Voices

Nerve damage

Cubs and Red Sox fans should not blame curses, fate, or the "gods of baseball" for playoff problems

Issue: "Sciavo: Saved by the bill," Nov. 1, 2003

THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL," MANAGER TOM Hanks tells his women's team in A League of Their Own. But of course there is-ask any dejected Cubs or Red Sox fan-and there is in Christianity as well. Buddhists say there is no crying among its paragons because they have realized that life is suffering (the Buddha's first "noble truth") and have thus detached themselves from both the tears and temporary joys of life. But probably the most famous New Testament bullet verse, short and bitter, is "Jesus wept."

Jesus was not weeping over a loss in a game, however key. He wept over death, in itself a representation of the impact of sin in the world. Baseball is, of course, inconsequential in comparison. And yet, as Abraham Kuyper said a century ago, "God looks out over all His vast creation, the way a painter holds up his thumb to get his perspective, and says: 'There's not a thumb's width of it that isn't mine.'" Sometimes that thumb covers Wrigley Field or Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium, and that territory is also God's.

That's a vital realization-yet if we distort it, theological error results. During October, press box denizens slouched toward fatalism. Phrases like "the gods of baseball" regularly hit headlines, and "destiny" or "fate" became favorite nouns. The Red Sox and Cubs were "doomed" because of "the curse of the Bambino" or "the billy goat curse." Fatalism is the tribute that those apart from God pay to the notion that spiritual forces exist, so in one way it's a step up from atheism, but it is also the last refuge of those who refuse to examine closely the specific detail of failure.

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God generally works through people, and people in tough circumstances need to get their emotions in control. Remember Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon's prayer (see WORLD, Oct. 18), which came before a home run and was a home run for many WORLD readers: "I asked for the Lord to quiet my nerves." Nerves excite us but also destroy our judgment, and baseball is above all a game of nonsentimental, nonnervous judgment: for hitters, when to swing, and for managers, when to make changes.

Cubs fans have their own stories to tell, but the two major disasters in recent Red Sox history came when managers in the clutch abandoned logic and enthroned sentimentality.

The ball never would have gone through Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner's legs in 1986 if the Red Sox manager had followed his usual procedure and given Mr. Buckner's creaking knees a rest by putting in a defensive replacement. The now-recurring nightmare of Red Sox fans, star but out-of-gas pitcher Pedro Martinez giving up hit after hit in the eighth inning of the winner-take-all game of the recent New YorkÐBoston series, would not have happened had the current Red Sox manager followed his usual procedure and used what had become a prize bullpen.

Yes, it would have been nice for Mr. Buckner to leap around with his teammates in 1986 had they won that year, and it would have been nice for Mr. Martinez to finish out the inning, but it was sentimentality, not the "gods of baseball," that stopped them. The manager's prayer should be: "Lord, quiet my nerves so that I think through this situation logically and make sure I have my strongest team on the field." Managers without steely minds or prayerful hearts go with hunches that sometimes are correct but more often fail them and those who depend on them.

World history is full of bad hunches. Eve, instead of praying to quiet the nerves excited by Satan's insinuations, saw the pretty surface of the fruit and bit in; sentiment blinded her to God's overwhelming goodness and power. Recently, Saddam Hussein went with his hunch that the United States could be bluffed, but steely-eyed U.S. leaders cast sentiment aside. Baseball losses are obviously of minor importance compared to world-shaping and world-changing events, but they also teach lessons.

Here's the one I take away from Red Sox disappointment: Don't blame "baseball gods" for man-made losses. Not a thumb's width of a foul line is outside of God's control, but don't confuse God's sovereignty with fatalism. He raises up kings and quiets their nerves, or He leaves them to their impulses, with disaster most of the time resulting.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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