Monday, May 07, 2007

Josh Hancock and results-oriented analysis

Josh Hancock's tragic death has served as a wake-up call to several franchises, including the Cardinals, who are now removing beer from their locker rooms.

I hope it doesn't seem like I'm trivializing the man's death, but the reaction to this incident is a great example of how results-oriented the world is. Baseball men frequently get cited for DUI, including Hancock's manager, Tony La Russa, during Spring Training this year. How has MLB reacted? By turning a blind eye, and not dishing out any punishments whatsoever. This is ridiculous.

As teens approach driving age, they are taught to NEVER drive drunk, not to only avoid it those times when it will result in death or injury. Why? Because we never know when those tragedies will strike. It is an awful system that punishes only those drunk drivers who directly cause accidents; to do so is to ignore the real cause of the problem while encouraging the behavior to continue--until tragedy strikes.

Obviously, the impact of Hancock's death is far greater than the average incidence of a baseball man driving under the influence. La Russa, after all, was able to return to work the next day. But the point is that the possibility of a tragedy like this was right under MLB's nose the whole time, and they ignored it, probably because alcohol is a big part of baseball culture. It took a man's death for the baseball world to acknowledge the problem, and now it's too late to go back and change MLB's stance on drinking and driving.

Just to pull a number out of the air, let's say there is a 2 percent chance that a drunk driver will be involved in a major accident. (Obviously it is impossible to compile accurate data on this, but the exact figure is not important for this analysis.) For every fifty drunk drivers, one is going to inflict a tragedy upon himself or an innocent victim--or both--while the other 49 will escape unharmed, probably without even getting a citation. (Remember, we're considering all drunk drivers, not just the ones who get a DUI.)

Ignoring that some of these people may be intrinsically better drivers than others, all 50 deserve the same fate for their negligence--not death, of course, but a severe punishment. Instead, 49 receive little or no recourse. This isn't fair, but it's how life goes. It should not, however, affect the way we perceive the DUI offender. Just like calling with an inside straight draw does not become a good play just because you hit a lucky card, driving drunk doesn't become meaningless simply because you made it home safely.

Keith Law wrote an excellent article for ESPN after the La Russa incident, discussing how TLR not only received no punishment for the offense, but also got a free pass from the media and a standing ovation at the next Cardinals game--and that this was a typical fan reaction to DUIs from their favorite team. The article was ignored by everyone whose opinion mattered to MLB, but Hancock's death could not be.

I hope this incident causes a shift in MLB's rules regarding alcohol, but it didn't have to be this way. It's sad that they only take notice when the unlucky 1 in 50 chance came to be.

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