BASEBALL IS A PROTESTANT SECT. A 19th century American offshoot of Calvinist individualism, baseball represents the aspiration of Everyman-the chance always remaining, even at the last extremity, for redemption and glory. Loss is tempered by the game well-played, the hope of tomorrow and the pleasure of being alive.

Just as you're never really out of the game for good, you're never sure of salvation, either, and must strive to the last. Faith is demonstrated by works, which are the outward sign of grace. But, belief is within, and does not show. There is no way to tell of a person is a sincere Christian or if he is only mouthing phrases without faith. Who has not felt doubt? Who would not, if he were to die in that moment of doubt, be denied heaven? How can we know that we truly believe, and are not merely the products of our culture? Though worldly success may indicate an inward holiness, it does not assure a heavenly reward. Though a leading score, or a good at-bat, or a hitter struck out, or a fair catch indicate immediate worth, they do not mean winning the game. Further, winning one game does not mean winning another. After this season looms the next. You've got to keep it up. You can never rest on your laurels.

An error in baseball is the equivalent of a sin. Though there is no immediate punishment, the error is entered into the record books and haunts the player for the rest of his career. So also are sins entered against the sinner, ultimately to come up against him in the books of the Recording Angel.

The individual stands alone before God; the batter stands alone before the pitcher. The team is a loose aggregation of individuals, working in concert towards a common goal, but each player is alone and solely accountable for his own actions. One player is up, against the whole opposing team. His chances are increased if more than one of his teammates is on the field, as the opponents' attention is necessarily divided. The game is played one on one. When the ball is hit, the player proceeds from goal to goal in the pursuit of the final goal, home and heaven.

Baseball is a midwestern, small town game played by solitary kids at fungo, or in loose groups playing workups on sandlots. You're trying to improve yourself when you play. Trying to get better. To get better at playing baseball, not much else.

Baseball has no time limits, and the foul lines go on forever. As with life, there is always an end, you just don't know when it's going to come. The ball is going to fall to the ground, you just don't know where.

The designated hitter is an intrusion of Catholicism into a fundamentally Protestant game. The designated hitter, and its unseemly sister, the designated runner, is an intercessor, like the Virgin Mary, or a Saint, between the hitter (sinner) and the pitcher (God). Protestantism is monotheistic, and like all monotheistic religions, resolutely rejects the feminine principle. Catholicism, by contrast, absorbs every pagan pantheon it comes up against. The reverence for the Virgin preserves the worship of the feminine aspect of the deity.

Catholics are not only never alone before God, they never encounter God at all. Between a Catholic and his Creator is a vast sea of minor gods and goddesses, with one big merciful Goddess in charge: Mary, Mother of God. Who doesn't listen to his mother? Pray to Mary. She'll get you out of your fix. Well, this isn't Protestantism, and the designated hitter isn't baseball.

Baseball's popularity mirrors America's self-image. Its lowest point came at the end of the war in Vietnam, when the game was played to nearly empty stands. In April of 1972, a twelve-day strike marred the game. In the intervening twenty years, baseball revived and flourished, playing to sell-out crowds. But, something went wrong. Something happened.

Baseball is the Protestant work ethic, and a baseball strike violates that ethic to its very core. What the baseball strike means is that something has gone fundamentally wrong with America. It means that we are losing our religion.

August 11, 1994


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