Category Archives: baseball

Why I Love Baseball

I was emailing with a friend today and the subject of why Americans like baseball came up. He was not born in the States and doesn’t quite get baseball. That conversation gave me the opportunity to put into words some ideas of why I love baseball. And now that’s given me a topic for a blog post.

I think most like baseball (along with many of our other preferences: other sports, music, tv, etc.) for nostalgic reasons. Many grow up playing the game, watching it, or going to the ball park with their parents or friends. One’s current spectatorship is tied into those memories and brings us back to that state of mind. It becomes a connection to one’s history and place. Quoting —(you have to by law, I think, quote Field of Dreams when you write about baseball)— the Terence Mann character in Field of Dreams:

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.

Though I don’t think the quote is precisely right, there is a lot of truth in it. Every time I emerge from a tunnel in a ball park, I am taken back to those first few times I passed from the dark of the tunnel under Fenway Park into the bright sunshine and pleasant cacophony of the crowd. I get a rush each and every time and feel like I am 10 years old again.

Moreover, being a Red Sox fan keeps me tied to my home state. It’s been roughly two decades since I lived in Boston, soon I will have lived more outside of Massachusetts than in it. But donning my Red Sox hat makes me feel a little like I can hop on the T to Quincy Market for some Pizzeria Regina any time I want.

I also like baseball for some other, more intellectual reasons.

One of the things I love most about baseball is the battle between pitcher and batter. This is the point of tension that the whole game turns on. What is the pitcher going to do? What kind of pitch will he throw? What about the runner on first? How will the batter respond? Will he let it go for a ball? Foul it off? Put it in to play?

Each pitch is its own game in a way and the strategy of what to pitch/how to hit changes depending on the number of outs, strikes, balls, men on base, etc. With each passing moment as the pitcher looks into the batter’s box the tension builds. The pitch is thrown and you wait on the batter’s swing–what’s going to happen? Will it be strike? A foul? A hit? A HR? Swing! And then the release of tension as this moment of the duel resolves itself but it immediately starts to build again for the next pitch. This rise and release of tension is, for me, the basic piece of enjoyment of watching the game. (This is one reason I am completely against a pitch clock.)

Another element of baseball I love is that it is a kind of a fractal. Stay with me here… You have the pitcher-batter tension point but that takes place within a whole at bat which is part of an inning, which is in a game, which is in a series. Each level has a similar repeating pattern: three strikes, three outs, nine innings, a best of three series. It’s not really a fractal but it is a kind of complex spontaneous order arising out of a set of simple rules, repeating each pitch, each at bat, each inning, each game, and each series. And yet despite repeating this pattern, each at bat, inning, etc., is unique and its own thing. There is something beautiful and satisfying in experiencing the infinite variety that arises while being constrained by a set of simple rules.

There are many other reasons to enjoy baseball: the excitement of a HR; the beauty of a double play; the amazing skill of chasing down a fly ball in the outfield. And if you are at a live game, forget about it! The beauty of the ballpark is worth the ticket in itself. But one shouldn’t feel that they have to like baseball. It’s one particular form of beauty and enjoyment among the endless assortment of human activities and endeavors worth admiring and enjoying. Whether it is baseball or something else, the important thing is to revel in what you love.

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Filed under baseball, Fandom

The Sports Ethics Show: Reviewing The Matheny Manifesto

In The Matheny Manifesto, Mike Matheny, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, lays out his diagnosis and solution for youth sports. Mike Perry, a long-term Cardinals fan and frequent Sports Ethics Show guest, joins Sports Ethicist Shawn E. Klein for a discussion of some of the books main themes. They discuss the problem of over-involved parents, the lack of adult-free play spaces, and Matheny’s view of leadership, authority, and faith in the context of coaching and sport.

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Guest Post: The Top 10 Principle

The author of this guest post is Christopher Robinson. Dr. Robinson is a professor at the Ringling College of Art + Design (FL).

Baseball encourages a certain delusion present in all groups that breed fanatics: the belief in the best. This error is reasonable. We can, after all, count the times a player bats and the number of times they hit and compute a simple “batting average” and then objectively rank players. It makes sense to conclude that including more traits will continue to produce objective rankings. This, however, is a fallacy. While including multiple traits may get us better rankings, they typically produce multiple valid rankings.

For this post, I will focus on a single sport: baseball. I will present what we can call the Top 10 Principle: While there are better or worse Top 10 lists, there can be no authoritative ranking of baseball’s best players. Indeed, when we rank entities along more than one dimension, we will often be able to produce more than one valid ranking.

