Pray Ball!

Jesus Doesn’t Come to Bat for Rockies in First Two Games of World Series

After reading the article in Tuesday’s NY Times (“Rockies Place Their Faith in God, and One Another”) about the emphasis the Colorado Rockies baseball team places on Christianity, I couldn’t help but think about the devout Christian pitcher, Eddie Harris, from the movie “Major League.” Harris has a famous line (one of so many in the movie) where he questions Pedro Cerrano’s religious views: “You trying to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?”

Jesus Baseball - Colorado RockiesThe strong Christian values espoused by the Rockies franchise, according to the Times article, seem to focus more on “character” and less on proselytizing. The role of Christianity in the Colorado Rockies clubhouse was first reported in a May 2006 USA Today article which described the team following a “Christian-based code of conduct” where certain magazines were banned from the locker room. Another article (“The Rockies Pitch Religion”) soon followed in The Nation.

Baseball, our American pastime, has long emphasized Christianity inside the players’ clubhouse. The new issue of Moment Magazine has a long, well-written article exposing the Christian prostelyzation in Major League Baseball.

In “Is the Nation’s Favorite Pastime Pitching Jesus: It’s a Close Call,” Karin Tanabe explains what Washington Post reporter Laura Blumenfeld (daughter of Conservative rabbi David Blumenfeld) witnessed when she was in the Washington Nationals‘ clubhouse and chapel in 2005. The team chaplain, Jon Moeller, answered in the affirmative when a player asked if Jewish people will be doomed because they don’t believe in Jesus. There was a public outcry and the chaplain was eventually fired.

The article quotes my friend and colleague, Rabbi Ari Sunshine, who wrote a letter to Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig following Chaplain Moeller’s comments. Rabbi Sunshine criticized Major League Baseball for only offering Christian worship to baseball personnel. The next day, Selig (who is Jewish) responded that he found Moeller’s comments “disappointing and offensive” and that he will “take steps to insure that much of what you have written is implemented into Major League Baseball.”

Baseball ChapelThe Moment Magazine article traces the history of Baseball Chapel, and Major League Baseball’s focus on Christian salvation, to a Detroit News sportswriter in 1958. Waddy Spoelstra, who covered the Detroit Tigers, was so grateful for his daughter’s miraculous recovery from a sudden brain aneurism that he created Baseball Chapel. Detroit Tigers Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell helped Spoelstra during Baseball Chapel’s early days by organizing chapel services. Harwell is quoted in the Moment Magazine article, saying, “Many made fun of the Christians. But our view is that God wants you to do your best and that you should do it for His glory. A lot of Christian ballplayers recognize that they have a great platform and can influence more people than a preacher can.” Baseball Chapel was also supported by then-Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a devout Catholic (however, based on his last name I suspect his grandpa or great-grandpa was Jewish… and a Kohen!)

Personally, I think it’s nice that the Colorado Rockies team is prioritizing good, ethical values. It is certainly welcome news with all of the disgraceful antics that occur in professional sports these days. However, Major League Baseball must strive to be more religiously pluralistic. If Baseball Chapel is to continue, there must be opportunities for spiritual leaders from other religions to serve as chaplains of baseball teams as well. [Note to Detroit Tigers organization: Invite me to give a pre-game D’var Torah and I’ll guarantee a win!]

Going into game three of the World Series, it wouldn’t hurt for the Rockies to do some praying… so long as they can choose to whom their prayers are directed.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller