Case study on morality in baseball

A few days ago, I wrote a research paper on how athletes are expected to behave morally. Basically it was seeing if players are now held to a higher or lower standard than before. I was actually surprised by the results. So here it is:

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by their Era: A case study to determine MLB’s moral standing throughout the


judging a subjective concept the results will be themselves subjective.
Therefore, one must find a point from which to base the level of the subjective
concept relative to that point. As will I do when looking at morality in
baseball throughout the ages. Through using a fixed anchor point of morality, I
will look at the case studies of Mark McGwire, Pete Rose, and Ty Cobb to
determine whether moral standards in baseball have: gone up, stayed the same,
or regressed from early to more modern day baseball.


To accurately find
how much Major League Baseball (MLB)’s moral expectation for players has
evolved I must first establish a standard against which I will measure the
players morality. This standard will be the rules for election that the writers
in the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BWAA) are told to base their
elections for players into the National Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF) off of. The
parameters stated here are: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record,
playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the
team(s) on which the player played,” (BWAA, 1). So, the player’s morality will
be decided upon how many of these traits the player abided by or did not.
Likewise, whether moral expectation amongst the league has deteriorated in MLB
or has actually been elevated by time.


first person of interest when studying morality in baseball is, Mark McGwire.
For those unfamiliar with baseball, Mark McGwire is a baseball player who
started in MLB in the 1980’s and finished his career in 2001. He is best known
for breaking the single season Homerun record in 1998 previously held by Roger
Maris since 1961 when he hit 70 Homeruns to surpass Maris’ 61. This leads us to
McGwire’s wrongdoing. It was later revealed in MLB’s Mitchell report, which was
a study that discovered steroid users, that McGwire had used anabolic steroids
in the 98 and other seasons. This breaks the honor code in the first paragraph
by: tarnishing his record, integrity, and character. This leaves him violating
three of the BWAA’s categories for voting.


second person of interest is Pete Rose. He was a baseball player in the 70’s
and 80’s who’s greatest accomplishment is having the most hits of any hitter in
MLB history. However, he is now known equally as well for his immoral act. This
was, he gambled on games that he was playing in. This violates the honor code
in the first paragraph by tarnishing: his record, character, and MLB felt it
diminished his contributions to the team. This would leave Rose violating also
three of the BWAA’s categories for election into the HOF.


third and most antiquated personality is, Tyrus Raymond Cobb. He was a baseball
player in the early 1900’s who is most famous for the over 90 MLB records he
set in his playing career, including: career Stolen Bases, Batting Average,
etc. Unlike the other two he did not commit a singular act, he committed a
plethora. His incidents include: arguing with a black groundskeeper about the
field condition and choking his wife(N.Y. Times 13 Aug 1907), pulling a knife
on a black elevator operator in an argument that started because Cobb thought
the operator was acting, “uppity” (N.Y. Times 9 Sep 1909), sitting out the last
game of a season to win a batting 
title(N.Y. Times 16 Oct 1910), fighting with his own teammates, beating
up a heckler by going into the stands (the heckler had lost his hands in an
industrial accident) (N.Y. Times 16 May 1912), and whipping his own son when he
flunked out of Princeton(N.Y. Times 20 Nov 1994).


combination of these break the following “codes” of honor which players are
based off of for election into the HOF: they stained his record, integrity,
sportsmanship, character, and contributions to his team. This means that Cobb
should not have been voted in on four accounts of the BWAA’s guidelines for


to the BWAA’s guidelines, McGwire and Rose should be admitted into the HOF
before Cobb is. However, Cobb was inducted into the HOF in its first class,
securing a higher percentage of the vote than players such as Babe Ruth and
Walter Johnson[1], McGwire has
not received more than 25% of the vote[2],
and Pete Rose was banned from baseball for betting on it. When interpreting
this, historical context must be taken into account. In both the McGwire and
Cobb situation, the environment was far more accepting of their respective grievances.
This being that it was a more racist friendly environment in the early 1900’s
and a more steroid user friendly environment in the late 1990’s and early


using the guidelines for election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I
have determined that the moral standards of MLB have grown for the players. I
have determined that both McGwire and Rose were held to a higher standard[3]in
their more modern time periods than was Ty Cobb was in his more antiquated era.
From this, I determine that from the time that Cobb played in to the time that
McGwire played; MLB has progressively increased how it expects its players to
behave. However, even when compared to a static standard a study of a
subjective idea such as morality is not perfect because every static standard
is not perfect.


