The Challenge of Being Dick Allen

The Philadelphia Phillies’ slugger’s death yesterday (okay, he also played for the Dodgers, Cardinals, White Sox, and Athletics) brought back a lot of memories from boyhood when Allen was this author’s favorite (and adored) athlete. Bruce Kuklick’s wonderful book on the stadium where Allen started his career, To Everything a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, 1909-1976, is particularly useful for putting Allen’s troubled career — not to mention Philadelphia’s racism — in perspective:

In Philadelphia in 1964, fans held a Richie Allen Night at the end of September. The National League later designated him Rookie of the Year. He batted .318 and hit twenty-nine homeruns. Allen drew fans to the stadium. Part of his appeal was his power. Everyone who went to Connie Mack Stadium in the sixties had a story about a shot fired off the right-center field scoreboard or, even better, an Allen home run, “those blasts,” said one fan, “disappearing – still on a rising trajectory – into steaming North Philadelphia summer nights.” one nonfan had been taken to the park once during the sixties and remembered only driving through “rundown slums . . . with worn out people out on their steps trying to beat the August heat” and “a home run by Richie Allen.” A fan who regularly went to opening nights reminisced about “Philadelphians booing Jim Tate [Democratic mayor] when he threw out the first ball, and “rockets by Richie Allen.” On at least three occasions he hit shots over the wall in dead center field, between 410 and 450 feet from home plate. Old-timers remembered that only Jimmie Foxx, a mythic figure by the 1960s, had equally crushed the ball. Allen was, one fan wrote, a “uniquely fearsome” batter. Twenty-five years later, Allen said, people would still recall to him their memories of home runs he hit over the Coke and Cadillac signs on the part’s left-center field roof. The sight of Number 15 digging in at the plate brought a surge of excitement to Philadelphia crowds, who stayed in the park until his last at bat, no matter what the score.

Some writers attributed the Phillies collapse after the 1964 riot [in August] to a dark unease that overtook Allen, the effect on him of the widespread tension and his emerging racial consciousness. A native of a small town that had a tiny black community, he claimed not to have known bigotry until he got into organized baseball. In fact, before Carpenter [Phillies’ owner] brought him up to the Phillies, Allen spent 1963 in the minors in Little Rock, Arkansas. There, where southern whites ridiculed him, he broke the sports color line. The essential thing, Allen said, was that “I came here black . . . [and] militant.” No crisis occurred, however, until the next year, 1965. That July Frank Thomas, an outfielder known as “the Big Donkey” because he said the wrong things to the wrong people, fought with Allen during batting practice. Thomas made racial slurs, Allen swung, and Thomas hit him with a bat. Five hours later the Phillies placed Thomas on waivers and ordered Allen not to discuss the incident, although it crystallized his own anger about his problems as a black baseball star. Many white fans responded negatively to Thomas’s dismissal. More and more of them delighted in jeering Allen. Some of the hostility was explicitly racial: “Nigger! Go back to South Street with the monkeys.” Allen certainly thought that “racial prejudice and segregation” caused his troubles with the patrons.

Yet matters were more complex. Carpenter later adamantly asserted that although Allen as “pro black” he was not “a militant.” And the extensive public record does not show that civil rights, the political protests of the 1960s, or social principle preoccupied Allen. Rather, he bought some racehorses and developed a love for the track, where he sometimes went, in expensive and exaggerated clothing, instead of to his job. By the late 1960s Allen was periodically and predictably late for games. He got into a celebrated barroom fight in 1967. Sometimes he came to the park drunk or did not come at all.

Allen became a star just before the unheroic side of ballplayers became common knowledge. Some of his antics did not differ from the activities of less notorious white players. Still, the need to hide his fears and insecurities drove Allen to destructive excess. I was labeled an outlaw,” he said, “and after a while that’s what I became.” (157, 159-160)

This wrinkle in my youth may be the source of some later irregularities in the pursuit of holiness and being human.

When Philadelphia Fans Rooted for Dallas

Yesterday brought the sad news of Dallas Green’s death. Most of the memories of the manager of the 1980 Phillies’ team go back to his role that year in taking a squad that had so much talent but couldn’t cross the finish line to a pennant or championship. Here is one example.

But some of us remember Green when he was a lack luster pitcher. In his 8 years on the mound he had a record of 20-22, and an ERA of 4.26. For this Old Lifer, Dallas Green was part of the team that I first started to follow, the one that in 1964 collapsed at the end of the year and saw the Cardinals go to the World Series to play the Yankees. In that year, Green went 2-1 with an ERA of 5.79.

One of his losses that year was to the team to which the other Old Lifer in residence, Mr. Muether, is partial, namely, the New York Mets. The Mets are the archenemies of the Phillies, just as the Cowboys are the team that Eagles’ fans despise. In 1964, Green’s only loss was to the Mets. Green came in relief and gave up the run that went down as the game winner.

Green was by all accounts one of those baseball guys who esteemed grit and determination more than talent — which may square with his own abilities as a player. As a manager, he was not necessarily more successful, though he did take the Phillies to the promised land. He had an 8 year career of 454-478. Most of his wins (229) came with the Mets, which makes Green the rare baseball career that transcends Old Life rooting conflicts. Most of his losses also came during his four years with the Mets (283).

I don’t think Mr. Muether will deny a Phillies’ fan the pleasure of claiming that Green’s best years on earth were with the Phillies (a winning percentage as a manager of .565). For this Old Lifer, his orchestration of the 1980 championship was surely memorable. But even more lasting was the impression he made on the boy who became an Old Lifer. To see the green of that grass as the background for the red and white of those uniforms is an image that someone never forgets (until Alzheimer’s kicks in).

How Professional Sports Profanes the Lord’s Day

And why don’t more serious Christians, the kind who worry about what their vote says about theeeehhhhhhmmmmmm, worry about profaning a holy day?

Remember that Protestants and Roman Catholics technically agree about the Lord’s Day even though they number the commandment differently (four and three respectively). Boniface recently wrote:

One final thing: even though the disappearance of a real catechesis about the Lord’s Day is a post-Conciliar phenomenon (perhaps with the exception of St. John Paul II’s Dies Domini), do not be tempted to think that flaunting the prohibitions against work on the Lord’s Day is something modern. As far back in history as one can find homilies, one can find examples of preaching against servile labor on Sundays. Even in the “golden age” of the 13th century, surviving homiletics reveal that working on Sundays and Holy Days was endemic; several chapters in the Fioretti of St. Francis are devoted to describing the misfortunes of peasants who worked on Holy Days. It is certainly not a post-Vatican II novelty. So please, no comments about how in the “old days” no Catholic would have ever dared work on Sunday.

We also should remember, in the Middle Ages there were many more days that were considered Holy Days where work was prohibited – so many so that many common folk complained about not having enough time to finish their work. I cannot cite the source, but I remember reading in one scholarly work on medieval calendars that in some places as many as 100 days out of the year were nominally supposed to be work-free. This was, of course, excessive, and by the 13th century many of these days were no longer being observed. This cluster happened as a result of the accumulation of universal and regional festal days over the centuries; it was not until after Lateran IV and the reforms of the late Middle Ages that the status of many of these feasts changed to make their observance more manageable.

Why then do the devout turn the other way when rooting for members of their tribe between the white lines? Here’s a piece on the Mets’ Rene Rivera that might tighten Boniface’s jaws:

Our own natural families grow bigger when we are part of the Catholic Church. Our fellow Catholics may not be related to us by blood, but they are related to us spiritually. That connection is one of the things that makes walking into a church so reassuring and peaceful.

Even more than that, though, is the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Every Catholic parish has Jesus in the tabernacle, so that means you can feel comfortable spending all the time in the world there. If you’re praying in a Catholic parish, you’re not alone. Jesus is always there, and so is God the Father and Holy Spirit. Mary and the angels and saints are there, too.

Home plate is where I like to be for baseball, home with my family is where I like to be even more, and being “at home” in church is the very best place anyone can possibly be.

But what about Protestants (and the New Calvinists who root root root for them)? (Thanks to our southern correspondent) the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist seems to know (as does his pastor father) that he shouldn’t play on Sunday but that doesn’t stop him (or the Gospel Allies from rooting):

Ben and Julianna are both committed to the local church, even if finding a workable process took a few years to sort out, Yawn said.

