BASEBALL AND THE GAME OF LIFE
Published June, 2017
The baseball season has started and my house is filled with excitement, anticipation and hope regarding the pennant possibilities of the New York Mets and the New York Yankees. If there were to be a subway World Series, deciding whom to support would constitute a major family decision. This annual baseball fever, which could be multiplied millions of times over from one end of the country to the other, has a quasireligious quality. If we follow the well known definition of religious experience as “redemption from the limitations of our petty individual lives and the mystic unity with a larger life of which we are part,” then isn’t this precisely what a baseball fan goes through when he watches the team that represents his city. Can you think of any other phenomenon in our contemporary experience in which masses of people so totally and intensely immerse themselves in the larger life of their community?
One may go to a baseball game to see certain star players “do their thing” in the same way that many people go to synagogue to listen to an eloquent rabbi give a sermon or to hear a gifted cantor recite the liturgy; however, there is a transcendent spiritual significance to what transpires in the synagogue that goes beyond the particular officiants. In a similar fashion, die hard baseball fans believe that the importance of a game far exceeds the action that takes place on the diamond. In some mysterious fashion, the status, fate and destiny of the battling communities are thought to hang on the outcome of the contest.
We all believe that one of religion’s principal benefits is its capacity to cultivate attributes of character and personality which are prerequisites to the actualization of our full potential as human beings. Baseball too has a positive influence on the development of crucial personal qualities. When your team is behind, it engenders hope and courage. When your team has lost, it teaches resignation. When your team is ahead, it stresses fairness. The game of baseball also emphasizes the necessity of charity toward the umpire and zest for the competition.
Furthermore, the enjoyment of baseball requires adherence to the rules of the game. It is hardly possible to play unless both teams agree to abide by the limits imposed upon them by the regulations of the sport. If you lose the game, you may be disappointed and a bit envious of your opponents: nevertheless, you shake their hands in a spirit of congratulations and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you had your chance in a fair and open competition. There is also the realization that there will always be another game or at least another season. Religion, of course, also strives to inculcate respect for and adherence to the rules of life. The Torah and the Talmud provide us as Jews with proper instructions about how to behave in every situation. We may not always win; but we are cognizant that in the long run our optimum opportunity for success lies in obedience to these rules. What’s more we have faith that if we abide by God’s law, He will give us the opportunity to try again tomorrow, next week, or the following year. The best chance for all of us in this world lies in a society where human beings compete with each other according to rules and regulations which are equally binding upon all.
Baseball is about the closest thing we have in this country to a national religion; yet, the enjoyment of it is not incompatible with the observance of our own religious faith. Of course, the most important contest takes place not on the baseball diamond but in the infinite game of life. As adherents of Judaism we should rejoice in those elements of baseball that help to evolve aspects of mind and heart that are indispensable to the moral and spiritual dimensions of our lives.
Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD