November 2008 Ethics Dunces

Dodgers GM Nick Coletti

1919: Hitting great Joe Jackson and seven other members of the Chicago White Sox sought a way to get the money that they felt they deserved but were not receiving from their exploitive and double-crossing employer, team owner Charles Comiskey. So they intentionally gave less than their best efforts on the field in the 1919 World Series, losing to the Cincinnati Reds as a result. The money that sealed the deal came from professional gamblers, who intended to derive riches from betting on the Reds.

2008: Hitting great Manny Ramirez sought a way to get out of his 20 million dollar a year contract with Boston Red Sox so he could get even more money on the open market.

So he intentionally performed at less than his best during the stretch run of the 2008 pennant race, jeopardizing the team’s play-off chances and forcing it to trade him while surrendering its option to bind him to the team in 2009 and 2010. The party that likely influenced him to slack-off was agent Scott Boras, who would only get his share of Ramirez’s salary if the old contract, including the club options, was ended and a new contract was signed.

Joe Jackson was banned from baseball forever.

Manny Ramirez was just offered a new contract at more than 20 million a year by Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Nick Coletti.

Which result was most just? It should be obvious. There is scant difference, ethically speaking, between what Ramirez did at the urgings of Boras and what Joe Jackson did with the inducements of gambler Arnold Rothstein. There is a legal difference, to be sure. But in both cases, a star player intentionally under-performed for monetary gain, with the participation of a non-player who stood to benefit financially from the results of the player’s lack of performance.

In Jackson’s case, the beneficiary was a gambler. But the pay-off to Scott Boras, Manny’s agent, will be much greater than Rothstein’s wildest dreams. When Ramirez hired Boras as his new agent last year, Boras knew that if the terms potentially binding his client to the Red Sox for two more seasons attached, he would receive no cut of the player’s huge salary: the previous agent, who negotiated the deal, would get the agent’s percentage. But if the old contract was dissolved, allowing Ramirez to go on the open market and demand a new long-term contract, Boras would be the agent of record. His potential cut: 15 million, more or less.

Nobody can prove that Boras put his client up to faking injuries, giving obvious half-efforts and generally betraying his team mates, employers and fans. But that is what Ramirez did, and he made it clear in various ways that unless he was released from his contract, he could not be trusted to do his best for the team paying his salary. The Red Sox traded him to Los Angeles, still paying his salary, whereupon Ramirez began hitting better, running harder, and generally playing like the super-star, Hall of Fame caliber hitter he is.

Mission accomplished. The General Manager of the Dodgers, Coletti, has ensured that Boras’s and Ramirez’s scheme will pay off, unlike the perfidy of Jackson and his Black Sox team mates. By offering Ramirez a long-term deal at more than he was making under his previous one, he has validated conduct no less despicable and unethical than what Jackson and his pals did. The details were different, but the motivation (money), the offense (intentionally giving less than full effort), and the victims (team mates, fans, employers and the game itself) were the same.

Coletti and any other GM that offers Manny Ramirez a huge contract, in addition to being stupid beyond all explanation, will be endorsing and validating the unconscionable tactic of not giving the full services promised under a valid agreement (the Red Sox paying 20 million dollars a year was not enough, in the player’s view, to ensure consistent effort). He and the others will do this because, I suppose, Ramirez didn’t double-cross them. It is as if, instead of banning the Black Sox, Major League Baseball gave the cheating players raises, so they wouldn’t be tempted to accept any more bribes.

The Scoreboard knows that the player union’s power makes such an action impossible, but yes, it would support banning Manny Ramirez from playing baseball, in the interests of the game’s integrity. That is not going to happen. But is it too much to ask that Ramirez and his not be rewarded for their unethical ways?

For Nick Coletti and, unfortunately, other baseball Ethics Dunces who will reveal themselves so, the answer, sadly, is yes.

And consider yourself warned.




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