“Ben is a hardcore local church guy,” Yawn says. “He cares about what’s happening at the local church level.”

Part of that rootedness comes from growing up in Eureka, where, after 28 years, his dad is still the pastor.

“We felt like Ben’s spiritual life was more important than his sports life,” his father says. “We wanted him to understand the importance of the local church. We didn’t let him play on teams that played on Sundays. . . . Nothing is more important than the Lord. I don’t think children make that connection if the parents don’t have that commitment.”

So Zobrist plays on Sunday, why? Even Sandy Koufax tried to observe the high holy days of Judaism much to Walter Sobchak‘s approval. Why can’t professing Christian athletes and their professing fans do the same?

Reimagine Humility

Bethany Jenkins gives us a window into the path to true humility (thanks to our southern correspondent):

To live out the fullness of our liberty, though, we must get rid of our arrogant, controlling, slow-to-hear, quick-to-speak, know-it-all spirits. In a 1995 sermon titled “Growth Through Hearing Truth,” Tim Keller highlights three characteristics of a proud heart:

A proud heart argues for every one of its convictions because it can’t distinguish between major and minor points. Instead, it says: “Any belief—because it’s mine—is a major belief.”
A proud heart either enjoys or avoids confronting, but never confronts with tears.
A proud heart is unhappy with life and, instead of receiving it as a gift, always gripes about how things are going.

The opposite of a proud and angry heart is humility, not self-control. And it’s our internal postures—not our external circumstances—that determine our happiness.

But why doesn’t humility involve submitting to God’s revealed will? Jenkins’ lesson in humility stemmed from a difficult encounter at the check-out line — wait for it — on Sunday:

On Sunday afternoon, in the checkout line at the grocery store, I put a man on trial. He made no argument and offered no defense, but I judged him guilty.

I went there to pick up three things—fruit, deli meat, and club soda. When I got to the only open line, there was just one man ahead of me. This is going to be quick, I assumed.

After the cashier started ringing up his items, though, he decided it was a good time to ask where the premade guacamole was. “Aisle 5,” she said. Then he left his place in line to find it.

When he returned a few minutes later, the cashier had finished scanning his items and customers had started lining up, but his hands were empty. He hadn’t found the guacamole. “It’s on aisle 7,” another store employee said. “On the bottom shelf.” The man again went to search.

Five minutes later, with eight customers now in line, he finally checked out. And I was annoyed. Why did he wait and ask the cashier? Why didn’t he ask someone else before he got in line? How could he inconvenience the rest of us like this? The only reasonable answer, I concluded, was that he was rude, incompetent, and narcissistic.

As I walked home, though, I wondered why my heart went so easily to judgment and anger, not to grace and mercy. Why did I spend so much time mentally logging the reasons he was guilty, not the reasons he might need grace? Why did my time need so much defending?

I know it’s easy to throw the Reformed Protestant penalty flag on this one and emerge as the righteous one who keeps the law, though actually keeping the Lord’s Day holy is difficult and sometimes means having to go without food items for one day that you forgot to pick up on Saturday, not to mention trying not think about “worldly employments and recreations” on Sunday. In the heat of the pennant race, avoiding baseball scores until Monday morning is one thing, but not thinking about the game being played is a whole other layer of sanctity. It’s also easy to take a shot at the Gospel Allies who promote sanctification and a holistic gospel but then publish a piece that so flagrantly acknowledges conduct that would have gotten any Christian for almost 1950 years in trouble with his session or priest. Can’t the Allies at least acknowledge a diversity of views on the Lord’s Day and walk circumspectly around it? If I get flack for talking about The Wire, can’t Jenkins get push back for breaking the Fourth Commandment? (And what exactly is Tim Keller teaching Jenkins?)

But aside from the letter of the law or even ignoring a law, might the means of grace be a way to learn the humility that Jenkins thought she found? What if sanctifying the Lord’s Day is in fact a means of grace? And what if submitting to God’s law is a way to say not my but your will be done, not my convenience because I didn’t order my week but your teaching on how order our lives in this world? What if the piety that the pietists seek is right there before them in the not so hip or urban ways of Reformed Protestantism — two services on the Lord’s Day regulated by and filled with Scripture, catechesis, family visitation, family worship, and not doing worldly things on Sunday? Imagine how much humility that gospel coalition might yield.

