Was it Right to Keep Dad's Death From World Series Pitcher?

by Jon Schuppe /  / Updated 
Image: MLB: World Series-New York Mets at Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Edinson Volquez in the 6th inning of game one of the World Series Tuesday night.Jeff Curry / USA Today via Reuters

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The Kansas City Royals' decision to delay telling World Series starting pitcher Edinson Volquez that his father had died worked out well for his team, who beat the New York Mets in a 14-inning game that ended early Wednesday morning.

But was it the right thing to do?

It's hard to say.

Image: MLB: World Series-New York Mets at Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Edinson Volquez throws a pitch against the New York Mets in the first inning in game one of the 2015 World Series at Kauffman Stadium.John Rieger / USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

The unusual circumstances — a once-in-a-lifetime athletic performance unfolding in a highly public setting in which thousands of people learned the news before Volquez — have no practical application to the average person's work life. Psychologists, human resources managers and ethicists might all have given different advice to Volquez's wife, who asked the Royals not to tell him, and Royals manager Ned Yost, who honored that request.

"It's weird," said Shawn Klein, a philosophy instructor at Arizona State University who specializes in sports ethics. "Most of us aren’t in a position were we have something like the World Series in our lives, something that happens that takes precedence over everything else and isn't reschedulable or something we can work around."

Related: Edinson Volquez Pitched in World Series Without Knowing Dad Had Died

He added, "These kinds of things are so individual. People respond to death and mourning in different ways. So there's a wide base of what's acceptable."

Volquez's father died Tuesday, shortly before his son was due to start the first game of the World Series, according to a Royals spokesman. The Associated Press reported that Daniel Volquez suffered complications from heart disease in the Dominican Republic.

The pitcher's wife told the team, but asked that her husband not be told until after the game, the spokesman said. Yost complied, saying it wasn't his place to go against the family's wishes. But the manager was worried that Volquez might find out elsewhere, since news was beginning to circulate (FOX, which broadcast the game, said it knew but its announcers said nothing, just in case Volquez was watching in the clubhouse).

Yost told one player, pitcher Chris Young, whom he could call upon as a last minute replacement if Volquez found out. Young, who kept the secret, could empathize: he lost his father to cancer in September, and pitched the next day after turning down Yost's offer to skip a start.

Volquez pitched six innings Tuesday night, giving up three earned runs. His family was waiting for him in the clubhouse, the Royals spokesman said. Volquez left immediately for the Dominican Republic. He hasn't commented publicly.

Prior to Tuesday, Volquez had been scheduled to pitch again in the fifth game of the best-of-seven series, to be held Sunday, if necessary. But those plans are now less clear.

Klein said he had no problem with the way the family and the Royals handled the situation. He compared it to Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre playing the day after his father died in 2003, turning in one of the greatest performances of his career.

"It's not like the father was in the hospital and they withheld the news from him and he missed a chance to see him one more time," Klein said. "There wasn't anything he could have done. This was an opportunity, and I'm sure his father would have wanted him to pitch."

Charles Maher, team psychologist for the Cleveland Indians, said organizations must always try to consider an athlete as a person rather than a performer, and in most cases should inform them of such a loss.

But Tuesday's circumstances — the news breaking so close to the start of the game, and the family asking the team to keep the secret — made it difficult to criticize their decision, Maher said.

Doug Hirschorn, a former sports psychologist who now coaches hedge fund managers, said that by one measure — weighing the risks and rewards of the game's outcome — keeping Volquez in the dark was clearly the right call.

"But from a human point of view, it's pretty crappy," Hirschorn said.

Hirschorn, author of a job-performance advice book called "8 Ways to Great," said he couldn't second-guess the family or the team, because they knew Volquez best.

"But you could end up having a lot of problems afterward," Hirschorn said. "I understand why the team didn't tell him. But maybe he's saying, 'Everyone knew except for me, and I still could have gone up there and done my job as a professional.' I can understand why he might feel resentment."

Steven Portenga, a sports psychologist at the University of Denver, said the death of a loved one can have a short-term focusing effect on an athlete, allowing them to perform better than they would have otherwise.

But sometimes the opposite happens.

And sometimes the athlete hits an emotional wall.

That's what reportedly happened to Young, who pitched five scoreless innings before telling Yost he could go no further.

Young made it to his locker before breaking down in tears.

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