The truth is the truth. The rules are the rules.
You may have seen the story a few years back about New York Mets third baseman Todd Frazier, who pulled a fast one on the umpires – and on all of us. His story connects directly to the issue of accountability.
In a game against the Dodgers, Frazier got credit for making a catch that he didn’t make. Chasing a ball hit into foul territory, Frazier dove into the stands, making an extraordinary effort that appeared to result in a standout catch. The only problem: it didn’t.
When Frazier emerged from the stands, he was holding another ball – a rubber ball that belonged to a fan! Having made a split-second decision to break the rules and switch balls (and make no mistake, that is exactly what he did), Frazier flashed the counterfeit ball at the umpire, convinced him that a legal catch had been made, and quickly got rid of the evidence by tossing the ball back into the crowd.
In short: He lied. And by the way: Frazier has now publicly admitted that he broke the rules and fooled the umpire.
Now, I want to draw a clear distinction here between the kind of legal deception that baseball players engage in all the time – decoying a runner, say, by pretending not to know where the ball is – and what Frazier did. It is against the rules of the game to switch a ball that is in play with a ball that isn’t, and it is obviously wrong to attempt to record an out with a ball that the batter didn’t hit.
If you watch the video of Frazier talking to the media about this, you will notice that he seemed smug, and even oddly proud, about having deceived the umpire. He didn’t apologize. He said he only did what any player in his situation would have done. (I’m not sure that’s true.) He even made a joke about being in Hollywood — the game was played in Los Angeles — and about doing what the actors in Hollywood do.
Time out. No one imagines that Denzel Washington is, for instance, a corrupt police officer when he plays one onscreen. Frazier, in stark contrast, made the umpire, and everyone else, believe that he had caught the ball when he knew he hadn’t.
So: Here are some questions.
Was Frazier really saying what I thought he was saying? That lying or cheating is okay … as long as you’re trying to win?
Is that the right principle for baseball as a sport, or for us as a society, to embrace?
Do the rationalizations that Frazier only lied in order to support his team, or to help his team win, or to do what he thought others would have done, set the right example for his teammates? For other players? For the countless younger fans who will come across this story?
What does Frazier’s failure to apologize for what he did say about his commitment to the truth? Would he have come clean if someone hadn’t posted a video of the play that showed what happened? Somehow I doubt it.
Does the fact that Frazier’s fans and teammates seem to have supported his behavior point towards a deeper problem? Does the act of countenancing such a lie (by describing Frazier as “quick-thinking,” or any variation on that, which some media outlets have done) really serve any of us?
Is this the kind of behavior we want to celebrate or tolerate in our national pastime – or in our culture?
Where’s the line?
Suppose you’re a ballplayer. Suppose it’s the bottom of the ninth inning in the seventh game of the World Series, and there are two outs, and your team is up by one run, and you face the same choice Frazier faced: to either admit that you lost a foul ball in the stands … or to cover up that fact and grab a different ball, pretend it’s the ball in play, and show it to the umpire? Would you really want a decision to lie and to cheat to be stand as your personal legacy, for all time? Would you want that decision engraved on your tombstone? Or would you want to be known as a person who sometimes won with class and sometimes lost with dignity … but who played the game of baseball and the game of life fairly?
The truth is the truth. The rules are the rules. Accountable people tell the truth. Period.