The final week of Major League Baseball’s regular season provided an unexpected lesson in ethics when both a player and a team both chose to do the right thing, even though it would cost them half a million dollars.
Minnesota Twins pitcher Phil Hughes was one out away from triggering a $500,000 bonus in his contract when a long rain delay prevented him from staying in a game Sept. 24 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. In his last scheduled start of the season, Hughes pitched the first eight innings before the rain delay, leaving him one-third of an inning short of hitting the 210 innings for the season that would have earned him the bonus.
Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire, who was fired after the season due to the teams win-loss struggles in recent years, said the next day the Twins were willing to let Hughes pitch again before the end of the season—showing class in not letting the rain delay be the final deciding factor in whether or not Hughes would reach the 210 innings needed for the bonus. But it was Hughes who decided against taking the mound again simply to earn the bonus.
“I just didn’t think it was right,” Hughes told reporters the next day. “If I were fighting for a playoff spot, I’d be 100 percent available. But given the circumstances, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
Admittedly, while $500,000 is nothing to sneeze at, the Twins ace did earn an $8 million salary this season, and had already earned a pair of $250,000 bonuses for reaching 180 and 195 innings pitched.
Still, to leave another half-million on the table when he could have easily taken the opportunity to get just one out pitching out of the bullpen during the final four days of the season showed a lot of integrity.
“I owe too much to this organization for the next two years to risk getting hurt for an incentive. For whatever reason, it wasn’t meant to be. There’s a lot of bigger problems out there. I’m proud of my season,” Hughes said.
Hughes finished the season with a 16-10 record and a 3.52 earned run average in his first season with the Twins, where he signed a three-year contract before this season. He set a single-season major league record for strikeout-to-walk ratio, finishing the season with 186 strikeouts and 16 walks. His 11.63 ratio became the best of all time for pitchers with a qualifying number of innings.
This situation raises the idea that just because you can obtain an incentive – in baseball or in business – doesn’t always mean you should. Hughes handled this situation in a manner that has enhanced his reputation in the minds of baseball fans, his teammates and his organization. Sure, someone who has been making a major league salary for eight years probably isn’t going to miss that $500,000, especially right now. But think of the intrinsic value he has created in the form of goodwill generated among fans, teammates and the Minnesota Twins front office. This probably was far from Hughes’ mind when he decided to “do the right thing” and pass on the opportunity to pitch again this season, but intended or not, in the long run it will almost certainly pay dividends.
The lesson? Don’t sell your values short to make a quick buck. Making a deal you are uncomfortable with to meet a quota or incentive in the short term is not only unethical; it’s often not worth it in the long run.