God Does Not Play Baseball

August 19th, 2011 at 6:08 pm | 7 Comments |

| Print

As if Jews haven’t suffered enough, it turns out that Ralph Branca is a member of our tribe.  The man who served up Bobby Thompson’s Shot Heard Round The World in 1951 recently learned that his mother was a closeted Jew.  The full story, told in poignant detail in a recent New York Times article by Joshua Prager, suggests that Branca’s hidden religion may have had major ramifications for baseball.

Thompson’s home run completed the miracle at Coogan’s Bluff, as the Dodgers squandered a 13.5 game lead and lost the National League pennant to the Giants in the most agonizing defeat in baseball history.  But, you ask, what does that have to do with religion?  According to Branca, everything.  Prager quotes the pitcher as follows: “Maybe that’s why God was mad at me – that I didn’t practice my mother’s religion.”  Prager observes that Branca was not joking, but rather is “a Job wondering about the root of his suffering.”  As Branca elaborates, the almighty “made me throw that home run pitch.  He made me get injured the next year.  Remember, Jesus was a Jew.”

Good grief.  If God’s vengeance over ballplayers’ religious practices determines the outcome of games, think of the ramifications for your next Fantasy draft.  Stop studying players’ statistics and bone up on their church attendance.  But seriously, “He made me throw that home run pitch?”  God has a lot to answer for, but was he really the de facto losing pitcher in the 1951 playoff s?  “He made me get injured the next year?”  The Lord supposedly sees every sparrow, but does he really micromanage the DL?  I’m not sure who should be more bothered by such silliness – believers or atheists.

I don’t want to come down too hard on Branca, by all accounts a good and decent man who paid a terrible price for our society’s excessive attachment to victory.  (To add insult to injury, it turns out the Giants were stealing signs with a telescope and Thompson may have known what pitch was coming.)  But his pop theology warrants notice because it typifies an emerging trend: athletes who believe God guides performance.

There were always a few ballplayers who crossed themselves before each at-bat and used the post-game press conference to attribute their every accomplishment to Jesus Christ.  But such behavior is increasingly common. Note the proliferation of ballplayers who, upon completing their home run trot, point skyward in acknowledgement of the source of their power.  Some players don’t reserve their gratitude for home runs – even a measly single triggers their skyward point.

Have we gone mad?  If there is a God, she needs to have her head examined if she worries about the outcome of ballgames.  Isn’t there enough trouble in the mid-east?  Can’t she get to work on the economy?

As for Ralph Branca, there’s no shortage of people he can blame for the unfortunate turn his life took 60 years ago.  If manager Charlie Dressen had made the shrewder move, and brought in ace reliever Clem Labine, the Dodgers probably would have won – or else Labine, not Branca, would have worn the goat horns.  If the Giants hadn’t cheated, maybe Branca would have retired the side and the Dodgers moved on to the World Series.  If Brooklyn weren’t obsessed with their Dodgers, Branca’s failure might have faded into the limbo of forgotten things.  (Who remembers which pitcher yielded Bill Mazeroski’s home run that won Game 7 of the 1960 World Series?)  But to blame God of all “people”?

This unjust attack on the deity is ultimately no different from all those players who share the credit for their base hits with the creator.  The achievements and failures of athletes lie in themselves, not the stars.  We can argue about the place of religion in the public square, but on the baseball diamond?

Recent Posts by Alan Hirsch



7 Comments so far ↓

  • easton

    God might not play baseball but outside of divine intervention can anyone explain the misery of the Cubs?

    Anyway, Branca is a really old man, so I too am inclined to cut him a lot of slack, though the rest of the theme of the article is on the money.

  • easton

    One other thing, if I could be a bench warmer for a few seasons on the losingest team in baseball I would consider myself incredibly lucky and blessed, and if by some chance my team and I caught fire and went to the World Series and I struck out at the bottom (or top) of the 9th in game 7, I would consider myself even moreso lucky and blessed. I guess it takes being a never was to theoretically appreciate that.

  • Oldskool

    God is the ultimate micromanager. He wins an endless number of ballgames for people along with Oscars, Emmys, etc, and at the very same time, saves certain people from horrible fates. He’s crazy busy.

  • Russnet

    I never met a Jew who didn’t think that his or her mind was more important than everyone elses. This is a moronic article which highlights that fact. Baseball players who salute religion for success are few and far in between, and many of those that salute this or that aren’t necessarily thanking a deity. Jewish people don’t believe in the messiah, nor do they give any credit to those that do. It’s tiresome. We’ve all suffered. Cut the whining. Cut the nonsense. You’re just like everyone else. PS go check out Planet of The Apes. Worth the ten bucks.

    • Rabiner

      Totally agree. I can’t stand when people thank God or Jesus for their accomplishments.

  • PracticalGirl

    God may not play, but as the parent of a baseball player I know he listens. “Please god, give him a smokin’ fastball, a wicked curve and a slammin’ slider, and the wisdom to know when to throw them today. And if it isn’t too much trouble, please grant him the reflexes to stop that line drive with his glove and not his teeth.”

    It’s a fact. Kid still has a beautiful smile.

  • Graychin

    Too much religion is founded on guilt, even when an outsider would see to feel guilty about. This is a good example.