For most of my life, baseball has been my favorite sport. There’s something soothing about watching a game, especially in person.
Baseball has strategy and data — things that I have loved since a young age.
It also has cheating.
Cheating has been part of the game for generations. Almost exactly a century ago, the Chicago Black Sox scandal saw the integrity of the World Series compromised.
Some of the cheating had a certain charm about it. I grew up with pitchers like Gaylord Perry and Joe Niekro doctoring baseballs with Vaseline, sandpaper, and nail files.
These pitchers would be penalized, but often people would talk about them more as sly foxes than cheats.
In 1994, there was even a bizarre incident in which a relief pitcher climbed through the ceiling at Comiskey Park to swap out his teammate’s corked bat.
And what baseball fan of a certain age doesn’t remember the infamous “Pine Tar Game” when George Brett lost his mind after having a home run disallowed for too much of the sticky substance on his bat.
If that seems all so last century — it was.
Over the past couple of decades, baseball has seen a much deeper challenge to its integrity.
First, steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs swept through the game, generating a high-profile report by a former U.S. senator and star-studded congressional hearings.
Now, sign-stealing has reared its head in a dramatic fashion, marrying high-tech spying with almost farcically low-tech communications in the form of trashcan banging.
All sports — and much of life — reward those who push the envelope to approach or even lightly cross ethical lines.
Baseball reveals that the more small transgressions you allow, the worse the behavior will become.
Sign stealing has long been part of the game. Runners sneaking a peak at a catcher’s sign or positioning. Coaches trying to decipher the offensive signals of the opposing side.
Now that same behavior has gone high-tech and scandal ensues.
The fact is that ethics matter — starting with the small stuff.
In sports, business, and life, it is important to instill proper ethical habits. If you permit lines to be crossed, each successive transgression will be more severe.
As leaders, we set the tone for our own teams.
When we look the other way, our teams see that as approval of their actions.
When we apply extraordinary pressure for a particular result, we encourage extraordinary efforts — both good and bad — by our teams to achieve it.
When we cut corners, our teams model that behavior.
Companies large and small have fallen victim to unethical behavior, much of it later being found to have had roots in the ethical culture of the organization.
Being ethical isn’t always fun or easy. And sometimes you will fall short of those who are willing to look the other way or actively cross a line.
But that’s better than getting caught on the slippery slope of unethical behavior, as has happened in baseball.
It has been said that ethical behavior is gauged by what you do when nobody is watching.
As a leader, someone is always watching.