September has been a spare month for ethics heroes. With the national election nearing and an ends justifies the means strategy looking more attractive to political partisans by the day, the Ethics Scoreboard has sought examples of outstanding ethical conduct in vain. Andy Rooney almost earned hero status when he spoke out against his own network’s stonewalling tactics in Dan Rather’s National Guard memo fiasco, but Rooney is paid to be an outspoken contrarian; he was just doing his job.
So too was Mike Scioscia, manager of baseball’s Anaheim Angels, but there is a key difference. Scioscia is paid, first and foremost, to win championships, yet he courageously chose to do what increasingly few leaders in any profession will do any more: refuse to tolerate misconduct from a talented employee whose contributions are deemed essential to an organization’s success.
The Angels are in a close race for the American League Western Division championship. Left-fielder Jose Guillen is one of their best offensive weapons, and his loss would greatly reduce the Angels’ chances of overtaking the division-leading Oakland A’s. But Guillen is a self-centered player with a history of tantrums and rules violations, and when Scioscia removed him for a pinch-hitter over the weekend, Guillen angrily flung his helmet in his manager’s direction and his glove at the opposite wall. No utility infielder would have dared such a display of disrespect, but the multi-million dollar salary and gaudy batting statistics didn’t protect him. Scioscia suspended the outfielder without pay for the remainder of the season, including the play-offs, if the Angels qualify. His message: the rules are for everyone equally, and being talented, valuable or even "indispensable" does not relieve an individual of the basic responsibility to behave respectfully, professionally, and with proper concern for others.
Scioscia decided that if the only way he could win his division was to accept the principle that rules don’t apply to the talented, beautiful, powerful or wealthy, the division wasn’t worth winning. Preserving ethical values sometimes requires sacrifice, and Mike Scioscia is obviously up to the task. Let’s just hope that some CEOs and elected officials are paying attention. If they are, maybe we’ll have a few more ethics hero candidates next month.