Comments on economics, mystery fiction, drama, and art.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Backman Affair

So the Arizona Diamondbacks hired Wally Backman to be their manager, then fired him when several brushes with the law (in its various forms--assault, DUI, bankruptcy) came to light.

I have very mixed feelings about employers using a potential employee's legal record as a criterion on which to make hiring decisions, particularly for people who have completed their obligations (including punishment) under the law. After all, if people with records cannot get hired in decent jobs, then their ability to earn a living is (perhaps arbitrarily) reduced, and the probability that they might turn to illegal activities may well increase.

In Backman's case, of course, the real issue is that he failed to disclose his record to the Diamondbacks. Then again, as an article at makes clear, if he had told them, he would not have been offered the job. So there was no way for him to win.

And then the question is--was his record germane to his qualifications for the job? Would it lower his effectiveness, on-field or off-field, as a manager? As a spokesman for the Diamondbacks? Does his record predict a higher probability of future offenses, which might themselves make him unavailable to perform his job? If the answers to those questions are all "no," then do we think that the Diamondbacks would have acted appropriately not to hire him, had they known?

Too many unknowns. But, somehow, the conclusion that his past disqualifies him seems a little unfortunate, at least to me.


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