Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why I Retired From Baseball

Basically, at about age 20 I realized I would NOT have a career in the big leagues. Why? Hmmm. Somewhat long story, but here goes.

For spring break my sophomore year in college (1979) some friends and I (all on the Michigan Christian College baseball team) went to Florida. Now, first of all, back then spring break in Florida did NOT resemble anything now broadcast on MTV. Not that I've watched much of that. Seriously. I'm not kidding. Anyway, to prove that point: we did go to the beach, and we did meet some girls there -- all from David Lipscomb University. No kidding. No partying.

Anyway, we also went to a couple of major league spring training games. We went to the Yankees spring training facility to watch them play against the Orioles. I was impressed by the athleticism and sheer strength of the players, especially compared to my own! It appeared that both of my shoulders would fit on any one side of theirs. (I was so thin back then, believe it or not, that when I graduated from high school I was "willed" by fellow graduates a pair of snow shoes so I wouldn't fall through the cracks in the gym floor!) But they didn't look like football players -- absolutely no excess weight. Just sheer, natural strength. So far, though, I was undeterred from my career choice of being a major league baseball player.

But, as we watched the game, a player strode to the plate and hit a line drive. I promise -- it never got more than six feet off the ground, and it slammed into the outfield fence in left-center. I'd never seen a ball hit that hard, and I remember realizing in an instant that I could never do anything like that. I just didn't have the talent, and the whole situation was just too intimidating. I knew I would have to quit.

What I didn't know at that moment -- and only realized later -- was that the player who had hit that line drive was (then little known) Eddie Murray, who would finish his career with 504 home runs and would be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. In 1979 he was entering his third year in the majors, and had hit only 37 home runs. Wimp. See his career stats here. All I knew at that time was his name.

So, I got intimidated out of a sure-fire career in the major leagues by a future Hall-of-Famer. Ok -- maybe not "sure-fire" (except for the part about NEVER making it). I blame it all on Eddie Murray.

Sometimes I wonder (still!) what might have happened in my life if a few little things had gone differently -- if I'd had better coaching, or hadn't injured my thumb on my throwing hand by playing basketball that year, or hadn't been over-awed by Eddie Murray. The answer is: we'll never know. It's fun to wonder, especially when I hear baseball announcers lamenting the dearth of good pitching in the majors. The dream is probably better than the reality would ever have been.

Some people would claim divine providence -- that God had other plans for me to become a minister or a theologian. Of course, there are others who attribute my present career to Satan! So, did God arrange for me to see Eddie Murray so I would give up on the pipe-dream of playing major league baseball and turn to theology? Did God arrange it so that I would sprain my thumb and be unable to pitch for part of a season? Or was it all "chance"? Or, was it Satan?

Only a few things seem clear in this issue. One is that God does NOT micromanage the entire universe. Not everything that happens is according to God's plan. If it were, there would be no sin. Since sin and evil certainly exist (I know this can be debated, but one issue at a a time, please!), and since (Biblically speaking) we can't blame God directly for them, there must be another cause of sin and evil that is NOT God. Therefore God does not control every event in the universe. Some things are, then, OUTSIDE of his control. (Note: I am not arguing that God CANNOT control all events, only that he DOES NOT.)

Could we say that God controls all events that are NOT sin? In other words, since seeing Eddie Murray and the Orioles play the Yankees that day is (most probably) not sin, is it possible that God arranged the whole thing?

I suppose it is possible, but it doesn't seem likely to me. Think of all (or at least some) of the arrangements that would have to be made for such an event to come about. Eddie Murray would have to be healthy: no spring training injuries, no flu bugs, no spring training fatigue, etc. (And don't think that "etc." is insignificant -- it probably stands for millions of other possibilities!) He had to be "swinging away" and not trying to bunt for a base hit or sacrifice bunt -- so in part this situation depended on what players who batted just before him had done! His manager would have to be in agreement: he needs the at-bats, the opposing pitcher isn't some young kid who throws wildly at 98 MPH and might hurt the young star (Murray), there is no one else who needs work more than Murray or that management needs to evaluate, he doesn't need time off, he won't be assigned to a different game, he won't be traded, etc. And we might try to consider the broader possibilities: Murray's family had no crises, no big events, and the weather had to cooperate. Etc. What about the possibilities in the game? Murray would have to be "seeing the ball" really well to get that kind of hit (unless we assume direct divine intervention, i.e., that God swung the bat FOR him), the pitch would have to be just right, bat speed just right. ETC. The catcher would have to call for the pitch (and he is obviously trying to call a pitch that would NOT allow such a hit!!!), and the pitcher would have to agree. Obviously the pitch wasn't a "pitcher's pitch," i.e., it didn't do exactly what the pitcher intended, so Murray was able to lace it into the outfield. Or perhaps it WAS the "pitcher's pitch," but the scouting report on Murray was wrong, or he had learned to hit a particular type of pitch that he hadn't been able to hit the year before -- so that the scouting report was RIGHT, but outdated. And he had to hit it precisely on the right part of the bat -- no broken bat blooper would do, no ground out, no lazy fly ball or measly single. ETC.

What about me? I had to be watching intently rather than being distracted by my friends around me. My ego had to be in just the right state for the hit to have the effect it had on me -- not too confident or cocky, but yet not so un-confident that I wouldn't have a dream of playing major league baseball. I had to have the cooperation of my friends -- we all had to agree to make the trip to Florida, we all had to come up with the money, convince our parents we could do it without killing ourselves (a dicey proposition if ever there was one) or becoming completely corrupted. We had to agree to go to major league spring training camps rather than the beach or Disney World. We all had to be healthy enough, we all had to get up on time, be willing to pay the gas there, ETC. ETC.

Did I, my friends, the manager, the pitcher, the catcher, and/or Murray himself have any free will in these decisions? For God to have orchestrated the entire situation, wouldn't free will have to have been suspended almost completely for all those involved? Does God DO THAT?

I suppose he could. We do have Biblical examples (such as Jeremiah) where the text says that God chose a person's path before he/she was ever born. But even then, human beings seem to be able to choose a different path -- would we argue, for instance, that Jesus was coerced by God -- that he had no free will to choose to follow God's will for him? I doubt it. And consider Jonah -- he chose a different path, literally. And then God DOES get coercive. Could he still have chosen differently? It appears so, though that might have had dire consequences (I mean, what would it take to follow up on spending three days/nights in the belly of a large fish? I don't even want to imagine what would be worse!)

So, God CAN get rather coercive at times. But, coercion is different than the removal of freedom. Under coercion one can still defy. One merely has to be willing to pay the consequences.

In other words, it seems unlikely that God set up a coercive situation for me to see Eddie Murray hit a line drive that would make me think about becoming a theologian rather than a baseball player.

I think that also answers the question about Satan's involvement. If God himself will not suspend free will, would he allow Satan to do so? Doesn't seem logical.

Maybe God just wanted to see the Yankees get beat again. That sounds like the God I worship.

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