Friday 25 May 2007

Ten reasons why baseball is God's game

by Kim Fabricius

The story is told of the aristocratic English cricket supporter who dies and appears at the Pearly Gates. St Peter checks his list, but, alas, the old gentleman is not on it. “There must be some mistake,” the man protests, “I have a permanent seat in the Lord’s enclosure!”

Well, Lord’s may be the home of cricket, but if cricket is heaven – and I write as an American expat who has lovingly lived in the UK for over thirty years – then heaven is as the cartoonist Larson depicts it: a bored bespectacled soul sitting on a cloud, thinking (in his thought balloon): “Wish I had a magazine.” Cricket is indeed baseball on Valium, while baseball is “chess at ninety miles an hour” (Roger Kahn). Baseball is God’s game. And here are just ten reasons why.

1. “The game of ball is glorious” – Walt Whitman.

2. Baseball is about coming home. The whole point of the game is to finish where you begin – home plate – and once you are home you are finally safe.
    “In my beginning is my end…
    Home is where one starts from…
    In my end is my beginning.”
    (T. S. Eliot, “East Coker”)

3. Its rudiments come from another world, i.e. England (!); its beginnings are shrouded in myth and legend (Abner Doubleday, “Casey at the Bat,” etc.); and its origins are rural, its destiny urban, i.e. it began in a garden and ends in the urbs. And the Original Sin: the banning of black players.

4. Its believers are nourished on Word and Sacrament, viz. the umpire’s shout, “Play ball!”, and the pilgrim fare of Crackerjacks and soda, hotdogs and beer. And, amidst elaborate ritual, there is that numinous moment of stillness as the pitcher takes the sign, winds up, and delivers, and that most majestic of sounds – the crack of the bat (rubric: All stand).

5. It has its saints – e.g. Lou Gehrig (the Iron Horse) and Jackie Robinson (the first African-American player of the modern era) – and sinners – e.g. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (who took a bribe) and Barry Bonds (who is alleged to have taken steroids). And there is the Great Satan: the New York Yankees.

6. It has its cathedrals – ballparks, awesome, hallowed grounds, the immediate playing area the “diamond” – and its Temple in Jerusalem, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York – replete with relics!

7. It had a Reformation with a splinter church, viz. the advent of the American League – with, alas, its ultimate descent into the heresy of the “designated hitter”!

8. It has its Suffering Servant, viz. the Chicago Cubs, the “Cubbies,” a team annually “like a sheep led to the slaughter” (and crucial to the game is the play called the “sacrifice”). But “Cub fans love the Cubs, warts and all, no questions asked. This quality is called faith” (Peter Glenbock).

9. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive this game as a little child will never enter it (cf. Mark 10:15). Magically, baseball always brings out the child in you, and draws you back to your childhood, indeed makes your childhood present (anamnesis). And it is a tie that binds the generations, communio sanctorum.

10. Finally, baseball abounds in hope (cf. Romans 15:13): “Next year!” – and, indeed, past-redeeming eschatological promise: “If you build it, he will come” (Field of Dreams). Maranatha!


Anonymous said...

Now that's what I call theology!

michael jensen said...

I must return fire here, of course: it is my national duty as an Australian to do so!

Baseball, coming from the land of McDonalds, is appropriately brief and flavourless. Cricket is the gourmet meal of sport, a revision of time itself, a game which may take five days, and, spectacularly deliver no result, but still be a satisfying and subtle meal with real flavour. It is a game designed to reward patient endurance, that most Christian of virtues; yet it is popular with Hindus and Muslims and Rastafarian alike. Its genre is the epic or the symphony - as opposed to the sit-com. When it has a 'World' Cup, it might be that it should be called a 'British Empire trophy', but at least 'World' in the case of cricket means 'more than one country'. Baseball is evidence of the great American delusion that no other country really exists... I could say more, of course: the fact that the ball bounces on the ground makes local conditions far more intrusive and particular, a reflection of technicolour diversity rather than astro-turf'd uniformity; and so on...

Having said all this, I was envious of Ken Burns' documentary about the social history of basebell and its impact on American society: fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Baseball is "brief and flavourless" - so is the eucharist. Cricket at five days - and, as you say, often without a result (i.e. no krisis, judgement) - reminds me of the child turning to his mum during a long church service and asking, "Is it still Sunday?"

