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Baseball Fans Are Dicks, Scientifically Speaking

Could revenge baseball-beaning be analogous to honor killings and warfare? Who knows, but baseball is pretty douchey either way.
April 8, 2012, 2:06pm

There's no question that most baseball players are dicks. Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens come to mind. It seems that the main reason everyone thinks Derek Jeter is so classy is that he is, simply, not a dick (perhaps he's merely "dick-esque"), which is contrary to what you'd expect from a career player on the New York Yankees, perhaps the dickiest team in baseball. Their rivals, the Boston Red Sox, are equally if not more dickish, and their dick-swinging rivalry emanates so much dickishness that the fans are perhaps more dickish than anyone.

A survey-based study done by researchers at Brown, Hofstra, and Boston University, has recently supported the above claim. Psychologists A.J. Durwin, Fiery Cushman, and Chaz Lively asked fans leaving New York's Yankee Stadium and Boston's Fenway Park a simple baseball-themed moral conundrum: If a player on, say, the Florida Marlins, throws at and hits a batter on the Arizona Diamondbacks (whose jerseys bring to mind a baseball-appropriate adjective), and an inning later, a Diamondbacks pitcher retaliates by beaning a previously uninvolved batter for the Marlins, is that morally ok?

Normal moral reasoning seems to tell me it is not. If the pitcher who intentionally hit the first guy was then beaned as an act of revenge, that would presumably be ok — an eye for an eye I guess. But nailing someone uninvolved is resolutely dickish, right?

Well, not according to roughly half of the surveyed fans. Over 44-percent of them thought the revenge beaning was a-ok. Cushman et al report that this form of revenge, called "vicarious punishment," is represented in much of human feuding in history and the present, citing cultures of honor where, say, killing a culprit's family member, who didn't commit a transgression himself, is a standard form of revenge (think mafia, or Serbia in the ’90s). It's a stretch of a comparison, but the psychology may be related. Cushman et al conducted some deeper surveying to find out more about what was going on in the beaning case.

First, variables such as team alliance seem to play a big role. A Red Sox fan asked about the Marlins and D-backs would have a roughly 44-percent chance of approving the vicarious beaning (as mentioned above), but that increased to 67-percent when it was a Red Sock who was originally hit (tribalism?). Furthermore, only about 18-percent of those asked explicitly thought the recipient of the revenge beaning was “morally responsible” for the original beaning. Who knows what those 18-percent are thinking, but most fans clearly understand the unfairness of vicarious punishment even though they are likely to accept it as morally reasonable.

There's a weird kind of moral irrationality here: one can believe that an individual who is not morally responsible for a transgression can in some cases still deserve harsh punishment. That essentially sounds like the dark history of human confrontation.

So, do vicarious-bean-supporting baseball fans represent the bleak side of American morality or are they a special group? Cushman, in a press release, seemed to go with the latter assumption:

No one should conclude from this that. . . vicarious punishment is considered acceptable widely in American culture. . . Quite to the contrary, what makes this striking is that it's an exception."

So, 67% of baseball fans aren't just dicks, they're exceptional dicks.