Friday, June 12, 2009

Catcher's Ethics

The shorter of the short people has taken to playing catcher on his little league team. So, when we watch a ballgame, we often pay special attention to what the catcher does. In a game the night before last, the Orioles were playing the Mariners and with two strikes the catcher took a low pitch and raised his mitt framing the pitch as if it were in the strike zone. The ump took the bait and called the batter out. I pointed out to the kids what the catcher had done and they both screamed in protest that it was cheating.

Is it?

It would clearly be cheating if the catcher was calling the balls and strikes and moved it to fool everyone else. but it was not within the catcher's power to make the call. It would be cheating if the advantage was asymmetric, but the O's catcher of course does the same exact thing. As a result, it may be cheating, but it isn't unfair. It also is something that umps know and expect. It isn't as if he was being tricky in a way that runs counter to the ethos of the game. the ump knows catchers do this and do their best not to be fooled.

But it is dishonest. It is an attempt to misrepresent, to get someone to believe something is true that you do not believe to be true. In poker, this sort of dishonesty is part of the basic structure and strategy of the game. Is it so, too, with baseball? Are the kids right? Is it cheating?