Cricket and "patient endurance" - okay, but tell me, in athletics, which would you rather watch from start to finish, the 100 metre sprint or the 10,000 k. walk? And cricket acknowledges this - hence the one-day game - replete with colourful uniforms! And there is not only the time of the game to consider, there is the length and intensity of the season - six-games-a-week, 162 games-plus-playoffs - now that takes endurance. And the aesthetic comparison is not between epic and sit-com (that's bathos), but (over-)written novel and Shakespearean sonnet or play.

Baseball "one country"? Latin America? Japan? And cricket's appeal to Muslims and Hindus is just an accident of empire. Moreover, if baseball had its exclusion of blacks, cricket had its "players and gentlemen". And it still reflects the class system in the UK.

As for "local conditions" being "intrusive and particular" - yes, the "scandal of particularity"! And you think astro-turf is a good thing? Rather another recent heresy!

By the way, the great Aussie Chappel brothers love baseball - and can even play a bit. And I once had a conversation in a Swansea pub (the Cricketers[!], opposite which is the St. Helens ground, where Sir Garfield Sobers hit his awesome six sixes in one over against the hapless Nash [like a five homerun game, folks]) with the legendary Antiguan Viv Richards - ditto.

Finally, as a matter of fact I, conversely, love cricket - and have even played a bit (damn that straight bat!). And to visiting Americans I act as an apologist - though I could never convince my father that Bob Willis' endless run-up was really necessary!

Your're right about one thing - the brilliance of the Burns documentary, a labour of love. And as one (black) contributer says, America (for all its, as you rightly suggest, ignorant isolationism) offers the world three enduring gifts: the Constitution, jazz - and baseball.

::aaron g:: said...

Barry Bonds = The Signs and Wonders movement

all hype

Aric Clark said...

Kim, it's ironic that you would go after Cricket for being boring and then love Baseball.

*ring* *ring*
Hello, Kettle? This is the pot. You're black!

If you want to talk about a sport that makes both these tired old pastimes look like tired old pastimes we should be discussing the beautiful game: football. It is far more beloved world over than either cricket or baseball - for good reason.

Anonymous said...

Hi Aric,

I love American football too. I played it in high school - running back (though I captained the baseball team - shortstop/second base) - and follow the NFL season (a Jets fan). But baseball "boring"? If sex is boring, okay!

Shane said...

"Baseball is about coming home. The whole point of the game is to finish where you begin – home plate – and once you are home you are finally safe."

In this way we can see Fabricius's covert neo-Platonism surfacing. By understanding the game of baseball via the exitus-reditus strategy of Plotinus, Fabricius metaphysicalizes baseball in order to elevate it to an artificial sense of primacy, thereby marginalizing the 'other,' to wit, Cricket. Fabricius, himself a marginal figure as an expatriot, hereby lashes out against his alien surroundings, subverting the otherness of the English by positing baseball as the sublation of sport: Fabricius alludes to the fact that Baseball originated from cricket, but without mentioning this nameless Other. Metaphysical baseball is parricide.

Having deconstructed--no demythologized--Fabricius's grounding of baseball in ontotheology, we are now in a position to reimagine baseball in a post-metaphysical way. Not "Baseball," but the various baseballs. No longer shall the heteronymous voice of an umpire, the illusory promise of presence, bark out "rules" for baseball, rather each shall be his own umpire, engaging in the free play of endlessly deferred signifiers.


Jon said...

Shane is on crack... But very good crack...

Kim compared baseball to sex...

Also, I noted some hindsight bias -"Baseball is about coming home. The whole point of the game is to finish where you begin – home plate – and once you are home you are finally safe."

But yet often Cricket results in finishing where you began after 5 days of existential angst. Heidegger would love Cricket, I feel. For in Cricket we realise that our Dasein is supported by Nothingness. I feel as though those influenced by Heidegger (i.e. Jungel and Bultmann) must vote against you Kim.

Anyway, let's hope that heaven isn't as boring as baseball... As for me - I think golf is a far more pertinent analogy. All the best theologians play golf - or at least they would have if it had been invented. Calvin would have torn up a course and, if he hadn't wasted time on Church Dogmatics, Barth could have had quite a useful handicap!

Anonymous said...

Shane, fantastic - you crack me up.


Not the typos of neo-Platonic exitus-reditus but of biblical exile and return.

