Is Acting Unethical in Baseball?

UPDATE 10/12/10: Animated .gif files have been removed due to bandwidth issues.

During the bottom of the seventh inning of Game Two of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, Chase Utley was awarded first base when it seemed like a high-and-inside Aroldis Chapman fastball grazed his hand. As we see in the animation below, the baseball clearly never made contact with Utley. As such, Utley was wrongfully awarded first base. The Phillies would go on to score three runs in the inning in part because of Utley’s reaching base.

The above is yet another reason why instant replay could be implemented in baseball to ensure that the correct calls are made, but that isn’t the debate I want to focus on. Instead, I want to talk about the ethical aspect of acting in baseball. Some people see the above as well as a similar acting job done by Derek Jeter in mid-September and conclude the players are cheating or being otherwise unethical.

Asked about his HBP from nearly a month ago, Jeter told reporters:

Reporter: Did you… [exaggerate the HBP]?

Jeter: Well, I mean, [the umpire] told me to go to first. I’m not going to tell him I’m not going to go to first, you know? My job is to try to get on base. It’s part of the game. I’ve been hit before and they said “you weren’t hit”. So my job is to get on base. Fortunately for us, it paid off at the time, but I’m sure it would have been a bigger story if we had won the game.

Utley spoke about his HBP last night with reporters. Via Todd Zolecki:

But wait a second. Did that pitch actually hit him?

“I’m not sure,” Utley said coyly. “It was pretty close. At first I thought it was going to hit me in my head. Fortunately, it didn’t. And he throws so hard. I felt like I thought it hit me, so I put my head down and I ran to first.”

Is it wrong to take a base that isn’t yours? Is it wrong to put on a show to wrongfully take a base?

I don’t believe it is. Utley and Jeter are not the first two players to attempt to deceive umpires into making a call that benefits them and they certainly will not be the last. Outfielders attempt this — though much less successfully — when they trap a ball between their glove and the grass. Even if the outfielder knows it bounced, the umpire’s view may not have been the best and if he stands up confident that he caught the ball, he may earn the out. Catchers will frame a borderline pitch, moving his glove ever so slightly back into the strike zone, hoping to convince the home plate umpire that the pitcher threw a strike.

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey stole second base in Game One of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves and, despite the safe ruling, was clearly out. On receiving the benefit of the doubt from the second base umpire, Posey quipped, “I guess it’s a good thing we don’t have instant replay right now.”

For as long as there exist umpires that are human beings, mistakes will always be made and the arbiters will be prone to various methods of persuasion, whether it’s acting, framing, or simply a player’s confidence. Players will continue to list “actor” under Skills on their baseball résumés and they should not be condemned for this.

Should Posey instead have told the second base umpire that he was out, and jogged back towards his dugout? Does Posey owe it to his teammates and to Giants fans to go along with the incorrect call, or does he have a larger obligation to the spirit of the game to play honestly 100 percent of the time? By encouraging and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy on dishonesty (especially with no enforcement), aren’t we implicitly rewarding those who lie?

If Utley, Jeter, and Posey have one thing in common, it’s that they all try their hardest to succeed on the overwhelming majority of opportunities. In other words, they do what it takes to win. That includes running out mundane ground-outs and pop-ups, diving for foul balls, sliding hard into second base, and yes, acting. That attitude is one that should be encouraged by Major League Baseball.

That players can, for lack of a better word, trick the umpires is not the players’ fault; it is the system’s fault. If a player’s acting to generate a beneficial but incorrect ruling is to be frowned upon in baseball, then every call needs to be eligible for instant replay review and ball-strike calls must become computer-generated.

Barring that, enjoy the theater that is Major League Baseball and accept the flaws of the human beings who take part in it.

Amateur Hour at Citizens Bank Park

In the post-season, fans are usually subject to high-caliber baseball as the best offenses, pitching staffs, and defenses tend to rise to the top by the end of 162 regular season games. Of the eight playoff teams this year, only the Braves went in with a negative UZR/150 (-5.7) and the Giants had the only wOBA below the league average (.318).

High-level play was not seen at Citizens Bank Park last night in Game Two of the NLDS between the Phillies and Reds. Roy Oswalt was not sharp, allowing a lead-off home run to Brandon Phillips in the first inning. He struggled all night with his control and left after just five innings of work having allowed four runs. Chase Utley made two errors in one inning. Laynce Nix reached safely to lead off the second inning when Utley fielded a routine ground ball but threw the ball wide of the first base bag, pulling Ryan Howard off. A wild pitch and a walk put runners on first and second with one out to bring up catcher Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan hit a dead double play ball, but Utley rushed his throw, causing a tough short-hop that Howard could not pick and that allowed Nix to score the Reds’ second run.

