The Catholic Thing
Do They Play Baseball in Heaven? Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Sunday, 10 October 2010

In the film version of Bernard Malamud’s novel The Natural (such a different story on screen – and such a silly movie), comeback hero Roy Hobbes says:

“I love baseball.”

It’s a simple, declarative sentence, and one that probably made lots of moviegoers yawn: Yeah, so? I love pizza. But for those of us who played the game as kids and have followed it ever since, that bit of dialog saved the movie. It’s a religious moment: Hobbes’s statement is like the preamble to a Creed.

You may suppose I’m thinking and writing about this now because we’re into the 2010 postseason, but that’s not it. When my old friend Joe Sobran died last week, I retrieved a bound volume of National Review (VOL. XLII), because in the issue of June 11, 1990 is Joe’s cover story, “The Republic of Baseball.” (Nice photo of Sobran wearing then Yankees manager Stump Merrill’s uniform – the only one Joe could fit into.) It’s a memorable article and very quotable. My favorite is his take on the game’s essential fairness:

The umpires don’t care who deserves to win on moral, progressive, or demographic grounds. Their role is modest but crucial, and would be corrupted if they brought any supposed Higher Purpose to their work. They care only about the rules. The Supreme Court could learn from them.

My view of baseball is more mystical, although I’m not among those who believe the Book of Genesis really begins: “In the Big Inning, God created . . .” and so on. I do believe, however, that baseball has the hallmarks of divine handiwork. Its true beginnings are a mystery, a “spontaneous order” that coalesced from an Irish game, rounders, the Brits’ cricket, and maybe the earlier French Catholic game known as la soule. In the event, it’s our species at its best: making up rules and playing games. Homo faber and homo ludens.

        An early cathedral of baseball: Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field

Baseball is the only game without a clock. Theoretically, a World Series Game 7 could go on forever. The longest-ever game was a mere 8-hour-6-minute, 25-inning epic between the White Sox and the Brewers in 1984, and the dimensions of the field, the skill of the players, and the fact that you’d run out of pitchers at least by the time you got to the 100th inning actually make moot notions of an endless game – in this world anyway.

Do they play baseball in heaven? I have no firm sense of what happens in heaven – to what extent we take any material thing from here to there (our bodies excepted) – although Heaven is surely infinite joy and eternal praise, and I doubt this includes bats and balls, dirt-and-grass diamonds, and meadows of outfield that, night or day, take away your breath when you exit the dark stadium tunnel and see the field in light.

Angels would certainly make wonderful umpires though.

I’m stumped too about that bodily resurrection, because I can’t imagine what I’ll do with a physical self that has taken such a battering yet had so much fun down here, but that’s the least of my worries.

I note, however, that the New York Times of August 8, 1910 – the year the Philadelphia Athletics beat the Chicago Cubs in the Fall Classic – reported that a Congregationalist minister sermonized that since heaven is but “an evolution of this world,” and since Christians may love the game, it’s “safe to prophesy that even . . . baseball will have its place in some spiritual form in Heaven.” I hadn’t thought of that: spiritual baseball.

But it wouldn’t be baseball without hard steals, collisions at home plate, and fastballs high-and-tight, and those sorts of things aren’t exactly spiritual. In the second game of that 1910 World Series, Jack Coombs, the Athletics’ right-hander (31-9 on the season), hit every single Cubs batter in the course of a 9-inning win, which has to have earned him time in purgatory.

          Jacob and an angel: A Dodgers fan discusses the Rules of Baseball with an umpire 

I like boxing. Will heaven feature spiritual prize fights? Nope.

The Catholic Thing contributor Michael Novak has written that “sports are organized and dramatized in a religious way,” and it’s true: stadiums are cathedrals, Hall-of-Famers are patriarchs, and even the fans are referred to as “the faithful,” although, as one bishop of baseball (Leo Durocher) cautioned: “Baseball is like church. Many attend; few understand.”