As we construct our list of 10 Men, there are certain names that are obvious candidates, such as Babe Ruth or Jackie Robinson. As we refine our lists, we will have to move beyond “a player’s hitting skills matter” to quantifying what it means to be a good batter; we won’t just say someone is good, we will count the number of hits or home runs. We will also judge each player by position specific statistics, including catches, throws, or ERA. We will break players down into statistics and then select specific players with the best mix of statistics.

A Top 10 based on the number of home runs would differ from one based on batting average; one based on stolen bases differs from one based on fielding percentage; each attempt to combine traits would produce a different Top 10 list. Indeed, this is a general rule: when we rank entities on more than one trait, we will produce more than one valid ranking of entities.

It is quite common to phrase ethical choices as “either/or,” as absolutism or relativism, as if something had to be universally, necessarily, and certainly good or it was no good at all. In this case, people might argue that there must be one authoritative Top 10 list or any list is valid. This is a false alternative. Even if there is not a single authoritative ranking, some rankings will be better than others. A Top 10 list based on the number of home runs would be more valid than one based on who happened to play in the first game I saw as a child. In a similar way, while I cannot say with certainty who will be in someone’s list of Top 10, I can reasonably predict that it will not be Ray Chapman or Fred Merkle. The world is full of uncertainties, such as whether Babe Ruth called his shot or whether Pete Rose or Mark McGuire will ever be elected to the Hall of Fame, but some explanations and predictions are more reasonable than others.

In life, as in sports, we are constantly ranking entities, ranking options, ranking people, ranking ideas along multiple value dimensions. Not only will there not be an authoritative list of values, but different values will often conflict. A good pitcher will not usually be a good batter. We value clean air and water, but we also value economic growth; we value novelty and stability; we value justice but we also value mercy. When we value all these things, it is impossible to arrive at a single authoritative ranking of people, economic policies, countries, or religions that embody those values. We should expect some conflict and tension as we determine what solutions resolve the various conflicts between values. It is a measure of how far we have come that owners conspiring to keep blacks out of baseball is as offensive as people used to think it was justified.

While there are some universal truths, they appear to be more in mathematics than in ethics. In ranking values in the world, some lists are more reasonable than others, even if there is no authoritative ranking. With this, we are aware that there are many possible Top 10 lists, and this encourages us to ask, “How should one determine a Top 10 list,” before we pick 10 people and then justify those choices.

By discussing the reasons for their decisions, people can have a more reasonable discussion and disagree without ill will. The “Top 10 problem” encourages people to think about the reasonableness of the reasons one gives, and whether one would accept those reasons from other people. It also encourages us to see our limitations, such as in an implicit bias among people to ignore players like Satchel Paige who didn’t play in the white major leagues during his prime years.

Any Top 10 list will contain choices based on objective data, personal preference, and one’s sense of how to integrate the relevant variables. While there’s not one objectively correct one, it is worth taking the effort to understand the principles involved in selecting one’s top choices.

[Sports Ethicist: I would love to see people’s attempts at a Top 10 baseball player list. Please post in the comments. I will get it started with my own list and explanation.]

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Jackie Robinson West Little League Eligibility Violations

I was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article on the Jackie Robinson West Little League eligibility violations. These violations led Little League International to strip the team of its 2014 US Championship. JRW was the hit of the summer with their great run in the Little League World Series. The team’s wins are being vacated for having “knowingly violated Little League International Rules and Regulations by placing players on their team who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s boundaries.” (Little League International)

“Sports, boundaries and eligibility: a persistent issue” by Philip Hersh

Update: an earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Mo’ne Davis played for Jackie Robinson West.

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Filed under baseball, rule-violations, Youth Sports

Sports Ethics Show: The Value of Playoffs and Championships

New Sports Ethics Show Episode
Baseball playoffs are in full swing with both American and National League Championship Series opening this weekend. For baseball fans, this is one of the most exciting parts of the baseball season. But are we getting something wrong? Is there something wrong with having playoffs decide champions? Are there better ways of determining champions and organizing sport competitions? Dr. Aaron Harper of West Liberty University discusses these questions and related issues with Shawn E. Klein.

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The Sports Ethicist Show: Boston Breakdown with Joe

A new episode of The Sports Ethicist Show is available!

 Joe Danker and Shawn Klein discuss things Boston sports in this episode of The Sports Ethicist. What defines a successful season? How important is it for the Bruins to get to and win the Stanley Cup this year? Are the Red Sox in a grace period after winning the World Series? Is it wrong for the Celtics to be tanking their season?

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You can download the podcast here:
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/the-sports-ethicist-boston-breakdown-with-joe/

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes.

