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bud selig, organizational rules, and authority

Last night the rules of Major League Baseball were put to the test and almost overturned by the commissioner himself. For those of you who weren’t watching game 5 between the Phillies and the Rays, the game was suspended in the 6th inning due to horrendous weather conditions that made play difficult.  To get an idea of just how sloppy play was getting, one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, Jimmy Rollins, dropped a fly ball in the fifth because the wind was blowing it all over and the rain reduced its visibility.  Everyone in the stadium knew the game would have to be suspended. The question was whether the game would end that night in the 6th with a Phillies victory.

The official rule is that after five innings, a game called due to weather is complete.  This rule meant that if the Rays didn’t score in the 6th, the game was technically over and the championship would go to the Phillies.  This outcome would have certainly been controversial. No World Series has ever been decided in a weather suspended game.  But the rules are the rules, right? Luckily, the Rays tied it with a B.J. Upton run in the 6th and the game was suspended in a tie and so by necessity the game had to be extended to a new day (which will happen whenever the weather in Philadelphia decides to cooperate).  But what if Upton hadn’t scored?

According to this ESPN article, Commissioner Bud Selig was prepared to suspend the game to be played another day regardless of whether the Rays scored in the 6th or not.

In that explanation, Selig revealed he had made an executive decision on the fly: In a news flash to the rule book Selig held under his left arm before speaking, he said he would not have allowed a World Series game to be decided in less than nine official innings. “Well, I guess putting everything else aside, it’s my judgment. I have to use my judgment. It’s not a way to end the World Series,” Selig said. “I have enough authority here so that I’m not only on solid ground, I’m on very solid ground … and I would not have allowed the World Series to end this way.”

Selig said he and the club executives knew they would not have allowed a game to be ended before completion. The Rays’ manager, Joe Maddon, said he was aware, as well. But nobody told the players. “I knew the rules, but I didn’t think they would actually end a World Series game after six innings,” Longoria said. “I mean, that just wouldn’t be right by any measure.”

In a game for which rules and tradition are sacrosanct, it’s surprising to see a rule so easily almost-overturned by the head honcho.  To me, what this situation illustrates is the sometimes conflicting nature of two kinds of organizational authority, both of which are important to the functioning of any organization.  We typically associate the first kind of authority, rational-legal authority, with Weber’s description of bureaucracy. Organizations are governed by clearly defined rules and roles that specify each individual’s relation to the larger structure.  In the case of baseball, the sport and the league are held together by a set of rules that make interaction between teams and play on the field predictable and comprehensible.  Any sport, in fact, depends on these sorts of rules to facilitate player interaction and to instill a sense of fairness to the whole project.

The other kind of authority, called cognitive authority by John Levi Martin or traditional authority by Weber, refers to the legitimacy of governance – the extent to which the governed “accept the rightness of alter’s influence” (Martin 2002, 873; alter being the person or party exercising power).  Cognitive authority, thus, rests on a subjective belief in the appropriateness of the power held by those wielding it and/or in the rule system that governs action in the organization.  It was this latter kind of authority that compelled Selig to do what he did (or what he might have done had Upton not scored).  He realized that ending a series in the 6th inning would have been technically correct and consistent with his bureaucratic duties but it would have done serious damage to his cognitive authority in the baseball public.  Losing this cognitive authority would have hampered his ability to govern in the future.

Weber, of course, was actually aware of the complementarity of rational-legal and traditional authority.  In The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, Weber states:

In general, it should be kept clearly in mind that the basis of every system of authority, and correspondingly of every kind of willingness to obey, is a belief, a belief by virtue of which persons exercising authority are lent prestige. The composition of this belief is seldom altogether simple. In the case of ‘legal authority,’ it is never purely legal. The belief in legality comes to be established and habitual, and this means it is partly traditional. Violation of the tradition may even be fatal to it (pg. 382).

But I would argue that traditional authority is based on more than just habit.  It’s based on some deeper understanding of what the organization is meant to be – what its larger purpose is for the participants and for the community of which it is a part.  That purpose is often taken for granted and encoded at a highly abstract level.  It is this code that gives the organization its authenticity.  Thus, it is the belief that the organization is behaving in an authentic fashion that reproduces its traditional authority and causes people to continue to accept and abide by the rational-legal rules of the organization.  When the former is questioned, the latter has less sway and, perhaps, becomes more malleable (until traditional authority is reestablished).

