My friend the nearly ubiquitous John L. Allen, Jr., sadly still writing for the ultra-liberal dissenting National Catholic Reporter has a in his Friday saddle-bag a piece about the sport God loves which I must share with the readership here. My emphases:
I’ve always wondered how anyone born in St. Louis, great baseball town that it is, could possibly regard April as the cruelest month. With all due respect to T.S. Eliot, any month that usually features both Easter and Opening Day just can’t be that bad. (Bear in mind that by the time Eliot was born in 1888, the St. Louis Brown Stockings, who eventually morphed into the Cardinals, had already won four American Association pennants in a row as well as the 1886 World Series against the forerunner of the Chicago Cubs, so it’s not like he could be excused on the grounds of getting there too early.)
Yesterday marked the opening of the 2011 campaign, so in honor of the occasion, I’ll roll out my personal list of the “Top Nine Reasons why Baseball is to Sports what Catholicism is to Religion.” Why nine? It’s a key number in both traditions — nine players on a diamond, nine innings in a game, and nine days to a novena. [And let us not forget the NINTH Beatitude, the one that alas didn’t make it into the pages of Holy Writ: Beati qui non expectant, quia non disappointabuntur. Each year millions of fans, many of them in places like Chicago and Cleveland, start with high expectations, after all.]
The following are nine reasons why Catholicism and baseball are, quite literally, a match made in Heaven:
- Both baseball and Catholicism venerate the past. Both have a Communion of Saints, all the way down to popular shrines and holy cards.
- Both feature obscure rules that make sense only to initiates. (Think the Infield Fly rule for baseball fans and the Pauline privilege for Catholics.)
- Both have a keen sense of ritual, in which pace is critically important. (As a footnote, that’s why basketball is more akin to Pentecostalism; both are breathless affairs premised largely on ecstatic experience.)
- Both generate oceans of statistics, arcana, and lore. For entry-level examples, try: Who has the highest lifetime batting average, with a minimum of 1,000 at-bats? (Ty Cobb). Which popes had the longest and the shortest reigns? (Pius IX and Urban VII). [I wonder if Urban VII’s threat to excommunicate anyone who used tobacco had anything to do with his death. Until that is resolved, perhaps he should have an * by his name.]
- In both baseball and Catholicism, you can dip in and out, but for serious devotees the liturgy is a daily affair.
- Both are global games which are especially big right now in Latin America. (Though I’m principally a Yankees fan, [UGH. You know, John, that’s just sad. That’s another thing you have to give up, along with the NCR.] I live in Denver, where the Rockies’ starting rotation is composed of two pitchers from the Dominican Republic, a Venezuelan, a Mexican, and a guy from South Carolina. In a lot of dioceses, that’s not unlike the makeup of the presbyterate these days.)
- Both baseball and Catholicism have been badly tainted by scandal, with the legacies of erstwhile superstars utterly ruined. Yet both have proved surprisingly resilient — perhaps demonstrating that the game is great enough to survive even the best efforts of those in charge at any given moment to ruin it. [Just as the Lord never said the Church would survive everywhere, so too teams such as the Braves and the A’s moved around. The Senators became the Twins, etc. Then new teams set up shop. New Evangelization?]
- Both have a complex farm system, and fans love to speculate about who the next hot commodity will be in “The Show.”
- Both reward patience. If you’re the kind of person who needs immediate results, neither baseball nor Catholicism is really your game.
As an “extra innings” bonus, I’ll toss in my theory as to why the American League represents the Catholic instinct in baseball, while the National League is more Protestant. [Okay… I think he may be showing his NCR stripe here. Though I am from an AL town, I look upon the DH as something like heresy. Let’s read what he has to say with an open mind.]
Famously, the National League does not permit the designated hitter, reflecting a sort of fundamentalist Puritanism. [?!? Oh, John. That’s just sad.] It’s not the way the game was originally played, and no power on earth has the authority to add or subtract to scripture. [Hmmmm…] The American League, however, has adopted the designated hitter, striking a balance between scripture and tradition. The designated hitter rule, in fact, is arguably an athletic analogue of what Pope Benedict XVI talks about as a “hermeneutics of continuity,” of reform without rupture. [Or… it could be an example of the false archeologizing against which Pius XII warned us!]
By the way, if I’m right about that, a great irony presents itself: Both the Cardinals and the Padres play in the more “Protestant” National League! [I think there is a great deal to be learned from that fact. Think about it.]