it will generate more runs for the team. But that doesn’t take any particular skill. Anyone who plays cards can probably shuffle the line-up as well, or better than the manager. The best thing about a manager is watching him go jaw to jaw with an umpire. It is one of the most viscerally satisfying sights in sports. One wants to know exactly what words they are exchanging. It is probably a group of typically banal phrases we’ve heard a million times before, but we wonder what the *&!!%$#! they are saying anyway. Sometimes a manager will kick dirt on the plate to demonstrate his real feelings toward an umpire. As a fan, I favor watching such a dynamic display of emotion on the manager’s part, rather than seeing him stare blankly into space, as he is often shown doing on national television.

When an umpire receives such emotionally charged expressions he may “throw the manager out of the game.” Big deal, I say. All the umpire does is make a sweeping motion with his right arm to indicate that the manager or player is: “outta here.” This really is a cowardly move in my opinion. If the umpire really wants to throw someone out of the game he should literally do so. Lifting the offending party off the ground and hurling him into the seats, preferably into the bleachers, would be a much more convincing way of indicating that the wrongdoer gets what he deserved and would give a dimension of athleticism never before attributed to the ‘men in blue.’

Other than ejecting players and managers, umpires “call the game.” But often they are clearly shown up by instant replay technology. Personally I think we need umpires to umpire the umpires! If an umpire is consistently guilty of making bad calls he should then be thrown into the stands along with the folks he deposited there himself. This is where the fans come in. There should be a certain number of fans designated at random at each game to have the power to eject an umpire when necessary, in the manner just described. I believe it would be cathartic for the numerous times we are slighted and insulted by some of the ridiculous calls that these umpires make. There also should be a weight limit for umpires. If an ump is too heavy, how can he move about to position himself to make the proper call? Triple chins are also a no-no.

Naturally (or perhaps unnaturally) no discussion of baseball ethics is complete without considering the issue of steroids. No doubt, its use in major league baseball is still significant. Therefore it seems only proper to level the playing field and make the practice mandatory. Instead of athletes surreptitiously injecting each other behind the gilded walls of their bathroom stalls, there could be a less clandestine approach. Opposing teams could actually visit each others’ clubhouses, syringes and all in hand, offering to facilitate the process for each other.

The fans should be fortified with this anabolic energy to participate in the spectacle, as well. Think of the advantages of such a program. Instead of simply observing the action, the crowd, with their newly acquired physiques could make melee in the stands a part of the game! Why spend an entire afternoon gawking at overgrown body parts of grossly overpaid players when one can go to it with the folks in the next row or section? We all could get into the act, injecting each other between innings, rendering a new sense of sportsmanship and camaraderie to complement the use of these performance enhancing drugs on the field.

Well that wraps up our look at the ethics of baseball. So remember, next time you want to play a little catch, shag a few flies, or just get down and play ball, try and remember: Baseball is our national pastime, and America’s reputation in the world is not particularly positive these days. So be nice, play fair, and instead of throwing someone a curve, give the other guy a break (instead of a breaking ball).... at least once and a while.


©Marc Twang


See Marc Twang’s Essays Archive by clicking here.