Baseball and BP

June 13th, 2010 No Comments

Newsweek editor-in-chief Jon Meacham asks: why can’t the Gulf of Mexico oil spill be handled more like the missed-call (non) perfect game in Detroit? The umpire admitted he blew the call, the pitcher who had his perfect game taken away shook the ump’s hand, the fans cheered, eyes grew damp. Good sportsmanship, apologies, “be honest, admit mistakes, and keep moving.”

My reaction was: why wasn’t the non-perfect game handled more like the oil spill? Why didn’t the pitcher sue the umpire, the league, the manufacturer of the ball, the bat, the uniforms…basically everybody in sight for his financial losses? (BTW how much did Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay make due to their perfect games? How much more would they have made if there had been a third within a few days?) Did the pitcher even have a lawyer? Did the umpire? Do all major league players and officials have to sign an agreement that they won’t sue over anything that happens on the field?

We live in a very litigious society. It’s pretty obvious why BP doesn’t just admit it made many mistakes leading up to, and following, the explosion. Each admission of error can be directly linked to financial liability in a courtroom, even beyond the actual cost of repairing the damage. Hence, while BP may, willingly or unwillingly, generously or on the cheap, pay for the damage it has caused, all admissions of error will have to be dragged out through the legal process. To admit the mistakes would probably cost BP more money, sooner, than denying blame.

Is there a cure for this? Could the US government strike a deal with BP whereby BP comes clean about its errors (vs. concealing them, which might lead to mistakes being unnecessarily repeated) in exchange for limitation of its liability to actual costs of cleanup? I’m a process engineer, and I usually like to find the cause of problems, fix the process so the problems won’t recur, and make sure everybody has the training they need to use the process properly. Also it’s occasionally necessary to develop technology if it doesn’t currently exist, or to admit that we don’t currently have the knowledge to do something efficiently and safely. There is always a demand for heads to roll when problems occur, and occasionally that’s necessary, but I much prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt and see if process improvement and training aren’t a better approach–especially at the working level. It may be possible to show that management was negligent by not permitting (even insisting on) the existence of and compliance with a process that meets safety needs. If so, should management be fired or given another chance to do things right?

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