Posts tagged with: baseball

Faced with the prospect of a professional athletic career, a nearly-half million dollar salary, and a perfect lady, what’s not to like? Apparently, for Grant Desme, it was the noise and unrest of  the world.

Can a culture of life and the noise and tumult of the marketplace co-exist? Rev. Robert Sirico, reflecting on this, says they can, so long as it is not a place where:

[C]apitalism…places the human person at the mercy of blind economic forces…What we propose, rather, is a free economy that puts the human person at the center of economic actions because the human person is the source of all economic initiative.

Grant Desme is a young man who seems to understand this type of freedom: the freedom to choose the life that God is calling one to, even if that means living a life that appears to be outside the marketplace. Desme had signed a professional baseball contract with the Oakland Athletics, but felt something was amiss.

All the success he craved left him numb. Desme would sit on the bench and talk with his teammates about God. He and Steve Kleen, a non-denominational Christian, engaged in deep philosophical debates long into the night. Desme wouldn’t proselytize, either; he was just there to talk, a father as much as a Father. And the more he thought about it, the more something occurred to him: “I’m getting more enjoyment out of this than hitting the home run I did the other inning.”

He left baseball behind for the quiet, regimented life of a monk at St. Michael’s Abbey in California. Now, instead of hitting homers and rounding bases, Desme’s life is taken up by scheduled prayer 10 times a day and manual labor around the Abbey grounds. He even gave up his name, and is now Frater Matthew (“frater” is Latin for “brother”, “Matthew” being the name the community bestowed on him.) Someone who understands Desme’s choice is Father Ambrose, of St. Michael’s, who chose the monastery over a Rhodes Scholarship:

“It’s sort of like the terrible curse of success…I thought, ‘Well, OK, I’ve got what I’m dreaming about. I’m still miserable. My heart is restless. So what does that mean?’ That restless heart – I had to tend to it in a way that before was about attaining something like the Rhodes Scholarship. When there’s still a restless heart, that requires a much more supernatural explanation.

“That’s how God speaks to young men and women in our culture: when the world and what it has to offer will never be enough. Young people want to be heroic. They want to do great things. Not just what the world tells them will be great.”

Of course, one might note that even the abbey is not a place completely removed from the marketplace, as they host an annual summer camp for boys, and sell a few books and CDs. And that’s the point that Fr. Sirico makes: in a culture centered on the human person, imbued with dignity and free will, the marketplace will be a fruitful extension, no matter one’s career choice or path in life.  It is the human who chooses the market and invests in it not just money but values, not the market creating the human. Grant Desme – Frater Matthew – seems to understand that, from both sides of the abbey walls.

Read “From prospect to priest: Grand Desme leaves the A’s, becomes a monk and tries to find his peace“.

Ernie Harwell was calling the play by play over television for the first live televised sports broadcast from coast to coast. The series featured the famous “shot heard round the world” at the Polo Grounds in 1951. It’s possibly baseball’s most well known historic moment featuring a dramatic 9th inning home run by Bobby Thompson to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers, sending the New York Giants to the World Series. It was Russ Hodges radio call of the same game, however, that became etched in American sports lore. Harwell humorously says, “Only my wife knows I was on the air that day.”

Harwell received plenty of fame, notoriety, and admiration however, as the regular voice of the Detroit Tigers starting in 1960. Harwell was honored by his hometown of Washington, Ga, just weeks after celebrating his 90th
birthday
. He returns to the place where it all started as a word-smith and story-teller, characteristics often strongly associated with Southerners of his era. Harwell is also known to have overcome a severe speech impediment on his way to broadcast glory. Harwell just recently was enshrined in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, he’s already received the prestigious Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1981.

Harwell has many thrilling encounters and prestigious awards in his long life, but his most important encounter he says came on Easter morning in 1961 at a Billy Graham Crusade in Bartow, Florida. “Something told me I should go, and then I turned to Jesus, and ever since then my life hasn’t been the same since,” Harwell says. The famed voice of the Tigers has also been long been involved with Baseball Chapel, an evangelistic ministry for ballplayers.