Weber might be extended to mean that violation of the organization’s authenticity could cause a fatal blow to the traditional authority of the organization, which in turn could undermine the rational-legal authority of the organization.  When an organization violates the abstract code of its existence – e.g., baseball is a competitive sport in which winning demonstrates higher competence – the rules themselves are suddenly fair game.  This is what happened with the steroid issue.  It wasn’t that baseball players were actually violating specific rules of MLB when taking performance enhancing drugs, but the authenticity of fair and competitive play was questioned.  This breach of traditional authority ended up having repercussions for the more immediate rational-legal authority. The same would likely have occured had the game (and the season!) ended abruptly in the 6th last night.  Luckily, for this time at least, it appears that Selig was aware of the sudden threat the situation presented to his and the organization’s authority, and he was prepared to take action to avoid it, even if it meant violating the game’s time-honored rules.

Written by brayden king

October 28, 2008 at 6:49 pm

21 Responses

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  1. In a game for which rules and tradition are sacrosanct, it’s surprising to see a rule so easily almost-overturned by the head honcho.

    When I took Soc of Organizations as an undergrad, though, one lecture featured the example of the baseball umpire who insisted that “They ain’t strikes till I calls ’em”.

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    Kieran

    October 28, 2008 at 8:09 pm

  2. Yep, and that’s one of the sacred rules of baseball – the unquestioned authority of the umpire to call strikes, balls. Unlike other sports, you don’t see a lot of calls to institute instant replay at the plate to determine controversial strike calls (although they now use instant replay to determine if a home run was really a home run). There was actually quite a bit of controversy when the MLB tried to install sensors that would allow computers to assess the efficiency of umpire calls. Many of the umpires saw this as an attempt to undermine their roles as arbitrators, but I don’t think in the end it’s had much of an effect on how the game is called.

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    brayden

    October 28, 2008 at 8:17 pm

  3. Interesting post, Brayden. Though I wonder about your implicit assumption (if I understand you correctly) that Selig would have been making the right call had he suspended the game even with the Phillies ahead. For one thing, the Phillies would have cried bloody murder. And many baseball fans would have been on their side. I mean *every* baseball fan knows the rule about 5 innings being a complete game. Also, you would think that Selig would have been gun-shy about monkeying with the rules after his intervention at the All-Star Game a few years back. To be clear, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m just wondering whether it’s so cut and dried.

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    ezrazuckerman

    October 29, 2008 at 1:47 am

  4. Let’s just say it’s a good thing for Selig that the Rays scored a run in the 6th because if he’d followed the rules and suspended the game, giving a victory to the Phillies, the rest of baseball nation would have cried bloody murder. Sports writers and most baseball fans would have hated that call even if it were technically correct, and I’m sure the commissioners would have, at some point, revised the rule to make it so that no playoff series could end with a suspended game.

    It’s pretty remarkable that no World Series has ever ended with a suspended game isn’t it? Given that the series takes place in the fall and often in the Northeast, you’d think that it would have happened at least once.

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    brayden

    October 29, 2008 at 2:41 am

  5. Brayden sez: “Though I wonder about your implicit assumption (if I understand you correctly) that Selig would have been making the right call had he suspended the game even with the Phillies ahead. For one thing, the Phillies would have cried bloody murder.”

    and

    Ezra sez: “Let’s just say it’s a good thing for Selig that the Rays scored a run in the 6th because if he’d followed the rules and suspended the game, giving a victory to the Phillies, the rest of baseball nation would have cried bloody murder.”

    Not me. As a life long Phillies fan(whiner), I can clearly see this as yet another attempt to make life miserable for us and justify our self-hating. A win is a win, unless of course, it’s the Phillie. There is nothing honorable at all in dumping the rules just to make us warm and fuzzy. We’ll take it. If all the world can live with Brazil’s 2002 World Cup win on penalty kicks, then it can accept a rain cancellation World Series win. And if you buy into the whole purity schtick, then my friend Pete Rose wants you at his next poker game.

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    fabiorojas

    October 29, 2008 at 3:04 am

  6. As a foreigner, naturally baseball means nothing and its alleged traditions matter to me not a whit, except insofar as you have to put up with a particular brand of nostalgic sports writing and broadcasting every year when the season begins. Whenever that is. But now I live in America and have a son, which means I’m probably going to have to learn the rules. I find this an appalling prospect, to be frank.

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    Kieran

    October 29, 2008 at 3:57 am

  7. Ditto, Kieran. Though, I only have daughters so I am spared.

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    tf

    October 29, 2008 at 4:36 am

  8. Actually, Fabio, you switched what Brayden and Ezra said.

    Not sure why you think the Pete Rose example contradicts what Brayden said about purity. After all, Rose has been banned.

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    ezrazuckerman

    October 29, 2008 at 1:49 pm

  9. E.Z.: You just don’t “get it.” Neither does Brayden, nor anyone who hasn’t followed the Phillies since 1883. Educate yourself on the horror that is this team and how a magical appeal to the “purity of the rules” is yet another example of a divine power intervening to mess with us, the Cheesesteak Nation:

    https://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2007/07/08/the-philadelphia-phillies-organizational-failure-at-its-best/

    And no, whining about the Red Sox is not in the same league. Heck, it even the same sport!

