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Cole Hamels: Being Honest to a Fault

“Lying is a necessity of life.” – Nietzsche

Earlier this week Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, Cole Hamels did the unthinkable- he told the truth. After plunking 19 year old baseball phenom, Bryce Harper, in the back, he admitted that he did it intentionally. From hearing and seeing Harper’s brashness and arrogance, firsthand, he felt that it was necessary to give Harper a memorable welcome to the major leagues.

I don’t think it’s presumptuous of me to assert that plunking another player is wrong, inappropriate and doesn’t belong in baseball. The fact that beaning a batter has been part of baseball tradition does not make the practice sacrosanct. Might does not make right, as the saying goes. Irrespective of whether a pitcher plunks the batter as an act of “self-defense” or whether he wants to send him a message, it’s gutless and cowardly.

However, once the batter has been plunked, isn’t it morally correct for the pitcher to be honest and tell the truth? Do I need to review the countless instances that the Bible demands us to be truthful and commands us to distance ourselves from speaking falsely? The rabbis, in Ethics of the Father’s went so far as to say that the world exists because of “truth.” Indeed, Aristotle and many other philosophers take an absolutist approach to speaking the truth and never condone lying.

Yet, how often do we watch pitchers intentionally bean a batter and then shrug it off during the post-game press conference by saying, “the pitch just got away from me,” or “I threw it inside and he was overcrowding the plate.” Everyone and their mother knows the pitchers are lying, but they are still brazen enough to deny their evil intent. Is it a stretch to call this type of behavior unethical and immoral? Not one bit!

And here is the irony of all ironies: the pitchers who deny intent are not suspended or reprimanded. Five days later, those starting pitchers get back on the mound and pitch. But the pitcher who is truthful and admits to the crime is given a 5 game suspension. He is rebuked and punished for his honesty. Instead of reprimanding Hamels shouldn’t Major League Baseball applaud him for his honesty? Give him a raise, for crying out loud! Ok, I shouldn’t go overboard. But think about it- Major League Baseball is just getting over the steroid era and has seen, firsthand, how those who have admitted wrongdoing have been treated with more respect than those who are willing to go to jail instead of admitting to their crime. Presumably, Hamels was following the dictum of the Bible, the beliefs of Aristotle, St. Augustine, and many others who maintain that honesty is the “only policy.” If baseball is going to punish Hamels, they should punish him for his actions on the baseball field, not for what he said about it off the field.

Hamels’ uncommon honesty raises an interesting ethical question: when, if ever, is it ok to lie? While I believe that Hamels deserves credit for being honest, the Jewish position, as well as that of other non-Jewish theologians and philosophers, is that there are situations and circumstances when the truth can be compromised. According to the Talmud, one of those times is “for the sake of peace.” As proof the Talmud cites the apprehension and fear of Joseph’s brothers toward him after their father, Jacob, died. Worried that Joseph would now retaliate against them to avenge all the cruelty they heaped upon him, they fabricated to Joseph that their father’s last will and testament commanded that Joseph grant complete forgiveness to his brothers; a command that Jacob never issued.

From a religious perspective, it can be argued that Hamels had full moral justification to lie about the plunking for the sake of peace. By doing so, he may have prevented himself or his teammates from getting plunked in retaliation in the future and he could have spared his teammates from losing him on the fifth day. Lord knows how poor the Phillies pitching staff has been this year and Hamels has been the only consistent starter.

In sum, sometimes, people can be honest to a fault, or they can be absolutists in their beliefs about lying. I’m not sure where Hamels stands on the issue, but it cost his team dearly, at a time when they need him the most. From at least one religious perspective, his honesty may have been a mistake.

Posted in Baseball.

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