In 1991, when former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler took over Tiger baseball operations, he let Harwell go. Harwell said it was a tough time for him, but he wanted to have peace and trust God, never be bitter, accept the situation. Fans immediately rallied to Harwell’s defense and Tiger ownership suffered the consequences of what can only be called a major public relations disaster. Mike Ilitch bought the Tigers in 1993, and went about recapturing the magic of Tiger history and tradition. Ilitch immediately rehired Harwell to the delight of the fans. Harwell eventually retired in 2002 on his own terms.

His wife also survived cancer, and Harwell thanks God. “One of the greatest things about Jesus is he lifts your burdens, worries, and cares. Jesus takes care of me, I don’t worry about anything. I know Scripture says “God works all things for good,” Harwell says. Former broadcast partner Jim Price credits Harwell for giving him spiritual guidance when Price’s son was diagnosed with autism.

Harwell is a man of many honors and talents; He served honorably in the Marines during WWII. Harwell is also a well known writer, and over 65 songs he has written have been recorded by artists. Harwell amusingly notes, “I have more no-hitters than Nolan Ryan.” Harwell is a legend though, a prized piece of Americana. A voice and personality who represents so well an era where baseball over the radio magically ruled the airwaves.

The famed announcer is also known for not worrying and enjoying life, a peace he says “comes from Christ.” Harwell also started the first game of every broadcast year with a quote from Scripture in Song of Solomon, “The flowers are springing up and the time of the singing of birds has come. Yes, spring is here.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
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Over the weekend I had the chance to see an airing of the 1998 documentary, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg on Detroit public television. The film does an excellent job portraying the life of a baseball superstar complicated by social and political events in the 1930s and 1940s.

One of the film’s featured commentators was Alan Dershowitz, who said Hank Greenberg was the most important Jew in the world in the 1930s because he exploded Hitler’s propaganda myths about the physical superiority of Aryans. Greenberg stood 6’4″ and in 1938 Greenberg finished the season with 58 home runs, making a remarkable run at the home run record of Babe Ruth.

During that decade Greenberg thought of himself as hitting “home runs against Hitler.” But in 1941, Greenberg traded in his bats for bullets, serving in the armed forces between 1941-1944 during WWII.

While he was not particularly observant religiously, the film does a good job of showing how important Greenberg’s Jewish identity became to him as his career wore on, as his prominent standing within the local, national, and global Jewish communities increased along with his accomplishments on the field.

“Hank Greenberg was a great hero in Detroit, especially to the Jewish population,” said Tigers Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell.

In a strange twist of fate, the still-productive Greenberg was traded before his final season from the Detroit Tigers to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he was present for Jackie Robinson’s entry into the majors. Greenberg and Robinson faced each other on the field, and Greenberg was able to give Robinson words of encouragement in the face of virulent racism.

In seeing the hatred that Robinson faced Greenberg was able to relativize the powerful anti-Semitism he had faced in his own breakthrough to the major leagues. Greenberg felt that after his feats on the field of baseball and the field of battle that it was only after WWII that the question of his ethnic and religious identity was pushed to the background. He had finally become simply a baseball player…and he hopefully predicted that Jackie Robinson would one day come to achieve that recognition as well.

As we mark the beginning of baseball season this week in 2007, it’s a good opportunity to remember the contributions of Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg on the baseball field and to the cause of social and religious tolerance in the modern world.

Greenberg was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956, and in just nine full seasons finished with a career batting average of .313, along with 331 home runs and 1276 RBI.

Tiger great Hal Newhouser said of Greenberg that if he had to pick one batter to drive in a run in a crucial situation, he would pick Hank Greenberg over greats like Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. Unless, of course, the batter would be facing Greenberg’s arch-nemesis, the great Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller!

This post has been cross-posted to Blogcritics.org.