Nor the marginalising of the "other" - the "other" is marginalised precisely by being taken as singular - but the acknowledgement of the "others" of cricket (father) and rounders (mother), and their loving inclusion - no parricide or matricide, the parents are honoured in their transcendence, in a synthesis which is yet open and dynamic (cf. Gregory of Nyssa's epektasis, cf. Paul's metaphor from the arena in Philippians 3:13-14 - Paul would surely have used the image of baseball rather than athletics if he had known it!).

As for the "rules", take them rather as the grammar of the sport (cf. Wittgenstein's "language games"). Besides, things like theft (base-stealing) are included in the rules, and there is a venerable traditon of cheating (e.g. spitballs) and even (cathartic) violence (e.g. beanballs).

By the way, there is a great book in the "Popular Culture and Philosophy" series, Baseball and Philosophy (2004), edited by Eric Bronson, where cases are made for both Platonic and Aristotelean elements in the game, and where Kant and even Zen become conversation partners.

Hi Jon,

If Heidegger - and Bultmann - would have preferred cricket, I rest my case! Barth, who loved America and Americana (and who observed that the British have an inveterate tendency towards Pelagianism - Pelagius, of course, was British), would definitely be a baseball fan. For your paean to Nothingness, read rather Barth's das Nichtige!

As for golf, I follow Mark Twain's quip that it's a good way to ruin a good walk. Good theology must be written in spite of it, not because of it - if it's not just a penance!


Anonymous said...

As a Brit in Australia, I must agree that cricket is the queen of games and the game of kings, but baseball is rounders; a game played by girls at primary school.

Ben Myers said...

Kim -- in your comment, you said America "offers the world three enduring gifts: the Constitution, jazz and baseball". But there are actually five things (you forgot to mention Bob Dylan and The West Wing).

Anonymous said...

I'm with Aric Clark on this one. Baseball is fun to play--and makes for some great movies like Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, The Natural, etc. But baseball is boring to watch. And cricket is like watching grass grow. If cricket were any slower, it would be [shudder] golf.

I like sports that move: soccer, American football, basketball, Australian rules football (although, the first time an American sees an Aussie-rules football game it looks as weird as snake shoes!), rugby--these are sports that have action in them! Baseball and cricket? I've seen more action at quilting bees!

Sam Charles Norton said...

Six things from the US - the Western should also be included.

Chris Duckworth said...

Amen! I particularly like the equation of heresy with the designated hitter. My wife, a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, is an apostate . . . I see it as part of my evangelical mission to convert her to all things just and holy (ie, pitchers that hit for themselves).

Chris Duckworth said...

After reading all these comments, I realize that many of you from across the pond or Pacific see baseball only on the television - quite a wretched rendition of a blessed game.

Baseball is best live, in person, at the cathedral (ahem, ballpark). Watching baseball on the television is akin to watching mass on television. It's the same kind of degradation.

The only substitution for attending a ballgame is listening on the radio. In that way, baseball is a game of The Word, not dependent on cheap visual stimulation via a cathode ray tube but on a Word that becomes alive in the hearing. Faith, and true knowledge of baseball, comes from hearing.

Finally, I have a wonderful picture of Luther, Calvin, Melancthon and other reformers in baseball uniforms. I can't find it anywhere on the internet, though if I can take a good picture of it I'll post it.

W. Travis McMaken said...

Well done!

It's just a shame you couldn't work something in about the (formerly) anathema (cursed) Red Sox...who for so long were the subject of a rather 'antisemitic' hate on the part of the rest of baseball for their failure to recognize their Messiah (Babe Ruth)!

Dave Belcher said...

Red Sox, Cubbies, even the Brewers for God's sake...yes, we have some suffering servants.

But, the real "cursed" team should be the Texas Rangers: the oldest team to have never won a World Series! In this case, then, the "eschaton" of baseball would be when Texas finally wins a world series. Either that, or when they are sold to some billionaire and moved to Sacramento, or Charlotte, North Carolina, where we see baseball doomsday finally arrive, knowing that no hope is left for the Rangers...leaving some sort of divine intervention to bring all teams that once were lost back into the kingdom of wins and no-hitters.

My hope still lies with the Braves, though; that truly in these we see dimly the kingdom here on earth.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

Great comments. And hang in there with your wife (I'll pray for her soul) - my wife is Welsh/German and "unreached" rather than apostate; my hope is that, after Rahner, she is an "anonymous" fan.