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    fabiorojas

    October 29, 2008 at 6:34 pm

  10. One question for you Fabio: how come Cleveland fans (who haven’t won any championship since 1948, heck the Browns have never even been to the Super Bowl!) don’t get as crazy about their teams’ failures as people in Philly do about their teams’ problems?

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    brayden

    October 29, 2008 at 7:01 pm

  11. B-King: A few hypotheses

    – Length of lameness, the Phillies have sucked over three centuries. Philly also sucks in multiple sports, consistently.
    – The raw amount of loserness, no team has lost 10,000 games. In any sport… except the Phillies.
    – Great potential. Philly gets tons of outstanding athletes. We treat them bad and they leave.
    – We are next to towns with winning sports teams, Baltimore, NYC, Boston. We’re very jealous.
    – The dramaturgical aspect of it all. The hang glider incident? Gambling scandals? Ejected team owners? TO? Buddy Ryan?? The Ice Bowl of 1981?? The Great Collapse of 1964?? The Kruk/Canada dispute of 1996? The entire pitching career of Mitch Williams? Any one of these would humiliate a sports town, but all of them put together, over decades, brings you to some bad places. As in “bad places me and my therapist talk about.”
    – Philly is part of the “pro-America” part of America. We nurse wounds for ages and we have easy access to industrial equipment we can throw at people. (E.G., the car battery incident of 1998).

    Overall, I’d say that other towns have horrible teams, but Philly’s combination of occasional greatness, long history of spectacular collapses, managerial malpractice, working class/ethnic ethos, and inferiority complex with other cities converges in a nasty brew, often used to wash down that cheesesteak wit.

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    fabiorojas

    October 29, 2008 at 7:37 pm

  12. Length of lameness – But Cleveland has been just as lame (lamer even because the Browns have never even gone to a Super Bowl) for a longer period of time. I think you’re more on track when pointing to the cities of comparison. Cleveland can compare their city to Pittsburgh and Cincinatti. And it’s not like either city is the paragon of sports success.

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    brayden

    October 29, 2008 at 10:20 pm

  13. Brayden: Once again, I’m the evidence based whiner here….

    Cleveland browns – Championships – 0
    Philadelphia Eagles – Championships – 0

    Lameness Risk period:

    Browns – 1946-2008 – 62 Years
    Eagles – 1931-2008 – 77 Years

    You wanna go pre-modern NFL on me?

    Browns – 8 (AAFC ’46-’49, NFC ’50, ’54, ’55, ’64)
    Eagles – 3 (’48, ’49, ’60)

    Total Play off appearances:

    Browns – 27
    Eagles – 11 , though 2 include Super Bowl appearances. I’ll give you that

    # of assistant coaches beat up by head coach during a play off game:

    Browns – 0
    Eagles – 1

    Brayden, just admit it! Cleveland sucks, but not as much as Philly!!!!

    Like

    fabiorojas

    October 29, 2008 at 11:36 pm

  14. Total number of Super Bowl, World Series, NBA, or Stanley Cup titles since 1967 (the modern era of pro sports):

    Philadelphia: 3
    Cleveland: 0

    Stop your whining!

    Like

    brayden

    October 30, 2008 at 12:19 am

  15. Now you know why professional athletes consider Philly the worst town to work in.

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    fabiorojas

    October 30, 2008 at 1:03 am

  16. Fabio: Funny, because my formative years in baseball were in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I always thought of the Phillies as a good team. I mean, you don’t even mention here that they won in 1980! I guess you were too young then to remember?Personally, I remember that team well since the Yankees had a great year that year (103 wins) but then got wiped out in the playoffs (f**ing George Brett) in three games, but then lost to the Phillies.

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    ezrazuckerman

    October 30, 2008 at 1:16 am

  17. EZ: I think it’s considered that the Phillies were good in the early 50s’, late 70s/early 80s and sporadically since then. I was actually at the ’83 series, the birthday present from heaven. But if you look at the whole franchise history, it’s not pretty, though, as BK points out, not as bad as the Cleveland Browns.

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    fabiorojas

    October 30, 2008 at 1:47 am

  18. BK, Ezra, the orgtheory community:

    I am satisfied. You shall not hear from me on this issue again.

    I reserve the right to mock the Phanatic, though.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    October 30, 2008 at 2:01 am

  19. Fabio: Congrats on the Phillies’ victory!

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    ezrazuckerman

    October 30, 2008 at 2:42 am

  20. Thanks, EZ. It’s very healing…

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    fabiorojas

    October 30, 2008 at 2:43 am

  21. I felt sorta happy for the Philly faithfuls. You do know how to appreciate a win.

    Go Giants!

    Like

    brayden

    October 30, 2008 at 3:47 am


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