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.
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.
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.
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.