“BWAA Election Rules .” Rules For Election 1. National
Baseball Hall of Fame
. Web. 15 Mar a        2011.

Carter, Jimmy.  “It’s time to forgive Pete Rose :[FINAL
Edition]. ” USA TODAY (pre-1997 Fulltext)
  30                                                                                                     s            
Oct. 1995,USA TODAY, ProQuest. Web.  16 Mar. 2011.

“Eckersley against McGwire, Sosa in Hall. ” USA
9  Sep. 2010,KidQuest Magazines, ProQuest. Web.  16 Mar.  2011.

 “Strike the baseball
records of players who used steroids. ” USA TODAY
Jan. 2010,KidQuest               
Magazines, ProQuest. Web.  16 Mar. 2011.

 “Roessner, L.. “Remembering
“The Georgia Peach”. ” Journalism History
36.2 (2010): 83-95. Discovery, 

ProQuest. Web.  16 Mar. 2011.

Zirin, D.. “Redemption Is for the
Young. ” The Progressive
1 Dec. 2010: Discovery, ProQuest. Web.  4 Apr.                    2011.


·        “Sowell, T.. “MLB Steroid
Scandal: Say It Ain’t So. ” Human Events
17 Dec. 2007: Discovery, ProQuest. Web.  16 Mar.  
a            2011.


Ball Player fights Spring Training Employee and Wife
over condition of field “New York Times (1857-1922)

13 Aug. 1907,ProQuest Historical Newspapers
The New York Times (1851 – 2007), ProQuest. Web.  13 Mar. 2011.

  • “Charge Against Cobb
    Withdrawn. ” New York Times (1857-1922)
     9 Sep. 1909,ProQuest
    Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007), ProQuest.
    Web.  13 Mar. 2011.
  • “Banner 1 — No Title. ” New
    York Times (1857-1922)
     16 Oct. 1910, ProQuest Historical Newspapers The
    New York Times (1851 – 2007), ProQuest. Web.  13 Mar. 2011.
    INSULTS: Detroit Player Hurdles Into the Stand and Thrashes a

Profane Commentator. ” New York
Times (1857-1922)
 16 May 1912,

ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times
(1851 – 2007), ProQuest. Web.  13 Mar. 2011.

Robert Peterson.  “Psychotic at the Bat: A biography of Ty Cobb,
for whom baseball — as well as life — was a blood sport. COBB A Biography. By
Al Stump. Illustrated. 436 pp. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel
Hill. $24.95. ” Rev. of: New York Times (1923-Current file)
 20 Nov. 1994,ProQuest
Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007), ProQuest.
Web.  20 Mar. 2011.

[1] arguably the
best power hitter and pitcher of all time

[2] 75% of the
vote is required for induction into the HOF

[3] Rose to a
much higher standard because baseball had an extremely strict policy on anyone
involved in baseball not betting.

And I will be going to the Mets-Nationals game in all likelihood.


  1. Mateo Fischer

    Bob- I actually think that my paper proved the inconsistency of the voting of Hall of Famers. However, I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that the voters have moral consitency because the requirements have been set in stone since the conception of the Hall of Fame. Therefore, the only thing that could have changed is what the voters considered to be: “player’s record,
    playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the
    team(s) on which the player played.” The reason I don’t think the business aspect comes into play is because the voters are the Baseball Writers Association of America and they are for the most part independent of Baseball’s bottom line because they are employed by theri respective newspapers. As for your other two points, a) I didn’t know Cobb committed homicide. There was nothing on the sources that I used for this paper. Can you elaborate? b) I wasn’t trying to say that baseball WILL let these people in, if that’s what you mean. I do agree with you that publishing a book the day before the HOF induction ceremony, while the commisioner is considering re-instating you is not a way to endear yourself to the league. That said, if Rose remains peacefully quiet for long enough, peoples perception of him may shift to the only other thing they know of him: his numbers. I’m not saying it will happen, maybe it happens after his death, but there still is a chance that Rose gets inducted.

  2. Bob

    You left out that Cobb committed homicide as well (literally). To expect consistency in baseball’s reasoning, or any other human institution’s, is unwarranted, and particularly regarding moral consistency, since everyone involved can be presumed to be morally inconsistent themselves. And for pete’s sake baseball’s a business and the number one moral imperative in business is the bottom line. My hunch is they won’t let Rose in the HOF because in the eyes of many in baseball, he “killed” Bart Giamatti.

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