Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The World Series: A Season in Heaven

Or, being Padraic's attempt to care about baseball after the Phillies' ignominious exit.

Over the past two days, there have been numerous attempts by the nation's sportswriters to "break down" the World Series, some better than others. You will see statistical analysis in places like Baseball Prospectus or The Hardball Times, or sportswriters debating the value of momentum for the Rockies, who come in having won 21 of 22 games, including a 3-game sweep of RFC's co-favorite team. However, no matter the angle, all of these stories share a fundamental (not a pun yet, but soon to be) misconception about how and why baseball games are won; they all believe the players will determine the outcome. But like the Trojans and Achaeans of old, whose fortunes rested on the whims of Ares, Hera, and Zeus, the Red Sox and Rockies players can only hope to win the favor of God(s), and no matter the effort put forth on the field, the results will be determined from above.

Sound silly? Not if you are Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, who in 2006 claimed that God favored the Rockies:

"You look at things that have happened to us this year," O'Dowd says. "You look at some of the moves we made and didn't make. You look at some of the games we're winning. Those aren't just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this."

This quote comes from a USA Today article that explained the Rockies' preference for high character players. While denying that they only recruit Christians, the team brass (the manager, general manager and owner are all born-again Christians) also said that they believed their faith helped in creating the kind of character the Rockies look for.

So, clearly the Rockies win, right? Ah, but some might say that God has already declared his favorite team, and that the 2004 Red Sox championship was orchestrated by God. Everyone who saw the post-game conference after Game 4 surely remembers Curt Schilling thanking God for the win. So it's the Sox, right?

At this point, I could end the piece with more sarcasm, but while the Schilling and O'Dowd quotes may sound similar, they are actually quite different. I think most people find it silly when athletes have the hubris to believe God is involved in things like their hitting the cut-off man, or avoiding the weak-side rush, or caroming in some crazy three-quarter court shot, and this is exactly what O'Dowd is saying. He believes that his faith in the Christian God not only makes him stronger, but that God himself is intervening in the outcomes in the form of what we would normally call "coincidences," or luck.

Unfortunately, O'Dowd's version of thanking the good lord or Jesus tends to be all that we think of when athletes mix religion and sports. However, Schilling's response was much different in tone, if not language. I cannot find the transcript from his press conference, but I distinctly remember him thanking God not for winning, or for adding extra bite to his splitter, but for the strength to allow him to pitch. In Schilling's world, God doesn't intervene in the games, but He does provide Schilling with strength to allow him to dedicate himself to the very difficult task of retiring major league hitters. And it's not even that God just sort of imbues Curt with strength Apollo-style, but that Curt's unwavering faith in God is what gives him strength. In O'Dowds world, if God didn't exist, his team would lose his edge, but for Schilling, it's the faith that is more important than the actual ontological status of God.

I would like to think that most athletes and GMs mean what Schilling means when he "thanks God," but I doubt it. The egos have been stroked long enough, that having God as your own personal 12th man seems as much a right as free meals at restaurants, discounts on cars, or private booths at the local Gentleman's Club. So, if there is a God (a big if to be sure), I sure as heck hope He is Schilling's God who basically stays out of the way of baseball, and not the Greco-Roman God that meddles with everything and allows Matt Holiday to be called safe without touching home plate. No less than the state and temper of our supreme deity may be on the line over the next ten days; try beating that Super Bowl.

And I guess since this is a "preview," I should give a prediction: Hands-off God over intrusive purple- and Coors-loving God in 6.

No comments: