The Hobbesian State of Baseball

Baseball has always been known as America’s pastime and it has been around formally since the late 1800’s. With anything that has survived for that many years, there are changes in the way the game is played and what is allowed, which is the same with baseball and it’s many eras. The game has progressed from the “dead ball era” to the “live ball era” to the “free agency era” to the “steroid era” and many more in between.

In Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, he talks about three laws of nature. The first law of nature has to do with seeking peace and resorting to war if one cannot find that peace. The second law of nature deals with trusting that others will not get in a person’s way to find peace, so that person will stay out of the others way as well. The third law of nature states that we must not only make promises, but we must keep them, despite the incentive to break them for more power. Throughout all of time with sports and specifically baseball, it is human nature to try and get ahead of the competition, which is what some players have done. From Pete Rose betting on games, in which he could deliberately affect his team’s outcome as a manager to pitchers tainting the ball with spit and pine tar to Sammy Sosa and countless others corking their bats, players have always tried to get their peace through methods of cheating.

  The “steroid era” is an excellent example of Hobbes’s thoughts on how people act and how their accordance with the rules affects others. People have thought that since the 1980’s baseball players have been using steroids, but Major League Baseball did not take it into account until the early 2000’s. Baseball players, like every other human being, are always trying to find their peace, which means being successful at the Major League level. The second law of nature is not upheld in multiple ways in baseball because of the competitive nature of sports. There is always someone next to you or below you that is trying to take your spot that way they can find their peace. The lack of this Hobbesian rule in baseball specifically, led to some players breaking the third law of nature, which has to do with keeping promises. Hundreds of players not limited to, but including Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens all used steroids and other performance enhancing drugs.

The transformation of Barry Bonds from early in his career, presumably before his steroid use, to later in his career.

While these players were trying to pursue their peace according to Hobbes’s definition, they were also breaking the promise they made when they signed their contract, which is exactly what Hobbes said not to do; they should resist the temptation. However, due to the success that ensued, it is hard to blame them for doing these illegal drugs. They were putting up ridiculous, video-game-like numbers, breaking records, and leading their teams as superstar players; they had achieved their peace. While they achieved their peace in an illegal way, which I in no way endorse, it is hard to fault them or doing whatever they can in order to find their personal peace according to specific parts of Hobbes’s definition, however in the end, he does not endorse they methods either.

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2 thoughts on “The Hobbesian State of Baseball

  1. As a fan of baseball myself, I found your comparison between the current state of the sport and the Leviathan to be really interesting. You make an important point that many of the athletes accused of using performance enhancing drugs are pursuing equality, not inequality. Why should it be considered fair to have a non-steroids-using athlete to compete against a steroids using athlete and be expected to produce the same results? As we’ve spoken about in lecture on several occasions, straying from the rules in an athletic context has always taken place. It’s in human nature to seek excellence, so it only makes sense that these sorts of drugs are used to further one’s ability in any given sport. I think the most interesting point related to steroid use is whether Major League Baseball (through Hall of Fame Inductions) should recognize the tainted excellence achieved by these players. Fortunately, in recent years this issue has followed a downward trend, though, sadly the problem will continue to persist for as long as the sports does.

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  2. This comparison between Hobbes’ theories on human nature and the game of professional baseball in the United States definitely has a lot of merit. For example, it is clear that the players follow the Hobbesian value of seeking peace in their per siting pursuits of excellence in baseball: in MVP awards, in championships, in dynasties. One thing that I think these players are unfortunately tending more to personify is Hobbes’ definition of “the fool”. Hobbes’ fool is said to be someone that breaks covenants made with others when the opportunity presents itself to make selfish gains. As listed in this piece, one needs only look to greats like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, and many others in the history of the game to see a Hobbesian fool. All these players broke a promise made to Major League Baseball and their fans, and even their fellow teammates, when they took these prohibited drugs simply to see their own personal improvement. Perhaps the biggest digression between us and Hobbes is that to him these men are fools, while to most of us they are still heroes.

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