Why Only One Designated Hitter?

Why not five in a line-up? That’s an argument that resembles the opponents of gay marriage — if you start with one same-sex spouse, why draw the line there? But Michael Brendan Dougherty has a very good point. If we are willing to put up with Ryan Howard’s poor defensive skills at first base for the pop that he brings used to bring to the plate, why should we mind watching the futility of a Justin Verlander while trying to hit a ball?

The player that is most valuable for his defense is usually not very valuable on the offensive side of the ball. But what is the rationale for remedying this by instituting a position that is valuable on offense but contributes absolutely nothing on defense? Calcaterra is saying that the National League should add an extra player who is only good at offense because he is better at offense, a tautological argument that implies it is plainly wrong to want to see Clayton Kershaw at bat rather than David Ortiz. It’s only wrong if you’re rooting against the pitcher. . . .

Why should teams not pair an excellent defensive outfielder like Endy Chavez with a poor-fielding slugger like Dan Uggla? Because of some hoary tradition that only pitchers can be replaced with a DH? Teams could keep Jeff Francoeur’s tremendous defensive arm in the outfield for years if you paired him up with the bat of Prince Fielder. Furthermore, because the hitting Fielder and the fielding Franceour are not forced into doing things they aren’t great at, you reduce some risk of injury.

Roster sizes are not written on tablets, and can be expanded; the teams have plenty of revenue. Specialization is a trend in baseball after all, so why not separate the great defenders with rocket arms and high baseball IQ, from the natural born hitters in the early development process. We could have a whole infield of Andrelton Simmons-level defenders, and every team can put a murderers’ row up to bat. Why wouldn’t you want to see that?

Because that’s what you see in the National Football League and that means desecrating the Lord’s Day.

That was easy.

Play Ball!

A hymn for the beginning of the baseball season:

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

That used to be a stanza that one could well imagine a Cubs’ fan singing poignantly. This year, it may well apply to the Fightin’s faithful.

The Appeal of Otherworldliness

I have often wondered whether neo-Calvinists have a difficult time singing hymns that put singers in the passive position of waiting for the triumph over sin and death in the world to come. I mean, constantly looking for signs of Christ’s victory in the affairs of this world has to be depressing, unless you avoid the news or are remarkably naive. The analogy might be something like a Chicago Cubs fan who every season and off-season believes the franchise is proving itself the best in Major League Baseball.

One hymn I’ve had in mind that would not make a neo-Calvinist editorial cut is #444 (original Trinity Hymnal), “Father I Know that All My Life” (exclusive psalmodists, avert your eyes):

Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me;
The changes that are sure to come,
I do not fear to see:
I ask thee for a present mind,
Intent on pleasing thee.

I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do,
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child,
And guided where I go.

I ask thee for the daily strength,
To none that ask denied,
A mind to blend with outward life,
While keeping at thy side,
Content to fill a little space,
If thou be glorified.

In service which thy will appoints
There are no bonds for me;
My secret heart is taught the truth
That makes thy children free;
A life of self-renouncing love
Is one of liberty.

The stanza about not having a restless will must especially give those who would go out and transform the world pause.

But then it turns out that sometimes a little quiet time this side of the new heavens and new earth is just what the physician of souls ordered. Jim Bratt, at The12, anyway, gives reasons (in connection with Harold Camping’s death) for thinking otherworldly thoughts:

Now the coincidence. That same day I read the gloomiest forecast I’ve seen to date about global warming. (“Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice? Scientists Consider Extinction,” by Dahr Jamail.) Melting Arctic shelf, disappearing glaciers, warming and acidifying oceans, all the old familiars strains, but then the big one—the likely release of unfathomable amounts of methane from the Arctic permafrost, spiking the mean global temperature by at least 4 degrees C—and ending life on earth as we know it. The sixth mass extinction in planetary history is underway, and our species is part of it. Their food sources and fresh water supplies wiped out, the human race will be reduced to slight remnants huddled around the two poles, trying to keep cool. It all makes Camping’s prediction of seven billion people dying in his end-time disaster sound quite plausible. Who knows, maybe 2011 will turn out to have been the tipping point, the year the books were closed on human folly. Funny, the Christian fundamentalists who tuned into Camping revile the global-warming scenarios spun by eco-radicals, and the eco-radicals, secular to a fault, have not the slightest use, not even ridicule, for the likes of Camping. But they come out at the same place.

