Topic: Society

Ex-major League Pitcher Don Carmen
(January 2007)

In October of 2006, twenty-three year old Doug Ferraro received a letter attached to an old baseball card. It was newly autographed by Don Carmen, a long-retired journeyman pitcher with Phillies and Reds. Ferraro was especially surprised because he had mailed his autograph request to Carmen fifteen years earlier, when he was eight. And Ferraro wasn’t alone. As revealed in an article for Slate ( authored by Bryan Curtis, another recent recipient of a Carman autograph, the former major leaguer has been hard at work.

When Curtis called Carmen, the forty-seven year-old ex-pitcher explained that he had been cleaning out his garage when he discovered a box of old fan mail containing about 250 unopened envelopes. During his playing days, Carman had always made the effort to sign and return every one of the two or three such letters he received daily, but this batch was lost in the shuffle when he moved from the Phillies to the Reds in 1991. “I even remember putting them in the box, because it was unusual for me to do that,” Carmen told Curtis. “I thought I’d watch a football game and leisurely do them. It never got done.”

Carmen responded to all of the letters last year, sending his autograph and including notes of apology. Though the majority of the letters were from children who now had kids of their own, the unexpected answer to their long-forgotten fan mail gave Carmen’s adult correspondents a special thrill that brought back memories of afternoons in the bleachers.

How often do all of us forget or neglect to follow through on an obligation or an intended kindnessÂ…a letter of thanks, a phone call, a visit, an apology; some small sum owed or a library book unreturned? How common is it for us to assume, so conveniently, that the passage of time has erased the obligation because it has been forgotten or the person involved has moved away or no matter cares?

Too often, and too common. “The Simpsons” once poked fun at the whole concept of answering old fan mail in an episode that featured a diligent Ringo Starr answering letters from Beatlemaniacs sent in the Sixties, dictating letter after letter in an office still littered with piles of unopened envelopes. But when forgotten obligations are remembered, we need to remember the real and un-animated example set by Don Carmen, an ordinary pitcher, perhaps, but an extraordinary human being who made a special effort to do the right thing, even when nobody expected him to.

That’s the essence of ethical conduct, and it makes Don Carmen an Ethics Hero.

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