Oh, and please post that photo - or let us know where I can get one. The three great Refomers - they'd look nice on my wall next to Blake's "Trinity"!

Finally the negative comments may yet turn me into a believer in double predestination. And as for BK, anathema sit!

Anonymous said...

first, kim you have outdone yourself with this post.

the disgruntled comments all illustrate the truth of point 9. in order to love baseball you must come as a child. the clamoring for more action comes from the mind of reasonable adults who have grown weary of the beauty of simplicity and prefer the endless banality of action to the beauty of hope, nuance, repitition, and wonder that each spring, each series, each game, heck even each batter-pitcher encounter offer.

somewhere g.k. chesterton wrote that it is adults (not God or children) who become bored with the regular beauty that surrounds them and thus clamor for the different. baseball reminds us that there is endless diversity in the most simple of things. Sounds a bit like the Trinity.

aaron g, i grant that bonds is a villian and it pains me that he is on my team, but he is far from signs and wonderment and mere hype. a bit more like the very best in a very tainted era. i cannot think of a better theological example.

as for the great satan: as a giants fan i am quite sure that you are mistaken about the yankees. they are merely a demon. the dodgers are the great satan.

Anonymous said...

Oi, Ben - I see you've put this post down in my Propositions contents as an "interlude". This is no interlude, mate: all the other (23) Propostions were a mere prelude - I was just clearing my throat! :)

Anonymous said...

Kim said:

I love American football too... and follow the NFL season (a Jets fan).

As a New Yorker, all I can say is ... my condolences.


Anonymous said...

Baseball is deadly boring. Vive le hockey!

Anonymous said...

Agreed, even the slowest hockey game is 7 times, no make that 7 times 7, more exciting that the best baseball game!

Go Ducks!

Robert Cornwall said...

Thank you once again for laying out such wonderful theological principles. Truly baseball is God's game, and of course since God is a loving and merciful God, God will welcome Barry Bonds into the Hall of Fame -- even if Bud doesn't show up. Of course I'm a die hard Giants fan and I can't help myself!!

As for hockey -- there's a reason why they went on strike and no one cared.

a. steward said...

Kim -

Attababe! This is easily your best 10 yet. Yes, Joe Jackson did take a bribe, but he tried (unsuccessfully) twice (once more than Judas) to return the 5 grand. Then he goes and hits .375 for the series, commits no errors in the field, and throws out 5 (!) runners at home. Is this not a drama of repentance?!

And Pete Rose! "For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears." (Hebrews 12.17)

Anonymous said...

Maybe I just don't have much of a sense of humor, but I don't think any game where people relish 'the other guy' striking out is "God's game." It would be appropriate to say, however, that baseball, football, etc., are very much games that have the same personality as the different Christian denominations, most of whom encourage their members to feel superior (though may be generally unrecognized) than everyone else; the typical sports enthusiast mindset.

I would say God’s game, if anything, is acknowledged by the Devil in the movie ‘Time Bandits’; he complained that God wasted so much time on things like 42 species of parrot….

Phil Walker said...

I frequently get pointed to your decalogues from the Boar's Head Tavern. While I can't say that I always agree (who could?), I always enjoy reading them.

But whatever doubts I might have had have been dealt with once and for all: this one proves that you're a flaming heretic. ; )

Jon said...

Guys... Honestly... One of the worst crimes known to mankind is the film "Field of Dreams" - saying that it is good is the biggest overstatement since that wisecrack who said - "That's the Titanic - it's unsinkable..."

I can agree on all other points but NOT on this - My conscience is held captive by the Word of God - Here I stand... I can do no other.

Jason said...

Thanks, I loved it! I am a lifelong baseball fan, but - living in the UK - have quickly developed an abiding fondness of Cricket. Growing up in Chicago, I am a diehard Cubs fan, and I die every year. I have naturally gravitated towards rooting for the English Test Cricket team, especially in the Ashes (although darned if they aren't taking it to West Indies now). Two points: Shoeless Joe Jackson, of the infamous Black Sox scandal, is widely believed to have been innocent of throwing the games - he was a pawn. Or so I'm led to believe.