So Advent? Christmas? Not on the tip of my singing tongue. Today being the deepest midwinter, the pit of darkness, my mind and my mood go instead to an old Dutch hymn that we used to sing on New Year’s Eve when I was a boy. Right after the congregation’s necrology was read, and after a sermon heavy with the specter of judgment and finality and aspersions upon “the world’s” way of spending the evening in frivolity and laughter. Set against that background, the hymn ain’t bad. Not bad at all. A sense of an ending is there, but so—even more—is God’s “right hand [that] will take us/to our everlasting peace.” For a fidgety boy dying to get out of church those nights, knowing that yet another service faced us the next morning, the lyrics felt solid and honest, and the tune sounded somehow noble and assuring in its steady march up and down the scale.

Here’s the hymn:

1 Hours and days and years and ages
swift as moving shadows flee;
as we scan life’s fleeting pages,
nothing lasting do we see.
On the paths our feet are walking,
footprints all will fade away;
each today as we enjoy it
soon becomes a yesterday.

2 But from sin your mercy drew us,
would not leave our souls alone.
Gracious Lord, you did renew us;
in Christ’s death we are your own.
Through the mercy of your leading,
each short step along our way
now becomes a path to guide us
to the land of endless day.

3 Though swift time keeps marching onward,
it will not decide our end.
You will always be our Father,
loving God, eternal Friend.
When life’s dangers overwhelm us,
you will ever be our stay;
through your Son you are our Father,
always changeless, come what may.

4 Speed along, then, years and ages,
with your gladness and your pain;
when our deepest sorrow rages,
God our Father will remain.
Though all friends on earth forsake us
and our troubles shall increase,
God with his right hand will take us
to our everlasting peace.

What do you know, it’s only a digit removed in the CRC’s Psalter Hymnal from “Father I Know that All My Life”‘s number in the Trinity Hymnal.

Can Drinkers of Bad Beer Read Roman Numerals (even when sober)?

One of the blessings of being a sabbatarian is the removal of the temptation to watch the Super Bowl. Yes, if the home team happens to be there I may revert to the Jewish conception of the sabbath day ending at sundown. But the NFL has become so bloated (and mediocre along the way thanks to the salary cap), and the championship game has become such a venue for sports executives and television sports producers to think they can put on a show as good as people the people in Hollywood, that I’m just as happy to have a religious excuse for not wasting my time. Think about it, halftime is the worst part of any football game and the only reason to put up with marching bands. But now the NFL allots forty-eight friggin’ minutes to a silly attempt at extravaganza (silly because they still incorporate cheerleaders and baton twirlers — at least last time I watched). Can that much time really be good for the teams and their rhythm? Are people watching the game to see Bruce Springteen or Bono, or would they prefer to have their concert and their sports cheering as separate experiences, sort of like keeping rock ‘n’ roll out of worship.

But what strikes me as the best example of the NFL’s hubris is their tired and foolish tradition of designating each Super Bowl with a Roman number. This year is XLV, which if my ancient numbering is correct tallies up to 45. Yes, we have had forty-five Super Bowls. Big deal.

Does anyone know how many World Series Major League Baseball has conducted? Or what about the Stanley Cup? At least the other major leagues have the good sense to designate their annual championship by its equivalent year and not try to dress it up in something Ben Hur might see, though the NFL’s desperation may stem from their status as the newest kids on the championship block.

Here are the respective totals for baseball, hockey, basketball, and football.

World Series — begun in 1903 with a total of 106 championships (two years were cancelled).

Stanley Cup — begun in 1927 with a total of 84 championships.

National Basketball Association Finals — begun in 1947 with a total of 64.

Super Bowl — begun in 1967 with a total of 44 (and counting).

I do know that the NFL had championships before the Super Bowl. But those don’t count because they don’t have Roman numerals.