I never tire of re-reading the great Jacques Barzun’s essay (from God’s Country and Mine) in which he says: “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball . . .” So much is always going on:

Opportunity swings from one side to the other because innings alternate quickly, keep up spirit in the players, interest in the beholders. So does the profusion of different acts to be performed – pitching, throwing, catching, batting, running, stealing, sliding, signaling. Blows are similarly varied. Flies, Texas Leaguers, grounders, baseline fouls – praise God the human neck is a universal joint!

Praise God indeed. Sad to say, Prof. Barzun may not be watching the upcoming World Series, because he believes the great game has gone wrong. “Other things,” he wrote a few years ago, “are similarly commercialized and out of proportion, but for baseball, which is so intimately connected with the nation's spirit and tradition, it's a disaster.”

Still there’ll come a moment later this month when Pitcher A will stare down Batter B and in half a second the old glory will return, hit or miss. So I’ll be watching. And praying: Lord, deliver us from instant replay.

Brad Miner, a former literary editor of National Review and Little League catcher, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing and author of The Compleat Gentleman.

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Comments (5)Add Comment
written by John McCarthy, October 11, 2010
Thank you for your "light touch." We could use more of that...Is there laughter in heaven?
written by Joe, October 11, 2010
Brad, as a New York boy who played baseball and idolized Mickey Mantle and the Yankees, I loved baseball but no longer do. MLB has been corrupted in the past two decades by so many scandals -- drugs, strikes, greed, boorish behavior, etc. -- that the game has lost its magic allure.

In his prime Mickey made $100,000 a year and even if you factor in inflation, how does it make sense that a .220 bench warmer today "earns" $3 million barely working up a sweat?

The game that one featured the grace and elegance of Joe D. has morphed into a freak show starring buffoons such as Manny Ramirez who are an embarrassment to the once "national pastime."

I agree that instant replay would not only prolong games unacceptably and lead to a slippery slope where machines would be calling balls and strikes instead of umps, but that is merely a technical issue.

Football, a savage game in which brute strength overcomes sheer intelligence, is now king in a country that continues to be enthralled by violence, demonstrated by the popularity of movies and TV shows that depict bloodletting. Baseball, a sport that once exuded innocence, romance and purity, has been reduced to just another circus show, and a boring one at that.
written by Kevin in Texas, October 11, 2010
Mr. Miner, I must admit that I'm neutral to slightly negative on the sport of baseball (I'll take college football any day over any other sport), but I appreciate your passion for it and your humorous take on a sport you clearly love down to your bones! Besides, I will readily admit it's still an "American game", even as it has spread in popularity to the Caribbean, Japan, and Mexico, something that American football has not done.
written by debby, October 11, 2010
my street is a step-back-into-time, circa 1950's, every weekend....all the neighbor boys gather on the front lawns of several crammed 50x100 front yard lots and play wiffle-ball, yelling, laughing, slamming that ball, breaking neighbor's precious plants as they slide over home-plate into the next much fun! a very different story just down the street at the little league fields, where the kids are under pressure to one day play for the Yankees, parents drink from "poland spring" water bottles a very funny smelling "water," foul language and bulging veins in the necks of men compete with the gossip of women. the love of the game is lost by the time your good boy who just wants to play is 10 years old. parents who never grew up and i have a feeling weren't such "great kids" themselves have no idea what they are doing to their children, let alone "the game...."
written by Mark, October 11, 2010
A "silly" movie? I don't agree. A great film that tells a great story. Yes, it is different from the book, especially the ending, but the story really is about the power of *baseball* over our lives, a power that is not entirely a bad thing. In fact, it can draw the best from us, just as it draws the worst out of some of the characters.

Roy Hobbes' line in the film is actually, "God, I love baseball." I don't like to hear the Lord's name used like this, but that is the line, and Hobbes' intends it to emphasize his passion for the game. Robert Redford's performance delivers this emphasis wonderfully. One could almost interpret it as a prayer of thanksgiving to God himself.

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