And the second point is specifically for Dave Belcher: Friend, it's not that I don't feel your pain over the Rangers not having ever won the world series, but they've only been around 35 years. It is now 99 years - 99! -since my beloved Cubs last won the world series. My dear departed grandfather wasn't born until 11 years after they last won it, to put it in perspective. Few if any franchises have known futility in this scale.

Anyway, enough kvetching. And I promise to say something theological next time.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Kim! But I have one quibble with #5.

You state definitively that Jackson took a bribe, but Bonds only allegedly took steroids.

Please tell me you're joking, or at least a Giants fan.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brendt,

My lawyer advised me to use the word "allegedly" - :) - I mean, look at the guy; and I know about Shoeless Joe's Conradian tragedy - and "repentance". Many would say that baseball's greatest ever sinner was also its greatest ever player - Ty Cobb, a cauldron of distorted desire whose bat was filled with grace (rather than Sosa's cork!), yet whose spikes were WMD.

Anonymous said...

All this talk of baseball and cricket is pointless. God's real game is association football. When God said, 'Go forth and multiply', obviously he had in mind that this glorious sport would spread from Eden (otherwise known as England) across the whole world. From the FA Cup to the Champions League to the MLS, to the Socceroos, to - well, I believe even Greenland has a national team (though I don't think it's recognised as such by FIFA). Baseball is too provincial, cricket has a colonial subtext. . . but football! Football! That's God's game, and self-evidently so.

Anonymous said...

Hi Terry,

Yes, the Beautiful Game - unless you live in the UK. It used to be said over here that football is a game played by gentlemen and watched by hooligans, while rugby is a game played by hooligans and watched by gentlemen, but now the hooligans play football as well as watch it. Now if Brazil were the world ...

Still, there is something rather Neanderthal about a sport in which you hit the ball with your head and can't use your hands.

Anonymous said...

If Brazil were the world, Kim, teams would feel obliged to win trophies simply on the basis of their reputations, past glories, ability to play keepie-uppie well and make the most of fortune's favour. . .

Football may be Neanderthal, but baseball is hardly homo sapien in comparison. More like Lucy.

Anonymous said...

Well, I still don't baseball or cricket, but it looks like I must relent. I find that one of my favorite historical Jesus researchers, Wm. Herzog II, Dean of Andover-Newton Theological School (and fellow member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America) has not only been writing about Jesus. He has, it seems, also written The Faith of Fifty Million: Essays on Baseball, Religion, and American Culture (2002) and is, I am told, a lifelong member of the Red Sox Nation. So, I relent. I'll clearly have to pay more attention to "God's game,"--if I can stay awake. Sigh.

Steve Robitaille said...

Herzog's book contains a foreword by Stanley Hauerwas...
And thank you Kim for the picture of the Montreal Expos stadium (I'm a poor fan from Montreal who lost his team...).

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

I'm glad you like the photo, but it's Ben's work. I asked him to find a stadium, - any stadium but Yankee Stadium! (By the way, we consult on all the Propositions pictures, but Ben tracks them down and then downloads and frames them.)

Back to the point... I wouldn't know many a modern stadium - I've been away from North America too long. But it's great that Ben found the pic of the Expos stadium - because I forgot to mention that Canadians play and watch baseball too - and still have one Major League franchise anyway (Toronto).


Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is conclusive evidence that baseball is God's game, but I'm pretty sure most will find it amusing regardless of their position:

Jon said...

After comments made over at aaron ghiloni's blog ( it becomes abundantly clear that baseball is NOT God's game if you take a traditional view of the trinity. For example, the three hypostases of the trinity (that's hypostases Barth, not modes of being) would be stuck if they occupied successive bases and anyway... someone explain how perichoresis could occur without some form of cheating being called. Plus, for the Augustinians, if one hypostasis got a home run, it would have to count as 3 because, by merit of them all sharing one ousia, what is important is that home-runs must be predicated of the unity.

I can't believe you theologians ran the comments to 38 without thinking things through sufficiently. Football however (in the pure sense of the word - Premier League etc.) solves many of the problems posed in baseball. Wonderful! Football is more a team game - viz. more trinitarian than the modalistic game of baseball...

Kamagra said...

It is amusing indeed, each point has a true behind it, so maybe it is gods game after all.

Anonymous said...

I believe shoeless Joe Jackson was the only one on his team not to take a bribe. He however did get the blame for taking the bribe (which he never did) and got banned from baseball. Joe Jackson is not a sinner he is innocent.

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