Perhaps only in the U.S. would the “integrity of baseball” or any sport be the focus of political speeches and front-page newspaper articles. Surveying the massive press coverage of the congressional hearings March 17 on steroid use in Major League Baseball, Representative Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wondered why issues of health care and poverty don’t receive the same attention.
Mundane events can mirror the mysteries at the heart of faith
Jan 11, 2005
Red Sox fan George Sumner was on his deathbed last October, and things didn’t look too good for the Red Sox either. They were about to be eliminated from the playoffs by the hated Yankees, thereby adding another year of heartbreak to the previous 86 in which Boston’s beloved Sox had managed, sometimes in jaw-dropping fashion, to fall short of winning the World Series.
Andy, age nine, is jumping rope without a rope. “Is that your invisible jump rope?” his brother John asks him. “No,” says Andy, “it’s my happy rope!” Anticipating a promised hayride, Andy jumps his happy rope clear across the apple orchard we are visiting, the very picture of energy and exuberance in all its four-foot, 50-pound, never-take-a-nap glory.
Ecstatic with their first World Series title in 86 years, fans of the Boston Red Sox are preparing to enshrine this team’s players as bigger-than-life legends who overcame the famous Curse of the Bambino. But as the Fenway faithful gear up to pay them homage, the heroes of this Cinderella story have another idea, one that’s giving pause for thought to famously reticent New Englanders.
You had to admire the way Pete Rose played baseball. Judging by what he did on the field, he earned the right to be in baseball’s Hall of Fame. He is still the all-time hits leader with 4,256. Over a 24-year playing career he was named to the All-Star team 17 times; and he had an incredible fielding percentage of .991 despite playing four different positions.
An exasperated parishioner once wrote me a note explaining that my references to sports in sermons were not effective for her and, in fact, were increasingly irritating. She didn’t understand them, didn’t like competitive sports of any kind, and suspected that the American sports ethos might be responsible for the mess America makes in the world.
Baseball is the most maturing and deepening of all sports, with the possible exception of fishing. And it demands the most theological discipline. Unlike football, in which fans and players can dream of a perfect season, in baseball, as in life, you never win them all.
It’s high summer, and those of us who measure time by the mystical rhythms of baseball are deeply immersed in the game. We have been talking lately about the Sammy Sosa affair. The Chicago Cubs slugger embarrassed himself by getting caught—on television no less—using a “corked” bat.
Comiskey Park in Chicago is being renamed U.S. Cellular Field. Announcement of this change vied for newspaper space with news of the Shuttle Challenger disaster. In other words, it was treated as an event of cosmic importance. A few days later the city’s sports and gossip columnists reported that the citizenry had treated this renaming as no big deal.
In his book Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games, A. Bartlett Giamatti, who was president of Yale University and commissioner of Major League Baseball before his death in 1989, argues that we can learn far more about a society by studying how it plays than by examining how it goes about its work.