The Phillies game I did not watch

Now that rain has postponed yesterday’s Game Three of the World Series, nobody knows yet whether the Philadelphia Phillies will win or will lose the game to the Houston Astros (though by the time this gets submitted, approved, and posted, Game Three may well be history).

By no means am I the most ardent of Phillies fans, but I still unabashedly root for the Phillies after being out of the Philadelphia area for more than 30 years. When teaching at Queens College of the City University of New York, I encountered a student who, as part of a project for a Psychology course, stood in front of the library asking passers-by various questions from a prepared script.  I, of course, accommodated her by responding to the questions, even though Psychology is not my area of expertise. One of the questions was “Which is your favorite baseball team, the Yankees or the Mets?”

“I’m still a Phillies fan,” I replied.

“I only have two choices,” balked the student.  “It’s either the Yankees or the Mets.”

“So just write in ‘Phillies’,” I said.

“I can’t do that!” she replied.

“So who made up the questions on your survey?” I asked.

The student admitted that the survey questions were of her own authorship.  I then took advantage of the teachable moment and pointed out to her that her entire survey was skewed, and possibly invalid, and that she should consider the validity of any survey poll statistics she might read in the future with that in mind. The conversation then drifted to what I was teaching (Business Law courses and Taxation courses); I continued on my way when another person walked by and agreed to take the student’s survey.

I have watched fewer than two dozen Phillies games total as a spectator in the Connie Mack Stadium or the Veterans Stadium venues.  The most memorable game I watched (actually two) was on August 13, 1972 at The Vet. It was a double-header in which the Phillies won the first game 3 to 2, and the Montreal Expos won the second game 8 to 3. The games themselves were relatively unremarkable as far as baseball games go (though the manager of the Expos was Gene Mauch, who had managed the Phillies for eight years before going to Montreal in 1969, and, considering his (mis)adventures at the helm of the Phillies, still was held in reasonably good regard by many Phillies fans).

The double-header my brother and I watched on August 13, 1972 is unforgettable not for the way the ball was pitched or hit, nor for how the players ran the bases or caught the ball; the keynote event happened between the two games, when Karl Wallenda traversed a steel cable suspended more than 100 feet above the playing field.

There also was a Phillies game for which my nonattendance was remarkable. I was a Procurement Agent and Contracting Officer with the US Department of Defense. One morning, a representative of a manufacturer came by and wanted to learn about how to do business with the government.  I discussed the process with him for about a half-hour. The next day, an envelope appeared in my mail bin. It was from this vendor I had spoken with the day before. When I opened the envelope, two tickets to a Phillies game came out.

I started singing “Take me out to the Ball Game,” then got up and, waving the tickets in my hand, approached my acting supervisor and told her that I was going to take the tickets to the Office of Counsel. Within 90 seconds I was waving the tickets in the face of the Chief Counsel, who told me that his office was busy, but that someone would contact me the next day about the matter. The next day, I gave a statement recounting the events to an Assistant Counsel, who immediately returned the tickets to the vendor along with a strongly-worded admonitory letter.

As a Department of Defense employee, I was required to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Several challenges in that regard during my government career come to mind.

On the guest list to my wedding was an individual whose company manufactured items purchased by the group I supervised; he had known my wife’s mother from local business organizations. His company had recently relocated to new quarters. Any relocation of a manufacturing operation presents quality assurance issues, and this particular company’s quality issues and delivery time problems (there is frequent correlation between the two) placed it on a special list whereby a purchase award required approval by a Branch Chief.  With the approval and encouragement of the Office of Counsel, I accordingly approached my co-equal chief of the branch next to mine, an Army Captain, and arranged that whenever one of my people had a prospective award to this company, I would send him or her to the Captain, who made the go or no-go decision, and I did not personally participate in the process.

[Following the wedding, when we went to my mother-in-law’s place to open the gifts, there was an envelope from the man and his wife. The envelope contained a certificate acknowledging a gift to the JNF in honor of our marriage. For almost two years thereafter, I was under the impression that my mother-in-law had spoken to this man about my situation, but later learned that he, being conscious of my conflict of interest restrictions, had done it on his own volition. This was the best possible resolution to the conflict of interest challenge.].

A previous challenge I had, before becoming a Branch Chief, was the procurement of a particular piece of hardware. The item was not optimally designed, and had frequent failures necessitating frequent purchases of replacements. One vendor told me that he would give a quote for a redesigned item if I could have it evaluated by the government’s technical people.  After some conversations of mine with the Technical Directorate, this vendor told me that he would have a quotation for me the next day.  The next morning, I received a telephone call from him; he said that he was pressed for time but would meet me in the stairwell to the building in a few minutes (almost nobody had a cell phone in those days, so he made the call from a pay phone at a nearby gasoline station) and hand me an envelope containing (1) a drawing of his redesigned item; (2) a sample of the item; (3) a price quotation for various quantities of the item; and (4) a cover letter.

The building in which I worked was, and still is, a three-deck (it is located on a Navy compound, so we had to call the floor “decks” and not “storeys”) edifice whose entrance brings the visitor to a landing between the basement (“first deck”) and the main floor (“second deck”).  To get to the lobby (where vendors normally would meet procurement agents such as myself), one must ascend the stairs to the second deck and go through another set of glass doors.  My desk was on the third deck.  And so, I was faced with the prospect of going to a somewhat secluded location to accept a sealed envelope from someone seeking a contract award that I would handle for the government.  This can easily give the appearance of a conflict of interest, despite the fact that it my receipt of the envelope would inure to the government’s advantage.

So I asked one of my co-workers a few desks away if he wanted to go down to the first deck to get some coffee from the canteen there. This was unusual for me, inasmuch as I am not a coffee drinker and did not usually nosh between breakfast and lunch. I explained to him that I needed someone to accompany me for something. We went down the rear stairwell to the canteen, my colleague got his coffee and donut, and then we walked to the front stairwell.  Sure enough, the vendor was waiting for me on the front door landing. We exchanged a few brief words as I took the envelope; my colleague and I returned to our desks on the third deck, and the vendor went to his car to go about his busy day. And so, there was a witness to my receipt of the envelope.

But once we got back to our work area, I called two additional co-workers to observe my opening of the envelope. The envelope contained everything it was supposed to contain (and nothing it should not have contained). I wrote up a memo to the file (which the witnesses all initialed) and sent the drawing and sample item to Technical for evaluation. The item was approved, the official specification drawing was revised, the vendor got his contract award, and the US taxpayers saved some money in the process.

Such are the measures that must be taken to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

So many of the politicos in yesterday’s election have made no pretentions of even trying to avoid conflicts of interest, let alone avoiding the appearance thereof.eth

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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