Ahead by four runs going into the bottom of the fifth, the Reds would make some miscues of their own to help the Phillies get back in the game. With two outs and a runner on first, Shane Victorino reached on a fielding error by Brandon Phillips. The next hitter, Placido Polanco, reached safely on a fielding error by Scott Rolen bringing Utley to the plate with the bases loaded. Utley waited on a change-up from Bronson Arroyo, hitting a line drive to right field, plating two runs to bring the score to 4-2.

J.C. Romero relieved Oswalt in the sixth and held the Reds in check, retiring the two batters he faced. Chad Durbin was brought in to get the third out of the inning, but Drew Stubbs drew a two-out walk. Durbin erased his mistake by picking Stubbs off at first base.

Things got interesting in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs and a runner on second base, reliever Arthur Rhodes hit Carlos Ruiz in the kneecap with a pitch. Ruiz doubled over in pain but eventually shook it off. Manager Dusty Baker brought in right-hander Logan Ondrusek to the face right-handed pinch-hitter Ben Francisco. Ondrusek promptly hit Francisco in the head with a pitch — it hit him on the bill of his helmet. With the bases loaded, Ondrusek couldn’t find the strike zone and walked Shane Victorino on four pitches, forcing in the Phillies’ third run.

Aroldis Chapman came in to start the seventh inning and yet another Phillie was hit by a pitch — or so it seemed. Chapman threw a fastball high and inside to Utley, which at first glance appeared to grace his hand. Utley acted as if he was hit and the home plate umpire awarded him first base.  Upon closer inspection — as the animation below illustrates — Utley pulled a Derek Jeter and simply acted as if he had been hit.

[Click here to view Utley’s close call]

Chapman would get two outs and Utley’s acting appeared to be in vain. Jimmy Rollins, however, hit a line drive to right field which Jay Bruce — normally a very good defender — lost in the lights. The ball sailed past him, allowing Jayson Werth and Utley to advance to second and third. Second baseman Phillips dropped the relay throw, however, allowing the Phillies’ tying and go-ahead runs to score. Two errors were awarded on the play, to Bruce and Phillips — the Reds’ third and fourth on the night. The Phillies would score one more run on a ground-out by Ruiz, and tacked on one more in the bottom of the eighth.

The Phillies bullpen held the Reds scoreless for four innings. Jose Contreras pitched a clean seventh, Ryan Madson a clean eighth, and Brad Lidge closed the door in the ninth after working around a lead-off walk. In total, Phillies relievers tossed four innings, allowing a mere three base runners on one hit and two walks.

It wasn’t the most impressive win — certainly not after what happened on Wednesday — but the Phillies are happy to go up two games to none any way they can.

. . .


Via Mark Sheldon, who covers the Reds for

“It was in the lights the whole time. I tried to stick with it to see if it would come out. It never did. It’s pretty helpless. It’s embarrassing. I take a lot of pride in my defense. There’s really nothing I can do about it. I wish for my team more than anything that it didn’t go into the lights or that it came out and I could have caught it. It didn’t happen.” — Jay Bruce


The debacle of the seventh inning started when Chase Utley acted his way through a hit-by-pitch from Aroldis Chapman. The pitch was 101 mph, Utley didn’t sell it that well but it was enough to be awarded first base.

“I don’t think at any time that the ball hit him. I don’t think he ever got hit,” Chapman said.

“It was pretty close,” Utley said. “At first I thought it was going to hit me in my head.  Fortunately, it didn’t.  And he throws so hard.  I felt like I thought it hit me, so I put my head down and I ran to first.”

Q.  Did it hit you?  Chase Utley:  “I’m not sure.”

Red Leg Nation scribe and ESPN SweetSpot member Chad Dotson on the game:

If you had told me that the Reds would commit four errors, and they would be committed by Rolen, Phillips, and Bruce, I never would have believed that in a million years.


Four stupid errors. The only other time the Reds made four errors this season was in that disastrous game in Atlanta back in May, when the bullpen blew that big lead. Heck, the Reds only had 72 regular season errors, and that was tied for the second-fewest in baseball.

More error trivia, from ESPN: The 4 errors by the Reds tie an LDS record, previously done 5 times. The last time the Reds made 2 errors in an inning in a postseason inning– Game 3 of the 1972 World Series. Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan made an error on the same play in the 6th inning.