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Filed under baseball, basketball, Boston, Football, Hockey, podcast, RadioShow, soccer

The Sports Ethicist Show: Rule Changes in Sport

The next episode of The Sports Ethicist Show airs Monday, March 3, 2014 at 6 pm CT on Rockford College Radio.

Rules are an essential part of sport. They define it, they govern it. But what about changing the rules? Three recent rule changes have gained national attention recently: expanded MLB replay, limiting home plate collisions in MLB, and penalizing the use of the ‘N’ word in the NFL. Shawn Klein and frequent guest, Mike Perry, discuss these rule changes and whether they are good ideas or not.

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Listen on Rockford College Radio (6pm Central):
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/ (Click on the Listen Live button)

A podcast of the show will be available after the show airs.
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/category/thesportsethicist/

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The Sports Ethicist Show: Baseball Wrap

The Sports Ethicist Show airs tonight (Monday 11/18/13)  at 6 pm CDT on Rockford College Radio.

The 2013 baseball season is in the books. Regular listeners know that I am Red Sox fan and my frequent co-host, Mike Perry, is a Cardinals fan. The Sox and the Cardinsals met in the 109th Fall Classic, so it only seems right that Mike and I do a show about the World Series. We also discuss the MLB annual awards.

Listen on Rockford College Radio (6pm Central):
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/ (Click on the Listen Live button)

A podcast of the show will be available after the show airs.
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/category/thesportsethicist/

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The Sports Ethicist Show: Boston Sports

The Sports Ethicist Show airs tonight at 6 pm (Central) on Rockford College Radio.

In town for a Cubs game, Joe Danker joins Shawn E. Klein in the studio to discuss things Boston Sports. Focusing mostly on the Red Sox and their remarkable turnaround from last year, they also hit on the Patriots and make some World Series predictions.

Listen on Rockford College Radio (6pm Central):
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/ (Click on the Listen Live button)

A podcast of the show will be available after the show airs.
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/category/thesportsethicist/

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Filed under baseball, Boston, Football, podcast, RadioShow

A-Rod, Dempster, and Beanballs

My readers, listeners, friends, and students all know I am a Red Sox fan. I am from Boston and root for all things Boston sports. I also do not like Alex Rodriguez. I am glad the Sox dodged that bullet in the failed trade for “A-Rod” in 2003. I am not a fan A-Rod more because of his on-field tactics (slapping at Arroyo’s glove and shouting “Mine” while rounding third to confuse the defense) than his alleged PED use. His public, off-the-field personality is not one Dale Carnegie would likely recommend. If the charges prove true regarding A-Rod’s PED use and obstruction of MLB investigations into Biogenesis, that certainly adds to my (and many other’s) disdain for him.

All this said, I do not think Ryan Dempster should have (if he did—and for the purposes of this post, I will assume he did) throw intentionally at A-Rod.

Pragmatically, it was not a wise thing to do. The Red Sox are trying to hold on to first place in the division and have been struggling to win as of late. Throwing at A-Rod gave the fading Yankees life, encouraged them to rally around A-Rod, and A-Rod ended up having a great game at the plate (and the Sox lost).

But this was not merely a bad tactical decision. Whatever the justification might be for the tradition of bean balls in baseball for on-field retaliation and justice, throwing at a batter for off-field reasons is wrong. There may be a place for on-the-field, player policing of the game—and this might actually help to reduce overall violence in the game. But it violates the spirit of the game to bring the outside world into the game.

Here are two main reasons for thinking this.

  1. A game is in part something set apart. It is distinct, in significant respects, from the rest of life: it has its own time, it is own space, its own internal structure (not entirely so, of course, it is still a part of existence). When the external world interferes with a game, the game suffers. Think of the absorption one has while playing a game that is destroyed when the phone rings. By bringing in to the game retaliation for activities external to the play, one undermines (at least partially) the ability of players to play the game. (Admittedly, this point rests on a theory about play and games that I can’t elaborate on here).
  2. The player, in this case Dempster, is not in the appropriate position to be judge, jury, and executioner. Is Dempster in a position to know about A-Rod’s PED use? His obstruction of the investigation? His reason for appealing his suspension? Is the “punishment” appropriate to the “crime? Obviously, I think the answer to all of this is no. These issues have to be determined through the league and its processes, not a player on the field in the middle of game.

Some in Boston and around the nation have said that Dempster made a lot of fans and that he is a hero for throwing at A-Rod. You want to be my hero? Strike the bastard out; don’t put him on base.

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Filed under baseball, PEDs, violence