On the Church and Society
January 20, 2008
While the NFL playoffs forge on towards the Super Bowl, passion for this football season came to an end for me when my Minnesota Vikings fell to the Washington Redskins in the next to last game of the season. Playoff hopes -- what little existed for a team with no passing game -- were dashed.
So, it's time to fire up the Hot Stove League and look to baseball. While the heart of this fan rests with the Cincinnati Reds (anyone know of an available veteran starter?), I can watch a baseball game anytime, anywhere, and between any teams.
Baseball? I can hear the protests.
After all, hasn't baseball been disgraced (again, some might say) with revelations in the Mitchell Report of widespread steroid abuse, including by some of the game's best, such as allegations against pitcher Roger Clemens?
Congress, of course, is getting in the act, with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform holding a hearing on January 15 in which MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, players union chief Don Fehr, and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who authored the Mitchell Report, were rather mildly grilled. A second day was supposed to include Yankees pitchers Clemens and Andy Pettitte, former Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, and two sources for the report -- former Yankees strength and conditioning coach Brian McNamee and former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. But that has been pushed back to February 13, as Congress apparently digs deeper. One has to wonder why Congress is digging around this topic, that is, other than to take an opportunity for some grandstanding.
We'll see what comes out of this. The March 2005 congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball had three basic results: 1) Slugger Mark McGwire's declaration that he was "not here to talk about the past" likely cost him the Hall of Fame, 2) Rafael Palmeiro's adamant denial was followed up 10 months later with a positive test for steroids (again, bye, bye Hall), and 3) Sammy Sosa's vagueness did not serve him well.
So, how should those of us who love the game respond?
I have a friend who was a huge baseball fan. But the 1994 strike ended his love affair with the national pastime.
Regarding the steroids scandal, consider a couple of opinion pieces written in Newsday at the end of last month. On December 28, columnist James Klurfeld wrote: "Sports is a make-believe world. To me, it's an escape from the deadly consequences of tragedies, wars and conflict that make real news ... I would love to believe Clemens' denials. Wouldn't it be great if he pitched like this into his 40s because of hard work and God-given talent? Wouldn't it be great if he were a real sports hero? But I have a bad feeling about it and his stonewalling. And, besides, a real story, about human greed and weakness, has intruded on my make-believe world. Too bad."
A Long Island resident, Henry E. Bockrath, followed up the next day with an op-ed. The writer reflected fondly on his boyhood days playing baseball. But now when he thinks of his youthful baseball dreams, it is "with tears in his eyes" due to human growth hormone and steroids. He bemoaned that baseball, in his view, is now all about self-absorption, materialism, a drug culture and money grubbing. The 76-year-old writer concluded: "As for me, my 50-year-old leather pitcher's mitt, which I kept soft every year with Neetsfoot Oil and tucked away with a baseball in the pocket, has a new home. It's in the garbage with my nighttime dreams." Whew, that's tough.
What to make of these comments? And why the heck am I writing about this in a column titled "On the Church & Society"? Well, Christianity provides a much-needed reminder about human nature in the midst of this baseball mess.
I certainly share the frustrations and sadness of these fellow fans. But perhaps they misplaced the essence of their baseball love. One should, of course, admire baseball skills, and especially appreciate those who play the game and conduct themselves with integrity. But hero worship is misguided.
Many people ask me how a lifelong New Yorker came to be a Cincinnati Reds fan. The answer is Pete Rose. As a child, how Rose played the game made me a Reds fan. So, I know something about disillusionment when it comes to baseball players and managers.
Christianity provides a necessary, sober reminder that we are all sinners. When news breaks about some pastor or priest caught in a scandal, that should not shake our faith. Our hope, faith and focus lie with Jesus Christ, not in a flawed person or personality in a particular church. Even pastors and priests are weak, sinful, and in need of forgiveness and redemption, just like the rest of us. Yet, we still go to church. We still believe.
It's similar with baseball (though obviously nowhere near as important). Those who play the big league game are sinners. Many will do things that will hurt baseball and the fans.
But the wonders of baseball make it worth keeping and relishing. Christianity teaches to hate the sin, love the sinner. When it comes to the challenges that now face baseball, what's needed is to beef up policing, dole out penalties where appropriate, and, bottom line, hate the sin, love the sinner -- and love the game.
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, is the editor and publisher of the "On the Church & Society Report." This column is from the latest issue of the "On the Church & Society Report," which also features "God and Taxes," "I Am Legend, the Message, and Finding God," "Veggie Pirates," and "The Terminator is Back." To receive a free four-issue trial of "On the Church & Society Report," send an e-mail request to ChurchandSociety@aol.com.